by Makram Khoury-Machool
Dr Makram Khoury-Machool is a Palestinian scholar, based in Cambridge, UK
The behaviour of the NATO-aligned, anti-Syrian bloc is now blatant enough for us to better understand what is happening in Syria. On the one hand, we find political operators such the ad-hoc group ‘Friends of Syria’, and on the other, two Arab personalities, both ministers of two Gulf sheikhdoms.
The first group includes NATO-led heads of states, with a barely disguised Israeli master-plan conceived by the likes of Bernard-Henri Lévy. Rather than being the friends of Syria, these personalities are arguably working to secure their own financial interests in, around, and via Syria. The two Arab politicians are the two foreign ministers ofSaudi ArabiaandQatar. They have declared that those forces acting violently against the Syrian state should be armed and financially supported. In short, these conventions of the so-called ‘Friends of Syria’ are probably no more than a ‘modern’ version of those meetings conducted by Viceroy Lord Curzon, who, in 1903, addressed the ‘Chiefs of the Arab Coast’ on HMS Argonaut in Sharjah (UAE).
The Qataris and Saudis give financial support to the ‘rebels’ for weapons, payments to fighters and mercenaries, and logistical oversight of attacks on Syria. All of this is in addition to their support with telecommunication services, combat tactics, and strategic military advice. Unsurprisingly, the Western military advisors, who operate for the armed groups behind the scenes, do not feature in any media outlets. Neighbouring states also provide geographical assistance to the armed groups, with Jordan providing a passage for mercenaries from Libya, and Turkey acting as the northern military base for operations.
Turkey is involved because of its wish to align itself with the Saudi-Sunni, NATO-backed line and also its fear that a dismembered Syria would lead to the promotion of Kurdish autonomy. In their eyes, this could bring about the eventual union of the Kurds with Iraqi and Syrian Kurds and then lead to civil war with Turkey and the eventual separation of Kurdistan from Turkey and the creation of a Kurdish state.
For its part, Israel has for decades planned, as part of its strategy to dominate the Middle East and the Mediterranean, to weaken Syria in order to continue its occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights and to dominate water sources. Essentially, Israel wants to be the main economic and military power in the region and indeed, Israel may well emerge from the weakening ofSyria as the main winner, if only in the short-term.
Through its orchestrated media campaigns transmitted over the decades to its own public,Israel has constructed a concept of Syria as the major threat to its existence in the Arab world. Arguably, the governmental vacuum that might be created in Syria could be filled by al-Qaeda-like groups giving sufficient justification for Israel’s actions (against Syria and/or Iran) and would also promote the idea of a conflict between ‘civilized-democratic’ Israel and ‘savage’ Islamists.
Despite huge differences between Syria and Libya, Syria’s fate could be similar to that of Libya in terms of direct foreign intervention, were not Russia and China firmly opposed such actions at the UN, where there has been consistent cooperation between the two. Although the origins of Sino-Soviet relations go back to the early days of the 1917 Communist Revolution, it seems that, even two decades after the dismantlement of the Eastern Bloc, the Russian Federation and the Republic of China are, more than ever, following what Mao Tse-tung advised in his ‘Be a True Revolutionary’ address on 23 June 1950. Here, Tse-tung said that ‘in the international sphere we must firmly unite with the Soviet Union’ (see Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, vol. V. p. 39). Shared ideology, world vision, economic interests, and objectives in the field of energy have brought Russia and China ever closer together over the Syrian conflict.
