The Syrian revolt presents an intriguing dilemma for the left, particularly in the European press, where their egalitarian rhetoric is again resonating loudly, though largely in reaction to the mantra that austerity is the continent’s only cure. And strange that their resurgence should coincide with street mobilization across much of Arabia.
Nobody could fault the historic political romance of Tahrir square, especially since Egypt was an unbelievable continuation of Tunisia, where a boy sickened by injustice set himself on fire, and suddenly nobody could tolerate the 40-year old imperial-fed dictatorial regime, and Ben Ali was rubbished to the dustbin of history forever. Tahrir was full and overflowing before anybody could fathom the possible implications and ramifications of Tunisia (even Tunisians), and Mubarak was also gone long before a shocked white house could overcome diplomatic paralysis – Hillary was calling Hosni “practically family”.
But then a deviation from the romance occurred in Egypt when Tantawi and the military remained as-was, and the brotherhood combined with the salafis to overrun the ballot (neither were present when youtube and twitter people, and leftists, braved bullets during the uprising). So much for the people’s revolution.
And just as many of the square’s real heroes went back to find businesses shut and jobs lost – because of a virtual shutdown of state and civic apparatus – their likes in Libya had already taken to the streets.
This is precisely where the left’s usually attentive radar should have started picking signs of a presence it understands only too well. Yet nobody blinked until after ‘NATO’ and ‘no fly zone’ and ‘right to protect’ dominated airwaves instead of ‘social mobilisation’, etc, and Gaddaffi had been butchered by a couple dozen twenty-somethings from his nemesis Misrata tribe.
The fever also reached Washington’s petro-darlings in the gulf, with few romantic notions about the violent crackdown on rebelling shi’a minorities in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Right wing media ignored it altogether, the left felt it for a bit, then everybody moved on to Syria.
By the time Homs erupted and every channel and paper on both sides of the Atlantic was calling for Assad’s head, the Arab spring had mutated into a violent, sickening orgy of death and disgrace. Yet barely a whisper came from Europe’s left about how the Syrian regime’s collapse at this particular juncture would stand the Middle East’s only credible anti-imperialist alliance on its head. Damascus falls, Tehran is automatically de-fanged, Hezbollah subdued, and a merry Israel amid the Gulf’s usual Riyal-politik, no worries about mass graves near Manama and the eastern provinces.
But surprise surprise, many thousand al qaeda guerillas squatting flies since Iraq also self employed themselves in Syria, the shrine car bombings bearing their unmistakable fingerprints for all to see. Slowly the momentum of the opposition, Turkish safe haven and military support, the weight of the GCC, the machinations of NATO/US and a very real threat of chemical weapons falling into Al Qaeda hands all tightened the noose around Bashar al Assad. Yet most leftist commentary refuses to concede that Assad’s main opposition may no longer come from progressive, google-minded, middle class youth that are supposed to be armed with degrees and diplomas, not sniper rifles and night vision goggles.
Granted, the Baathists never really erected the Pan Arabian nationalist nirvana that seemed so, so possible when these long running dictators first appeared on the stage one after the other. And yes, Bashar must now go. But must Syria burn for years in a nasty civil conflict between jihadi monsters and CIA proxies to achieve that end? Will the people of Syria have won freedom if mullas and warlords frequent the arms bazaar, complete with smuggling, stealing and of course torn limbs on Syria’s streets for years to come? Will the left also, just like the right in Iraq, parrot the nonsense that even the violence justifies the dictator’s ouster? Will great powers steer this madness into other resistance pockets and will only Gulf countries compliant with the US continue with monarchies and dictatorships in this merciless, zero-sum game of thrones? Will the left say something?
Shahab Jafry is a financial and political journalist covering Mena and Pakistan.