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Sunday, August 14, 2011
Regime Syndrome: They Cannot Leave Or Live In Peace
Some maniacal Arab leaders cannot see reality. And they will all end up, one after another, in a mess
By Abdul Hamid Ahmad
Gadhafi, Saleh and Suwar al-Dahab (EPA, Reuters, Gulf News Archive)
Syria has always been an Arab country I love to visit for its rich history and heritage. Its people are open-minded and tolerant. This country is home to some of the oldest civilisations, some of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. These civilisations have given Syria a rich culture and a varied fabric of people from different ethnicities and religions.
Hence, seeing all this bloodshed in Syria is heart-breaking. But why is it happening? The answer is very simple. Because of the political system and the one-party rule regime where people, born of this culture and civilisation, are not allowed to live the life they deserve — they deserve a life of freedom, dignity and equality.
Syria is like other Arab countries in this respect. We have heard virtually all Arab leaders, who have faced revolts by their people, saying: "My country is different from the others." Muammar Gaddafi said Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Bashar Al Assad said Syria is not Egypt or Tunisia. Ali Abdullah Saleh said Yemen is not Egypt or Libya.
Every leader thinks his country is unique and his people are happy — they will not revolt. Some go a step further and believe that their people love them. In fact, millions love them. And it is because of this maniacal belief that there are killings and bloodshed. These leaders declare that the revolutions are the handiwork of external forces, Islamists and terrorists. Destructive forces are at play.
These leaders have several things in common apart from their regimes being undemocratic. They think they are the best their people ever had. They believe that what they have been doing over the past 30-40 years is in the interest of their people. They are doing good by them, protecting their dignity and ensuring their prosperity. They believe that their people love them. But when the moment of truth comes, they do not and still do not think or believe that their people do not love them.
Let's go back to Syria. Al Assad is the youngest of all these leaders. He brought hope to Syria — there would be changes for a better life and there would be democratic reform under his leadership.
Years passed, but nothing changed. The frustration built up. And why has nothing happened? Again it is because his mentality is rooted in the regime syndrome. He is not the people's prince. The regime is built on one-party rule where law and order is maintained through the high-handed use of force. Security is a paranoia. The regime suffers from the minority mentality — be it an ethnic or political minority.
This kind of regime cannot change from within and cannot lead change because if it does so, it means it will shoot itself in the foot. That is why Al Assad is trapped in this regime; because he is part of it. Unless he distances himself from it, nothing can happen. But the question is: Can he distance himself?
The answer: A big no. And with the regime believing that order can only be restored by unleashing excessive force, it seems that he has burnt all his bridges behind him.
Al Assad is not giving a chance to any real political solution. Although Syria was given the opportunity to put reforms in place and adopt political solutions by western and Arab countries, which kept silent during the bloodshed to give him that chance, Al Assad squandered it away. Al Assad has found himself isolated. He used force as the only solution from the beginning because it is the only mentality he understands. So, he is not very different from Gaddafi or the others because he still insists, like Gaddafi, that the people love him. He does not recognise the uprising, saying the revolt has been triggered by rioters and hoodlums who only want to create trouble in the country.
These maniacal leaders cannot see reality. And they will all end up, one after another, in a mess as King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia pointed out. But the problem is that they are also taking their countries to darkness and chaos.
We have witnessed in many European and democratic countries that even if there is the smallest of protests against any minister, objecting to a decision, the minister resigns immediately even though he is elected. But in the Arab world masses protest and the leaders kill them.
It is a waste to think, hope and dream that Gaddafi and Al Assad will give up and leave in peace to live in peace. They are not democratic by nature, culture and education. They do not understand the value of admitting mistakes and the value of respecting others' opinions. This is how the Arab world has been controlled and ruled in recent history. This has led to the uprisings.
But the Arab world is not all that bad. We have leaders who have been exceptions to the prototype. We remember leaders like Abdul Rahman Suwar Al Dahab, who took over as president of Sudan after Jaffer Numeiri. He promised to resign and give up authority one year after elections. And he did just that. He is the only Arab leader who we remember for resigning from his post.
Are we, as Arabs, allowed the right to dream of another Suwar Al Dahab? The answer: A big no.
-This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 14/08/2011
-Abdul Hamid Ahmad is the editor-in-chief of the Gulf News