Sunday, December 11, 2011

Arab Spring’s Silver Lining: A Search for the Soul of Arab Islam

Elie Elhadj
Posted with permission from

Non-Arab Muslims in predominantly Sunni Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey, representing two thirds of world Muslims, have a moderate and modern attitude towards Islamic dogma and Shari’a laws. They conduct democratic parliamentary elections and have had female prime ministers and presidents.

By contrast, Sunni Arab countries treat women like chattel. For decades, Arab states have been ruled by non-representative dictators. Until the Arab Spring in 2011, the Arab peoples never had a democratic election, save for those farcical presidential referendums.

 Why the difference between the Sunni way of life of Arab and non-Arab Muslims? The answer may be found in the fact that Arab rulers and their palace ulama exploit those parts of the Islamic creed that help prolong their control over their people. Arabs consider themselves as the guardians of the “true” Islam of seventh century Arabia. That the Prophet, his companions, the Quran, and the sanctuaries in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem are all Arabic cement that belief. The Quran describes Arabs as the “best people evolved to mankind” (3:110).

The Arab Spring might reform Arab Islam

The Arab Spring has triggered big conflicts between Arab rulers and their palace ulama, on one hand, and the anti-ruler ulama and the masses, on the other. The palace ulama have been for decades actively protecting the excesses of their benefactor kings and presidents. They preach that blind obedience to the Muslim ruler is a form of Islamic piety, citing God’s word in the Quran (4:59): “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you”. The palace ulama teach that the Prophet Muhammad had reportedly said, according to canonical Hadith collection of al-Bukhari and of Muslim: “He who obeys me obeys God; he who disobeys me, disobeys God. He who obeys the ruler, obeys me; he who disobeys the ruler, disobeys me”.

The anti-ruler ulama believe rebelling against an impious or unjust Muslim ruler to be an Islamic duty. To justify their belief, anti-ruler ulama invoke the words of the Prophet, quoted in Abi Dawood, Muslim, and al-Nasai: “Whoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart”.

The anti-ruler ulama helped to remove from office in 2011 the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Anti-ruler Islamic groups performed impressively in all of the democratically held parliamentary elections during the last quarter of the year. In Tunisia, al-Nahda Party achieved 41% of the vote. In Morocco, the Justice and Development Party achieved 27% of the votes, more than any other party. In Tunisia and Morocco, the leaders of the winning parties became prime ministers. In Egypt, Islamic politicians will undoubtedly form the next cabinet when parliamentary elections are completed in early 2012. Already, in the first round, the Freedom and Justice Party, a reincarnation of the Muslim Brothers organization, achieved 37% of the votes and the fundamentalist al-Nour party achieved 24%. Likewise, anti-ruler ulama and Islamic parties are most likely to perform well in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Yemen and Libya, and in Syria, too, whenever the Asad family finally falls.

The victorious anti-ruler ulama in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen will undoubtedly provide the intellectual vigor and inspiration to the anti-ruler ulama in other Arab republics and monarchies to rise against their own unjust and corrupt presidents and kings.

Within the ranks of the winning Islamic groups there are shades of moderation and extremism. The moderates; like Morocco’s Justice and Development, Tunisia’s al-Nahda, and Egypt’s Freedom and Justice might prove to be akin to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, if they translate their electioneering pledges into action—time will tell. Fundamentalist parties like Egypt’s al-Nour, are Islamist salafis who find their guidance in Wahhabi extremism. Their members aspire to emulate the Prophet’s seventh century way of life in the Arabian Desert. Some salafis, for example, refrain from using spoons or forks because such implements did not exist during the Prophet’s life. Islamist salafis choose to focus on the intolerant and the violent parts of the Quran and the Sunna, to the exclusion of the tolerant and peaceful parts on the same issues.

Wahhabism is influenced by the teaching of Ahmad Bin Hanbal (d. 855), founder of the most orthodox among the four surviving Sunni Schools of Jurisprudence. Less than 5% of world’s Sunnis today follow Wahhabi tenets, mainly in Saudi Arabia plus those among the millions of expatriate workers who became indoctrinated in the Wahhabi creed as a result of working in Saudi Arabia over the past 35 years.

The search for the soul of Arab Islam

During the struggle against their tormentors, Islamic and Islamist parties were united. However, now that the dictators are gone from a few Arab capitals and leaders of moderate Islamic political parties took their place the next confrontation will be between the new religiously moderate rulers and the Islamist salafis. The Islamist salafis will attack the policies and laws of the new rulers as insufficiently Islamic, even heretical (kuffar) deserving death. The new rulers will defend their policies and laws as perfectly Islamic, supported by legitimating reasoning drawn from the Quran and the Sunna of the Prophet.

The coming battle will engulf the moderates and the Islamists over the soul of Islam. The battle will be fought over whether Islam is going to be the intolerant violent religion of the Bin Laden Wahhabi type; or, the enlightened moderate and modern Islam of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan Turkish type?

In the ensuing fight, the Islamist salafis will most likely be sidelined. The results of the recent parliamentary elections in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt point in the direction of a victory for the moderates.

Most importantly, however, this battle might finally give birth to a reformation movement in Islam after a thousand years of suppression of innovation and persecution of whoever dares to think outside ancient and rigid religious constructions and dogma. The battle might very well produce an Islamic reformation movement similar to Martin Luther’s sixteenth century reformation of Christianity. If that happens, the world will become a safer place.

Policy implications

Should Washington and the West fear moderate Arab Islamic regimes? The answer is no. Why? Because to be Islamic need not be anti-America or anti-West. Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, the world’s most Islamist regime has been obsequious to U.S. policies and interests.

Islamic rule will not necessarily be more Islamic than the current Arab regimes. Already, in all Arab countries, Islam is the religion of the state (in Syria, Islam is the religion of the president) and Shari’a is either the source of law or a main source of law.

Consider, for example, the so-called “secular” regime in Damascus. Although the Asad clan, apologists, and propagandists constantly propagate that theirs is a “secular” regime, evidence shows otherwise. In fact, the Syria of 2011 is more Islamic than the Syria of 1963, when Hafiz Asad and his five compatriots put an end to the rule of Syria’s last legitimate parliament and President Nazem al-Qudsi’s cabinet.

In Mr. Asad’s “secular” Syria today seventh century Shari’a laws and courts control personal status, family, and inheritance affairs (Christians follow their own archaic religious courts). Shari’a law is the antithesis of the liberal laws of the modern age. It denies women human and legal rights compared with Muslim men. Shari’a law reduces the status of women to that of chattel—a Muslim man can marry four wives, divorce any one of them without giving reason, with limited child custody rights, housing, or alimony; a Muslim woman is prohibited from marrying a non-Muslim man while the Muslim man is allowed to marry non-Muslim women; a woman cannot pass her nationality on to her foreign husband and children while the man can; “honour killing” of a woman by a male relative results in a light sentence for murder; and two women equal one man in legal testimony, witness, and inheritance. Such maltreatment of one half of society is in spite of the regime’s energetic attempts to project an image of secularism, modernity, and equality between the genders.

The Islamic curriculum in Syria’s elementary, middle, and high schools teaches Muslim Sunni Islam regardless of the Islamic sect to which they belong. The textbooks are discriminatory, divisive, and intolerant of non-Muslims.

More mosques, bigger congregations, and more veiled women than ever before have become the order of the day in Syrian cities. To flaunt his Islamic credentials, Mr. Asad even ordered a special rain prayer throughout Syria's mosques performed on December 10, 2010 to ask God to send rain.

With such credentials, it is difficult to see how a moderate Muslim Brothers rule in Syria would be more Islamic than the Asad regime.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Murder They Wrote: The double Tragedy of Myriam Achkar

Joseph El-Khoury

The tragic murder of Myriam Achkar on 21st November in the town of Sahel Alma generated significant turmoil in Lebanon. While the family of the victim and her loved ones cannot be blamed for the flare up of emotions and the call for retribution in rather crude words, the reaction of the more removed public is worth a pause for reflection. As the story unraveled, both mainstream and social media commentaries were awash with bigoted and racist overtones. : At its heart the interpretation of the event as yet another symbol of the persecution of Christianity in a hostile environment. This permanent kink in the psyche of Arab Christian community has resurfaced recently in the wake of the Arab Spring but stretches back to the inception of Islam and the search for an Eastern identity that is simultaneously distinct and in tune with its Islamic surrounding. 

