The motivation in supporting a repressive government is usually fear. The bastards who get to the top want to scam the country on an industrial scale. This is the ultimate purpose of the mass murder, torture and starvation.
The Assad Regime is no exception to this rule. How people on the hard left can see Syria as some sort of persecuted socialist country is astonishing. The Syrian regime is as socialist and anti-imperialist as Harrods. A minority on the reactionary hard left need to stop trying to persuade others that the Syrian regime is opposed to the capitalist grand order, they should have “it is part of it” tattooed to their foreheads.
We are talking here about Syria before the uprising in 2011, clearly everything is even worse now. Syria was one of the most repressive police states in the Middle East, with little press freedom and the systematic use of torture across the labyrinthine “security” services. The “Damascus Spring” after Hafez’s son was handed the presidency in 2000, came to nothing as Bashar went back on earlier promises of reform. Syria continued to have the deserved reputation for rampant corruption allied to habitual government non transparency.
Bashar did nothing to reform the politics of the police state, but he did bring in neo-liberal reforms to the economy. This resulted in increases in poverty, as corruption concentrated the gains in the hands of the Assad Clique, and cuts in the subsidies for basic items and privatisation of state organisations concentrated the losses on the poorest.
In 2005 the UN Development Programme estimated that 30% of Syrians were living in poverty, with 11% unable to meet basic food needs. A later report in 2013 by the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) on the socioeconomic roots of the crisis, reported a 2009 household survey across Syria that estimated extreme poverty had risen to 18%. A report by the UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated unemployment at 18%, particularly effecting the young. Overall a third of Syrians had either no employment or were under employed.
At the same time the Assad Family were estimated to have accumulated a massive business empire centred on Rami Makhluf that had controlling interests in 60% of the Syrian economy. It may not be a coincidence that Bashar married Asma Akhras in 2000, who had been an investment banker.
Before 2011 a snap shot of Syria would be a rural economy still recovering from a period of severe drought, at least 1.5 million refugees from Iraq, and a youthful population which had doubled since the 1980s. Rather than managing these crises, the repressive corrupt Assad regime in Damascus was dismantling the state run economy into their own pockets, forcing an increasing number of Syrians into poverty and hunger. Shanties towns were growing rapidly on the outskirts of Damascus, while in the centre expensive western shopping malls were being built to supply luxuries to the regime’s elite. It is thought that Bashar Assad has personally trousered 1.5 billion dollars from his time as president.
Then there is the whole business of official statistics in Syria. Under the 1963 emergency law, independent opinion polls were banned. A covert poll by Pepperdine University in 2010-11 found that 46% wanted to emigrate, 81% said the economic situation was bad or very bad, 83% said it had got worse in the last 5 years (ie 2005-10), 88% that the government could not solve the country’s problems, and 77% that the government was very or extremely corrupt. While 82% wanted the government to leave power, which explains the emergency law’s attitude to opinion polls!
Then there is the problem of the country’s official GDP. In 2009 according to the World Bank, the “official” GDP per capita in Syria was 42% that of Egypt’s GDP per capita. Comparison based on Parity Purchasing Power (PPP). Given the regime’s straggle hold on the so called “liberalised” economy, whatever that means, how much of the difference in official GDP is due to a large shadow economy, in which the elite siphon off the wealth of Syria?
Clearly if Assad regime gets the boot, then there will still be very tough times ahead as they are now. The Pepperdine poll saw people optimistic about the near future, which was before the utter betrayal of demands for representative government by the representative governments of the West, because the people they represented decided that they would be safe from being mislead if they demanding doing next to nothing. This as you have guessed is how they were mislead…..again. Syrians deserve so much better, and it still brings tears to my eyes that Syrian Activists are not being supported by progressive people in the West, even 5 years on. They seem to me to have a weary determination that demands my respect and yours.
