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!