Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Their division of the spoils gradually contaminated the entire polity, & ultimately led to civil war"

"...  judging by the SNC’s performance, there is cause for concern if it were to play a key role in such a transition. Its leading members, hindered by personal rivalries, unable to formulate clear political positions for fear of implosion and seemingly consumed with having a spot in the limelight, may fall back on sectarian apportionment as the only consensual criterion for power sharing. Syrians on the street have made clear that they see the SNC’s legitimacy as based on their ability to lobby for diplomatic pressure and see their mandate as stretching no further, but the outside world’s quest for a ready-made “alternative,” and the prevailing assumption that pluralist societies in the Middle East are condemned to such evolution, could prove to be Syria’s undoing. A political process including the SNC, but built primarily around locally led organizations, along with technocrats and businessmen, would have more legitimacy and a greater chance of success.
Finally, as increasingly desperate protesters call for help, there is a danger that the outside world will make matters worse as it plays at being savior. Calls for aid are somewhat worse than a pact with the devil: They entail pacts with many devils that do not agree on much. The Gulf monarchies, Iraq, Turkey, Russia, the US, Iran and others all see geostrategic stakes in the fate of the Asad regime. The greater their involvement, the less Syrians will remain in control of their destiny. Crying out for foreign intervention of any kind, to bring this emergency to an end at any cost, is more than understandable coming from ordinary citizens subjected to extreme forms of regime violence. Exiled opposition figures who pose as national leaders have no excuse for behaving likewise, when what is needed is a cool-headed, careful calibration of what type of outside “help” would do the minimum of harm.
Close to home, another Middle Eastern experience -- Iraq -- serves as an example on all three fronts. A political process excluding even a relatively small minority within Iraqi society led to a collective disaster. A group of returning exiles, without a social base but enjoying international support as the only visible, pre-existing “alternative,” quickly took over the transition and agreed only on splitting up power among themselves on the basis of a communal calculus. Their division of the spoils gradually contaminated the entire polity, and ultimately led to civil war. And the US, presiding over this tragedy, succeeded only in turning Iraq into a parody of itself, a country that now fits every sectarian and troubled stereotype the occupying power initially saw in it.
All told, on a domestic level Syria has entered a struggle to bring its post-colonial era to a close. It is not simply about toppling a “regime” but about uprooting a “system” -- the Arabic word nizam conveniently evoking both notions..."

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