I contrasted the social and official reaction (as distinct from the personal one) to the murder of Myriam with the aftermath of the slaughter of 62 adolescents on a Norwegian Island earlier this year. Following a meticulous and protracted process, Anders Brehing Breivik, the murderer at the heart of these events has only this week been found clinically insane by two Forensic Psychiatrists. More importantly they found that his actions could be blames on delusional beliefs emanating from a diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia. Breivik is likely to spend the rest if his life in a secure psychiatric institution; an outcome that has not pleased everyone but as one bereaved parent insisted, the important point is that society will no longer be at risk from him. 

The protection of others is an important function of well-established mental health services in European countries where specialists coordinate their work with other agencies, including law enforcement agencies and social services. It is of course fanciful to expect the development of such services in the Arab world, at least in the short term.  But as shown in the Breivik case, the use of mental health expertise to help provide satisfactory answers following a crime that impact society beyond the immediate environment of the victim and the perpetrator can be a positive investment for the concerned authorities.

There is no evidence that Fathi Jaber Salateen, the Syrian who committed the gruesome murder in Sahel Alma was mentally ill in the clinical sense. In fact the event is shocking in its simplicity, in the sense that it appears to be the pure product of a criminal psychopathic mind. Myriam, a loving and loved 28 year old who happened to be at the wrong place and at the wrong time, was as such sacrificed to appease dysfunctional basic sexual instincts. What followed remains mostly speculation until details are further revealed.

But this is not the account reported by various media outlets, either for reasons of ignorance or ulterior motives. Instead the social and sectarian dimension was exploited ad nauseaum overshadowing the personal tragedy. This became a story of an innocent Christian girl killed by a Muslim Immigrant worker. The discrepancy between the real and perceived cultural and religious values of both victim and perpetrator were emphasized to explain the murder. A political solution was even sought for what is essentially a problem inherent to the human mind; the dysfunctional psyche independent of creed. Little context or analysis was provided for these types of murder, which are mostly advertised in the Christian West.  For what it’s worth another chilling parallel could be drawn between this case and the murder of 25 year old Jo Yeates last Christmas in the English city of Bristol. The convicted murderer was no other than her neighbor, Vincent Tabak, a distinctively middle class Dutch architect who led an unremarkable crime-free existence.

The death of Myriam could not come at a worse time for the Lebanese authorities. For months, public paranoia has been at its peak fuelled by heightened local and regional political tension but also a genuine lack of security. In a desperate attempt to minimize public outcry, many in positions of responsibility made populist statements lumping together unrelated events and reaching erroneous conclusions. The measures suggested might reassure a traumatized community, but do little to prevent another Salateen from striking in Sahel Alma, or elsewhere when we least expect it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

2011: The rise of the Arab Ego

Joseph El-Khoury

A healthy ego is essential for the sound functioning of any individual. Societies and groups also require the healthy equivalent of an ego, which can be defined as a set of guiding principles in how they perceive themselves and their relationship with others.
It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the Arab ego had been fairly damaged over the course of the 20th century but even probably beyond that to the era of Turkish domination, from Seljuk to Ottoman.  The last century was particularly harsh as it opened on hope in a dawn of self-determination, prosperity and unity.  What follows is well documented: From the failure to establish an Arab state in the wake of the 1916 revolt to the Invasion of Iraq in 2003, passing through the Sykes-picot agreement and the creation of the state of Israel, Arab history reads as a succession of defeats, retreats, disappointments and foreign domination. For lack of better strategies, the Arabs fell back on an unhealthy introversion; the type that generates resentment, suspiciousness and misunderstanding of the other without providing viable paths for self-validation. The series of civil/sectarian/ethnic/social conflicts that have plagued the Arab hemisphere for decades with frequent overspills onto the global scene can be, in my view, directly linked to this battered and bruised ego in need of rescuing.

Enters the Arab spring… Pushing the Arab masses to the global stage as a force to be reckoned with and lifting in its wake the Arab ego. As the action unravels months later, this exercise in confidence building might actually be the only long-lasting tangible effect of the Uprisings. 

We will soon celebrate the one year of anniversary of the Tunisian spark of what later became the Arab Spring, suitably dubbed by a Western media machine until then hostile and dismissive. We have also started discovering the vulnerability of the process and how easily it could be reversed, compromised or hijacked. Any of these three scenarios are likely to lead to a fragmentation of the Arab ego; an outcome with practical implications for individual countries and for the leading nationalist ideological drives that have dominated the political scenes for in excess of 100 years.  Arab nationalism, in its secular and religious (Pan-Islamist) components is unlikely to resist another humiliating failure. The more so humiliating as it would be self-inflicted through internal divisions, the lack of direction and a naïve dichotomous outlook on the modern world. The unfortunate scenes in Maspero, Cairo a few days ago should not have come as a surprise to anyone not blinded by the myths of a united Arab society liberating itself from foreign shackles in one deep breath of freedom. 
The Arab uprisings are a necessary evil, akin to a painful corrective surgical procedure; and an equally painful convalescence is to be expected. It would still be wrong to delude ourselves with an inflated sense of our self importance and our achievements. But if the Arab twittersphere is anything to go by, grandiosity and stubbornness is on the agenda uniting Islamic revivalists, pro-western liberals and traditional Nationalists from Egypt to Syria. At the time of writing, a summary report would include a change of guards in Egypt, an unsettled democratic process in Tunisia, a tribal struggle in Yemen, a religious rift in Bahrain, a revolution backed by NATO in Libya and a bloodbath with sectarian undertones in Syria.  The umbrella term of ‘Arab spring’, which is essentially another Orientalist myth fails to capture the essence of these events or to predict their outcomes. Our own misguided contribution has been to dismiss the internal contradictions plaguing the Arab land and the Arab identity from long before the first Zionist settler and the first oil pipeline.

A new Arab ego based on self delusion is still an unhealthy one. Honest blunt introspection is required, but no progressive political force or intellectual circle has so far been willing to provide it while remaining effectively connected with the wave of popular anger. This is leaving the fray open for the hordes of populists and opportunists with less than shiny credentials.

Hope remains that in the coming months someone somewhere will rise to this challenge.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Autumn leaves... the promise and threat of the Arab spring

Bassem Hassan

                                          Photo Roberto Schmidt AFP/ImagesGetty

As the popular Arab revolts approach autumn, the tree of Arab dictators is shedding its leaves. One after the other they fall. Some fell when the tree was merely shaken, others after a strong wind and still others after a raging storm. The storm still rages, the tree is shaking violently and the remaining leaves will fall… yellow, crooked and dry.

Arab societies are vastly different from one another in terms of their social organization, institutions of state and history of independence and governance. Yet, they share the fact that they are governed by corrupt oligarchies often lead either by a family or a single brutal figure. As such it is perfectly understandable that the discussion over the future of post-revolutionary Arab nations centers upon the idea of democracy. Clearly, no Arab future is likely to be bright and hopeful without democracy. However, democracy is a vast and complex notion and today exists in almost as many forms as there are democratic states. The question therefore is what basic standards of democracy might we call for in the new Arab nations emerging from the settling dust of the liberation battles?

Perhaps a useful parameter against which to measure this notion is the path of democracy in modern Arab history. Today, one might speak of two democratic countries in the Arab world: Lebanon and Iraq. The former has a relatively long experience with its democratic system, while the latter has a rather new experience with its system. What the two countries share is a very troubled unstable history with their democracies. A logical assumption therefore is that the common elements of the two systems underlie the shared trouble they have with democracy. Those common elements are a system of power sharing based upon religious sects and heavy intervention in internal affairs by conflicting outside powers. Thus, the Arab revolutionaries in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and soon Syria would be well advised to avoid anything resembling the Lebanese or Iraqi “democracies”.