World oil production is headed by Saudi Arabia, with Russia second, the USA third, Iran fourth and China fifth. In terms of oil reserves, we find that the top ten states are:1) Venezuela, 2) Saudi Arabia, 3) Canada, 4) Iran, 5) Iraq, 6) Kuwait, 7) UAE, 8) Russia, 9) Kazakhstan and 10) Libya. Russia is the largest gas producer in the world, with Europe dependent on its gas sourcing. In world gas production, if, because of their geographical distance, we exclude the USA and Canada, Iran comes second and Qatar third. In terms of gas reserves, Russia is number one, with Iran and Qatar in fourth place and Saudi Arabia in sixth. With neighbouring Saudi Arabia as one of the ten leading producers of gas in the world, it is clear why the export interests of Qatar and Saudi Arabia are particularly important and this ranking should give us a clear idea of the alliances that have formed in light of the Syrian conflict.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar (which in different circumstances could have been one state and might yet experience a geographical reshuffle) are both Arab-Muslim-Sunni and both have economic interests. Qatar’s greedy pursuit of marketing contracts for Libyan gas and oil supplies explains its agreement with NATO to attack Libya, its symbolic participation in the air strikes and its support for the rebels to establish a media capability.
Qatar’s aim is to export its gas toEurope, compete with the Russians and gain important political bargaining chips. In order for the export of Qatari gas to Europe to be feasible and competitive, a gas pipe must be laid through Syria. As Russia’s long-standing ally and with the precedents of numerous joint deals dating back to the USSR era, Syria is unlikely to allow anything to threaten the destabilization of Russia’s interests in their last strategic stronghold in the Arab world. This is the main reason why Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting the opposition’s struggle to topple the Syrian government.
Syria is fast becoming a Pandora’s box from which all the historical crises of the last 120 years are re-emerging. These begin with the Russo-Turkish war in 1877-8, the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, WWI and WWII and the Cold War. Normally, it takes a superpower 2-3 decades to emerge. It took the USA nearly 25 years to emerge as a superpower from 1890 to the end of WWI. After the death of Lenin in 1924, the USSR was the sick man of Europe. In 1945, after WWII and under Stalin, it emerged as a superpower. After Gorbachev, Russia ceased to be a superpower and seemingly, the Cold War ended. In just over two decades, Putin has ended the unipolar system and a new bipolar world is emerging – as if the Cold War had never ended.
Close examination of the Syrian political system reveals that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is, indeed, a reformist. However, in Syria, as in any other state, factions are intertwined in power-struggles and these and the necessary processes of socialization will take some time to work through. Whilst, as Assad said, it takes just a couple of minutes to sign a new law, it takes much longer to educate people to absorb and participate in the implementation of the new values those laws enshrine. Western ruling elites’ portrayal of these new norms as seemingly growing on trees is an act of disutility and definitely immoral.
Syria was the last secular, socially-cohesive Arab state based on a top-down secular ideology. Despite its volatile, geopolitical surroundings (Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Iraq), Syrian citizens lived securely under this Arab secularism. Syria encompasses a particular type of pluralism and multiculturalism, embedded with religious tolerance and a pluralist existence. This is demonstrated by the toleration of a church, a mosque, a bar and the equal coexistence of both secular and veiled women. In fact, the reform process begun in Syria is more advanced than any similar process in any other Arab state. It includes the removal of emergency laws, the implementation of party laws, election laws, a key media law, and the approval of a new constitution including the removal of the article on the sole leadership of the al-Ba’ath party. Such reforms are part of a genuine political process that will take time. However, this reform process has been totally and intentionally undermined by forces, including Western governments acting against the Syrian state. In the last decades, and particularly since 9/11, the West has continually propagated the notion that Islamist terrorists have been threatening the secular way of life. However, Sunnis, technically the religious majority in Syria, contain large segments, and are no less secular than any other Western society.
So, despite Syrians’ clear right to defend the secularity of their way of life, the aim of the West is to dismantle the Syrian state, alter the power structure, and create new demo-geographic entities such as a confederation of the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, which at present, is Turkey’s nightmare. Specific areas might also be depopulated, which might then be used, as has been done with the Druze, to repopulate with Syrian Christians and perhaps with Christians from Lebanon. Other Christians would leave the Levant altogether. The Alawites would then have another state, linked perhaps, with Iran.
