“I cannot trust a man to control others, who cannot control himself.”
(General Robert E. Lee)
The Jan. 25 revolution that took place in Egypt in early 2011 boosted the Syrian revolution which erupted in March of the same year. The relationship between Egypt and Syria - let us say greater Syria in general - does not require a long explanation... It all started with the written history of the Near East, in many stages, wars and victories of the great Pharaohs like Thutmose I, Thutmose III and Ramesses II, and in return, the long rule of the Hyksos (shepherd kings), over Egypt after they invaded it from the east.
Over the centuries, and especially after the Islamic conquest and the extension of the great Islamic Caliphate across Egypt and Greater Syria, relations were enhanced and strong joint loyalties were formed. As for what it is now known as the “Arab Spring,” it may not have been possible for the “spark” of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia to reach Syria had it not hit Egypt first.
Egypt is indeed the geographic and demographic heart of the Arab world, and what hits Egypt will affect all Arab entities in the east and the West, regardless of the differences in social fabric, the economic differences and the political concepts of each country. Today, when Egypt commits a form of political and economic suicide, the implications of this “suicide” may not be limited to Egypt. I believe that it is no longer permissible to argue about what has happened or is happening in Egypt these days. For any political faction to act as if it is the only custodian of the “January revolution”, while the others must only follow and obey lest they are accused of being the followers of “the defunct regime,” is a dangerous behaviour. This is only similar in modern times to “McCarthyism” in America after the end of World War II.
The new picture the Egyptian presidency is presenting for “'political Islam” after it reaches power through democratic means is a distorted and excluding picture that is not positive at all. The least that can be said about the political – ideological group, which is represented today by President Dr. Mohammed Mursi, is that it is being selective in its understanding and defining democracy, dictatorship and tyranny. The President, who lived in the United States for some time, and recognized - as I hope - the proper electoral representation mechanisms, must have witnessed that simple numerical majority is meaningless unless it is based on certain attributes and standards that embody and respect national consensus.
Last but not least, it is politically absurd to organize elections and referenda when the real decision lies outside the scope of both elections and referenda. For instance, why did President Mursi not ask the Egyptian people about the role of the “Guide” that he and his party are committed to? Does President Mursi dare to include some points from the political program of the “Nour” Party – his Referendum ally today – to any referendum?
Perhaps, the most impressive words I have heard during the past few weeks, came in a reply by an antique souvenir seller in Luxur, during an interview about the collapse of tourism; he remarked “There is an economic stalemate, and yet the other day Sheikh Morjan called for the destruction of the pyramids... did anyone see us worshipping the pyramids?”
Faced with this tragic reality, or even despite it, President Mursi and his political authorities refuse to step back. They are rather escaping forward with a hijacked popular mandate (of about 1.5 percent) toward changing Egypt’s structure and identity, in a race against time, even if this comes at the expense of national unity, economic well- being and foreign relations.
What does is the example “Mursi’s Egypt” is giving to the Syrians, during and after their revolution? I believe this is a very important matter.
The pretext of extreme Islamic fundamentalists has been ever present in the justifications of inaction or outright refusal to support the Syrian revolution, especially at the level of the world's major powers like the United States, Russia, China and the European Union.
Since the beginning of the revolution in Daraa, the regime of Bashar al-Assad chose to blackmail the rebels with the weapon of sectarian strife, and turned the popular uprising into a bloodbath that has claimed, until now, between 40 and 100 thousand lives. From the very beginning, both Russia and China sought to protect their own interests while hiding behind the slogan of confronting fundamentalist “political Islam”. Many Western powers, practically, have agreed with them despite the “diplomatic battle” these powers have waged against Russia and China within the corridors of the United Nations or the “Friends of Syria” conferences.
Amid the Russian-Chinese vetoes and the American-Western caution, especially during an electoral year par excellence in the U.S., the Syrian regime has continued to wage its war against its own people with every kind of weapon allowed before reaching a vague “red line” (!). With the collapse of law and order in far-lying Syrian areas, and ridding several parts of Syria of the control of the regime’s security apparatuses, it was more than natural to see extremist Jihadist groups enter the country. These groups, in fact, consider themselves fighting an “open war” against the regimes and the governments of the Arab and Islamic worlds, and through them against the entire world. Thus, it was only a matter of time before these groups that are being chased out of Pakistan and attacked in Yemen, Mali and other countries should regard Syria as the perfect Jihadist “oasis”, as large areas of the country are now free of the regime’s security forces and its various types of “Shabihas”
The big lie of the Syrian regime about the Islamists reminds the observer of the old “Cry Wolf” fable we learned at school. This is when a shepherd repeatedly tricked nearby villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock, until a wolf actually does appear but then the villagers who have now stopped believing the shepherd refused to answer his cries for help, which lead to the loss of the flock.
It is clear today that choosing a figure from religious background as head of the “Syrian National Coalition” does not bother Damascus’ officials at all, as they have been busy talking about a conspiracy being sponsored by certain circles which want religious fundamentalism to replace the “secular regime”.
If we also screen the names of the armed brigades and the different names that are being given to the demonstrations held every Friday, it would be easy to conclude that the revolution against Bashar al-Assad and his followers has really taken new confessional dimensions, that are causing unease even among those who are strongly in favour of change and those who support the revolution without reserve.
This worrying trend can also be seen clearly in view of some religious transgressions – with displacement objectives – and the explosions which authors’ identities are lost between the “Shabihas” and the extremist and fundamentalist groups, etc.
The whole situation gives, therefore, the impression that organizations of “Political Islam” are the strongest potential alternative to a “family dominated mafia” whose long reign was stained with sectarian blackmail and the logic of the “alliance of minorities” under a wider regional umbrella that includes Iran and Israel.
American decisions about the “al-Nusra Front” fall in this context and their timing is important now since the “National Syrian Coalition” has been widely recognized on the international scene.
The international community, probably with the exception of Russia, today recognizes two realities: The first is that there is no return to “Assad’s Syria”, and the second is the negative aspects of the Egypt’s experience are seriously taken into consideration by the international community… and the cost will be too high if they are allowed to happen again in Syria.
(Eyad Abu Shakra is a columnist at Asharq al-Awsat, where this article was published on Dec. 17, 2012)