Arab people across the region deserve the freedom and democracy they have paid for with decades of oppression and poverty and months of bloodshed. They also deserve a democracy likely to sustain them in the long term. They deserve a democracy that will allow their societies to develop solid economies, modern educational systems, sustainable infrastructures and institutes of knowledge creation. The brave young Arabs who rose to defy the heritage of their defeated and defeatist fathers, but also in equal measure the dark prophecy and evil instruments of small but violent minority of religious extremists, deserve a future in which they are all equal in rights and duties regardless of age, gender, ethnic origin, spiritual conviction and life style. Those who paid with their bodies and risked their lives, and the memories of those who lost theirs, deserve a future in which Arab peoples stand in social solidarity within and between their countries, while respecting each other’s right to independence and self-determination.

All these gifts do not come cheap and they do not come easy. All these rights and privileges are not given, but rather created. All this promise held within the very nature and course that the Arab revolutions have decided to take, does not come merely through claiming democracy and holding elections. Lebanon and Iraq are a sadly non-shining example. For the Arab spring to someday shine a beautiful sunlight and for the Arab tree to finally bear the fruit of progress, it needs to be planted in the soil of secular, socialized democracy. Any other form is short-term recipe for regression to the dictatorship of tribalism and its favorite mechanism of governance: civil war!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Zeid Hamdan and General Suleiman: The Authoritarianism of Fragile Egos (or vice versa)

Karl Sharro

Republished with permission from Karlremarks. Follow him also on twitter @Karlremarks.

Message from Zeid Hamdan in prison: 'Dear friends, I am now in the prison of the police station of the palace of justice in Beirut because of my song "General Soleiman". They are prosecuting me for defammation of President Soleiman. I dont know, until when I am staying in prison. Please mobilize!'

The Lebanese musician Zeid Hamdan, recently back from participating in the Shubbak Festival in London, sent this message from his detention cell in Beirut earlier today. Shubbak was intended as a 'window on contemporary Arab culture', the bitter irony is that this incident has now given an all too realistic view of the contemporary culture of repression and arbitrary use of power in Lebanon. The song in question, General Suleiman, is a light-hearted reggae number that has has provoked the humourless authorities to go after Zeid Hamdan, in all likelihood for the 'offence' of demeaning the position of the President of the Republic. This archaic residue of the French mandate period has often been used by the authorities to clamp down on the freedom of expression.

Last year I reviewed General Suleiman, and I may have been too harsh on the borrowed imagery in the video clip and the soft satire it employed. Zeid explained at the time that the idea for the song came out of the political frustrations of the power vacuum that the country experienced, and how he saw the election of General Suleiman as a positive step. The song is in fact is a plea for change, for stability, for normalcy. As a result of the authorities' incompetence, lack of humour and heavy-handedness, perhaps it will now spark a genuine drive for change. The reaction to the detention has been swift, the news travelled very quickly and protest will hopefully follow very soon.

While it's tempting to defend Zeid on the basis that the song isn't actually offensive, I think this is the wrong approach. What we need to defend here is the freedom of expression, without qualifications, and push for abolishing the archaic laws that provide the legal basis for such arrests. No politician or public figure should be beyond critique, and they shouldn't be allowed to use those laws in a desperate bid to gain the respect that their political record hasn't gained them. The role of art and music isn't to flatter the fragile egos of insecure public figures. Let's say a resolute no to these forms of intellectual intimidation and fight for our freedom to offend the clique of fools that is ruling us.

Join the Free Zeid page on facebook.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Premier League Guide to Lebanese Politics.

Karl Sharro

Republished with permission from Karlremarks. Follow him  also on twitter @Karlremarks.

Lebanese politics can appear confusing to the outside observer. Indeed, most of the time, it appears confusing to the inside observer. However, Lebanese politics has inherent logic and rules and, once those are grasped, following it can offer hours of entertainment for the whole family. In an effort to demystify some of the conceptual and technical aspects of Lebanese politics, I offer you the Premier League Guide to Lebanese Politics. It’s a handy metaphorical guide that will help you tell the difference between a Jumblatt and a Aoun, and answer questions like why they can never be on the same side.

But what do Lebanese politics and the English Premier League have in common, I hear you ask? Simple, it’s all about the relaxed rules about foreign ownership and player transfers. Like the Premier League, most parties in Lebanon are financed by foreign owners who are mostly connoisseurs that invest heavily in their hobby. Lebanese politicians are very pragmatic about their affiliations, and can often be convinced to switch sides. Lebanese politics is also divided into competition seasons and periods of rest during players assess their performance and the tourists are allowed to come for the summer.

So let’s find who’s who in Lebanese politics:

Hezbollah: Hezbollah are the Manchester United of Lebanese politics. They were around for a while, but didn’t become really successful until they found the right manager, their own Alex Ferguson. Under his leadership, they acquired a winning touch and they’ve done very well since he took the helm. Many others are jealous of their successes and want to end their dominance. Like Man U, their fans don’t like Americans.

The Future Movement: Future are the ‘blues’ of Lebanese politics. They also are bankrolled by a tycoon and have had some success in recent years, but not enough to meet their expectations. They’ve managed to lure players from other teams often, but they haven’t all been good signings. They also experimented with young and inexperienced managers.

The Lebanese Forces: The Lebanese Forces are the Liverpool of Lebanese politics. They were successful in the 80s, but then they spent years in the shadows. Like Liverpool, they brought back their manager from the 80s in hope of finding the winning formula. He spent years away from the game for personal reasons.

The Free Patriotic Movement: Had Blackpool not been relegated, it would have been the perfect equivalent of the FPM. Both like the colour orange and both are led by loud-mouthed, hot-headed individuals who seem to speak their own language. Both Blackpool and the FPM have bigger ambitions than their resources and skills merit. However, since Blackpool were relegated last season, this analogy doesn’t actually work.

Walid Jumblatt: Walid Jumblatt is the ‘libero’ of Lebanese politics. He has a classic sweeper’s ability to ‘read the game’ and anticipate the opponent’s movements. His own movements are impossible to predict. Like Ashly Cole, he has switched sides between red and blue teams, but he doesn’t have Cole’s commitment and sense of loyalty.

The National Bloc: Arsenal. Both are led by men who are more comfortable when speaking French and nobody takes either seriously.

A Second part will follow soon. Help complete the guide and send your own suggestions.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why Syria’s Christians Should Not Support the Assad Regime

Elie Elhadj*

At the Dormition of Our Lady Greek Catholic cathedral in Old Damascus, Father Elias Debii raises his hands to heaven and prays for divine protection for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Bishop Philoxenos Mattias, a spokesman for the Syriac Orthodox Church said: “We are with the government and against these movements that oppose it”.

Those among Syria's Christian clerics and civic leaders who publicly support the Asad regime are short sighted. They are courting long-term disaster for themselves and their congregations. Why? Because, the Asad regime will not remain in power forever; it is immoral to support non-representative unjust rule; the Asad clan’s exploitation of Sunni Islam has emboldened Islamism and thwarted the development of secularism in Syria; and because scaremongering for blackmail legitimacy will not work forever. The following explains each reason.

The Asad regime will not remain in power forever

Since the March 8, 1963 military coup d’état against the democratically elected parliament and government of President Nazim al-Qudsi, an unelected minority of the Alawite Asad clan has been ruling Syria with an iron fist; notwithstanding, those seven uncontested referendums for the two Asad presidents.

In addition to impoverishing Syria; despite billion of dollars in oil revenues, the regime has committed horrific atrocities—extra-judicial killings of hundreds of Muslim Brothers detainees in the Palmyra prison in 1980, mass murder in 1982 of between 3,000 citizens, according to the regime’s apologists, and 38,000 in the city of Hama, let alone the torture of residents at the slightest suspicion and the disappearance of opponents. The killing of more than 1,000 demonstrators during the seven weeks since the March 26, 2011 popular uprising adds to the regime's grim catalogue of human rights violations.
Such a system of governance is unsustainable. It cannot last forever. When the day of reckoning will come, the support that certain priests and civic leaders had given to the regime will place all Christians in danger.

It cannot be predicted when the Asad regime might fall. However, should the demonstrations become larger and spread to downtown Damascus and Aleppo, the demonstrators could overwhelm the security forces; rendering a Hama or a Palmyra type atrocity impossible. If the demonstrations get bigger, more Sunni clerics would join the uprising. Ultimately, even the Sunni palace ulama could turn against their benefactor president.

