x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Maliki justifies how Syrian regime is managing to survive

Two years ago, Iraq's prime minister predicted a war against the Assad regime would take years, not months, writes an Arabic-language columnist. Also, the assassination of Chokri Belaid and why democracies ask their citizens to question, not obey.

The London-based newspaper, Asharq Al Awsat, published on Saturday an interview with Nouri Al Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, in which he discussed prickly foreign policy issues in the region and touched on the festering Syrian crisis.

Commenting on the interview in the same newspaper yesterday, the columnist Abdul Rahman Al Rashed wrote that Mr Al Maliki spoke "very frankly" on issues, as few politicians would honestly do.

"He knew what he was talking about on Syria, where he lived during his long years in the opposition," the columnist wrote.

Mr Al Maliki said he was not surprised at the regime's ability to survive a two-year revolution. He also mentioned that he predicted this outcome in a conversation with the US President, Barack Obama, the vice president, Joe Biden, and the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, in Washington about two years ago.

Mr Al Maliki said the US was expecting President Bashar Al Assad's regime to fall in two months, "not in two years' time", he said.

"Why?" the author asked. What made the Iraqi prime minister so sure that the it would take about two years for the Assad regime to fall?

Mr Al Maliki argued that the ruling Alawites have no choice but to stay in power, as their exit means their end. They are fighting with their men and women, because that is their best bet at survival as a sect. That one reason why the regime managed to last until now, he added.

Mr Al Maliki's explanation of the Syrian regime's resolve to stay in power at the expense of thousands of Syrian lives makes sense, the columnist wrote.

However, it is not entirely due to the Alawites' tenacity, or their superior sense of unity and determination that President Al Assad has survived amid bloodshed and destruction, Al Rashed observed. Nor is it due to the fact that despair is all that Alawites have left.

"The real reason why Al Assad regime has lasted until now has to do with Iran and Russia, its two fighting arms. The regime is facing a huge grassroots uprising, but one that has no outside backing and no resources. The rebels are fighting with primitive weapons and trying to counter warplanes and tanks with rifles," the columnist wrote.

"And this kind of war never leads to a crushing or quick victory - and perhaps never leads to victory at all."

Mr Al Maliki should know that. He and his Da'awa Party fought the regime of Saddam Hussein from across the border for more than 20 years, but never achieved anything as they did not have the weapons required.

It was high-tech US warplanes that brought Saddam down, the writer said. It only took eight days.

Environment breeds violence in Tunisia

Those who rallied in the Tunisian capital last week weren't all supporters of Chokri Belaid, the leftist secular politician who was assassinated last Wednesday. Many among them had voted for the Islamist Ennahda candidates, said Abdullah Iskandar, the managing editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

They took to the street to declare their objection to the direction their country had taken towards cloning the former regime in terms of monopolising the political life and dealing with the opposition.

"Obviously Ennahda leadership didn't take the decision to eliminate Belaid … but another Islamist group did list him on its liquidation list," he said. "The correlation between Ennahda's politics and that liquidation list can be found in the behaviour of the party's leadership."

Ennahda doesn't assume the legal and criminal responsibility for the assassination. It is however politically responsible for the atmosphere of provocation and aggression. Ennahda is in conflict with the majority of the components of the Tunisian community. Rather than seeking reconciliation with the civil community, it holds on ever more tightly to its electoral gains.

"Ennahda's vision of rule is to monopolise all government activity. This reveals its inability to review its failed record so far and its insistence on developing a host environment for violence," he concluded.

Rebels, not stooges, make the difference

How can the world have no dissidents and sceptics who ask forbidding questions, trigger intellectual debates on existence, morals, power and tradition, asked Fatima Ifriqi, on the Moroccan website Febrayer.

Thankfully, through the ages there have been renegades, enfants terribles and rebels against intellectual stagnation, superstition, obscurantism and tyranny. With their contributions to science and knowledge, they have liberated humanity and enriched civilisations, she wrote.

Democracies strive to have citizens who can argue, question and criticise; people who protest, express themselves, create ideas and choose freely. In contrast, the dictatorships' main concern is to create citizens who are obedient, loyal and indifferent - "a harmonious choir of flatterers".

Anyone who sings a protesting song outside the choir, or speaks out against those who steal their dreams, values and rights is dismissed as a conspirator, a traitor, an infidel or a sedition-monger; the good citizens are the silent followers; the outlaws are the nonconformists, she noted.

The writer quoted the Bosniak activist Alija Izetbegovi as saying that as opposed to submissive people, rebels frequently talk about freedom. Lackeys revere authorities; rebels only worship God.

* Compiled by the Translation Desk