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Many things have changed and the picture has become clearer after the eruption of massive popular uprisings in several Arab countries three years ago. The most important things, revealed by the developments over this period, are that there are many differences between each country. Unlike other popular uprisings, what happened in Tunisia was purely a popular revolution without any foreign interference or support from any foreign party. The Tunisian revolution inspired other Arab peoples, but also inspired and prompted other regional and international powers to learn from the “Tunisian lesson”. These powers sought to implement the Tunisian example in other Arab countries, but for purposes that have nothing to do with democracy or the fight against corruption and tyranny.

Maybe, what happened in Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain combines both, the real popular movement and foreign interference, but what happened in Libya and Syria put big question marks over how these uprisings happened, as well as over the course of events there. It is good that many Arabs now realise what we warned of since the beginning of popular revolts — the dangers of the mystery of the nature of these revolutions and their unclear programmes, as well as the grave consequences of resorting to armed violence and militarisation of the peaceful people’s movement.

Also, it is apparent that a lot of Arabs are now aware that betting on foreign military intervention is ridiculous and nonsensical, due to its serious consequences on the unity of people and nations.

Yes, there is an urgent need for reform and change in the entire Arab region to put an end to autocracy and corruption, but the question has been and still is, how, and what are the guarantees of the best alternative, and what are its qualities and identity?

It is not wise to destroy the present without preparing a suitable alternative or acquiring the democratic mechanisms in power. Otherwise, the national unity will be on the edge of a cliff and our nations will be heading towards an unknown future by subjecting to foreign domination. This is simply because it would not be possible to separate between the goal of democracy and the issues of national unity, national liberation and Arab identity. Could some Arabs have forgotten what the George W. Bush administration did after the invasion of Iraq by promoting the term “democracy in the Middle East”, which is based on accepting foreign occupation and domination, uprooting of the Arab identity and dividing nations’ national into federal cantons?

Have they not learnt from Iraq? The results of the rule of Paul Bremer in Iraq are very clear after the US occupation of Iraq and the political implications dominated by sectarian, ethnic and geographic divisions.

What about Sudan, which was divided into two states and two people? Have we forgotten the bets of the Bush administration and Israel after the two wars on Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 and 2008 after the democratic elections failed to bring the friends of Washington and Tel Aviv to power? What is built on wrong foundations will definitely lead to wrong results. And, this is the case in most Arab countries and is the case of most governments as well as of most opposition. When countries are built on wrong foundations, it is a call for rebellion and attempts to reform. But on the other hand, when reform movements that call for gradual change are based on wrong ideas or methods — this will lead to further accumulation of errors in the community that threaten the entire national presence.

Is it not important to wonder why Syria and Libya are sliding from bad to worse as the dangerous events pose a threat to the unity of people and territories in the two countries? This is happening in Libya at present despite the Muammar Gaddafi regime’s ouster and foreign military intervention. Is not this concrete evidence of the dangers of militarising popular movements and the association of armed “revolutionaries” with foreign powers that have their own agendas and have foes and conflicts with other foreign powers?

The Syrian opposition must learn from the lesson in Libya to refrain from demanding a foreign military intervention and ousting the regime by military force. The former Libyan regime was toppled due to Nato intervention and later, former president Gaddafi and many of his family members were killed. The question here is: Is Libya better off now than it was under Gaddafi? Unfortunately, state institutions are inactive now in Libya where there is no security and stability in view of the uncontrolled presence of armed militias. Evermore, the Libyan society and its unity is threatened with the dissemination of radical groups that issue fatwas of excommunication — signifying that Libya seriously faces the risk of division and more political and security chaos. This is the outcome of the second foreign military intervention in the region after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 under the calls for regime change and “democracy”, and is the natural result of the militarisation of popular movement and the price for connection with foreign parties.

The logical question that imposes itself now is: Where are you taking Syria? In which direction is Syria going? One wonders about the fate of Syria after the dissemination of terrorist groups that are fighting in most territories that are under the so-called “Syrian opposition forces”. If the “Syrian opposition” would soon succeed in ousting the regime and securing a foreign military intervention (Nato or Israel), what would Syria’s future look like? This question is very important in view of the Libyan experience and the Lebanese and Iraqi experiences, as well as the presence of fundamentalist groups, such as Jabhat Al Nusra and Daesh, an Al Qaida-linked group. This leads to further questions. What is the fate of the entire Arab East, including Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan? And what will be the fate of the Palestinian cause after the possible disintegration in the Arab eastern countries and battles between armed groups and sectarian militias? Does not the bloody and fierce internal fighting between Syrian opposition groups serve as an example of what would happen in the entire region? The Arabs should have learnt and drawn lessons from the bloody struggles and fighting that erupted previously between Lebanese, Palestinian and Iraqi armed forces or were all these events not enough to predict what will happen in Syria and what actually happened!

Whatever is said about the current regime in Syria, there is an urgent need for major reforms. It was enjoying security, stability and national unity and was playing a regional role, making it an influential player for the past many decades. Now, Syria has become a battlefield for rival regional and international powers and different groups and militias. After three years of fighting, every Syrian citizen must now ask: “Where were we, and where are we — for what and for whom?”

Inevitably, there are significant external dimensions of the ongoing armed conflict in Syria, which is a truly regional-international struggle for Syria and its future role as seen by each — the pro-regime factions and the opposition to the current regime in Damascus. But “resorting to the people” is the required solution to stop the bloodbath. Use of military force is no solution to the bloody crisis, whether from domestic or foreign parties. Political settlement is the only key to resolving the crisis and there is no one except the Syrian people who can decide the fate of their country, its regime and president. The Syrian people, government and opposition have tough choices: Either arriving at a political solution in the near future or leaving their country as a playground for Israel to achieve its wishes of dividing the Arab region and making it an arena for nonstop armed struggles.

Sobhi Ghandour is head of Al Hewar Centre, Washington, US.