There is no love lost between Sunnis and Alawites on a religious level. Accommodation between the Asad regime and Sunni palace ulama is a matter of convenience. Orthodox Sunnis regard Alawites as heretics. Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), condemned the Alawites as being more dangerous than the Christians, and encouraged Muslims to conduct jihad against them. Likewise, Alawites despise Sunnis. To Alawites, the howls of jackals that can be heard at night are the souls of Sunni Muslims calling their misguided co-religionists to prayer.

If parts of the army, which is a conscripted institution, would refuse killing demonstrators or if the army would stand up to the republican guards and the intelligence brigades, then the regime might very well collapse.

It is immoral to support non-representative unjust rule

That leading priests of certain Syrian churches publicly support the Asad dictatorship does not reflect well on the sense of justice, morality, or benevolence of the priests. It is not very Christian for priests to abandon their duty to stand up to oppression, corruption, and injustice.

There might be an argument in favour of tolerating an illegitimate dictatorship if the dictator were benevolent. But, Mr. Asad’s dictatorship is neither legitimate nor benevolent.

For some priests and civic leaders to publicly embrace short-term convenience and abandon long-term security and defense of justice and human rights can be very expensive for the Christian community as a whole. Syria’s Sunni majority will forever remember Christians’ support of Mr. Asad’s misrule. A thousand years later, the memories of Christian and Alawite support of the Crusades are still vivid in the collective consciousness of Sunnis.

The Asad clan’s exploitation of Sunni Islam emboldened Islamism and impeded the development of secularism in Syria

Islamism has been gaining strength over the recent decades, thanks to the Asad clan’s strategy of exploiting Sunni Islam to prolong their hold on power.

That the regime and its apologists and propagandists describe Mr. Asad’s rule as ”secular” is an exaggeration, if not false. The Asad regime is neither secular nor sincere in its promotion of the Sunni creed. Since their seizure of absolute power more than four decades ago, the Asad government did not secularize Syria in the slightest. Syria of 2011 is no less Islamic than Syria of 1963.

Exploiting Sunni Islam, together with the excesses of the ruling elite, corruption, abuse of human rights, poverty, and unemployment have been driving increasing numbers of young men and women to extremism. The longer this situation continues, the more fertile the ground will become for Islamism to grow.

Here is how the Asad dynasty has been impeding the development of secularism in Syria and exploiting Sunni Islam.

Article 3.1 of the Syria constitution makes Islam the necessary religion of the president. Christians are barred from the country’s highest political office. Article 3.2 makes Islam as “a main source” of legislation.

Seventh century Shari’a laws and courts are in force in personal status, family, and inheritance affairs (Christians follow their own archaic religious courts). Shari’a law is the antithesis of the liberal laws of the modern age. It denies women legal rights compared with Muslim men. It impinges on women’s human rights. Shari’a law reduces the status of women to that of chattel—a Muslim man can marry four wives, divorce any one of them without giving reason (with limited child custody rights, housing, or alimony), a Muslim woman is prohibited from marrying a non-Muslim man while the Muslim man is allowed to marry non-Muslim women, a woman cannot pass her nationality on to her foreign husband and children while the man can, “honour killing” of a woman by a male relative results in a light sentence for murder, and two women equal one man in legal testimony, witness, and inheritance. Such maltreatment of one half of Syria’s society is in spite of the regime’s energetic attempts to project an image of secularism, modernity, and equality between the genders.

The Islamic curriculum in Syria’s elementary, middle, and high schools teaches Muslim Sunni Islam regardless of the Islamic sect to which they belong. The textbooks are discriminatory, divisive, and intolerant of non-Muslims.

More mosques, bigger congregations, and more veiled women than ever before have become the order of the day in Syrian cities. To flaunt his Islamic credentials, President Bashar Asad even ordered a special rain prayer throughout Syria's mosques performed on December 10, 2010 in order for God to send rain.

Following the March 2011 violent demonstrations, Mr. Asad acted to gain support from the Sunni palace ulama and mollify the Sunni street. The popular Sunni cleric Muhammad Saiid al-Bouti praised Mr. Asad’s response to many of the requests submitted by a number of Sunni clerics. In his weekly religious program on April 5, 2011 on Syrian government television, Sheikh al-Bouti applauded Mr. Asad’s permission to allow niqab-wearing (black face cover) female teachers; transferred in July 2010 to desk duties, to return to classrooms. Sheikh al-Bouti had attributed the drought in December 2010 to the transfer from classrooms of the niqab-wearing female teachers. Sheikh al-Bouti also praised Mr. Asad for the formation of the Sham Institute for Advanced Shari’a Studies and Research, and for the establishment of an Islamic satellite television station dedicated to proclaiming the message of true Islam. Also, the first and only casino, which had enraged orthodox clerics when it opened on New Year’s Eve, was closed as well.

Why exploit Islam and fight secularism?

To rule Sunni dominated Syria, it would be helpful to the Asad clan to uphold the influence of Sunni Islam instead of wading in the muddy waters of Shari’a reform and secularization, even if that meant throwing the Baath Party’s constitution away.
Islam is helpful to Muslim rulers. Not only in Syria, other Arab regimes (except Lebanon and Tunisia) exploit Islam to stay in power. Islam demands obedience of Muslims to the Muslim ruler.

The Quran, the Prophetic Sunna, and opinions of famous jurists enjoin Muslims to obey the Muslim ruler blindly. In 4:59, the Quran orders: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.” Answering how a Muslim should react to a ruler who does not follow the true guidance, the Prophet reportedly said, according to Sahih Muslim: “He who obeys me obeys God; he who disobeys me, disobeys God. He who obeys the ruler, obeys me; he who disobeys the ruler, disobeys me.” Abi Da’ud (d. 888) and Ibn Maja (d. 886) quote the Prophet as imploring Muslims to hear and obey the ruler, even if he were an Ethiopian slave. Al-Bukhari (d. 870) quotes similar traditions. The palace ulama invoke one thousand year old opinions of famous jurists such as Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), Ibn Jama’a (1241-1333), and Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328). These men taught that the Muslim ruler must be obeyed blindly because even an unjust ruler is better than societal unrest.

Syria’s palace ulama threaten the Muslim faithful with eternal damnation if they fail to obey Mr. Asad (waliy al-amr). In the hands of the Asad clan, Islam has become a psychological weapon supplementing a brutal security machine.

Scaremongering for Blackmail legitimacy will not work forever

That certain priests and civic leaders subscribe to unsubstantiated scaremongering regarding future Islamist/salafi persecution of Christians is unwise. Those in the Christian community who warn of the slaughter awaiting Christians if the Asad regime collapses fall for the regime’s Machiavellian practice of blackmail legitimacy. Neither historical precedence nor credible evidence today supports such scare tactics. Blackmail legitimacy, like the crying-wolf syndrome, does not work forever.

Islamists/salafis who might harbor violent intentions against Christians are a tiny minority of Syria’s 23-million population. There are no accurate statistics or opinion polls to suggest otherwise. Syria’s Islamists/salafis are not representative of Syria’s Sunnis. The great majority of Syria’s Sunnis, around 75% of the population, are moderate Muslims who have lived rather harmoniously with their fellow Christians for centuries.

During the first 15 years of independence and until the advent of the Asad clan, Syria’s Christians enjoyed peace and shared whatever prosperity was available at that time with the Sunni majority. The suggestion that Syria’s Sunnis would kill Syria’s Christians is malicious misinformation to divide and rule. The regime’s media, apologists, and propagandists who circulate such stories are wicked. Those who believe such tales are naive. Syria’s Christian minority’s best interest could not be separate from the interest of the Sunni majority.

That the options to Syrians today are reduced to either accepting the current poor state of affairs or contend with an Islamist/salafi rule; even civil war, is blackmail used by the regime to perpetuate its monopoly on power and avoid genuine reform. That genuine reform is not an option does not bode well for the country. That President Asad insisted in his address to the parliament on March 30, 2011 that Syria’s protesters had been “duped” into damaging the nation on behalf of its enemies, and his infamous billionaire cousin, Rami Makhlouf, stated in an interview with The New York Times that, “Syria will fight protests till ‘the end’” spell danger to all Syrians. Like a pressure cooker, the longer a dictatorship stays in power the more violent the end will be.

