By Nath Aldalala’a
As Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Damascus to meet with the government and representatives of the opposition, his capacity for maneuver is delineated clearly by the facts on the ground. While the regime in Syria falters—which could strengthen Brahimi’s position for negotiation—it is not faced with an opposition as such, but more a case of fractured opposition, and this compounds the difficulties in resolving the current unrest.
For the sake of argument, let’s say Brahimi succeeded in his mission of convincing Assad to step down (and I do believe that Assad will go soon). The pertinent question is how will an alternative governing body in Syria be constituted? Unfortunately the answer is that it is likely to be composed from a devastatingly factional and weak opposition. Its leaders are typically representative of the many fractured and fragmented groups. The key point here is that many of these opposition groups do not reside in Syria itself, being scattered across Turkey, France and the United Kingdom. Any commonality in this desultory opposition is pinned on the shared aspirations of the various leaders to each become the next president of Syria—period.
Thus it may be reasoned that the bloodshed in Syria has lasted so long not necessarily owing to the strength of the regime, but rather the cause lying more in the weakness of the opposition on two levels: first the political and second the military. To be fair to the Free Syrian Army, they have undertaken the lion’s share in the fight for freedom. Yet the Syrian opposition enacts a pseudo-bureaucracy made of men who indulge in hubble-bubble politics. More concerned with the performative value of giving speeches, wearing important-seeming black suits and underpinned by a—to use Steve Smith’s phrase—“me-clever-you-stupid” mentality. For these men the impulse behind their fight to free Syria is necessarily a simple one: to enable them to form the next generation of government.
To date efforts have been made by the Europeans, Americans, and Arabs to unite the opposition. The latter, represented by the Arab League, called a meeting that was held in Cairo in July and attended by about 250 members of the opposition force. Insight suggests that it is a difficult prospect to bring these various people together in one room, let alone unite their different perspectives on how to govern Syria in a post-Assad era. Most of these delegates speak Russian in addition to Arabic, and a number of them, the Marxists, still seem to hold the delusion that Karl Marx is living around the corner. Curiously, the list of opposition factions has grown since the start of the killings in Syria. Riad al-Asaad declared the foundation of and led the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian National Council (SNC) was first represented by Burhan Ghalioun, an outstanding academic person who lacks the necessary ruthless political character to steer the county io freedom from the Assad military machinery. The Syrian Patriotic Group, National Co-ordination Committee, Muslim Brotherhood, the list is long.
As mentioned above, efforts have been made to unite the various opposition groups in Syria, but to no avail. The point I stress here is this. The minute the regime falls, these factions will descend upon Damascus and the divisions will exacerbate the issue for one very simple reason: no structure. The only group likely to benefit from this will be the Muslim Brotherhood and its associates. They will be successful on two counts. First, they are able to regroup and organize themselves very quickly, and do not have the degree of internal disputes that have been seen amongst the other opposition groups. A further reason lies within the heart of the politics of recognition in the Arab World. The MB has just moved from the actual struggle for recognition to the politics of recognition. The success of the MB in Egypt is the cornerstone of this path.
Aside from the internal dynamics, there are some pressing external factors that will decide the next phase of determining Syria’s future. For example, there are current protests sweeping through the Arab world about the insult to the prophet in a video, in tandem with the rhetoric of the American electoral debates that is focusing on who serves Israel better. The Democrats have emphasized their position in the platform with language that echoes phrases of “God-given” and “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” Such factors put Islam and the Muslim world on the defensive. The immediate representative of Islam as a political “force” is the MB.
I should mention here however that the nature of the success of the MB in Syria would be very different from what they achieved in Egypt. The conflict in Egypt was political in nature, and the Youth Movement there helped to give a human character to the uprising, and this was reflected in the swift move toward democratic elections and relative stability. The case in Syria does not run along parallel lines. Here the conflict is getting “barbarically” ideological, shifting the psyche of the nation toward a rather brutal nature. The Iranian interference and meddling in the affairs of already established governments in the Arab world is all the more evident and disturbing, and is already extending to meddling in Syrian affairs. The interference of Iran in the affairs of Syria will not cease, and is likely to take a nasty turn. Therefore, any future governing body in Syria—and this is most likely to be the MB—will have a tough ride in terms of achieving authority and stability, which in turn will impact the possibilities of destabilizing the MB altogether.
The conclusion to this state of affairs is that the realistic choice for the Syrian people is to sanction, if not embrace, what I will call “heavy-boots democracy” here. That is, to permit the rule of the army, or an army, to move the country toward a phase of democratization, if at all possible. The current opposition figures are more of a distraction and they are not actually productive in the process of freeing Syria from the grip of Assad. They will certainly not be an asset to the nation building of Syria when Assad is gone.
Nath Aldalala’a is an Associate Professor of International Relations and Cultural Studies at the American University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. His forthcoming book is titled The Arab’s Decolonizing Process: Between Religion and Secular Ambitions. His e-mail address is [email protected]