The plan is to destroy the modern Arab state of Syria that emerged after WWI and in the 1940s, and, where possible, to establish new religious states (similar to the Jewish state of Israel). In this way, Arab power and along with it, the Pan-Arab ideology of Michel Aflaq and Antun Sa’ade (both Arab Christians) and Nasser of Egypt, would disappear. This process began when, in 1978-9 under Sadat, Egypt signed its peace treaty with Israel, and was followed by the destruction of Lebanon in 1982, the second Intifada in 1987, and the economic takeover of Iraq in 2003. It was then followed in Libya with the seizing of oil and gas in 2011. Therefore, in order to keep the US-Rael (US-Israel) hegemony, the West needs to align states along sectarian lines (Sunni-Shiite) rather than on Pan-Arabism. Indeed, this process was boosted after the occupation of Iraq and the toppling of the Ba’ath party.
In practice, what is now happening in the Arab world is a ‘correction’ of the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, when the main colonial powers, Britain and France, carved out the boundaries of the current Arab states and installed their own Arab agents. These ongoing, neo-colonial plans include provision for any two or more Arab parties to fight the Syrian regime and to keep them fighting until such time as each state is dismembered and fractured into 2-3 states, based on sectarian lines. Then colonial elites can continue to scoop up the wealth because, after all, the imperial mentality has hardly changed.
Since Western powers cannot achieve this on their own, they need agents such as Qatar in Libya and Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others in Syria. These agents, preferably self-serving, undemocratic Arab-Muslim-Sunni monarchies, will use Sunni-Islam to promote fanaticism against other Arabs, Muslims and non-Muslims (e.g., Arab Christians, Shiites and Druze). Those Arabs with access to the (economic) global elite (for example, the Royal Saudi family and the Qataris with the Americans and other European elites) are, by and large, the ruling elites in the Arab Gulf or their protégés. It is they who are driving a wedge between the various sects and magnifying and exploiting the playing of the Sunni card with non-Arab Muslim Sunni Turkey against Syria. It would hardly be a surprise either if they were in cahoots with Israel-serving Western powers. Otherwise, it would remain fairly difficult to explain why the most authoritarian regime on earth, Saudi Arabia, is acting against Syria and trying to teach it lessons in democracy, something that Saudi Arabia is not very keen to know much about.
The negative, orientalist, propaganda campaigns conducted against Syria in the past year with the financial backing of some Gulf countries have intentionally obscured elements within Syria, such as Syria’s secularism – something with which Western societies would naturally identify. So, the importance of Syria’s largely secular Ba’ath Party ideology, which guaranteed at least private liberties, has been kept hidden. This is for example in addition to the fact that Daoud Rajhah, the assassinated Syrian Minister of Defence, was a Christian, as was Dr Nabil Zughaib, the recently assassinated (along with his family) head of the Syrian missile programme.
The above examples of a deliberate elimination of facts are arguably due to Syria’s alliance with Russia, which is the ‘wrong’ camp. This close relationship between Syria and Russia has lasted for over five decades. Furthermore, Syria is the soft (Alawaite/Shiite-secular) underbelly between NATO refusnik (Shiite) Iran and Shiite HizboAllah in Lebanon. Whilst in Israel’s short-term eyes, the main opposition to its domination is Iran (as well as HizboAllah, Syria, and formerly, Hamas), Syria is now, therefore, the target. As such, Syria is now taking the punishment, so that the whole metaphoric body will eventually be dismembered.
But what is the relevance of Hamas Here? Until it democratically won the elections in 2006 (nearly two years after the assassination of Yasser Arafat), and then a year later staged a coup against the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip, Hamas was a resistance movement supported by Iran, Damascus, and HizboAllah. If Iran is the metaphoric ‘head’ and HizboAllah and Hamas the two legs, Syria has been the ‘belly’ or the ‘heart’ and ‘lungs’ of this ‘body’ of resistance. But since Hamas has run the Gaza Strip, it has largely ceased to be a resistance movement and has become institutionalized. Here, Israel (and Sharon in particular) won a tactical victory. At hardly any cost, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, while keeping it under siege, attacking it at will and giving the keys to the prisoners (Hamas) to run for them the largest open-air prison on earth. And all this was done without Hamas even realizing what was going on. Perhaps someone thought that the name could be beautified and, instead of prison, it might turn into an EmiRison (Emirate and prison).
