I wrote a piece on Syria’s recent turmoil that was picked up by ABC’s The Drum.
Judging by some of the comments at the end of the piece, it appears my article has been misconstrued by some.
Of course, in an ideal world, we want every nation to be democratic, and every human being to enjoy the same basic rights and opportunities that many in the West take for granted.
But let’s not be naive about this.
Prosperity does not appear overnight. It is not simply a matter of removing a dictatorship today, and installing robust democratic institutions tomorrow.
Democracy is a concept that that bestows sovereignty onto a people, and actively engages citizens in the decisions and interests of the state.
However, for such a concept to work, it must be agreed upon and adhered to by all major stakeholders within a society.
I can make a broad statement and claim that in troubled post-colonial societies democratic uprisings often lead to a bloodbath.
I can particularly make the statement in regards to the Fertile Crescent states, chiefly Lebanon-Syria-Iraq, all of which are multi-ethnic and confessional states. Indeed, all three had boundaries imposed on them by the Allies post-World War I that until today many within their respective countries do not agree with.
My article highlighted such divisions that have deep historic roots, and to get a better insight into the implications of Syria’s recent history on today’s revolt, see Joshua Landis’ analysis.
Iraq and Afghanistan are clear examples of Western naivete when it concerns state building. You cannot just walk in, remove an authoritarian regime, and install a completely new and unique system and expect it to work without a few glitches (or in Afghanistan’s case, complete failure).
At present in the Middle East, there are notable and encouraging differences that I have highlighted in a previous piece on The Drum. Democracy has to come from within, and indeed, the latest push for democracy in the Arab world is coming from within. This must be praised, and I have, and continue to support their democratic aspirations.
But if Iran 1979 also taught us, we need to be cautious. There is no doubt that long-time human rights activists in Syria are increasingly vocal about change, and are risking their lives at the forefront of the protests. However, as illustrated in my article, there are elements within Syria that are able and willing to hijack any attempt for true democratic change, and are prepared to risk internal conflict to achieve it.
We have witnessed this with armed gangs, the arrests of Khaddam’s men, confessions that certain actors are attempting to arm rebels, and unfortunately for well-meaning protesters, there’s always the lingering presence of the Muslim Brotherhood that taints the image.
This is not to excuse the government’s actions, they have been reprehensible, I have been highly critical over the years of the lack of progress to reform Syria. I have always believed Bashar al-Assad has had many opportunities to open Syria up, and he has implemented several economic reforms, but not enough to prevent Syria from potential economic collapse in the near future.
As a Lebanese, and someone that recognises the indestructible bonds (to the resentment of some Lebanese) between Lebanon and Syria, there is nothing I want to see more than Syria to be democratic, prosperous, and economically healthy. A healthy Syria equals a healthy Lebanon, it is in our interest to see Syria progress.
Conversely, nothing will harm Lebanon more than civil conflict in Syria, and whilst we must remain adamant in our push for reform in Syria, we must also be wary of the dangers such a push poses. The coin can flip either way, and that is exactly what my piece set to highlight.
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