Where are you? Across Europe in 2003, millions turned out to demonstrate against the US invasion of Iraq. An invasion that was designed to punish Iraq, control oil reserves and demonstrate US military power. These demonstrations did not change this disastrously bad intervention, but at least people united to oppose it. In London for example a million people took part in a mass protest march.
Forward to 2016, and where are the mass demonstrations against the criminal Assad regime in Syria. This bunch of gangsters have been waging a brutal war against their own people for over 5 years. They have been ruling Syria with the iron fist of systematic torture since 1970. The vast majority of Syrians wanted the regime replaced with representative government. The regime responded to this demand with weasel words and a violent crackdown.
Still the Hard Left are talking rubbish about anti-imperialism and the vast conspiracy of corporate capitalist media lies they claim are being told about the Assad regime. Progressives babble on about the need to be careful after the bad interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and to some extent in Libya. The media in the West adopts the “Palestine-Israel” fence perching approach, in which neither side is more to blame, and it is all a bit too complicated. This is garbage.
99% of the truth is this. The Assad regime is an illegitimate clique of gangsters who use violence and extortion to line their own pockets. They are as much neo-colonialists as the Zionists in Palestine-Israel are. The external actors in Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, are also parasitical dictatorships, who use their fake public opposition to each other to justify themselves. I will deal with the “yes but I have heard counter claims” below.
So the vast majority of Syrians in 2011, with the Arab Democratic Uprising in full flow, see their chance to get rid of the Assad regime. The regime responds with a violent crackdown. The moderate armed opposition emerges, and is denied adequate support by the West. Understand that the Assad military have years of Soviet then Russian support to create a military to oppose the bloated Israeli war machine.
The Saudi led dictatorships steps in to support extreme jihadists. Is it bloody obvious what fighters are going to do, join the jihadi groups, give up or die. Five years on and the Assad regime has killed > 200,000 , tortured to death > 20,000, has 1 million under siege and plunged 13 million Syrians into desperate need. Forget Islamic State or the other extremist jihadi nutters, this is over 90% the work of the Assad regime. Now we are told to wait while the various dictatorships involved in Syria decided on a “peace process”. Now the Syrian people have had their faces ground into the dirt, they are expected to return to a version of the Assad regime with cosmetic changes.
There is an alternative and has been for the last five years, more on this below.
To be blunt most people in Europe can see no connection between their political struggles and Syria. This is immensely stupid. To demonstrate “I believe in representative government” is the most important action now. Our democracies are under threat because governments have lost the power to govern their economies. We can vote, but why bother? To take back control means believing in representative government, struggling for something beyond ourselves and having the courage to take on daunting odds and wade through the mess of real politics. We need a cultural shot in the arm from our near neighbours in Syria. Look at the carnage and violence, but also look at the people’s believe and courage.
The alternative is protecting civilians. Give power to Syrians to protect themselves against the regime’s sectarian militias and the extremist jihadis. Give food, by air if necessary, to enable them to carry on. Stop the Syrian and foreign air forces bombing civilians. Hold those from all sides accountable for ordering war crimes. Create a plan for reconstruction.
A central command system is needed for any security force. This can only be created if the leadership have the resources of weapons and training needed. The same applies to civilian infrastructure. Pieces of paper alone cannot unite. All bombing of civilians in Syria must stop, with force used against military infrastructure if this is broken.
Clearly the clique that run the government must go, the regime is over. As much as possible of the government organisation needs to be kept in place.
Sectarian divides have been encouraged by the regime and other dictatorships in the region. Minorities including the Alawite Shia sect have been victims of Assad’s sectarian trap. The revolution in Syria will fail if sectarianism is not fought at every level. The long term survival of the Alawite and Kurdish minorities depends on a non-sectarian state. The state must guarantee rights for all Syrians, backed by an efficient judicial system. It must offer sufficient autonomy to minorities, and pursue the rights of these minorities in neighbouring states. Anything less will waste the sacrifice of millions of people.
