Sunday, July 31, 2011

In Syria, the government is the real rebel

The increasing violence in Syria is transforming the country into a Hobbesian state.

A Very Good Piece
By Larbi Sadiki

"There have been many setbacks during the "Arab Spring". None, however, are more flagrantly obvious than in Syria. This leads to one question across the Middle East: Who is the rebel?

The protesters who peacefully demand civil, political and economic rights from monarchical republics and deligitimised ruling elites? Or the states which, such as in Libya and Syria, find themselves literally in a "state of nature", rendering life for the citizen dangerous?

The Assads' 'Leviathan'

Hobbes comes to mind so naturally. More than any other, this English philosopher grasped the ins and outs of human passions and failings, which drive human beings to become their own worst enemies.

Right now, the Assads are in a similar state of affairs. And these affairs disqualify them from ruling over a state and a people, which they are butchering. If only Bashar Assad, who has now bared his political canines to all, had widened his search outside optometry to see the contractual world constructed by Hobbes. Had he done so, he would have learned that strong government does not mean flexing martial muscle.

The excessive use of force against Hama is not an expression of strong and rational government. It is illegal coercion that could one day land the ruling Assads and the top brass of their coercive apparatus in the International Criminal Court.

Hobbes' political theory focuses on the disorder and civil strife caused by unruly human passions, as he knew well from his study of the English Civil War.

Maher Assad's tanks are sinking an entire nation in a "state of nature", and that, for Hobbes, results in a "war of all against all". This is the risk facing the "Arab Spring" in Libya, Yemen, and of course, in our case here, Syria....

Hama 'out of control'?

The sudden military escalation against Hama serves three objectives: to kill the momentum of the protests before Ramadan; to send a not-so-thinly-veiled threat to other cities about the consequences of endless protest; and to reclaim state control over cities, including in Kurdish areas such as Qamishli.

Some of these areas have been in full defiance for weeks, often under a state of siege, with the army guarding all entry points to them.

Hama remains a festering sore in state-society relations: this is the city where an Islamist uprising was quashed violently in the 1982, killing more than 20,000 people. This is the kind of material Hobbes marshals as evidence of how nasty life can be during civil war.

Hama's stand must be seen in this context: it, more anywhere else in Syria, declares the regime to be the rebel, not the peaceful civilian protesters. The marches are not calling only for the dismissal of the Assads, but calling to account an entire regime that nearly 30 years ago victimised almost every family in that city.....

The gentrification of the 'country bumpkins'

The coups of the 1950s and 1960s ruralised the Arab Middle East, bringing into the state officers largely of rural background. They promised republicanism, socialism, pan-Arabism, social welfare, and the liberation of Palestine. They have failed on all accounts.

Instead, the "country bumpkins", who occupied the state in putschist ways, have after 50 years or so in power become the new gentry. Power has been "gentrified". The soldiers of yesteryear have booked a seat in the business class. So today, power comes out of the barrel of a gun only when the new gentry's interests become jeopardised by protest and resistance.

In Syria, a story like this has unfolded. The state has been turned into a milking cow for the new gentry, whose power derives from the billions the state apportions to it. The gentrified officers and partners in power will defend those interests fiercely, and to the bitter end....."

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