One Year Later: The Failure of the Arab Spring

I. So, being a bit flummoxed myself by the not altogether dissimilar developments in the vast expanse from the Maghreb to Mesopotamia, I conquered my doubts and made a slight stab for hope. But I quickly realized that I was wrong and left the celebration. The true-believers are still there, mesmerized by some ideological mirage or preferring to look on the brighter side of things.

For example, Nicholas Kristof found some Muslim Brothers who promised that even Copts and the ancient Coptic Church, among the first of history’s Christian fellowships, have no reason to fear their party’s electoral strength. “Conservative Muslims insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood is non-discriminatory and the perfect home for pious Christians—and a terrific partner for the West.”

(…) II. American expectations of the Arabs were always innocent. In the case of this administration, Obama’s delusion extends to non-Arab Muslims, that is, to the Iranians, the Pakistanis, the Afghanis. He cannot imagine that there are fundamental differences between states. But, as even he must have noticed, in many of these circumstances the very idea of compromise is blasphemous. And, given this, there may be temporary lulls between the really nasty confrontations. Basic differences—yes, of course, there are basic differences—persist and flare up unpredictably. Or, as I believe, predictably. Sometimes they call “time out” and simmer.

Where one side governs, and governs cruelly, the other side resents. I suppose this is what we call simmering. Countries that have no satisfying process of systematic mediation turn out to be tyrannies. Despite their ethnic and ideological differences sometimes these regimes try to cover up their weaknesses by forming a union of oppressors with other regimes. One such union was the Baghdad Pact or the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), mobilized by Great Britain at the initiative of the United States. Its real rationale was the Soviet threat. But even such a threat could not bring Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Turkey together or mobilize popular support. It crumbled slowly through two decades of bloodshed and revolution within the member countries. It seems like centuries ago but the Soviet Union had neutralized the pact. Iraq, a member of CENTO, was for decades an ally of Moscow. The Red Army had divisions all over the Arab world. Iran became the heart of militant Islam against the West but retained hunky-dory relations with Russia both before the fall of Communism and after. And Pakistan? Well, Pakistan does have an army. The question is: Is Pakistan a country? Iraq still has too many armies. Turkey is the only real state left standing.

(…) V. We have stopped counting the dead in Syria. Six thousand, 7,000, who knows? (Still far, far less than Papa Assad murdered in the one-town Sunni genocide at Hama during a few days in 1982. Here’s how the Economist depicted that mass murder: “Assad sent in the air force to bomb the rebels into oblivion, heedless of the tens of thousands of civilians he killed in the process.” In his book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, Tom Friedman depicted all fighting in the Middle East as going by “Hama rules.” No party to any conflict in the region has yet approached Assadian habits. This was perhaps the first of the Timesman’s distorting shorthands.) And who knows how many rabid insurgents and also various innocents remain fettered and gagged in the far-flung dungeons of the Assad regime? The Obama administration was intent on not being stuck sticking Bashar with the crimes of Hafez. This was very bad judgment on the part of Washington, horrible judgment. Actually criminal judgment because the appraisal was based on no hard evidence or even inferential leaks. The Saudis had long gotten over their infatuation with the Syrian republic when the American president was still sending missions and missives to Damascus. Of course, the real tease was that Israel would abandon the Golan Heights. But Jerusalem did not play…and thank God it didn’t.

Syria is an embarrassment to the Arabs but not because it kills and often kills without target or clear objective. It is am embarrassment because its killing has not worked. To be sure, the Arab League, being otherwise mostly made up of Sunni governments, would prefer the Sunnis to govern in Damascus. After all, there is the fact of the tyrant’s (now slippery) relationship with Iran. Yes, the League sent a huge mission of inquiry to Syria with the supposed goal of stopping the murder. But its chief had been the godfather of the Sudanese genocide, the patron of the Janjaweed with hundreds of thousands of dead to its credit. Why this organization of Arab states would delegate this job to this man is not hard to grasp. It’s doubtful that any other government would have agreed to install one of its men into the bloody morass. Anyway, Lieut. General Mustafa al-Dabi is adept at keeping non-Arab authority away from criminal Arab states. Sudan, for example, his own country. He also couldn’t refuse the post: Khartoum was indebted to the other Arabs. They had insulated the Sudanese regime from the costs of their own murders. The Syrians’ killings have not run their course. Indeed, it is just possible that the revolution will die before its suppression.

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