Saudi Arabia is not an ancient proud desert kingdom or a defender of Sunni Islam. It is an opportunistic monarchy formed around oil reserves after the First World War, with arms from Britain and US. The supreme leader in Iran decides who can run for president, and who sits in groups who decide who can run for parliament. The supreme leader appoints who chooses the next one, and so on. It is a sham not a democracy.
Then there is the racist dribble about Islam. Religion is always a severe disappointment, and can always be misused. The compassion of the Prophet Mohammed as revealed in Islamic scriptures abhors the evil of the Assad regime. The real origins of so called Islamic State and the extreme jihadists is described above.
It is the duty of every Muslim and every Person who claims the tag “Progressive” whether Muslim or not, to demand our governments give the power to the Syrian people that they need to Stop Assad. Doing anything less, is no challenge to Islamophobia or Western elites. Doing nothing is exactly what they want. It is handing the implementation of Western foreign policy to the elites. The idea that the elites of Russia, China, India etc are somewhere on opposite sides to Western elites is dangerously out of date. The Assad regime is part of the global elite. Opposing partnership with Syrians so they can remove the regime is reactionary.
We need a truly progressive anti-dictatorship movement, that uses the techniques developed by the UK Stop the War Coalition (STWuk). That provides a vigorous attack on the status-quo of:
- Insulting the struggle of ordinary Syrians for representative government.
- Glorifying inaction in the name of past self-seeking interventions by Western elites.
- The defeatism that ordinary people cannot influence foreign policy in democracies.
All people should be worried that inaction in response to the Arab Democratic Uprising by the West, is proof of the suspicion that our leaders are indifferent to the principle they should and claim to hold at their core, of the value of representative government.
STWuk have also been successful in the past in reaching out to other organizations (unions, charities, environmental, anti-racist …. groups) to build a coalition, as they have been seen as a safe “progressive” bet. Even if it is hard for these groups to give unequivocal support to real meaningful Syrian Solidarity, it will stir up heated debates within those organizations.
In short we need to support the struggle of the Syrian people, as much as they need our support. We just do not know it yet. It is very long overdue.
Looking at a statement from Stop The War Coalition (STWuk) to mark the beginning of 2016:
It states: “15 years of permanent war: Time to end it. Stop The War will continue its campaigning with renewed vigour in 2016 because civil society resistance to never ending war and misery is as necessary now as it was in 2001.”
The article states that STWuk was founded to oppose the US right-wing “War on Terror” following the 9/11 attacks. It then states:
“The war on terror began in Afghanistan, spread to Iraq and destabilised the whole region, created the conditions for ISIL to wreak their havoc and misery, has now spread to Syria and is looking set to spread once again into Libya …. We are in war without end. And it is not without consequences. It hasn’t just destabilised the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has greatly increased the threat of terrorism in western countries, a point made by the former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham Buller.”
There is no mention in the whole statement, about 2011 and the “Arab Democratic Uprising”. No mention of the genocidal war being waged by Assad against the Syrian people. No mention of the nature of the Gaddafi or the Assad regime. There is something very strange here with the leadership of STWuk. Is this racism or just political extremism (or even as far fetched as it seems partly a form of resourced public relations dressed up as politics)?
The STWuk statement also invites a reassessment of the criminally negligent interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, that goes beyond their bland rejection. The brutal nature of the Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in Iraq (a mirror of Assad’s Syria) and Taliban rule in Afghanistan has been airbrushed out of the narrative. The “War On Terror” was a disastrous, ignorant, counter productive and racist response to the 9/11 attacks. This does not mean questions should not be asked about what could have worked in Afghanistan and Iraq? Could partnerships ( instead of intervention ) with Afghans and Iraqis opposed to dictatorship have worked better? How could this have be done? If this was possible, how could Western governments be pressured to takes this approach?