Sunnis, like Christians, are threatened by Islamist/salafi ideology, violence, and seventh century way of life. While systematic long-term persecution of Christians by Sunnis will not happen in Syria, acts of revenge by extremist groups might occur during the chaotic days of a popular revolt against; not only Alawites and Christians, but also against non-Christian supporters of the Asad clan altogether.

To spare Syria a potential catastrophe, Mr. Asad should institute a comprehensive and genuine political reforms, in particular; multi-party parliament and contested presidential elections. Scaremongering priests can help. They must desist from misinformation and hypocrisy. They ought to become honest to the teaching of their churches. They should defend legitimacy, justice, and the rule of law.

Wise men and women; Alawites, Christians, and Sunnis must council the president and his immediate family that genuine reform; not cosmetic retouches, not the use of the tank, is the only way forward.

Hafiz Asad and his son, Bashar, have saddled the Alawite community plus the regime’s supporting groups with a terrible burden, a potential disaster. The Asad family must understand that four decades of misrule are kifaya.

Bashar Asad has a rare opportunity today to become the leader who saved Syria from a frightening future. Would he? Or, indeed, can he?
*Dr Elie Elhadj, born in Syria, is a veteran international banker. He was Chief Executive Officer of Arab National Bank in Saudi Arabia during most of the 1990s. Upon early retirement, he received a Ph.D. from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. He writes on Middle Eastern and Islamic affairs.

For more information follow the link to his website

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Calculation Mistake

Dr Bassem Hassan

Picture this:

You are a 16 year-old high school student. It’s Friday morning, second period… Algebra. The teacher walks in and gives that pop quiz he’s been promising all week: a sheet of paper with a one-line question on it. You take one look at it and realize that you will solve this in 10 minutes tops. You know this. You’ve got it. You WILL ace this quiz!

Monday morning. You get the quiz back and to your horror, you got a failing grade! You cannot believe it. What went wrong? You were absolutely convinced that you did it correctly. You followed the tried and true method. Step by step, one equation after the other. There is NOTHING wrong here. You go to the teacher and you ask what you did wrong and he points you to the second line where you made this small, but significant, calculation mistake which rendered everything that came after it a series of errors, culminating in the wrong answer.

That is exactly what the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad has done with his decision to violently repress the pro-democracy protests in his country. He has made a small, but significant, calculation mistake and all what will follow from it will yield all the wrong answers. The Syrian regime was in an enviable position relative to its counterparts in other Arab countries. The vast majority of the protesters on the streets of Syrian cities were not calling for the president to step down, nor even for the regime to change. Even some of the major opposition intellectuals in Syria and abroad clearly stated they were willing to work with the young president to institute much needed reforms, as long as he was willing to engage in genuine and deep reforms, and initiate the process quickly. Syrians were asking to live in a more free, transparent and responsive political system. They were asking for a clamp down on corruption and for their basic economic needs to be met. They just wanted to live in dignity and some measure of political freedom. When seen from this perspective the response of the regime is grossly exaggerated and unnecessarily violent. Such a bloody, brutal, response to such relatively modest demands - by comparison to Egypt for instance - can only mean that the regime is excessively paranoid. It also might suggest that major elements within the regime feel directly threatened by any demand for greater freedom, or perhaps more importantly, clamp down on corruption.

Thus, Bashar Al-Assad chose oppression over dialogue and in that he has made his calculation mistake. He used all the right equations from the dictatorship handbook. He is applying them with all the tried and true methods. Yet, once your initial calculation is in error, the answer will be wrong. The calculation error lies in the fact that the Syrian president is neglecting two major issues. First, this is a genuine popular revolt, not an insurrection by militants. Had he responded positively and openly, he would have won the support of his people. As it stands, even if the security forces manage to oppress the uprising for now, the regime, as well as the president himself, have lost any remaining legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people. This means that the rest of his rule will have to rely even more heavily on oppressive measures, making him even more beholden to the old guard and security chiefs within his regime, and making another uprising that much more likely. Second, by oppressing the popular civilian uprising, he in fact strengthens, not weakens, the more fundamentalist elements within Syria and forces the moderates to go underground. Thus, even if there were to be no more popular uprisings, the regime risks dealing with an armed rebellion or even civil war in the not so distant future.

Just like the student in our metaphor, Bashar Al-Assad had a choice and had the time to carefully consider his options and revise his calculations before handing in his decision. Alas, by choosing violent oppression over dialogue, security over democracy, and oligarchy over social justice, he has made a calculation mistake… one that will ensure that whatever answer he arrives at will be the wrong one.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Low airfares or the piecemeal Lebanese revolution

Charbel Gereige

It is such an exciting time to watch the news in the Arab world. When the news of the toppling of Ben Ali and his regime in Tunisia came through, my first reaction was: Bringing down a bad politician is the easy part, replacing him with a good politician is the hard part. Initially, the news failed to excite me. I couldn’t feel the wind of freedom and was too sceptical it could spread. I only started getting excited when the Egyptian people rose to topple their president, and with the signs that movements in Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen were following their example.

Yet my excitement was still tinged with a slight sense of envy. I wished something could be done in my own country, Lebanon. Around that time, a shy movement appeared in Lebanon consisting of youth that wanted to argued for a change of the confessional political system. A few vocal demonstrations took place, and still continue at a slower pace. Although I doubt they will be able to change anything in that direction. The number of those who oppose such reform is overwhelming.

Of course Lebanon is different. Compared to the thousands of secularists who took to the streets, the million citizen marches took place in a different context, the notorious year 2005 and the so called Beirut Spring. Over a million came to commemorate the assassination of Hariri and another million came to support his opponents.

There is a Lebanese exception in that we do not have a dictator at the top of the political system. For all their sins, our presidents are elected and leave at the end of their term. Despite the backdoor deals, our prime ministers still need to seek the approval of the majority of parliament members.We do have a democratic system, but our system is far from perfect. So when it comes to reform, we cannot revolt against one person that would embody the anger of the nation. It was relatively easy to get a vast majority of Egyptians to agree that they want Mubarak to go away. It’s not easy to get a majority of Lebanese to agree that any political side needs to be made accountable. The Lebanese are so divided, and this means change is at first look impossible. All the Lebanese agree that there is something wrong, but cannot agree on a solution or a direction. You can bet that any suggestion will automatically be opposed by the other half under one excuse or the other. It is our dilemma: we want democracy, but so far it has proven on balance to be bad for us
Faced with this, a possible strategy would be to find common ground between the overwhelming majority of Lebanese on single issues, and get them to rally for it. Something that touches the day-to-day life of people, a simple issue, not abstract values.

For example: A group of concerned citizen is now working to try open up the Lebanese airspace to fair competition, which could benefit us all. This is one amongst many more issues that can be improved, like cheaper mobile phone fares, and better internet connection.

I think the originality of the idea, consists in normal citizens, who do not have political aspirations, lobby for cheaper airfare to and from Beirut. If we can’t have our Arab revolution in one go, why not go for it piecemeal. An issue like this does have political ramification, but in the right direction. It is not a secret that many politicians have direct or indirect interests in MEA. So it is not unconceivable that they are keeping the monopoly in their own interest. In a more competitive market, the margins are smaller, and MEA would have to bring down their tickets price, and improve their service quality. And to survive, they might in the process get rid of the huge bulge of politically backed employees, who are poor value for money.

Why would this unite all the Lebanese, because even those who do not personally travel will have a relative abroad. So this would save them a nice sum yearly. I see no reason why a ticket from London to Beirut is £600 while it can be as low as £100 to Cyprus. This is an issue that would unite all the Lebanese no matter what is their social class, or political affiliation, or religious affiliation. Besides, for people living not far from Lebanon, this means it becomes affordable to go back home for the weekend and contribute further to the local economy.

On the other hand, this is an issue that might unite most of the politicians from all camps...against it. You can see now how this is edging nearer to the Arab Revolution? We manage to unite all the people against all the politicians on a single issue. But once this issue is resolved, others can follow with an established mechanism in place. Think mobile phone fares (highest in the world) or slow internet (slowest in the world) etc. As a consequence our life as Lebanese is improved.

And by fighting a corrupt system, we would be encouraging our politicians to change or perish.

Going back to the practical aspect...

