The "Angry Arab" States his Views on Syira - June 27

from the blog of As'ad AbuKhalil on 6/26/2013

This is an interview with a comrade who wishes to remain anonymous:

"1) How do you characterize what is happening in Syria? to what extent it is a revolution and to what extent it is not?

The original demonstrations that erupted among the Deraa peasantry were, by all appearances spontaneous, their proximal cause being the maltreatment by regime goons of children who scribbled anti regime graffiti. The unrest has been brewing for a while, coming at the confluence of several factors including a bulging population with high youth unemployment, severe drought that disrupted the agrarian strata, neoliberal policies that favored a pro-regime compradore class and so on. The demonstrations spread nation-wide and seemed in the beginning to have a semblance of trans-sectarian support, notwithstanding obvious hesitations among minorities. They also seem to have garnered the support many educated youth and elements of the middle class. Still, even at this early phase, the regime continued to carry significant support among the populace, evidenced by counter demonstrations and rallies. At first, there was no revolutionary agenda to the protests. The militarization of the protests happened in stages, first in the Rastan-Hums area (which has a large cadre of Sunni staff officers) and then to the North and East. I would say that the militarization process was encouraged and later guided by outside forces, notably Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, explicitly supported by the US and European/NATO actors. The influx of Jihadis followed, a la Afghan model of the 1980s, and sponsored by the aforementioned countries. Old habits die hardů

Do the protests, and the intense bloodshed that followed and continues to this date, amount to a revolution?

So far, and this may surprise or even dismay some of your readers, I would say no. This conclusion is made in the context that even if the regime is deposed, you will not have a profound change in the class structure of society, nor the prominence of the military and its centrality as an institution, nor a dramatically different economic policy that would deviate from the neoliberal tendencies of the recent past. This does not mean that the uprising was lacking in a revolutionary potential, but it was not realized. The chances of its realization now are, to my mind, very small.

The discussion on whether the current upheaval is an uprising or a rebellion versus a revolution is more than semantics, for it foretells the shape of the regime that would follow. Politically, my anticipation is that there would be lip service to a democratic future, but chances are that there would be an authoritarian regime in place that is in structural continuity with this one. In short, unlike what had happened in other revolutions of the past, such as the French, Russian and the Chinese, the basic building blocs of the current regime and their power relation would not change. What would ensue is a game of musical chairs of one nexus of power being displaced in favored of another.

2) How do you explain the resilience of the regime, especially that you, among my friends, always have been suspicious of Western media predictions of an imminent fall of the regime.

The cartoonish representation of the regime as an isolated tyrant versus the people should be pushed aside in favor of a broader and more deeply rooted power base that encompasses a wide swath of society that benefits from (the regime's) continuation versus those that do not. The regime garners support from different groups, including the minorities and some of the Sunnis. It also has the support of the key urban classes of Damascus and Aleppo, especially among the upper/middle upper classes. One has to remember that the authoritarianism of Hafiz Al-Asad was popular in the early seventies precisely because of the chaos of the fifties and sixties and the promise it presented (to the merchant groups in particular) of stability. The current chaos, like the previous one, reflects a historic failure of the Syrian polity to come up with a consensus on a common political "form" structure. The current regime capitalizes on this chronic instability to present itself as the sole guarantor of continued Syrian state.

3) To what extent the uprising in Syria was spontaneous and to what extent it was not?

I answered that to some extent under the first question. Undoubtedly, it is a mixture of both. There is no denying the intense and legitimate internal grievances that led to the uprising. However, the conflict could not have been militarized and propagated for so long without intervention by outside powers, now true on both sides of the civil war. This intervention can only be seen in the context of the regional and international jousting for hegemony in the region. The more interesting aspect of this intervention is that by Western powers and their local actors. If Syria follows the fate of Libya, then the Mediterranean will become a veritable NATO pond. It will also invigorate the quest to control Energy sources in Asia and corner China, which is a key aim of the series of oil wars we have witnessed in Western Asia over the last decades.

4) What do you think Saudi Arabia and Qatar want from Syria?