In the first half of 2012, Hamas’ leaders left Damascus, where their headquarters were, and are now keeping publicly quiet and refraining from supporting the Syrian government – a government, which has supported them for more than two decades. With the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia and Egypt, and their rise in Libya, Hamas now seems to have new and powerful patrons, and in countries where it can operate from a much more powerful position. Hamas’ leadership (both in the Diaspora and in the Gaza Strip) has been invited by the newly elected Egyptian president, to join, the Muslim Brotherhood (their mother organization) as equals. What seemed until yesterday to be a resistance movement (though some may argue that they were never revolutionary, unlike other leftist Palestinian factions, such as the PFLP, DFLP, etc.), is now woven into the embroidery of a Sunni-Muslim alliance which has started to act under the wing of NATO.
Western orientalists like to imagine what needs to happen for their interests in the Orient to be served. They begin by labeling the Arab world the ‘Middle East’, as if it were just a geographical marker placed only in relation to where they themselves are. In order to secure their planned thievery, they invent terms to obfuscate and justify their covert or overt military actions. However, their security/intelligence services always fail to predict developments in the Arab world such as the Intifada of 1987 and the Hamas coup in 2007. Still, their superficial and ignorant power-elites never cease to manufacture new names and processes, the latest of which is the naming of whatever started in Tunisia as the ‘Arab Spring’.
What is happening in some Arab states and in the Arab world is no ‘Spring’: it is a reactionary process which will bounce back, as the USA experienced in Afghanistan, where the US both created and supported the same jihadists they later fought against. So, the US-Israel has been trying to cut deals with the Islamists in power so that they may control the masses. Indeed, this is not the first time that political strategists have tried to use religion to avoid chaos and defend their economic interests. This is similar to what Machiavelli described (based on the account of the Roman historian Titus Livius (Livy) Patavinus (59 BC-17 AD), who wrote Books from the Foundation of the City) and referred to in Discourses on Livy, when he sub-headed a chapter as: ‘How the Romans made religion serve to reorder the city and carry out their enterprise to stop tumults’.
So, Western propaganda campaigns against Syria seek to convince the public (the ‘plebs’) to fear religion rather than obey their current Arab leaders. This is why, despite the censored protests in the three Arab kingdoms (KSA, Morocco and Jordan), the world has hardly (because of censorship, gate-keeping and lack of Western media attention) seen any substantial protests compared to those in other Arab republics. One of the reasons was that there was hardly anyone to promote any special well-funded media campaigns and to pay the huge sums required. (This is perhaps with the exception of Bahrain, and the possible influence of Iran). However, there is no guarantee that a counter-hegemonic campaign would still succeed in these Arab monarchies.
After defeating the rival al-Rashid clan in 1921, the al-Saud family currently rules in most of the historical Arabian Peninsula. Its regional prominence is also due to control of the holy sites of Mekka and Medina and its alliance with, and use of, Wahabism as well as its oil and mineral resources. These resources subsidize its related cultural (media) industry. Nevertheless, religious and economic factors are evidently complex, interwoven and involve a large social network. This combination may be expressed in what I call ‘The Saudi ethic, the spiritual buck’ - somewhat similar to Weber’s ‘Protestant Ethic thesis’ which stood behind the accumulation of wealth in northernEurope.
Through the accumulation of capital in theGulf statesin the 1970s (controlled by Anglo-American protection through treaties that brought large numbers of Arabs to be either economically dependent (through employment in the Gulf), or spiritually dependent through control of Arab media), the oil boom created a new social stratification in the Arab world. As a result, some Arab societies have been dependent on and accepting of the authority of the ruling Saudi family and its clans. These elites are part of the ruling economic elites who own some of the most valuable energy projects, valuable assets and properties in the West, including Harrods, football teams, property on the Champs Élysées and partnerships with Rupert Murdoch, to mention but a few.
