By Julio Godoy
Late last August, during the conference of the non-aligned countries in Tehran, the Iranian press quoted the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi saying that the government of Bahrain, given its dismal human rights record, had lost whatever legitimacy it had. Nothing surprising in this quote: The regime of Bahrain has indeed a dismal human rights record, it latest performance being to strip opposition leaders of the Bahraini nationality, after harassing them for many months.
A couple of days later, however, Morsi reacted with indignation to the quote: He had actually denounced the Syrian government, he complained, and accused the Iranian press of intentionally manipulating his statements. Syria, as is well known, is since more than 18 months fighting a most brutal civil war, and, as is also well known, can easily compete with Bahrain on human rights violations.
But, if Bahrain and Syrian are similar regimes behaving criminally against their own people, and there cannot be doubts about it, why did Morsi feel outraged by the “misquotation” in the Iranian press? Why did he emphasise that the Syrian regime of Bashar Hafez al-Assad has lost all legitimacy, but felt offended that somebody might have thought that he had said the same of the Bahraini despot Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa?
Most likely, Morsi cannot answer such questions. But he is not alone in such a situation.
Take Turkey: A couple of weeks ago, the government in Ankara, a key member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), launched a judicial process against 44 journalists, accusing them of being accomplices of terrorism. That very same government has incarcerated 34 democratic elected Kurdish mayors, for the crime of upholding their Kurdish identity.
Just to remind you: the Kurdish population living in Turkish territory encompasses as much as 14 million people, and makes out as much as 20 percent of the population of the country. Still, Turkey, that pea-cockish NATO ally, considers those people non-existent. It has been pressing them publicly to commit themselves to being Turks – second class Turks, mind you. That’s why the government in Ankara is considering cancelling the immunity of another 15 elected parliamentarians who represent the above mentioned ethnic group. The Kurdish congress leader Lelya Zana has suffered numerous years of prison, and is banned from all political activity.
But Turkey, this country which mishandles in such a way its own citizens, is one of the leading forces supporting the Syrian armed opposition to Bashar Hafez al-Assad, along with other flawless and exemplary regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, allegedly to bring democracy to Damascus.
And what about the Western democracies? Leaders in Washington and London portentously take pride in meeting the long-time incarcerated leader of the Burmese opposition Aung San Suu Kyi. Only a few days ago, they even forced the anti al-Assad rebels to form a united coalition – against the declared will of some of these rebels. But our Western leaders wouldn’t move a finger for Zana, and never bothered to support her while she faced the harassments perpetrated by all kinds of Turkish authorities.
Why is it that the Western democracies express their abhorrence of Assad, but ignore the crimes committed against the Kurds by successive Turkish governments for more than 30 years? Why is it that the Western democracies readily forge alliances with Qatar and Saudi Arabia against Syria, but ignore the bloody intervention of precisely these two regimes to suppress the popular rebellion in Bahrain without ever batting an eyelid?
Could it be that nobody is actually interested in democracy and human rights in Syria, but that the war is being waged to attain other objectives, and whatever happens with the domestic Syrian political mores would be a by-product, welcome or otherwise?
Qatar and Saudi Arabia
Qatar, for instance, supports radical Muslim groups in Mali and Libya, and helped the regime in Bahrain to brutally suppress the popular insurrection one year ago. The Bahrain government has for years been accused of committing systematic violations of human rights, from torture to summary executions of opposition leaders. As the Human Rights Watch put it, Bahrain’s record in such matters is “dismal”.
Here an example of the atmosphere reigning in Bahrain: On September 23, the Bahraini newspaper Al Watan, widely believed to be controlled by the local government, published an article headlined “List of participants defaming Bahrain in Geneva”, including names, photographs and other details of Bahraini civil society activists who had travelled to the Human Rights Council session in Geneva. The newspaper quoted members of the Bahraini Shura Council, the upper house and main legislative body, saying that “whoever tarnishes the image of the country is a traitor who does not deserve [the Bahraini] nationality” and appealed for such persons to be held responsible for defaming the country.
And yet, other than the regular lip services to democracy, no Western government has ever really done anything to put an end to such persecution; when in 2011 Saudi Arabia and Qatar sent their troops to suppress the Bahraini uprising, leaders in Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin were looking the other way.
In most cases, they even supported the criminals in Cairo and Carthage, as long as they behaved as puppets of the West. Exemplary therefore is the German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, who recently said, his “sense of justice” demanded that the Syrian dictator Assad be brought before the International Court of Justice. It is the same Westerwelle, whose “sense of justice” in 2010 was not as developed as nowadays, and at the time praised the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak as a “man of enormous experience and wisdom,” and who would only be motivated to secure “the future of his country.”
In a nutshell: The international involvement in the Syrian civil war aims less to transform the country into a democracy, and rather constitutes an ‘ersatz war’, one being fought on the Syrian soil and shedding Syrian blood, but aimed at weakening the regional position of Iran. The Syrian regime is controlled by Alawites, a branch of Shia Islam, and is as such a close ally of the Shia-led regime of Iran. Together, they build an unofficial coalition against the Sunnite front, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In Bahrain, the government is Sunni, but the majority of the population is Shia.
By the same token, no Western leader has shown the least indignation before all the crimes committed by Israel in Gaza. Instead, the same statements come again and again, about Israel’s right to self-defence – and by so doing, cement and aggravate an illegal status quo. The champions of human rights would recognise only in their ‘pious’ speeches that the Palestinians, suffering under a most brutal occupation for 50 years, enjoy the very same rights. Surely, those words will find a rapid end, if in the newest edition of the Gaza war, Qatar and Egypt and Saudi Arabia materially support the Palestinians against Israel.
Thanks for reading Eurasia Review. For more of our reporting make sure to sign up for our free newsletter!