End of Pluralism: Where Does Syria Stand?

Today from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM EST, PITAPOLICY Consulting will be livetweeting from the US House of Representatives to cover the Arab American Institute’s briefing: “The End of Pluralism: Religion & Conflict in the Middle East”. Pita-consumers are invited to watch the event on the web by tuning in to AAI’s livestream channel. (Do not forget to join AAI in its annual Khalil Gibran Awards Gala for April 18th by purchasing your ticket here. PITAPOLICY Consulting will be livetweeting from next week’s event as well to highlight the Awardees, like AMIDEAST President, Ambassador Theodore Kattouf.)

On that note, the piece below by local Syrian DC activist, Myhar Alzayat, reflects another perspective on the costs and benefits for more international intervention in Syria. PITAPOLICY believes in providing a platform to all pita-consumers to adhere to our credo of “breaking bread”: if one can “break bread” with another, they have taken the first step towards engagement, and building more concretely upon that diplomacy. The views expressed in “Living in Syria” are those expressed solely by the author.

Living in Syria: Another Perspective
By: Mhyar Alzayat

Living in Syria, seeing pictures of Assad the father, Hafez Assad, everywhere — from bakeries to hospitals to (on Taxi Cabs) – had its effect on people. The picture came in all sizes, but Assad’s face never aged as the “omnipresent” picture imposed on my life. It had its effect on me.  As a kid, I always wondered why Assad’s picture hung on the wall behind me in my classroom.  

As if he was watching me and my friends.  

I wondered why some men were holding guns at the entrances of government buildings. Buildings that the average Syrian would go out of his or her way to avoid, by walking on the other side of the road.

Syria has been ruled by the iron-fisted Assad family dictatorship for over 40 years.  This authoritarian dynasty stole the freedom of the Syrian people by implanting fear in them, by detaining and killing men, women and children, whose only way of expressing their opinion is through their voice.  The Assad regime has committed many crimes since the 1970s, such as the notorious Tadmor Prison Massacre and the infamous Hama Massacre in 1982.  It is said that over 20 thousand died in Hama, the vast majority of them civilians.

A generation later, the same mother who lost her husband in Hama in 1982 has lost her son in 2011.  

History repeats itself.

Only, this time, Assad the son is committing the massacre; and all while the world watches. Doing very little at all to stop it. The Assad regime is brutal and does not understand the language of dialogue — only understands the dialogue of destruction. We, as Syrians, are well aware of the cruel methods used to suppress an uprising that demands only the most basic of political rights, such as the freedom to choose who leads us, who protects us, and who represents the face of Syria — a country of over 20 million souls — to the world.

After 42 years of brutish, corrupt rule, and countless innocents killed or “disappeared” at the hands of regime forces, the Syrian people decided that enough is enough. They collectively organized their will and their courage to fight for their freedom. This is a new beginning, they decided, and an opportunity they must seize to forge a better future, not only for themselves, but for their children, and their children’s children.

One might ask: why the world should intervene? And, above all, why should the United States of America?  The Syrian people are running out of ways to plead for help. They are painting “SOS” signs on their roads. They are crying out explicitly for foreign intervention. I argue that: Not only is intervention morally right from the standpoint of stopping the slaughter of children and the rape of women, but it also the rational choice from the perspective of US geo-strategic interests in the Middle East. Without intervention the conflict will grow, and its ripple effect will reach neighboring countries.  Syrians just marked the one-year anniversary of their revolution, and they are showing no sign of giving up and going home.

There is no turning back.

Who Benefits?

How do the US and its allies stand to benefit? The defeat of Assad’s regime would be a huge setback for the Iranian government. The routes that supply Hezbollah through Syria will likely be severed. With the help of the Iranian government, Russia and militia groups foreign intervention has already started in Syria. These various groups are supporting the Syrian regime against the Syrian people. 

Those who do not benefit are the civilians. Civilians, and the poorly-armed rebels defending them, are fighting an unfair war, not only against the well-equipped Syrian military which takes orders from the highest levels of leadership, including the President himself, but also again the well-armed entities mentioned above.  If the United States does not help, other factions — who have neither the Syrian people’s nor the US’s interests at heart — will step in, and Syrians cannot be blamed for accepting the help.  

~Here are the questions I ask myself in reviewing the costs and benefits of intervention: 1) Do we want other countries to intervene  without our direct supervision?
~Do we trust their true motives?  

These questions are valid and there is little room for mistakes, particularly in the geopolitical tinderbox that is Syria and its environs.

We understand that intervention is not going to be a simple task. However, for the first time, the Syrian people’s desire for freedom and democratic changed have aligned with the values held so close by their American compatriots.  In Benghazi, it was Libyans, not Westerners, who raised the US, French and British flags to fly alongside the new Libyan flag of independence. Rather than simply advertising their good intentions in various press and TV outlets, the US and other Western states must do the right thing and turn their verbal support for the uprising into real action. Syrians have taken a huge chance, and are paying the price daily, by daring to demand freedom from fear and oppression. Should we not also take a chance on them?

We Worry About Who Follows Assad’s Legacy

Whether one is for or against international intervention in any of its forms, one might ask, who will be next to rule Syria? I am happy to report that Syria boasts a population of 23 million, in addition to a Diaspora totaling 17 million or thereabouts.  Many of these men and women are qualified, and more than willing, to lead a democratic, free Syria.  

In 1944, Syrians elected the Christian Faris al-Khoury as Prime Minister, and, upon his death in 1962, Muslims recited Quranic verses at his funeral showing their respect. Syrians have shown that they are united, regardless of sectarian or ethnic consideration. The current Syrian (Assad) regime tactics is to divide the Syrian communities in its effort to show that it protects the minorities.

I believe that foreign intervention in Syria will cause large-scale defections among the regular Syrian army and secret services, resulting in a quick defeat for the Assad regime.  Consider how Syrians are asking for air support to keep their freed land in Idlib and not lose the rest, as happened in the former opposition stronghold of Homs, which was overrun by Assad’s forces following a month-long bombardment that killed hundreds if not thousands. Without these freed zones, also known as humanitarian corridors, there will be no place for the defectors and their families to seek refuge. All the revolution needs is a small push from the global community. The rest will be solved at the hands of the Syrian people.

Note: Myhar Alzayat is a DC based Syrian American and activist. PITAPOLICY interviewed him in 2011 shortly after Syria’s Day of Rage for Kabobfest.

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