The recent discovery that Arabs want their freedom is chiefly promoted by some Arab and Western media institutions which are themselves an extension of policy makers who have their own economic objectives, strategies and tactics. The media campaigns that are being conducted by neo-conservative capitalist, Zionists such as Bernard-Henri Lévy, who aggressively serves Israel, and who has a strong affinity to fundamentalist Judaism, aim only to separate Arabs from their wealth and resources, whilst, at the same time, deceiving them.
This is done through the dual strategy of manufacturing a separate narrative for two separate segments of the population. To the religious, corruption is associated with faithlessness, while to the entire Arab nation they sell the very appealing dream of freedom, justice, and liberty. Naturally, each individual will interpret this according to his or her own upbringing, socialization, politicization, norms and values. So, whilst all might meet in the ‘square’, the Islamists will believe Islamic scripts to be the solution, liberals will recall Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the ‘separation of powers’ of Montesquieu and the French Revolution, Marxists will think of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and class struggle and the Maoists will think of the Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse-Tung or Nasserism (after all, when a group of Egyptian army officers conducted a coup and a revolution in 1952, Mao Tse-Tung declared that ‘the struggle against corruption and waste is a major issue which concerns the whole party’ (30 November, 1951) and it therefore fits the bill of fighting corrupt Arab regimes). Meanwhile, those who dream of Castro and Che Guevara will run to the ‘barricades’ in the squares in a stand off against the state security forces.
In fact, all of these values are just non-starters in the Arab world and Zio-Liberals know this. The reality is that, because of social control and the way Arab societies have been socialized in the last century (including the impact of colonial heritage) and because of the wealth Wahabi Islam (and modern Salafis) have enjoyed from oil revenues, except for the Islamic faction, the other ideologies will make little progress but rather will simply ensure the victory of the religious movements.
True, the Arab world has been heterogeneous, though only mildly. Religion has prevailed even in states like Jordan where, for decades, Islamists controlled most school curricula. Thus, in every Arab state that has had unrest, and particularly so in Egypt, there is a fierce power struggle over the constitution. The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis won the majority of seats in the parliamentary elections, and the first democratically elected president, Muhammad Mursi (elected only by quarter of citizens), is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Major powers are working towards promulgating a constitution based on a relevant interpretation of Sharia laws. In his ‘Morphology of the State’, Aristotle suggests that there is a need to ‘consider not only which constitution is best, but also which is practicable and most easily within reach’ (p. 103). In the eyes of the religious fundamentalists, this can be the Sharia laws, whilst a solution for the Western ruling elites is in place.
As they have secured their economic interests through religious-elite controlled media institutions, they will in turn benefit from their own social, economic and political centres of power, and a new niche of businessmen will emerge from the circles/classes of the religious elites. Religious groups will also increase their economic participation alongside political participation. Since it will benefit their political jihad, some will see this as halal whether inside or outside the framework of Islamic banking. Social division will, however, remain or widen and the only difference is that the names have changed. Instead of a ‘Mubarak’, it will be someone else (but this time, someone with a beard) and these apparent ‘changes’ will simply maintain political control.
The affected populations are those defined as ‘minorities’ – mainly Arab Christians (around 30 million of them in the Arab world), secular (Sunni and Shiite) Muslims and others. In Egypt, Mohammad Zawahiri (the brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri) has already declared that Egyptian Christians should pay a tax as Dhimmi’s (infidels) or else leave Egypt. And if they refuse, he has suggested they be confronted and coerced.
