Saturday, July 16, 2011

Now the Arab Spring becomes an Arab Summer

By Robert Fisk

"Syrians shot down in the streets across the country, tanks surrounding the major cities of Syria, soldiers killing unarmed, largely Sunni Muslim demonstrators as the authorities protest that "armed gangs" are themselves killing troops.

In northern Syria, citizens barricade their cities from armed assault, and Syrian nationalists carrying weapons and demanding freedom prepare to move into Homs and Hama. Local troops are said to be deserting en masse, while others, many of them Alawis of the Shia Muslim sect, are loyal to the authorities in Damascus. The uprising is infecting neighbouring Lebanon, while a British diplomat writes from Damascus that the authorities have "instituted nothing less than a reign of terror... This will surely spread throughout the whole Middle East".

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? And, of course, it should be, for I am describing Syria in May 1945. The regime doing the shooting is that of France's Charles de Gaulle; the nationalists are pretty much the fathers or grandfathers of the young men protesting so bravely in those same streets today against the ruthlessness of Bashir al-Assad's regime.....

No wonder the protesters, while glad to see Mr Ford in Hama, are more enthusiastic to learn about revolution from their Egyptian brothers and sisters. Many sent anti-Mubarak demonstrators tips on how to use Facebook and Twitter. Today, the Egyptians are returning the favour, posting advice on how to oppose the Baathist regime. Here, for example, is the advice of an Egyptian who says he "adores Syria", posted on the Syrian News Network: "Demonstrations must include whole cities, even if the protesters are few in number – the bigger the geographical area, the more difficult it is to suppress; demonstrate every day – don't make the Bahrainis' mistake of concentrating only on one location, the Pearl roundabout in Manama."

The advice is carefully thought through. "Try to wear out the security forces by protesting all day and all night. Gather in narrow streets, try to gain more sympathisers. Be brave; you will win the psychological war. Never attack the security forces." The last, of course, is easy for an Egyptian to say. Their army believed its job was to protect the people; the Syrian army's orders are to protect the Baathist regime. It uses live bullets promiscuously – hence Syria's estimated 1,400 dead already far outnumber Egypt's nearly 900 "martyrs".

But the remark about Bahrain is astute. Many Bahrainis now believe they started their "revolution" far too early. "We are not yet able to topple the regime," one told me this week. "We were ahead of our ambitions. The Americans and the Saudis won't let things happen yet. Old King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has got to die first." Then, he explained, Saudi Arabia will splinter into princely states and the Bahraini Shia majority can have democracy. Arab Spring, Arab Summer. Arab Winter, too. History suggests the awakening has only just began."

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