As a first step, a meeting is taking place in London with a few young professional Lebanese people to discuss a suitable strategy. Hopefully we will be able to announce the launch of a campaign and get the ball rolling.

We will have our own revolution, without having to answer questions on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon or on Hezbollah’s arms. We don’t have to debate the things that divide us to bring the changes that unite us.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"الشعب السوري واحد "

داليا عبيد_باحثة

لم يشأ الشعب السوري البقاء بعيداً عما أصاب أو يصيب المنطقة من تحولات ولم يَرْضَ أن يبقى مكتوف الأيدي عن إعادة رسم تاريخ جديد للعالم العربي. فانتفض هذا الشعب مثلما انتفض قبله الشعب التونسي، مطلق الشرارة الأولى في عام 2011 ومن بعده الشعب المصري والليبي واليمني والبحريني. دمر السوريون الشجعان مملكة الصمت بعد عقود من الإذلال والخوف والبطش والحرمان وإتباع نظام البعث سياسة التدجين ، سياسة أسفرت عن تجذر الرعب في أنفس السوريين مقيمين في الداخل أو مغتربين في الخارج لدرجة السكوت التام أمام استشراء الفساد والتمييز بين المواطنين واستخدام السلطة القمعية واستمرار الأحكام العرفية وارتكاب المجازر في المدن السورية ومثابرة النظام الجاهدة على الاعتقالات السياسية وإلغاء لكل الحريات العامة والخاصة والسعي الى ترسيخ كل أساليب انتهاك حقوق الشعب السوري المخالف لشرعة حقوق الإنسان خلال أكثر من نصف قرن.

لكن سوريا اليوم ليست كما سوريا الأمس، فقد تحولت طرقاتها وشوارعها وحاراتها وأزقتها وبيوتها إلى مساحات نابضة بدماء التحرر من آداب العبودية . وقد أراد هذا الشعب الذي يعيش حالياً في صلب الحرية الحمراء أن يخرج سوريا من باب الاستثناء وينشلها من غياهب التاريخ ليعيدها إلى داخل السياق العالمي الحالي.

لم يهدأ "نبض" درعا الصامد الذي فتح الجرح على مصراعيه انطلاقا من جنوب الوطن إلى قلبه المنتفض في وجه طغيان البعث. ولم ينبض الشارع السوري وحده في الداخل بل نبضت معه شوارع أجنبية تحتضن مغتربين سوريين هاجروا قسراً أو اختياراً طلباً لعيشة كريمة ضمن إطار ديمقراطيات تعترف تطبيقاً بشرعة حقوق الإنسان. إلى القارتين الأوروبية والأميركية هاجروا، منهم من أتوا للدراسة وبقوا حيث هم ومنهم من هربوا كلاجئين سياسيين بسبب معارضتهم للنظام الحاكم منذ عام 1963 ومنهم من قدموا بطريقة غير شرعية. واعرف الكثير من الذين وصلوا إلى لندن عبر البواخر من "ضيع" اللاذقية وعملوا في العتمة من اجل إرسال الأموال إلى الأهل في ضيعهم الموءودة بأياد قاتلة.

في شوارع باريس شهدت على مظاهرات الجالية السورية التي قررت مع الداخل السوري بأن العودة إلى الوراء مستحيلة.، فنزلوا إلى الشارع نصرة لقضيتهم، نصرة للأمل بالعودة نهائياً إلى أرض وطن لم يولدوا فيه أحراراً ولم يهاجروا منه أحراراً.

لمظاهرات باريس نكهة خاصة ووقفة تأمل استثنائية، ففي السنوات الماضية لطالما دعت المعارضة السورية في العاصمة الفرنسية إلى اعتصامات من اجل إطلاق سراح معتقلي الرأي ومن اجل وقف انتهاك حقوق الإنسان ومن اجل كل الظروف التي تم ذكرها أعلاه والتي لم تتغير , ولكن لم تكن تقتصر هذه النشاطات إلا على حفنة من "يساريين لبنانيين" وعدد قليل من المعارضين السوريين المنفيين حيث تخطى معظمهم عمر الكهولة بالإضافة إلى عدد اكبر من رجال المخابرات المدسوسين وسط الجالية السورية في فرنسا. مما دفع المناضلين السوريين إلى الشعور بعزلة كبرت مع الزمن وهم يصرخون من المهجر ومن داخل ثنايا غرف التعذيب السورية. أما وقد تغيرت المعطيات في المنطقة وفي العالم، فلم يرد السوريون ان تهزمهم العزلة وسط رياح التغيير في العالم العربي، ليتحول صمت الجالية السورية القاسي إلى صيحة غضب مطالبة برحيل السجان. فقد لاحت لمكوناتها تباشير الأمان حين سقط جدار الخوف إلى غير رجعة.

إلى فناء حقوق الإنسان في التروكاديرو الباريسية، وصلت الأعلام السورية وصور الديكتاتور ولافتات تطالب برحيله وبرحيل حاشيته وبالخلاص من المخابرات ولافتات أخرى تريد فتح صفحة جديدة للشعب السوري بكافة طوائفه ومكوناته وبناء دولة حق وقانون. لافتات حملها صبايا وشباب جامعات لم ينقطعوا يوماً عن زيارة سوريا. أتوا ليصرخوا ملأ حناجرهم بأنهم يريدون إسقاط الصمت وفاء للوطن المطعون في عنفوانه. وقد ازدادت أعداد المتظاهرين على مراحل (مع تقدم الوقت) فكلما انتفض بيت جديد في سوريا، ينتفض صوت جديد في باريس ليزيل الغبار عن أوتار حنجرته المتهدجة أمام صرير الزنازين.

لم تكن رؤيتي لتواجد الشباب الكثيف والمتصاعد بالمفاجأة المفرحة الوحيدة بل استمديت سعادتي أيضا من عيون المعارضين السوريين الذين كانوا يستعيدون أحلامهم المسروقة. فلطالما تظاهرت معهم وسط وحدتهم وفي لحظات حزن كانت تجعل مشاركتي فولكلورية لتسجيل موقف في الصبر وانتظار المجهول. في فناء حقوق الإنسان، كان عميد المعارضين السوريين يطير مثل الفراشة موزعاً بيانات الحرية بيديه، يتنقل مزهوا حاضناً عيوننا السعيدة ومثبتاً نظره على هواتفنا التي كانت تنقل الصورة الحية مباشرة من ساحة التروكاديرو إلى الفايسبوك واليوتيوب وعبرهما إلى الداخل السوري والى العالم اجمع.

في فناء حقوق الإنسان، كانت عيون صديقي السوري المنفي زائغة ابتهاجاً. فهو لم يعد يتحدى عيون مدسوسين صاروا قلة وسط الحشود المتزايدة ولم يعد يبحث عنهم كما اعتاد أن يفعل حتى في أوقات تسوقه في شارع الريفولي ولن يعد يفكر أن يفتش مرتبكاً في أرجاء شققنا، كلما أتى لزيارتنا، عن احتمال وجود لأجهزة تنصت وذلك لاعتقاده بان عناصر الأمن السورية قد وصلت حتى إلى مساكن أصدقائه الباريسية.

في فناء حقوق الإنسان، وقف أصدقاء سمير قصير السوريين يتابعون عبر هواتفهم الخلوية أخباراً عن بداية حراك في ساحة الأمويين في الشام. فارتبكت مشاعرهم خلال لحظات مسرعة الخطى. فتراهم يبتسمون، يحزنون، يتنهدون ويشتاقون لرائحة الحرية في عيني رفيقهم الغائب ويتطلعون بشغف إلى أوان الورد الذي حان قطافه في دمشق.

في فناء حقوق الإنسان، ردد سوريون من كل الفئات العمرية ومن مختلف الانتماءات والمشارب صدى الداخل ورفعوا شعاراتهم. صرخوا جميعاً "سلمية سلمية"، هتفوا جميعاً " بدنا دولة مدنية" وشددوا على "واحد واحد واحد، الشعب السوري واحد" وصرخوا "خلص مخابرات" وتابعوا ب" الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام" الذي صار الشعار_الرمز للثورات العربية.

