The Guardian, on its breaking news ticker, is now running a report from PA news wire under the headline “Hague: Syrian Leader should quit..”
The article says,
Some 137 countries backed a non-binding resolution at the UN General Assembly in New York supporting an Arab League plan that calls for Assad to step down and prepare the way for a new government in the Middle Eastern state….Mr Hague said the vote sent an “unambiguous” message to Damascus that the violence against protesters who have challenged the Assad regime must stop immediately.
Actually the message is far from unambiguous and raises several questions.
Assad has a brother and it is his brother who holds the power in at least parts of the Security services, critical elements with in the armed services and in the upper reaches of the police. It is the President’s brother who in many of the most critical ways holds power. It is he who commands most of the mechanisms of repression and violence.
Maher is the head of 4th Armoured Division and also head of an elite military division known, predictably, as The Republican Guard. In addition, it is to him, that the commanders of rather powerful Shabiha militia group report. That militia is made up exclusively of Alawites who are the minority group to which the Assad family belong.
It has been sometimes suggested that President Assad uses his brother as the bad cop to his good, getting his dirty work done without having to get his hands directly bloody. The alternative is that President Assad is what he seems, a quiet, possibly weak man who was not supposed to inherit power and only did so after the death of his older brother, but who presents an acceptable face of the regime to the world. While just out of the spotlight is the brother who holds the real power and makes the real decisions.
The reason I bring this up is because it raises the possibility that we could see the same game being played in Syria that the Western powers have been supporting in Egypt – namely that the visible figure head of repression and the status quo is sacrificed, so that the larger mechanism of business as usual can continue on. Mubarak was thrown to the crowd in order that the military could carry on. A situation that Egyptians have been slow to wake up to but now have.
I think the Arab League would like to see far less change in Syria that the Syrians themselves. The Arab League, in my opinion, do not want to see Syria ‘destabilized’ which means not significantly changed, because of the central role the country plays in relations with Israel, Turkey and Iran. The leaders of the Arab Nations are, let’s remember, not democrats. They have shown rather clearly over the last year or so that they are not in favour of democracy in their own nations let alone those around them. The Arab League would, I think, like Bashir Assad to go in the hope this will diffuse unrest as the departure of Mubarak did in Egypt. They would then like Syria to remain largely under the control of those currently in charge – the military and police. I think the Arab League would like the heavy hand of oppression to be seen to be removed so that a quieter ‘lighter’ hand of suppression can be re-established.
Stability is what the Western Powers are interested in not necessarily democracy. So when I listen to Mr Hague I find myself feeling deeply suspicious about what kind of ‘new’ government he really wants in Syria.