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The Resistible Rise of Bashar al-Asad

This is a guest post by Garvan Walshe

It was March 14, 2005. One million Lebanese – Sunnis, Christians, more Shia than would admit it now, and Druze too gathered in the largest peaceful anti-government demonstration ever in the Arab world. In proportion to population, it was the largest anywhere, ever.  The whole world was watching, and the secret police of Assad Junior, ophthalmologist and dictator, were forced out in a bloodless revolution, known as the ‘independence intifada’.
But now the “Syrial Killer” (as some of the placards on that demonstration read) rises again. The foreign secretary, David Miliband, gave an interview from Damascus yesterday. Would he bring up human rights, he was asked, twelve pro-democracy activists had just been arrested. “I’m sure it will come up” he said reassuringly. Doubtless the gangly Bashar, pouring his guest an twenty-second cup of sweet  tea, would take the chance to boast “Have you seen what my mukhabarat did just the other day? We arrested ten filthy opposition militants. We hauled them in. We’re talking to them  downstairs.”
Whatever happened to the Miliband who insisted ‘the rule of law in a democracy is the best long term defence against global terrorism and conflict?’ I doubt he feels emasculated after being caught in flagrante with that banana. More likely it’s realpolitik. For the wise heads of the foreign policy establishment have reached a consensus – that splitting Syria (GDP less than Ecuador) from Iran will reshape the Middle East. 
But Syria’s price is high and the international community’s means of enforcement doubtful. Mr Assad has two demands, the return of the Golan and the reoccupation of those parts of Lebanon not under Hizbullah’s control by his own army and secret police: make me stronger, and I’ll leave you alone. Why do we keep falling for that one?
Even without an open Syrian presence, March 14 supporter after March 14 supporter has been murdered. Should the intelligence services return, those left can expect slow, deliberate, vengeance.
A few hundred miles south, in a country of seventy million, that once dominated the Arab world but is now poorer per head than Armenia and El Salvador smaller numbers of Egyptians gather, from time to time they shout “Enough!”   – Kifaya – to protest against one of the moderate Arab states whom we insist are allies against Islamist radicalism, just as we used to believe that the Shah was a bulwark against Khomeini.  Kifaya are up against the Egyptian Government, and also against the theocratic Islamist  Muslim Brotherhood, erroneously portrayed as ‘moderate’.  Torture of the opposition is ‘routine.’
It was the Brotherhood’s great Ideologue, Sayyid Qutb who famously laid down the challenge: 

“Western civilisation is unable to present any healthy values for the guidance of mankind. It knows it does not possess anything which will satisfy its own conscience and justify its existence.”

The more we appease the Syrian regime, and so abandon the Lebanese who stood up to it in the name of universal ideals, in the name of freedom, and of democracy, the more Qutb will be believed.