Syrians are paying attention to the changes that are taking place in every Arab country. Although there are improvements and hopes for further improvements in the future, the picture today is generally not that bright:
- There are no full democracies. Lebanon and Iraq (plus non Arab Israel and Iran) are all flawed democracies.
- Flawed Arab democracies, just like other Arab countries, continue to suffer from corruption. Lebanon and Iraq were perceived to be more corrupt than Syria on the “worldwide corruption perceptions ranking” in 2010.
- Formerly proud Arab regional powers that went through dramatic changes are now weak. Iraq used to be one of the leading Arab states, but last year it could not form a coalition government without consulting Iran, Syria and the Unites States for months. The largest Arab country, Egypt, has no leadership or regional weight anymore and is expected to remain weak for years. Secular Libyan leaders who supported the overthrow of Qaddafi are now expressing their anger at the way the tiny state of Qatar appears to be in charge of managing their affairs.
- Many countries are divided, or risk being divided into smaller states.Yemen could be divided into a North and South. Sudan has been already divided into North and South, and Somalia is a totally failed state
- Women’s rights deteriorate after change in countries that allow Islamists a powerful role in the new state. Iraq and Egypt are two suchexamples. Libya’s secular women will likely be next if the religious conservatives in the revolution continue to set the rules.
- Similarly,secular Muslims and religious minorities become vulnerable toattacks and/or limited freedoms. Iraq’s Christians and Egypt’s Copts are not as free or safe as they used to be under the leadership of the former secular dictatorships. The Mandeans who had lived in Iraq for thousands of years finally had to flee after religious fanatics targeted them violently following the overthrow of the previous regime. A recent opinion poll in Egypt (PEW research) reveals that less than 27% of Egyptian Muslims believe religious minorities’ rights are important. The leading Egyptian Christian Copt, billionaire and political leader Naguib Sawiris is facing trial for charge of showing contempt for religion. A coalition of conservative and ultra conservative Islamists won over 70% of the seats in Egypt parliamentary elections.
- Change in countries that had considerable diversity (religious, ethnic, tribal, social) came at very heavy losses in human lives. Up to 230,000 people lost their lives during Lebanon’s civil war. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives on the road to (flawed) democracy. Hundreds of thousands died in Sudan. Removing Qaddafi and his loyal tribes from power came at an estimated cost of over 50,000 dead Libyans … so far.
- Change without a strong central authority leads to chaos and loss of internal stability. A number of powerful groups compete for power in the destabilized state. In countries with little religious diversity (like Egypt and Tunisia); The armed forces, the Islamists, and the secular (usually young) revolutionary leadership will be the probable post-revolution power centers. In countries with considerable religious or ethnic diversity (Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan), power groups are formed based on religion or ethnicity. Transition periods, after the old order is dismantled, have been dangerous; there are no clear rules and no universally accepted judges or mediators between the different groups competing for power, often through bullying or violence.
- Revolutions (and civil wars) will devastate the economy. Oil rich Iraq is crippled. Poor, and densely populated Egypt faces bankruptcy as its foreign reserves are depleting fast. In places (like Syria) where basic food and energy items are subsidized by the government, a post-revolution semi-bankrupt country will surely stop being able to pay for subsidies, which will certainly lead to a spike in poverty-related crimes.
- Israel somehow scored a new ally in each and every Arab state that suffered serious divisions; Among the Kurds in Iraq, M14 coalition in Lebanon, Fatah in Palestine, South Sudan and revolutionary eastern Libya. Most Syrians would be shattered if Israel were to gain allies, or proxies, in Syria’s new power structure.
Bernard Henri Levy , Shimon Peres, Elliott Abrams, and Ayman Zawahiri are delighted with the prospects of change in Syria. That’s the same group that unites when ugly things are about to happen somewhere in the Arab world.
The above are some of the reasons that may explain why the vast majority of Syrians have not been sufficiently motivated to demonstrate against the regime. Many within “the silent majority” are probably opposed to the regime, but they cannot avoid the disappointing reality around them. Despite all the efforts to energize the many potential revolution supporters, a high degree of realism and risk aversion among most Syrians is so far proving to be an insurmountable obstacle for the regime-change specialists and strategists. They have been trying to tell the Syrian people that it is Assad who is deceptively promoting sectarian and other fears among you and that there is nothing to fear. Everything will be fine if the current regime falls, anyone will do better …
In his speech on Middle East policy last May President Obama correctly observed the powerful role that technology is playing in helping people be less prone to manipulation by their dictators. What the President failed to note, however, is that the same internet technology, cell phone cameras and YouTube service are allowing Syrians to see a well known opposition figure acting like a child who wants his toy NOW, the leader of the revolution’s “Free Syrian Army” already making it clear he is ready to beanyone’s puppet if they bring him to power on a Turkish or NATO tank, Journalist Nir Rosen confirming from personal interviews that defecting soldiers told him they defected for their own sectarian reasons and not because the Syrian army officers tried to force them to “randomly shoot at women and children“, Syrian opposition figures on television despising each other, (and on their facebook pages, and on the street in Homs, or from their Wahhabi financed TV studios …), young active supporters of the revolution chanting sectarian threats, opposition figures meeting in Brusselsphysically attack young Syrians demonstrating outside their hotel, an Associated Press raw video clip showing the opposition’s Free Syrian Army terrorizing Syrians, a reporter for Le Figaro who sneaked inside Syria from Turkey published interviews with well armed Libyan former Alqaedafighters inside Syria, and the vast majority of the revolution’s women demonstrating only at home.
The west and their Arab allies hoped to rely on the Tahrir square euphoria to provide sufficient motivation for a majority of Syrians to decide to revolt against their leadership. Serbian, Egyptian and American NGOs and revolutionary online activists helped Syrian opposition appear united and non sectarian and civilized and armed with nothing but good plans for a better, democratic, Syria that will respect human rights just like they do in Sweden. Time showed them for what they are … an alarming alternative to the mediocre Syrian regime.
Camille Otrakji is a political and strategic analyst specialized in the Syrian affairs. He is the editor of the Syria Page, and the founder of many dialogue blogs over the past decade. He has recently joined Syria Tribune's list of guest editors.