An example of mobilizing the population through religion in the media has been adopted by the Saudi monarch himself. During Ramadan 2012, Abdallah of Saudi Arabia and his heir launched a fundraising campaign supposedly in aid of the Syrian people – or so the slogan said. This campaign was based on Islamic moral norms and sense of community, especially those emphasized during the holy month of Ramadan. Whilst selling his people messages of community and compassion, these campaigns are used for both local and regional political purposes. A similar campaign launched by Syria for the liberation of Saudi Arabian women, and the need for them to drive, is unimaginable.
Besuited, Goebbels-like liberals who stand alongside those chiefs of sheikhdoms, have so far, attempted to deceive part of Arab public opinion and to manufacture a consensus against the Syrian government, and so diverted from themselves the heat of their own ‘streets’. Whilst they themselves adhere to the most archaic norms and beliefs regarding freedom and democracy, they instigate mass deception against Syria that is, in terms of its social norms, such as women’s freedoms, religious minorities’ rights, equal opportunities and personal liberties, etc., much closer to liberal Western countries. In much the same way as the Arab regimes would like to rally domestic public opinion in support of Palestinians, Gulf regimes are using the false argument that they are against the oppression of Syrians by their own government to rally their ‘streets’ against Syria. And this despite the fact that they themselves are light years behindSyriain terms of freedom and democracy.
Western governments are no friends of liberal democracy in the Third World. They inevitably deal with those governments with the worst records of human rights and then only when it is of financial benefit to them. Just as in July 2008, when Nicolas Sarkozy and current archenemy of Syria, the Emir of Qatar, formed, with the Syrian leadership, the ‘Union of the Mediterranean’, some European governments think they also might benefit financially from the crisis in the Arab world. This is particularly so when they have the support of rich Gulf States and believe they can somehow reduce the economic crises they are facing.
In some parts of Syria personal security has diminished since March 2011 and central government has not been always notable for its moral conduct. However, as part of a strategic political campaign, the media are intentionally lying about the situation in Syria. They instill fear in the Syrian public and affect exaggerated concern for casualties and loss of life. Thus, they construct a narrative, which facilitates and justifies increased assistance to the armed groups, separatists, terrorists, and mercenaries. The same media also portray the Syrian government as solely responsible for the violence, when in fact, those who recruit, pay and supply weapons to easily malleable, unemployed and cash-hungry individuals are themselves really responsible.
There are two main culprits for the increase in casualties: lying and the silencing of any opposing voice. With their Arab allies, NATO switched off the signal for the satellite connection of the Syrian al-Dunia satellite channel. Other acts of satellite ‘terror’ arguably included the CIA’s hijacking of al-Dunia’s Twitter account, so as to disseminate disinformation about the Syrian army’s false retreat. The same Arab satellite that Syria helped found after the loss of the second part ofPalestinein 1967, is now being used against it by those formerArab Gulf sheikhdoms.
This satellite is now being used in the conflict in Syria – but against Syria – and includes disinformation chiefly by Gulf-owned channels that promote fear and panic about economic instability in Syria. The media are being used and manipulated as a cover for the incitement of terrorist action by the Syrian opposition and also to garner economic aid, and this same media then present the sanitized, ‘heroic’ achievements of the ‘rebels’ and, when necessary, depict any losses they encounter as ‘massacres’.
By and large, Western and mainstream Arab media are left with nearly only one option: to swallow disinformation from unreliable ‘spin’ bodies, which they then pump out to the public. Stories of massacres by the Syrian government are, for propaganda purposes, broadcast to justify foreign intervention, and the prevailing image is that of the noble West coming to save an incapable, oppressed Third World nation from the tyranny of a chauvinist male oppressor. This is exactly what happened in Libya. Nonetheless, a minority of Arab media is opposing the master plan and another minority are sitting on the fence. The Arab media are mostly, either directly or indirectly, in the hands of Gulf States, while any other journalists either operate discreetly on the payroll of those forces or are totally deluded and find it impossible to grasp the tragic ramifications of what is taking place in the Arab world. The anti-war values of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage are most probably not high on the agenda in some oil rich states, since they might expose the dichotomy between religion and war economy even further.