Note that according to the STWuk statement, the former leader of MI5 (UK domestic intelligence agency) agrees with the STWuk assessment. This is very strange given the traditional right-wing tendencies of the leadership of UK intelligence agencies. Indeed in 2010 Tom Sawyers the retired head of MI6 (UK foreign intelligence agency) said:
“There is no one reason for the terrorist phenomenon. Some blame political issues like Palestine or Kashmir or Iraq. Others cite economic disadvantage. Distortions of the Islamic faith. Male supremacy. The lack of the normal checks and balances in some countries. There are many theories.
I’ve worked a lot in the Islamic world. I agree with those who say we need to be steady and stand by our friends.
Over time, moving to a more open system of government in these countries, one more responsive to people’s grievances, will help. But if we demand an abrupt move to the pluralism that we in the west enjoy, we may undermine the controls that are now in place and terrorists would end up with new opportunities.”
Behind the elitist language is a chilling parallel to STWuk. Lord Sawyers is making a veiled criticism of the impending “Arab Democratic Uprising”. The UK’s friends at the time included Assad and Gaddafi, because official relations with Syria and Libya were radically strengthened after 9/11.
You could say that the right-wing elite in the UK intelligence services and STWuk are both responding to the same reality, but you could also see them as instruments of interconnected global elites, with the same disinterest in representative government?
When the UK intelligence agencies look at STWuk do they put them in the asset or liability category? STWuk is a relatively popular movement that encourages those on the Left in the UK to demand a blanket rejection of all Western intervention in the Middle East. Much smaller groups centered around people with close connections to the region, such as the Syrian Activist groups, provide detailed criticisms of existing intervention and call for different types of intervention (effectively partnerships) by the West. The type of organization represented by STWuk is the least threat to the intentions of elites in the West who largely shape foreign policy, in the absence of effective popular pressure.
Just to end this article. The activities of groups like STWuk would cost millions of pounds if authoritarian regimes had to pay public relation companies for them. Many of the officials who effectively run STWuk, came from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Apart from notably John Rees, the SWP is notorious for it’s ex Public School ex University ruling clique. It is a strange world.
The first one is from Fardous Bahbouh of Syria Solidarity UK. She takes a mature balanced approach, saying of the ordinary members of Stop The War Coalition (STWuk) groups that she has set out to engage with:
“I met many wonderful people, and I was touched by their compassion and eagerness to campaign against wars. I have so much respect for Stop the War’s protests against the Iraq invasion in 2003. I highly appreciate their recent campaign to welcome refugees.”
She also gives a very well presented case against the whole campaign waged by the STWuk leadership on Syria. See:
He also recommends other Syrian Solidarity Groups in the UK, that campaign alongside Syria Solidarity UK.
The second article is by Brighton based activist Paddy Vipond gives a similarly informed first hand account of the problem with the UK “Stop The War Coalition” (STWuk). The article states:
Also some information about the official patrons of STWuk:
Going back to the main article. Paddy Vipond describes clearly the problem the UK anti-war movement has with the Syrian Crisis. I do wonder what stance an anti-war movement could take. The limited scope of these movements is a fundamental issue. In an article in the Independent on the 11th Dec 2015, Tariq Ali states: “It [STWuk] does NOT take positions on the demerits or otherwise of the Taliban, Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad.” See:
So what can the STWuk have to say about a conflict in which the Assad regime that rules Syria is murdering 100,000s of Syrians, torturing 10,000s of others to death, and plunging millions into desperate poverty? A continuation of a policy of brutality that the regime has fairly consistently followed for the last 45+ years. Please read Tariq Ali’s article. Apart from noting the rhetorical omissions, please observe his repeated praise for the fact that STWuk has not changed. He neglects to realize that the since 2011, the conflicts they are campaigning on, have changed radically. He puts opposition to STWuk as motivated by opposition to the UK Labour Party’s new leader and STWuk supporter Jeremy Corbyn. As to the Scottish National Party (SNP) getting away with the same nonsense on Syria. Some people did criticize them harshly, which was twisted into anti-Scottish sentiment even when made by people who are not English. The SNP’s position needs vigorous criticism, partly because they have the MPs in the UK parliament with direct political power.