Syrian Slaughter in the Arab Spring

From Jordan, Jane writes: The Arab Spring turned far more murderous, leaving the West, as well as Arab neighbours, to do little but talk while Bashar the Butcher gets on with his slaughter

The Arab Spring is now well into its sixth month and in much of the Middle East and North Africa, it is a pivotal time as autocrats still clinging to power have decided they’d rather slaughter their own than give up decades of cushy brutality and corruption.

For the West, this has largely meant sitting back and watching the butchering. Even the NATO efforts in Libya are taking much longer and many more lives than was the plan – if indeed there really was a plan. Libya is victim to the ‘razing the village to save the village’ scenario, albeit on a smaller scale than has been the case with such a tactic in past war. There is simply no way of targeting bombs to avoid any citizen casualties when firing from the air. Despite this, there is a well founded belief that Qadhafi will succumb; the question is after how many have given their lives for his unhinged behaviour.

Qadhafi has said he will never give up and will die in “his Libya”. He may well get his wish, and for the sake of the people he bashed and plundered during his rule, it is to be hoped the wish comes sooner rather than later.

In Yemen there’s a precarious hope that the Saudis will not send back the Yemini leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, burned and injured in a bomb attack on the mosque he had been praying in, and now recuperating in a Saudi hospital. If not it is a partial win for those protesting the three decades plus of his reign over a country that is always more or less at war with itself. The question there is has the Arab Spring opened the door for a replacement who is a billionaire from one of Yemen’s most powerful families? This Hamid al-Ahmar may be young, politically connected, rich, articulate and known to the West, and he has denied being behind the Hadda bomb attack that injured Saleh, but will he make any difference? Will the people be allowed to choose? That is the question.

But it is the butchering that is taking place in Syria that quite frankly is breathtaking and cause for serious concern because no-one – no NATO, no EU, and no US – has any leverage at all with the country’s President Bashar Assad. Most glaringly, no Arab countries have entered the fray.

Where is the albeit embryonic Egyptian and Tunisian leadership? Where are the established Arab leaderships within the region? Turkey’s newly elected Recep Tayyip Erdogan has at least had the guts to condemn his neighbour and play the good Samaritan to a growing wave of refugees. Pity he is not so nice to his own Kurds, but that will keep.

It surely must be clear to all – the Arab world and in particular the West – that Assad jr., the English trained ophthalmologist who was once seen as a reformer and therefore a welcome change from his murderous father, has revealed his true colours and they are dreadfully similar to the game Qadhafi played when he was ‘reformed’ enough to be kissed by Tony Blair and others.

Let’s face it; Syria has not been a peaceful, loving, open country. In Jordan, where I write this, there’s deep popular concern with the disaster across the northern border – as there is with the increasingly fractious occupation of the lands to Jordan’s west. Jordanians know only too well that when phoning to catch-up with relatives in Syria – the case for many thousands of families – it is never safe to discuss anything more political than the weather, and even then it is wise to be careful. After all should the peoples’ business not be the benevolent President’s concerns too?

For Syrians in the northern reaches that border with Turkey, the Arab Spring has turned more deadly than for most. The reasons given by Assad and his administration for their crack-down include blaming insurgents who have whipped up Syrians and foreign conspirators have duped them into instigating violence against the security forces. Those nice, sweet pacifists in uniform, also known as thugs in a police state have been confronted by “vandals” and “‘germs” who have infected his country.

In Assad’s third speech to Syrians since the protests began three long months ago, he did appear less arrogant, and not quite so defiant as in the past. He addressed an audience that was so clearly bloated on the Kool Aid, their rapturous applause and chanting that they will die for him cannot be taken as any measure of support. In fact in that respect the crowd was surprisingly small for a powerful dictator.

But the thing that so stands out from such despot rulers is that they believe their citizens, let alone the outside world will swallow the hyperbolic rhetoric they utter.

Just to prove how out of touch Assad is with his own citizens and their mounting anger, even with his unleashing of his thugs on them, with live ammunition, snipers, bombs and all the other tricks from his toy box, Syrians demanding reform still cram into the streets in protest. His speech which sickeningly referred to the martyrs of the people (as well as martyrs on his side of course), called on Syrians who have fled to Turkey to come home.

Yeah right. Come on back to daddy Assad and he will make sure you are ok, that your needs are met and that you will have amnesty.

The speech was, as Syrian activists note, just another way of buying time while he sorts out how to deal with the pressures that are mounting against him.

Assad professes to want dialogue with ‘his’ people so they can chart a way forward. Too late. The people are speaking with their feet and paying with their lives, and show absolutely no sign of retreating.

Around the region it is being said that when the protests hit the capital Damascus, then Assad will be in big trouble. Well that’s exactly what’s happening in the Damascus suburbs, and Assad’s fear must be that will spread to the city centre.

Thanks to social media and mobile phones, the world has had a birds-eye view of the rising protests that hit the streets in response to Assad’s ridiculous speech, as indeed it bore witness to the Syrian forces shooting unarmed protesters and then being caught planting ammunition on the corpses – once they’d kicked them around a bit that is.

Assad said this is a defining moment in Syria’s history. Yes it is, but not in the way he wants it to be.

He has shown he couldn’t care less about sanctions nor the threat of a big telling off from the United Nations. No Security Council resolution condemning Assad eventuated anyway thanks to the vetoes of Russia and China -not that they have a mortgage on using the veto to protect unsavoury practices by various regimes to the cost of real people, or for that matter protecting their own military and trade deals with nasty autocrats.

Words are mere play things – Assad panders to his own people, yet they are the very people he accuses in the next breath of being infectious germs. He asks those ten thousand or more now safe in refugee camps in Turkey to come home, yet they were driven out of villages such as Jisr al-Shughour by Assad heavies in a reign of terror and scorching of homes, crops, livestock – and people.

The awful truth is that Syria is very powerful, and has powerful backers – Russia and Iran to start with.

The awful truth is that despots such as Assad are increasingly showing how soft the underbelly of the UN actually is. At this stage it is the best forum so far invented, but when it is left with its pants down, it sure makes for a nasty spectacle.

As the Syrian slaughter continues, the best that can be hoped for is those who prop up the country’s strongman start to feel uneasy about their own futures – after all wasn’t he shown up by being caught off guard by an almost unthinkable popular revolt which has, despite all odds, spread across the troubled nation?

If the US & Co were honest they would admit there was never any doubt as to how brutal Assad could be. The misunderstanding has again been in the tenacity, resilience and bravery of the citizenry, and they deserve a better response than handwringing over how to punish or isolate Assad and his regime.