x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Two years later, Syrian army is a shell of what it used to be, but Al Assad remains confident

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad marked the 68th anniversary of the army being founded without referencing the devastation of his country, Lebanese columnist Abdul Wahhab Badrakhan writes.

The beginning of August marked the 68th anniversary of the founding of the Syrian army. President Bashar Al Assad marked the occasion with a letter addressed to the armed forces in which he expressed confidence of victory in what he described as "the fiercest and most barbaric war in modern history."

Commenting on the event, the Lebanese columnist Abdul Wahhab Badrakhan wrote in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat: "Al Assad failed to include in his letter even one mention of the current state of the army that has had over 60 per cent of its officers and troops defect since the start of the conflict."

Mr Al Assad also failed to allude once to what he has done to the army, or to the 100,000 Syrians that have been killed since the beginning of the war. He didn't comment on the fact that one-third of his people are either displaced or immigrants.

The letter didn't say that army commanders from his sect led the oppressive campaigns at the onset of the revolution and that they had special orders to execute officers who refused to shoot at unarmed protesters.

The Syrian president didn't speak about all that, but addressed only those who chose to stay with him and fight his dirty war, Badrakhan wrote.

He reiterated his confidence in victory although he is well aware that there is no victory to be achieved.

Mr Al Assad is seeking a military victory that could pave the way to a political triumph in the proposed second Geneva summit, which has yet to be scheduled as it awaits the approval of the Syrian opposition.

The opposition is reticent to take part in a political solution that can be described as vague in terms of responding to the people's ambitions and holding the current regime accountable for its crimes against Syrians and humanity.

It is true that the opposition in Syria didn't succeed in producing a credible command or a viable alternative to the Assad regime due to decades of tyrannical rule that abolished any political initiative and crushed civil society.

The Syrian opposition can't possibly agree to another summit in Geneva under the current circumstances simply because it would be unimaginable to negotiate with a relentless murderous regime.

Washington's obvious decision to distance itself from the Syrian crisis doesn't help the opposition's case. The US is trying to avoid making any commitments towards the Syrian people.

"Two and a half years into the continuing massacre, Americans still can't wager on the opposition. The opposition, in turn, finally realised the limitations of wagering on the US. The best they can hope for at this time is that Washington doesn't strike a deal with the Russians and turn against them," Badrakhan wrote.

Suspension of National Constituent Assembly pushes Tunisia towards another uncertainty

The suspension of the National Constituent Assembly in Tunisia on Tuesday until talks start between the government and the opposition indicates that the country is heading towards a crossroads, said the columnist Amjad Arrar in the Sharjah-based daily Al Khaleej.

The decision, announced by the Constituent Assembly's president, Mustafa ben Jaafar, comes in response to mass protests that followed the assassination of Mohammed Brahmi. He is the second leading opposition figure to be killed in six months. The protests that had been growing in intensity in recent weeks, culminated in country-wide demonstrations.

The ruling Ennahda party, the Tunisian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, saw the decision as a coup against legitimacy. In a reaction that represents an extension of the Brotherhood modus operandi, members of the Islamist party attacked the freezing of the legislature and qualified it as a conspiracy.

"This type of political behaviour aims to distort the world's view and portray the mass protests in Tunis as a mere swarm of ants that would go back to hiding soon and there is no need to respond to their demands," the writer said.

From the point of view of Islamists in power, any protesters that don't belong to the Brotherhood or the Salafist groups are saboteurs, terrorists, supporters of infidels or enemies of Islam.

In any case, the resemblance between Tunisia and Egypt at almost every level is self-explanatory, the writer suggested.

In Egypt, Brotherhood rulers ignored the calls of the majority of the people. They turned a blind eye to the people's deteriorating circumstances and it cost them power.

Their president, Mohammed Morsi, was deposed and they had to admit that the steps and decisions they took were wrong.

The same scenario seems to be unfolding in Tunisia. It is only reasonable to expect the same outcome, especially since Ennahda leaders don't seem to have learnt from the Egyptian experience.

"They didn't figure out that consecrating themselves, their policies and their decisions don't affect people who measure success and failure according to facts and outcomes, and not emotions and public speeches," Arrar said.

Accusations of takfeer and threats of flogging remind Tunisians of the type of corruption that drove them to take to the streets in December 2010 to overthrow Ben Ali's regime.

Political assassinations had been forgotten for decades until Ennahda came to power.

Two of the country's most cherished freedom fighters have been killed. The people are outraged.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem