Sunday, February 26, 2012

Syrians should beware of some of their foreign 'friends'

Syrians should fear eastern, not western, intervention – especially autocratic 'friends' like Saudi Arabia

Brian Whitaker, Sunday 26 February 2012

"....What we should fear most is not western military intervention, since it isn't in prospect, but eastern intervention. There is something surreal about a group of "friends" promoting change in Syria that includes so many autocrats and, as one of its leading lights, the country most notorious for resisting progress: Saudi Arabia.

At one point during Friday's meeting, the Saudi foreign minister reportedly stormed out, self-righteously complaining about "inaction" (though some reports deny it). Later, asked if arming the Syrian opposition would be a good idea, he replied: "I think it's an excellent idea." Indeed, some suspect the Saudis are already doing just that.

Meanwhile Qatar, a less oppressive autocracy than Saudi Arabia but an autocracy nevertheless, called for the creation of "an Arab force"for Syria.

None of that bodes well for Syria's future. The Saudis, who have banned all forms of demonstrations on their own turf and are not averse to shooting protesters, have deliberately messed up two Arab revolutions over the past year – first by sending troops into Bahrain to preserve the monarchy there, and then by manipulating the Yemeni uprising to ensure that nothing much would change after they abandoned President Saleh....

Saudi Arabia's Sunni/Wahhabi rulers are paranoid about what they see as a threat from Shia Muslims. They are fearful not just of Iran but of the marginalised Shia communities inside their own realm and the rebellious Shia majority in Bahrain ruled over by a Sunni king. There's also Iraq on their northern border where long-suppressed Shia influence has re-emerged – thanks to George Bush – following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

From a Saudi perspective, getting rid of Assad will help to shift the balance back in Sunni Islam's direction. Most Syrians are Sunnis, though the regime itself is dominated by Alawites – a Shia offshoot – and closely allied to Iran. Saudi "support" for the Syrian opposition, therefore, is likely to make the conflict more sectarian rather than less.

Syrians should beware of "friends" as much as enemies."

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