The Syrian tunnel and the Spring
When the first spontaneous explosions of the Arab democratic revolutions erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, many were hoping that this revolt might usher in a new beginning for the whole region. When Egypt joined Tunisia a few weeks later, hopes mounted and everyone started to think that the long-awaited moment had finally arrived. This feeling further intensified with the Yemeni revolution and the early stages of the revolutions in Libya and Syria, and a new order was anticipated. Nevertheless, the trajectory of events took things in a completely different direction. Some opted to see the recent downward spiral as a conspiracy theory, while others saw in these events a natural outcome of an ignorance planted by corrupt rulers over decades.
In fact, every Arab, except those who were benefiting from toppled regimes, was happy and hopeful with the so-called Arab Spring, and Arab thinkers started to draw optimistic scenarios for their future. On the other hand, despite initial hesitation and falling into the trap of duality — i.e., interests versus morals — the West ostensibly began to cheer and support these revolts. Even the staunchest critics of the Arab world saw these revolts bringing the region into the democratic club.
Nonetheless, with the beginning of the armed conflict in Libya, the picture was distorted somehow. That is, people started to question how far violence can justify the fulfillment of democratic aspirations. Similarly, in Syria violence escalated to an unprecedented level as regional and international actors tried to use the Syrian scene either to counter others’ influence or to find a foothold in the region.
To that end, there were no objections whatsoever whose hands the money and weapons would fall into, as long as Bashar al-Assad’s regime was weakened and as long as they maintained some sort of leverage in the ongoing action in Syria. This fact refutes, without doubt, the allegations of some states that accused others of financing and funding the jihadists in Syria, because simply, everyone paid and funded everyone and anyone who fights against Assad.
The conflict in Syria revealed the divergence and the convergence in the policies of regional regimes concerning Arab revolts. While the Saudis were in favor of regional Status-Quo except for Syria and Libya (who did not have good relations with), the Iranians were in favor of a revolutionary change in the region, aiming to re-clone their experience, except for Syria- the ally. Turks, on the other hand, were in favor of a gradual transition in the region in order to maintain their economic interests, but again with the exception of Syria which they opt for a drastic change and toppling Assad.
With the emergence of al-Nusra followed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the whole Arab Spring was fully hijacked. In other words, with the number of atrocities committed by these two groups, not one single Arab is left with the luxury of thinking of democracy or fighting their dictatorships, lest they suffer from similar troubles.
Although there is a consensus on the grave threat ISIS-IS is posing, there has been no real agreement among regional and global powers on fighting or eliminating the group. Some powers see that weakening ISIS-IS would not only mean that Assad will remain, but would also give him the opportunity to retrieve lost territories in Syria. Other regional powers find in fighting and weakening ISIS-IS an empowered of other groups like Kurdish PKK and other Shiite guerrillas, while other super powers find that eliminating ISIS-IS would remove any reason for regional countries to seek support and assistance in fighting those radicals.
And again, as the notion of the US was what provoked many Arabs to revolt against their regimes, which were long accused of being American stooges, the moment the United States launched its air strikes against ISIL, the number of new recruits in ISIL increased dramatically — as it is claimed that more than 6,000 new recruits have joined the organization since the beginning of the US campaign.
With its quick rise and control of a large swath and chunk of Iraq and Syria, ISIL inspired many conspiracy theories to draw the certain and undoubted role of the US in these events. Although critics of this conclusion refute this, claiming that the US is currently leading a campaign against ISIL, I tend to see the latter argument as both erroneous and illogical.
Aside from the document revealed by former contractor at the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) Edward Snowden, which said British and American intelligence and Mossad worked together to create ISIL in order to attract all extremists of the world to one place, there are still other signs. First, all observers have concluded that these strikes are not really harming ISIL. US Senator John McCain himself told CNN on Oct. 7 that the ISIL advance shows the “ineffectiveness and fecklessness” of the air strikes. Second, the US’s tardy decision to launch air strikes took months during which ISIL was expanding and gaining power day by day and despite all the atrocities committed by the group. Third, attacking ISIL does not necessarily mean that the US has no role in the formation and the rise of the group. To illustrate, throughout history, many US administrations attacked former allies when their interests conflicted, e.g., Manuel Noriega of Panama.
However, one should concede that without the widespread ignorance among the Arab population — due to decades of malevolent policies by corrupt regimes that were allied with the US — such groups would not have found grounds to propagate an austere interpretation of Islam and such violent acts. This fact does not, however, rule out a foreign imprint in the ongoing chaos in the region, and several incidents do support this argument.
For instance, in a letter sent from Patriarch Gregorios of Greece to the czar of Russia at the end of the 18th century, he said that abolishing the Islamic Ottoman Empire militarily was impossible. He suggested weakening the empire from within, mainly through ending the discipline and morale and importing Western ideas (from the French Revolution) of liberation and freedom. Tracking the ensuing developments, not only during the demise of the Ottoman Empire but also in modern times, one can notice that this policy has been implemented perfectly and used non-Islamic culture as a cover, either by importing the values of liberation and equality from the French Revolution or the values of US globalization of human rights and democracy in order to penetrate Arab and Islamic societies. Confronting such foreign infiltration occurred through recalling historical exploits and sometimes adopting radical agendas.
Another example is a strategically important document: the 1907 Campbell-Bannerman Report. Although the report was suppressed and has not been officially released due to its gravity, several sources revealed a number of its conclusions, which included that the Arab countries and the Muslim-Arab people presented a very real threat, and it recommended promoting disintegration, division and separation in the region; establishing artificial political entities that would be under the authority of the imperialist countries; fighting any kind of unity, whether intellectual, religious or historical; and finally a “buffer state” to be established in Palestine, populated by a strong, foreign presence that would be hostile to its neighbors and friendly to European countries and their interests.
That said, Ismael Hossein-Zadeh in his article “Planned Chaos in the Middle East — and Beyond,” which appeared in Counter Punch on July 18-20, 2014, suggests that the “incoherent,” “illogical” or “contradictory” policies of the United States are in fact chaos that represents the success, not failure, of those policies — policies that are designed by the beneficiaries of war and military adventures in the region, and beyond. Quoting Hossein-Zadeh: “The seeds of the chaos were planted some 25 years ago, when the Berlin Wall collapsed. Since the rationale for the large and growing military apparatus during the Cold War years was the ‘threat of communism,’ US citizens celebrated the collapse of the Wall as the end of militarism and the dawn of ‘peace dividends’ — a reference to the benefits that, it was hoped, many would enjoy in the United States as a result of a reorientation of part of the Pentagon’s budget toward non-military social needs.”
Unfortunately, with the intercalation of new elements in the scene, i.e., the Kurdish and the ethnic factors, all regional players succumbed to a form of paralysis with few options at hand, and thus the whole region is susceptible to further schism and deeper ordeals until everyone realizes that no one will be immune from the ramifications of this scourge.
Appeared in: Your Middle East, Today’s Zaman, the Daily Journalist, Arabian Gazette, News 24, Arab Media Network, Iran Review, Political Science Academy, Middle East Monitor, Tuck Magazine, Middle East Online, Pakistan Tribune, Arabic Democratic Center, Daily News Egypt, AlAhram Weekly .