There is more than one cause for the intervention. The failure of the American invasion of Iraq left these countries vulnerable to political challenges from their own populations, and from Iran. The Syria intervention is a pre-emptive strike to turn the political crisis those regimes face into a Sunni-Shiaa sectarian fight. Their efforts are in line with the overall American/NATO policy of maintaining control over the Middle East. That policy, embedded in the Project for New American Century, remains embedded in American policies even while it has faced difficulties with the failure of the Iraq intervention. Thus, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are bit players in a larger scheme of things.

5) What will the impact of Hizbullah's announced intervention be?

In Lebanon and in Syria. Hizballah has been placed in a difficult position. I do not believe it went into the conflict willingly, but rather under pressure from the emerging situation on the ground, with the Syrian opposition actively seeking to cut its land route to Damascus as a prelude to its own isolation and destruction. The armed wing of the Syrian opposition has been totally subservient with the Gulfies and their American/NATO sponsors, and as such its threat to Hizballah is existential. Where Hizballah is at a disadvantage is in its own sectarian grounding. It has helped it enormously during the resistance phase of its existence (1985-2000), but it has become a liability. At heart, it renders it unable to formulate a trans-sectarian narrative. It is also hampered by its own reluctance to identify with any class dimensions of its struggle, hence its inability to forge alliances in Lebanon outside the traditional sectarian ones. With that in mind, Hizballah remains far truer to its base in Lebanon and to the aspiration of the people of the region for an anti-colonial regime than anything on offer by its enemies.

6) Are we now witnessing a great historical transformation in our region? Are you looking forward to the outcome?

This is the most important question of the bunch, and the saddest to answer. The end of the cold war ushered a breakdown in the post World War Two Arab order, occasioned by the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the split in the Arab League, the "forced" invitation of foreign troops and the subsequent 1991 Iraq War. At the time, I formed the opinion that the classical Sykes Picot arrangement could only be maintained by the force of Arms of the Americans and NATO allies. It is quite possible that similar to Yugoslavia in 1990s, many Arab countries may suffer divisions or at least internal re-ordering. Sudan and Iraq have already gone this way, and Syria may follow suite. It is a very fluid situation.

I have been of the opinion that the Arab spring has been exploited by Western powers and their local allies as means of better integrating the Arab world into the world capitalist order. What you see is the dismantling of one Arab state after the other, followed by its take over by compradore elites (prominently featuring Muslim Brotherhood types) that are more extreme in their allegiance to neoliberal economics than even their counterparts in the West are. The sad part of my response is that whereas previously the colonial designs on the Arab world were met with an intellectual and nationalistic response, galvanized around the issue of Palestine, no such response is currently coherent. Things may change, of course, but it is a very dangerous moment. I remain convinced that the prime responsibility of the Arab intelligentsia is dual: to resist imperialism and internal despotism. The two were related then, and remain so today.

7) What is Turkey's agenda in Syria and beyond?

The collapse of a political Arab project, signaled by the 1990 gulf war and the split in the Arab league at the time, ushered a period of political vacuum that has been filled to some extent by the historic duo of Iran and Turkey. Turkey's entry was not spontaneous, but actively encouraged by the Americans as means of having a heavy weight Sunni power that can act synergistically with Israel to maintain American interests in the region. Egypt would have been the Arab candidate for such a role, but Egypt has been a failed state since Sadat's time. Chances are Egypt would not make a come back any time soon.

What is Turkey's agenda? Turkey seeks to reestablish an economic and social zone of interest the echoes that of the Ottoman Empire, yet well integrated into the world capitalist economy. With the emergence of Muslim Brotherhood sponsored regimes in the Arab world, it may have a shot at it. However, Turkey is a medium sized country that is not big enough, like China, the EU or the US, to establish an independent project. It will be an important but subordinate deputy to the big league players of the world. Libya was a case in point. When the Turks voiced opposition to the NATO intervention in Libya, they suddenly were made to realize that their investments in the country in excess of $30 billion were at stake. Overnight they made a complete turnaround in their position.

8) Is class analysis useful in analyzing Syrian conflict?

It is an important component in understanding the internal dynamics of the many Arab conflicts, including the Syrian one, although it is not the sole factor at work. I think there is an interplay between the internal contradictions of class and the external interventions, much as we have seen before in Iraq. It provides an important layer in a multi layered situation, but absent its recognition no serious analysis of what is going on can take place. "