Thursday, September 1, 2011

Syria’s Gamble On Gaddafi Fails

By Osman Mirghani 

Unlike previous years, the annual television drama series were not the greatest concern for people this Ramadan. The Arab world was engrossed following news of uprisings and revolutions, especially the details of the scenes in Libya and Syria, where the confrontation reached its peak between those demanding rights, freedoms and change, and regimes that have proven that they will go to any lengths in order to cling to power. If the Libyans were celebrating the Eid holiday amidst an atmosphere of joy, having achieved important victories bringing them closer to completing their revolution, then the Syrian's Eid was joyless, amidst the continuing suppression and abuse, and the regime insisting on utilizing a single language to confront the protests, namely the language of bullets and brutality.

The celebratory scenes as the Libyan rebel forces entered Tripoli was spoiled only by images of the dead, stories of executions carried out by Gaddafi troops before their defeat, the flight of the remnants of the regime, and the disappearance of the Colonel. How grotesque and painful were the images presented by television channels, showing the remains of burnt bodies, as well as the remains of those shot dead discovered in a building used by Gaddafi's battalions as a detention center, in a Tripoli neighborhood? This was not an isolated crime; Human Rights organizations have, so far, documented the murder of dozens of detainees executed by Gaddafi's battalions shortly before their retreat, in the face of the Libyan rebels advance into Tripoli.
From the early days of the Libyan revolution, it was clear that the Gaddafi regime would devote all of its efforts to suppression and abuse, and would not hesitate to commit the most heinous crimes to confront those rebelling against it. Gaddafi set the tone in his first speech, in which he called [on his people] to "crush the rats". Likewise, his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was aspiring to inherit his father’s throne, did the same when he threatened the people and cities of Libya with rivers of blood. He said that "instead of weeping over 84 dead people (meaning the death toll that sparked the initial uprising in Benghazi), you will weep over hundreds of thousands of dead".

There was no doubt that the Colonel's regime would exercise the utmost degree of its madness, and commit the worst atrocities, in order to cling onto power that it has yet to be satisfied with even after 42 years of rule. Early on we saw features of destruction, sabotage and murder perpetrated by Gaddafi's battalions when they entered the city of Zawiya. These forces did not hesitate even to destroy gravestones with bulldozers. Following this, we saw the impact of the indiscriminate bombing of Misrata, as well as the Gaddafi regime’s use of snipers to prevent people from moving freely around the city. The regime's policy was one of revenge against all Libyan cities and people who had rebelled against it, and thus it repeated the process of besieging cities, bombarding them, and cutting off water and electricity supply to the residents.
The rebels claim that the Gaddafi forces arrested more than 50,000 people since the start of the uprising, and that while they have been able to release around 10,000 detainees, the fate of many others remains unknown. Some prisoners managed to escape from Gaddafi's detention centers as the rebels consolidated their grip on the regime, yet hundreds of bodies of Libyan detainees have been found executed by the Gaddafi forces before they withdraw in the face of defeat. However many remain missing to date, raising fears that more mass graves left by the regime's forces may be uncovered.

Ironically, those belonging to Gaddafi's battalions who had fallen into the hands of the rebels told a journalist from the Reuters news agency – who was able to visit a detention center in a Tripoli neighborhood – that they hoped to be treated well [in rebel captivity], and that there should be a new Libya which respects human rights! If those who have attacked, tortured and killed innocent people remembered that the tables might be turned on them in the future, would they have committed such atrocities and abuses? Yet power corrupts, and can blind! Despotic regimes usually produce security and military apparatus dominated by a culture of suppression, with the main concern being intimidating and subjugating the people.
The success of the Libyan revolution, and its resilience in the face of all instruments of force and suppression used by the Colonel's regime, sends a message to the Damascus regime, especially as there are numerous reports that the Syrian regime – in the early days of the Libyan uprising – supported the Colonel Gaddafi regime in its confrontation of its own people. If the Syrian regime hopes to see a policy of suppression and force succeed in putting an end to the Libyan revolution, then its hopes have been dashed and perhaps it has learned its lesson. However, experience would suggest that there is no one [in Syria] who wants to learn, or wants to understand the message of the people who are rising up and demanding change.

Although it can see the Gaddafi regime collapsing and reeling, the al-Assad regime continues to bet on the policy of suppression, oppression and persecution, to end the [Syrian] people's uprising. The [Syrian] regime was quick to respond to the Arab League’s call for an end to the bloodshed, the introduction of a ceasefire, and for al-Assad to listen to the legitimate demands of the people, only this response was an attack on the Arab position and an announcement that the Arab League’s statement was of no value and that Damascus would act as if it had never been published. With the same mentality that deemed the Syrian people's uprising to be a conspiracy, the Damascus regime described the Arab position as unacceptable interference in its internal affairs.
Where does this leave the situation in Syria?

It is clear that Syria is facing difficult days ahead, the regime's intransigence will increase the intensity of its confrontation with the people’s uprising, and its policy of suppression and abuse will mean more victims and more arrests, which will only add to the tension and widen the division between the regime and the people. Following the fall of the Gaddafi regime, the world's attention will now be focused on Syria, and monitoring the developments there, especially with regards to the move to tighten international sanctions on the Damascus regime, in order to suffocate and isolate it. As a result of this isolation, the regime will find itself in a difficult position, especially as the Syrian people – who have so far confirmed their intentions to continue the uprising – will have gained considerable moral support from watching the Libyan rebels in Tripoli celebrating the fall of another regime that relied on suppression and force, and which ultimately failed.

-This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 31/08/2011
-Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's Senior Editor-at-Large

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