Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ghost Wars In The Middle East

By Hasan Abu Nimah 

In Libya, Yemen and Syria, national armies, originally created to protect their countries against external aggression, have opted to direct their guns at their own people instead. But is that really what is happening?

The embattled regimes in these countries say something else, claiming to be the victim of conspiracies perpetrated by foreign elements, terrorists, Islamic extremists with the collaboration of destructive elements at home who have been armed and financed by ghost conspirators.
According to such propaganda, the thousands - sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands - who have taken to the streets week after week, month after month, calling for an end to dictatorship, corruption, injustice and oppression are not real.

Neither in Libya nor in Yemen nor now in Syria would the happy citizens show any sign of discontent with their beloved leaders. That may sound satirical, but it is not.
Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi once responded to a foreign reporter’s questions about huge street protest demonstrations by simply saying that they were loyalists expressing their love for their leader. And as the standard claim has been elsewhere, the few citizens who would actually participate in any protests are either drugged with hallucination pills or misled, or bribed.

There are, however, good citizens who march peacefully for reform, the concerned regimes admit, and not only do they respect and understand their legitimate demands, they also work hard towards meeting them, given ample opportunity and time.
Yet even at times when governments did not intervene against protests with military force, we notice that demonstrations are often infiltrated by mysterious elements who turn to rioting and to attacking public and private property, according to standard official media. Such elements have never been defined more than in the usual general terms: “terrorists”, “extremists”, “Al Qaeda elements”, “paid saboteurs”, and so on. But the authorities never seem to have any explanation for how those elements suddenly manage to dominate the domestic scene and to wreak so much havoc, and much less for how all this can happen without anyone really knowing who is behind it.

There have been variations on the same theme: a foreign conspiracy hitting the country and a responsible regime confronting the conspiracy to save the country and the people. In other words a war of ghosts.
Listening to Syrian official media organs, one ends up with a perfect mystery. When demonstrations erupted in the southern city of Daraa, the state claimed its forces were chasing armed gangs not protesters, and that the ones who were shooting at protesters and security alike were those mysterious armed gangs.

The scores of innocent demonstrators who were attacked with live ammunition and killed were actually victims of armed gangs from outside the country - once Jordan was accused of sending them - who took to the rooftops and shot at people. They attacked mosques and destroyed government property. They threatened public order and terrorised the population.
Must those armed ghosts not also be responsible for the mutilation of 13-year-old Hamza Al Khatib, who disappeared for a whole month in Daraa and whose body was returned to his family with signs of barbaric torture and burns?

And to give this official Syrian narrative some credibility, soldiers must be killed too. The weird armed hooligans are not only targeting civilians but security men and soldiers as well. Many of them have been also killed so far: over 100 soldiers have been recently killed in the northern town of Jisr Al Shaghour, or so the government claims.
The majority of the population of Jisr Al Shughour crossed the border north into Turkey - over 7,000 so far - to escape an army onslaught allegedly aimed at liberating the town from the armed intruders who killed the soldiers and burnt the town’s crop, upon request from the town’s population, say official Syrian media.

Foreign media have been totally banned from entering Syria to cover events and give the outside world a clearer picture of what is really happening. But that is only to protect the lives of foreign journalists who could also become target of the armed intruders, say Syrian officials.
So far, and according to various news reports, over 1,400 civilians have been killed in Syria, and thousands more may have been placed under arrest well after the nominal cancellation of the four-decade-old state of emergency as part of a government “reform” package.

If all such killings and arrests were indeed executed by armed foreigners as part of a foreign conspiracy, then where is the state? Is that not compelling evidence that the state has failed utterly in protecting its land and its people? What kind of a state is it that stands unable to maintain security and order against undefined, unexplained, mysterious elements, where the only presented proof of their existence has been the usual fake confessions on Syrian state TV and the usual display of bundles of US dollars and arms captured in the secret caches of the gangs? We have seen this in other Arab countries as well.
The pattern, therefore, according to official narratives in the three countries in question, is that everything had been in order, people were very happy with their leaders, and except for some manageable reform demands which the authorities were prepared to meet, everything was perfect - until the mysterious conspiracy that suddenly descended upon the country from nowhere.

Actually, there is no mystery here. The reality is far more obvious than any amount of propaganda can conceal: there is a gang of desperate dictators who believe that by such brutal practices and by spilling so much blood they can restore and retain control. The leaders in Libya, Yemen andSyria are blind to the new realities of people determined to offer any amount of sacrifice for their freedom, their usurped rights and their dignity.
The real mystery is how those doomed leaders continue to live in the extinct past, how they imagine that by crushing their people they can get business back to normal, how they ignore the legitimate aspirations of their people, turning their military machine against them to suppress and regain control, and how they believe that their poor propaganda machine can hide the truth.

This is the real mystery.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 15/06/2011

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