Saturday, May 19, 2012

Marginalizing the Syrian Revolution

International solidarity with the Syrian opposition (Caricature by Ali Ferzat)

Why is the Syrian revolution being relegated to the back pages of the world's media?  There was a time when people the world over recoiled at the Syrian regime's savagery and marveled at the courage of the Syrian protesters. Neither the savagery nor the courage have abated and yet the world seems to have lost interest. Here, I think, are some of the reasons:
  • Out of sight, out of mind: Gone are the days of compelling videos from Homs. Baba Amr is now a destroyed, walled-off, largely deserted part of Homs.  No more live reports from Danny or other local citizen journalists; no more foreign journalists brave enough to enter Syria illicitly and risk the wrath of Bashar's thugs.  Blood and guts shown in real time makes for sensational journalism and high ratings.  Talking about the thousands rotting away, invisibly, in dark, damp cells is just not that "interesting" a story. Unfortunately, in a world with a short attention span no images means no story.
  • All politics is local: Europe's debt crisis and the US presidential elections have grabbed the headlines and continue to preoccupy the Western media.  Obama is keeping the Syrian crisis at arms length; he does not want a foreign policy quagmire during a presidential election.  Besides, to the American electorate, he has already proven his foreign policy credentials with the assassination of Bin Laden. Europeans on the other hand are dealing with an evolving economic crisis and are too distracted to care much about what is happening in Syria.
  • Arab Spring Fatigue Syndrome: This affliction is seen both East and West.  In the West it is the specter of rising political power of Islamist that is a major cause of concern as are the trials and tribulations of post revolutionary Egypt and Libya.  The chaotic situation in Yemen and the protracted uprising with no end in sight in Syria have contributed to this fatigue.  After being caught off-guard, then quickly reversing directions and pushing hard to get their former cronies out of power, they are holding back when it comes to tightening the screws on Bashar.  Arab Spring fatigue is, predictably, also affecting the Arab world. Some are wary of the intentions of the Islamists but many especially in the affected countries are tired of the post-revolutionary uncertainty, the economic stagnation and increased insecurity.  
  • A discombobulated opposition: The Syrian opposition has remained disjointed and ineffective.  They have not gone on the offensive to effectively articulate the objectives of the revolution and illuminate a path forward out of the present crisis.  The opposition leaders be it from the SNC or other groups have been largely absent from the world media - at least the American media.  Even more critical, this failure to articulate a unified view has failed to convince many Syrians sitting on the fence to come over to the side of the opposition.  There is little question that that the regime's willingness to use any force necessary has cowed a segment of the Syrian population.  However, aside from the true Assad loyalists, there is a not insignificant segment of the Syrian population who remain silent because they fear what post revolutionary Syria will bring.  Winning over this latter segment of the population could tip the balance in favor of the opposition if only the opposition can  convincingly outline a vision of an inclusive post-revolutionary Syria.
  • The inane Annan UN peace plan: Kofi Annan's peace plan is turning out to be the perfect cover for the regime.  They pretend to accept this largely unenforceable plan, cherry pick observers and then begin their shell game.  Guns go silent when observers arrive only to restart when the observers leave.  The observers are kept distracted enough with the overt violence that they unable are unable accomplish the second part of their mandate, stopping the mass arrest and torture of civilians. In fact the regime's campaign of mass arrests seems to be intensifying and becoming more erratic and arbitrary since the arrival of the UN observers.  Witness the recent imprisonment and torture of a Palestinian writer and the citizen journalist from Daraa recently sentenced to death for an interview he gave to Al Jazeera. 
The relegation of the Syrian crisis to the backpages has had no effect in Syria where the people have long since given up on any substantial help from the international community. In one sense, it is preferable for Syrians not to be indebted to anyone as the Libyans are now to NATO.  In return, however, the Syrian people will pay a higher price for their freedom in lost lives, shattered and displaced families, increased insecurity and economic hardship. But perhaps the most distressing and destructive result would be the emergence of open sectarian animosity.  If the Assad regime was betting on outlasting the opposition, they have failed.  What might seem like a deadlocked battle to the outside is actually a continued erosion of the power and control of the regime.  Despite all the ongoing violent crackdown, protests continue, now significantly and repeatedly in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.  Defections continue and are eroding the strength and cohesiveness of the army.  Change will happen, it is only a matter of time.  It is critical at this juncture that the momentum not be lost.  Fatigue is not an option for Syrians who strive for a free and representative country.  

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