image of jerusalem 2016

Syria: is this the end of hope?
Five long years of protests, violence, suffering, bloodletting, proxy wars, fresh hopes marooned on jagged deceptions, untold misery, the barbarity of pseudo-religious claims, and the cheap venom of human beings pitted against each other.

1 May   |   2016   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Who would have thought that the expectations of five short years ago, in Syria and across a cobwebby and top-down MENA region, would produce so many deaths let alone so much bereavement, pain, duplicity, mendacity or frustration?

Why is the yearning for a loaf of bread, or a shred of dignity for that matter, so objectionable? Are citizenship rights so threatening to the entrenched ruling elites? How did a prayer that the wholesale oppression of societies would yield to an openness that is respectful of human beings - or more accurately of non-citizens carrying passports - metamorphose into grim killing machines? Disappearances are rife, the gaols are full of dead captives, and torture is the quotidian bread of some governors. The penury of fundamental values - that graze the soul as much as the hit the pocket - cast their penumbras over ordinary let alone disempowered or marginalised citizens.

Yet, this is where the MENA region finds itself today. Bluntly, it is in the throes of a counter-revolution where rulers are - slowly, slyly - retaking the initiative and regaining the momentum. Regional and global powers are also pawning the lives of millions of MENA inhabitants and the art of impunity has reached an even higher screeching zenith. And those oppressive and heavy-handed measures marketed as corrective tools for ‘stability’ or ‘security’ are together feeding even more sinister and odious ideologies that are in turn being peddled as religion but in truth drag us into obscurantism.

Nowhere is this clearer than across Syria today. The country has been buckling under 5 years of merciless and oft-virulent violence. Only last week, Aleppo - the commercial hub of Syria and its ecumenical cradle - was being cowed down by those who are bereft of humanity. Niccolò Machiavelli would edit his 16th-century political treatise, The Prince, and add a few chapters on the new-old ways in which human beings can be bartered on the bloodied altar of self-interest.

But this latest orgy of violence in Syria - one that pits a bloody regime supported by its ravens against an equally murderous conglomeration of nihilistic militias - is paving the way for a game-changer in Syria. No longer can one find the cosiness of international law concepts such as R2P or safe havens. No longer can one invest in the pretence of politicians issuing sterile condemnations since such verbose niceties now lie buried under the collapsed walls of Aleppo. The Syrian army, supported by Russians overtly and Iranians less covertly, aims to retake a narrow strip of Aleppine territory to help it lay siege to the heretofore rebel-held part of Aleppo and encourage its depopulation - a demographic and confessional re-mapping of the country. And once this is achieved somehow, the Assad regime would then control the 5 key western cities of Syria nearer the Mediterranean. This also means that Staffan de Mistura's flailing attempts at a political solution would lapse and the military option would nakedly supplant the political avenues. One result is that the regime would then sit back while the West fights not only the terrorists of Daesh or Al-Nusra (that Syria has nurtured anyway) but also the ‘moderate’ rebels who have become a political nuisance. The Russian chess game in Syria was skilful: it strengthened its dominance, overshadowed a commitment-averse US president and made the UN-Geneva talks even more redundant. Putin checkmated Obama, and Russia checkmated the West, even if we still splutter otherwise.

The consequence, paradoxically, is a Syria today whose future has become even darker and a country that might well end up being federated officially or else fragmented unofficially. Were it that we had acted earlier, and differently, rather than turn our backs on the irenic aspirations of millions. The irony is that the old democracies of the world had lamented for decades that the Arab masses are too somnolent and lazy, or else too incompetent and uneducated, to rise up and seek or reclaim their rights. Yet when they did just that, first in Tunisia, and then in Egypt, Libya, Syria or Yemen, we both expired their aspirations with interventions such as in Iraq or Libya, or else we opted to stay out like in Syria.

So is this the dystopian end of hope as I understand it for Syria?

Despite many reversals and disappointments, I really do not think this is the end of hope. True, this is the end of the ‘Arab Spring’ as we dubbed it in 2011, and I would even argue that this chapter has been lost by those who were idealistic enough to struggle for a better future. Yet, I have often stated publicly that the genie in the MENA region has come out of the bottle and it will not easily be lured back in. This is why I also believe that the awakened albeit wounded masses across a vast region cannot surrender at this hurdle. After all, they have lived a re-Nahda moment of their own making, no matter how tenuous or ill-defined, and it is plain that the new-old regimes in the MENA countries - from Egypt to Iraq - are losing their lustre anew. So ordinary MENA-ers will once again face future challenges in order to gain the elemental right to carry MENA passports worthy of genuine citizenship rights.

And when that day comes - tomorrow or in a decade - I hope we will assist with the reconstruction of their hopes too.

The photo, “Jesus returns to Aleppo” is by the late Syrian modernist painter Fateh el-Moudarress (1922-1999)

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2016   |   1 May


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