Middle East

Leave Syria to the Syrians

May 02, 2011

Seale divides Syria into the regime’s defenders and opponents. Defenders include the

Alawi-led army and security services…the Sunni merchants of Damascus…[and] several thousand of the new affluent bourgeoisie….To these different groups should be added those Syrians of all classes who, having observed the slaughter and destruction across the borders in Lebanon and Iraq, prefer to opt for stability and security, even at the cost of harsh repression and a lack of political freedom.

Among the opponents are

The young working-class poor, who protest in the street because they see no possibility of a better life…the new middle class poor—that is to say, educated or semi-educated young people who, on graduation, find that there are no jobs for them….Intellectuals…small businessmen whose ability to make money has been blocked by the corrupt and greedy men at the top….And then there are the Islamists.

Syria is a complex and diverse society in which outside do-gooders risk destroying all they claim to support.

There may well be interference already, as there is no indication that the Obama Administration has shut down the Bush-era program to finance and promote Syrian exile oppositionists. A Reuters report, published in the Guardian on March 11, indicated that someone was preparing the ground for an armed insurrection in Syria.

The first victims of a war in Syria will be the religious minorities. These include the Alawites and the Christians, who comprise about ten percent of the population and have prospered under the Assad regime. The government, despite the Ottoman-era practice of defining citizens by religious sect, is explicitly secular. Gregory III Laham, the Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, in an interview with Asia Today, praised young Muslim demonstrators in Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs who “offered to protect churches, providing security cordons around the buildings to prevent criminal acts.” He nonetheless fears the “criminals and even fundamentalist Muslims who cry for jihad. This is why we fear that giving way to violence will only lead to chaos.”

As in Iraq, chaos would mean the mass emigration of the Christian communities who have lived there for two millennia. Syria, following the American invasion of Iraq with its concomitant anarchy and sectarian conflict, took in over a million Iraqi refugees, including more than 300,000 Christians. Where would they and Syria’s indigenous Christians find refuge? Do Washington’s holy warriors want them to leave and for Syria to be as purely Sunni as its favorite Mideast statelet, Saudi Arabia?

The Syrians would be wise not to make their ancestors’ mistake of accepting military help from foreigners who have never done them any good. If the West wants parliamentary democracy in Syria, why did the CIA and Britain’s MI6 support the 1949 military coup that destroyed it in the first place? America’s would-be Lawrences of Arabia who believe they can liberate the Syrians would do well to remember that this rebellion began in Dera’a. It was in Dera’a that Lawrence himself was captured and tortured. He wrote that “in Dera’a that night the citadel of my integrity had been irrevocably lost.”

The US is doing enough harm in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya without burying itself in the Syrian tar as well. As the old French saying goes, it is urgent to do nothing.

 

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