Although the Arab Spring, triggered by a Tunisian youth’s setting himself ablaze in protest of the regime on Dec. 17, 2010, has snowballed into an Arab Spring that has affected many countries and led to the collapse of despotic regimes, the deadlock that has become salient in Syria has the potential to reverse this process of democratization.
Despite crimes against humanity committed in Syria, the international community’s lethargy resulting from polarization on the issue has started to make Egypt, not Syria, pay a price. How so? I will try to elaborate.
As is known, Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which relies on the minority group of Nusayris as well as certain groups that collaborate with this minority, chose to violently repress the peaceful protests of Syrian people who began demanding democracy and freedoms in March 2011. Although Assad’s intention was crystal clear right from the beginning, the international community failed to duly exert pressure on him. Instead, they just called on him to introduce democratic reforms. Thus, they gave additional time to the Assad regime so that it could spill more innocent blood. In this regard, the Turkish foreign policy, too, chose, albeit unwilling, a course that would earn Assad more time until fall 2011. When Turkey and some Western countries realized the seriousness of the situation and started to talk to the Syrian opposition and hold meetings in Tunisia and İstanbul in solidarity with them, Kofi Annan came up with a plan with the backing of the Arab League and the UN.
And the Assad regime quickly accepted this plan in order to buy itself extra time and, at the same time, counter more than 130 countries’ apparent opposition to itself. And it happened as it imagined. The Friends of the Syrian People meeting, held on April 1 in İstanbul, virtually amounted to much ado about nothing. The meeting fell short of expectations, and the final declaration was diluted. The Annan plan served to mellow the international opposition to Assad instead of exerting control over the Assad regime and protecting the Syrian people. The Assad regime never intended to fulfill its liabilities under the Annan plan. It continued to kill everyone indiscriminately in full view of the entire international community. With the backing of Iran, Russia and China, the Assad regime undertook and continues to undertake a new massacre every passing day. The Annan plan, which was doomed to fail from the start, officially failed when the activities of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), which formed the backbone of the plan, were suspended on Saturday due to the risks associated with escalating violence in the country.
Meanwhile, another development predicted by many occurred as the first signs of a Russian initiative, which, too, is designed to offer the Assad regime more time, started to be seen. A country which was accused of providing the Assad regime with modernized attack helicopters and other military weapons to be used in attacks against civilians, Russia called on the international community to hold a summit to be attended by Iran, another great supporter of the Assad regime. Furthermore, Russia also signaled that it would do everything to ensure that the Syrian conference slated to be held in Geneva on June 30 does not produce a result unfavorable to the Assad regime.
The Syrian tragedy has acquired dimensions comparable to the Bosnian tragedy, but the deadlock is not a concern solely for Syria. The predicament the Arab Spring faced in Syria is taking a toll on some other Arab Spring countries as well. If the Arab Spring had not been thrown headfirst into the bloody wall built by the Assad regime, one may argue, the democratic process in Egypt would have gone on without encountering new coups. The Syrian case is the terrible example of how people’s demands for democracy and freedom can be contained with violence and weapons, and it certainly fosters evil inspirations in those who control the armed forces in Egypt. The Constitutional Court, consisting of members appointed by ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, and a living trace of the old regime in Egypt, recently abolished the membership to Parliament of one third of the deputies recently elected, a move which effectively amounted to abolition of the Egyptian parliament, and I think it wouldn’t be wrong to see this as a development resulted in part from the deadlock in Syria.
Moreover, having observed the international community’s profound weakness as regards Syria, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which was ruling the country after the fall of Mubarak, can hardly be expected to leave the political power even after the presidential elections held last weekend. Given the fact that the Egypt’s deep state could abolish the freshly elected Parliament ahead of the critical election held on Saturday and Sunday under the military’s de facto martial law, we can safely argue that it will not easily surrender to the democratic powers. The old system is currently obsessed with promoting its presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafik, against the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) candidate, Mohammed Mursi, but no one should be surprised if it soon demands the MB be banned just like what Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat did. And if Shafik is elected, the concerns that Mubarak’s despotic regime will continue even after Mubarak himself has gone will become a reality.
Already Wael Ghonim, a political activist who had become famous beyond the borders of Egypt, has warned that the Military Council’s clout in Egypt will continue despite elections as it has started to employ its legislative authorities. On his Facebook account, he wrote the following: “The current picture implies that the Military Council will maintain its powers and it will not revert to its original duties after the elections... No date was specified for when the parliamentary elections would be held after the parliament was abolished. This is because a new election law should be passed beforehand... We are heading for elections without a constitution that specifies the president’s powers and authorities and without a parliament. The judiciary is also controlled by the Military Council.” Noting that the soldiers were vested with the authority to arrest civilians, Ghonim indicated the Military Council may benefit from the lack of a president and a parliament and form the Constitution Commission on its own.
In addition to the Constitutional Court’s pitiless abolishing of the parliament, it is feared that the Egyptian Administrative Court, which will hear two critical cases launched against Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri and directly against the MB, may deal a fatal blow to a movement that has been conducting its activities completely on a legal basis since 1928. It is said that the court may ban the use of the phrase “Muslim Brotherhood Community” and forbid the community’s activities and freeze its assets. The latest moves by the Military Council and the judicial organs are viewed by the general public as the “stealing the revolution” and even as a “counter-revolution.”
In other words, the Arab Spring trained that is skidding in the Syrian quagmire has already started to retreat in Egypt due to the negative developments in Syria. Too bad!