Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sectarianism Clouds Arab Spring

As Yemenis and Syrians battle autocrats, Lebanon faces a real danger of descending into civil war
By George S. Hishmeh
A noteworthy aspect of the Arab Spring has been the speed — in a matter of weeks — with which the Egyptians and the Tunisians were able to overthrow their corrupt rulers while the Syrians and Yemenis have for months been immersed in so far fruitless battles in the hope of introducing meaningful and effective political change.
More striking has been the Arab rulers in Bahrain, Morocco and Oman, who appear to be slightly more capable of coming to terms with similar protests.
A key factor in all of this has been the seemingly sympathetic role of the military; although in the case of Egypt, it is now seen controlling the country lackadaisically much to the deep disappointment of the Egyptian youth, who have unrealistic expectations that all problems can be changed or corrected overnight.
Then, again, the question remains as to why Syria and Yemen are still embroiled in bloody and months-long confrontations between the regimes and protesters yearning for serious change?
It is not that the regimes of Syria and Yemen have not seen the writing on the wall. In fact, Syria's President Bashar Al Assad has promised change and allowed opposition groups to meet in Damascus in the hope that they can come up with a solution. He has also publicly conceded that change is necessary.
On the other hand, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is recuperating in Saudi Arabia after being injured in an attack, may not come back home to Sana'a.
The news from Yemen and, particularly Syria, is not very clear to the public and outsiders despite what is available on social media networks.
Here's what Anthony Shadid, the Pulitzer-prize winning correspondent of The New York Times had to say last Saturday on the Syrian turmoil in a report from Beirut.
At the tail-end of his news report he talked about the recent clashes in Homs, a key Syrian city. The demonstrators there claimed that the Syrian security forces had killed three people while Syrian state television reported that armed men in Homs fired on crowds and security forces, killing a civilian and a policeman.
Shadid, an American-Lebanese, concluded in desperation that "it was almost impossible to reconcile the discrepancy in the different accounts".
Two other American commentators echoed the same problem - one, Peter Harling, who is based in Damascus for the International Crisis Group, a Washington-based American-think tank, and Robert Malley, the director of the group's Middle East and North Africa programme.
They wrote jointly in a column published in the Washington Post last Sunday: "It is, even now, hard to assess whether a clear majority of Syrians wish to topple the regime. What is clear, however, is that a majority within the regime is working overtime to accelerate its demise".
Reforms push
All this confusion should not, however, assure the leaders in Damascus and Sana'a or in other capitals facing uprisings that they can put off critical and much-needed reforms — time is not on their side. On the contrary, their days will be numbered if they continue dilly-dallying or beating around the bush.
A more serious problem that the Arab world is facing in recent years has been the rise of sectarianism where citizens of the same country are in continuous conflict, not over religious issues but in the struggle for power.
This is evident in the rise of the Shiite community in the region. In Syria, the Alawites, an offshoot of the Shiites, are in full control of the government and armed forces.
Lebanon has endured a 15-year civil war that ended about 10 years ago. Still, the Lebanese may now find themselves on the threshold of a possible major crisis revolving around the assassination six years ago of a respected prime minister, Rafik Hariri, a Sunni, and 20 other key Lebanese personalities.
The UN-sponsored Special Tribunal has just handed a copy of the 168-page indictment in the Hariri assassination to the Lebanese government, an indictment that reportedly implicates four members of the Hezbollah, which is a Lebanese Shiite group and a firm supporter of neighbouring Syria.
Its leader, Shaikh Hassan Nasrallah, has warned the government against arresting his supporters — an issue that could affect Lebanon's stability and security.
A key question remains whether the Arab Spring, brought about by young Arabs in the region can remain standing upon its tender feet to subdue the rampant sectarianism.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 07/07/2011
-George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist

1 comment:

  1. Seems to me it is religion fighting religion and that secularlsm is a buzz word used to confuse.