من هناك، من مساحة تنوعهم، بددوا الوهم الطائفي الذي يرسمه النظام، وهم الأغلبية السنية التي تسعى إلى تقويض دعائم حكم علوي ينفي فكرة تسطيره ضمن إطار الأقليات الحاكمة.

من هناك، طالبوا بعدم زرك قضيتهم الحالية ضمن إطار الصراع العربي الإسرائيلي فنضالهم لا يرتبط أدنى ارتباط بنصرة محور على محور بل بالسعي لتدمير قواعد أنظمة تتشابه في العالم العربي من المحيط إلى الخليج، هذه الأنظمة التي تعمل بخوف على شد حبال رأس النظام القابع في قصر المهاجرين.

من هناك رسموا صورة لنظام مستبد ترتعد لفكرة سقوطه فرائص إسرائيل المرتاحة لوضع حدودها الشمالية مع سوريا بأيد أمينة، وأكدوا انه ليس باستطاعتهم أن يكونوا مقاومين (إن أرادوا) قبل أن يكونوا أحراراً وديمقراطيين.

من هناك، قالوا لا للانتقائيين الجدد في لبنان وغيره الذين يرفعون انتفاضة ويسقطون انتفاضة زميلة، الذين ينددون بإراقة الدماء الشهيدة في بعض البلدان العربية ويصمتون عن دماء يبدو أنهم استرخصوها في مدن سوريا المشتعلة بنيران السلطات.

من هناك، قالوا لا للسلاح (سلمية سلمية)، رفضوا الممانعة التي تعمل ضد دخول سوريا الى الحاضر ومنه الى المستقبل، وفكروا بشهداء الانتفاضة الراحلين بقلوب نازفة فرددوا صدى كلمات نزار قباني:

"ولو فتحتم شراييني بمديتكم

سمعتم في دمي أصوات من راحوا"

ونظروا متأملين الى دمشق وقالوا:

"مزقي يا دمشق خارطة الذل

وقولي للـدهر كُن فيـكون"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

From the rise of Arab freedom to the shine of Arab democracy

Dr Bassem Hassan

Two things are crystal clear. First, we are living through a truly historical and transformative moment in the Arab world today: a moment that will certainly shift the historical path of the region and consequently the world. After all, ever since a few thousand horsemen armed with a new ideology and the determination to spread it emerged from the Arabian desert to create one the largest, most enlightened and longest lasting empires the world has ever known, whatever happens in the Arab world has had deep repercussions on what happens across the globe. Second, these popular Arab revolutions are black swan events. No one predicted them and no one knows what they will lead to. Anyone who makes any prediction and ends being right, will have been right by sheer luck and pure coincidence, and not thanks to any piercing insight.

It is difficult to curb the excitement and the “I never thought I’d live to see this day” feeling when watching the Arab people, particularly Arab youth, rise against their brutal, and sometimes even insane, dictators and oppressive regimes with such fearless determination and exemplary courage. Many of us had dreamt of these days so much and with such futility that we learned to stop dreaming. Ten years ago, a handful of Arab youth, blinded by maniacal religious extremism into thinking that liberation comes through mass murder, caused most Arabs untold shame and despair. For ten years we Arabs have had to suffer the humiliation of being branded as terrorists by the rest of the world and as cowards by our dictators. And just when it seemed like all hope was lost, Mohammed Bouazizi the young poor and humiliated fruit vendor – literally – burned down the fear barrier. Shed of their fear, the Tunisian people opened the floodgates that are now sweeping all Arab dictatorships into the dustbin of history, where they belong. However, now that it seems like the fall of all Arab authoritarian regimes is a question of when, not if, it is perhaps it is time to start asking “what next?” Not predicting, just asking!

A revolution is a singular event; almost a singularity. It usually transpires in a relatively short amount of time and causes a seismic shift in the direction of a nation or society. In fact, when a revolution fails to occur swiftly, it usually turns into a civil war and/or protracted chaos, as had happened in Lebanon decades ago and may be happening in Libya today. In contrast, what happens after the revolution in terms of nation building and social transformation can be a slow, arduous and difficult process. Recall for example the years of tyranny, wars and upheaval that followed the French revolution, before secular democracy finally took hold. Arab societies today are not in need of reform; they are in need of rebuilding. Each and every Arab country today has had it’s borders created by it’s former colonial rulers and it’s political and economic system built and mismanaged by brutal dictators and their corrupt regimes. Illiteracy and poverty are rampant across the Arab world. The basic rights of women and children are considered a joke across almost all Arab societies and authoritarian, submissive, superficial and extremely irrational forms of religion (both Muslim and Christian) are the norm, not the exception. This is by no means a unique property of the Arab world. The secular democratic Europe that emerged from under the burden of the unholy alliance between absolute monarchy and a Mafiosi church was no different, and this should give us hope.

The new systems that will emerge in the Arab world will need not only to be responsive to the temporary aspirations of their people for increased political freedoms, but much more importantly, they will need to be responsive to their long terms needs. For there to be a new Arab renaissance the emerging systems will have to set egalitarian sustainable socio-economic development, universal education, women’s rights and the de-politicization of religion as their priorities. They will also need to bury another awful legacy of the departed dictatorships: the fear and suspicion of the other Arab! By way of simple example, today, I as a Lebanese, need a visa to enter Arab countries where any westerner can enter freely. The emergence of people power in Arab countries should result in the opening of the Arab world to itself. Just like the revolution spread across the barbed wire borders from the small remote Tunisian town of Sidi Bouziz through the now legendary Tahrir Square to the streets of historical Syrian cities, so must the development of the new Arab world. For we inhabitants of this beautiful and bountiful region are many peoples who share not only a common history, culture and language but also a common destiny. We have been very good at sharing our autocracies, suspicions and social and religious fundamentalism for over half a century. Sharing our freedoms, hopes, and cultural and scientific achievements should be far less of a challenge… and a far more pleasant exercise!

Monday, April 11, 2011

في "حشرة" حزب الله: هل يمد اليد؟

ميشال دويهي*

إلى جانب المحكمة الدولية التي يتعامل معها حزب الله على أنها مفبركة لاتهامه باغتياله للرئيس رفيق الحريري ورفاقه، بدأت منذ مطلع هذا العام أحداث في العالم العربي، لم يحسن الحزب استخلاصه العبر منها. فتكاثرت "مشاكله" إلى جانب أزمته مع المحكمة الدولية مما يؤدى مع الوقت إلى ضمور هامش تحركه. ويهمنا هنا أن نسلط الضوء على هذه المشاكل المتسعة:

تنبع أولى هذه المشاكل من تنقل الثورات في العالم العربي التي هي نتيجة لانفجار قنبلتين موقوتتين وهما "الشباب والانترنت". بعكس ما قيل ويقال، لم تأتي هذه الثورات على ذكر فلسطين ولا الصراع العربي الإسرائيلي، بل هي ثورات جوع وكرامة ورفض للديكتاتوريات المتسمرة في العالم العربي منذ عقود.

ثانياً، الوضع الداخلي الإيراني: يعرف حزب الله أن الشعارات التي رفعت، من الداخل الإيراني، ضد تمويله هو وحركة حماس في العامين 2009 و 2010 على حساب الوضع الاقتصادي الإيراني الصعب تعبر تعبيرا دقيقا على التناقضات بين أركان النظام من جهة وبين الشباب الإيراني الثائر على هذا النظام الجائر من جهة أخرى. فبالتأكيد لن يصمد هذا الأخير كثيراً أمام حمى التغيير التي تصيب حالياً منطقة الشرق الأوسط وسوف يصل إلى الجمهورية الإسلامية مفعول "الدومينو" الذي يجتاح العالم العربي، آجلاً أم عاجلاً . مما لا شك فيه، إن أي تغيير في النظام الإيراني سوف يؤدي إلى إضعاف حزب الله وتأثيره في الداخل اللبناني.

ثالثاً، الوضع الداخلي السوري: فحزب الله يراقب بحذر فوران الشعب السوري الذي يريد الخلاص من نظام حزب البعث. فمخاوف حزب الله في محلها لأنه يعرف جيدا أن سوريا غداً لن تكون كما كانت من قبل، صمد النظام أم لم يصمد.فبالأساس يتعامل حزب الله بكثير من الحذر والبراغماتية مع النظام السوري وتجربته على الأقل في العشرين السنة الماضية تدل على ذلك. و ما حصل مؤخرا مع عماد مغنية في الشام يؤكد على تخلخل عامل الثقة في العلاقة بين الاثنين.

رابعاً، وضع اللبنانيين في الخليج: فقد بدا واضحا أن تطور الأحداث في البحرين قد دفع بالمملكة العربية السعودية وبمجلس التعاون الخليجي باتخاذ القرار بالمواجهة المباشرة مع الجمهورية الإسلامية الإيرانية وهذا من شأنه أن يضع اللبنانيين الشيعة الموالين والمعارضين لحزب الله والعاملين في دول الخليج العربي في موقع صعب ودقيق. وموجة الترحيل الأخيرة للبنانيين الشيعة من بعض هذه الدول هو خير دليل على ذلك.

خامساً، علاقة سلاح حزب الله بالداخل اللبناني: فحزب الله كان شديد الارتياح عندما لم يكن سلاحه في موقع نقاش شديد بين اللبنانيين جميعاً وعندما لم يكن دور هذا السلاح ذاته مطروحاً على طاولة الحوار. بعد العام 2006 وخاصة بعد أيار 2008، انتفض أغلبية اللبنانيين على دور هذا السلاح وعلى استخدامه في الداخل مما أربك حزب الله الذي بات مطالبا بالدفاع عن سلاحه يومياً أمام علامات استفهام اللبنانيين الخائفة من دوامة هذا السلاح.

سادساً، أزمة تشكيل الحكومة: وذلك مع عدم تمكن حزب الله من تشكيل الحكومة اللبنانية بالرغم من تمتعه بأغلبية برلمانية (وهنا لن ادخل بتفاصيل تشكل هذه الأغلبية). فالوقت ليس لصالحه مع غليان المنطقة واقتراب موعد المحكمة الدولية.

سابعاً، علاقة نبيه بري بحزب الله: فما كشفته بعض الصحف عن العلاقة بين زعيم الشيعة من 1978 الى 2000 وبين حزب الله الذي خطف هذا الدور اجبر بري على مواكبته مكرهاً لزعامة حزب الله للطائفة الشيعية، لم يكن سراً.

ثامناً، وضع أبناء الطائفة الشيعية العائدين من ساحل العاج: فالممولون السابقون لحزب الله تحولوا في الوقت الحالي بعد تشردهم من هذه الدولة الإفريقية إلى مشاريع عاطلين عن العمل يبحثون عن مورد رزق جديد.

بالرغم مما ورد، لا أنكر على حزب الله أن مزاج وقلب أغلبية الطائفة الشيعية معه، فهو عرف بذكاء كيف يستحوذ على ولاء أبناء هذه الطائفة من الملتزمين بعقيدته الدينية ومن غير الملتزمين. فباعتماده للغات عدة في خطابه السياسي منها الحرمان ومنها المقاومة ومنها حصة الطائفة الشيعية في النظام السياسي اللبناني ساعده على لم شمل الطائفة بأغلبيتها تحت جناحه. ولكن كما كانت الطائفة مع غيره، فهي مهيأة لان تنتقل تدريجيا إلى مقلب آخر. فللمشاكل التي تم عرضها أعلاه قدرة على التفاعل في اتجاه وضع دور حزب الله وعلاقته بالطائفة الشيعية اللبنانية تحت المجهر.

فهل يتعامل عقلاء الحزب مع هذه المشاكل بجدية وهل يقتنعوا ببراغماتيتهم التي يتمتعون بها بأنهم في صلب أزمة مفتوحة؟ وهل يمدوا اليد إلى الداخل اللبناني؟ وهل حركة 14 آذار مستعدة لملاقاة الحزب في منتصف الطريق بعيدا عن المكابرة والشماتة على أن يكون الشرط طبعا لبننة الحل وتسليم السلاح للدولة اللبنانية؟

وهل سوف تسمح إيران للحزب بإنقاذ الشيعة اللبنانيين من سياسة المحاور أم ستذهب بهم إلى المزيد من المواجهة؟ هذه المواجهة المحكومة بواقع الديموغرافيا السنية في منطقة الشرق الأوسط حيث لا إمكانية لإيران بالفوز بها. من هنا حزب الله مطالب بإنقاذ شيعة لبنان ودفعهم للانخراط بمسيرة بناء دولة لبنانية عوضاً عن الانخراط في مشاريع سياسية إقليمية ممكن أن تكون فادحة الخسارة على الطائفة الشيعية في لبنان وفي كل الأقطار العربية.

*أستاذ جامعي

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Syria: from keystone to cornerstone

By Jade Salhab

You might dislike President Bachar el Assad but he is ironically the best-positioned person to steer a non-sectarian transition to democracy in Syria and the Arab world.

If there is anything we learned from the incredible cataclysm in the Middle East, it’s the following: the quest for freedom and dignity is a) universal and b) inevitable. Democracy - the natural offspring of this quest - can be postponed by oppression but it eventually strikes back… sometimes with a vengeance.

And this is precisely the problem.

As a young Lebanese political activist, I have seen first-hand how brutal the Syrian regime can get. It has managed to survive for twenty-five years by oppressing its people with an efficiency that the Stasi would have envied.

Among other techniques, being a member of the Alawite minority ruling over a Sunni majority, Assad’s father used the imposition of a secular state to protect his rule. In 1982, he went as far as bombarding Hamah – much like Gadhafi indented to do – killing 10,000 people in order to repress a conservative Sunni rebellion.

There is a real risk that today’s uprising against the Syrian regime converges into a vengeance against the secular state altogether. Much of the revolts taking place in Syria now are not lead by Tahrir Square-like modern youth, but by orthodox Sunni activists who are pursuing an embedded sectarian agenda. Will the young Assad use comparable violence to repress today’s Sunni rebels?

I doubt he will: he too learned from Egypt and Libya. But this puts us in a dilemma:

What if the success of these protesters leads to the breakout of a radicalized sectarian discourse in Syria? Will this favor true Arab democracy?

Let me be clear, I do not discount the legitimacy of the protester’s action, nor do I plead for the continuation of repression in any shape or form. But I do think that there is a real need, and a real chance, for a third way in Syria.

This third way lies in the hands of President Assad alone.

Bachar El Assad is a young potential reformer who has not (yet) been able to overcome the established authoritarian apparatus he inherited from his father. Despite early attempts, he was first forced to concede to the ways of a rigid and powerful establishment, with which he eventually became too comfortable. But the uprising in Tunisia and Egypt was a game-changer that made the Syrian regime face its unsustainability and provided the reformist instincts of the president with the tangible arguments he needed to counter his own establishment - and hesitation.

The young president has enough political capital with the majority of the Syrian people to propose a third way and stand up to both extremes – authoritarian apparatchiks and regressive Sunni conservatives. Indeed, the Syrian people need their President to lead them towards democracy without having to endure the havoc they are dreadfully observing around them.

As he attempts to find his way to democracy, however, the increased internal and external pressure might put president Assad on the defense again, preventing any ‘orderly transition’.

Two things need to happen for such a transition to still strive:

First, President Assad has to resolutely decide to implement radical democratic reforms without further delays or excuses. This carries a significant but inescapable risk: democracy would give a platform to both divisive sectarian movements and the separatist Kurdish one, which may complicate the building of a truly secular democratic state by undermining his agenda. Still, the president has to take this risk.

Second Assad needs to be accommodated by the international community who will have to choose to stand by him, not against him. To this extent, western policymakers will have to understand that a modern and democratizing Syria does not necessarily mean a pro-western, anti-Iranian Syria. Indeed, the west often confuses long-term interests with short-term politics: a democratic Syria is highly contagious to its neighborhood and could pretty quickly favor similar evolutions in Iran – let alone depriving it from a crucial ally. A democratic Syria, however, will not change it’s stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and should not be required to do so in return of western support of democratization. The west has to learn to accept democracies with which it disagrees: Syria is a good place to start.

If we dare to hope that the concerned leaders will act wisely, President Assad could reform his own pivotal autocratic regime, therefore removing a keystone from a shaking Middle Eastern order. He would, instead, turn Syria into the cornerstone of a new emancipated, sovereign and democratic Arab world.