Do you believe in the imperial doctrine? You are not sure if you do or not, but you wouldn’t dare say that you don’t, because you know that it is one of the things that any good person ruled by an Arab despot is bound to believe in.
This is how Syria’s Assad has managed to maintain his grip in power for so long: simply shifting mind and soul from oppression and despair at home by stirring the masses against the foreign enemy. How can we have freedom of speech, “fair” elections as long as our sacred Arab land is under threat? Almost all policy makers and leaders in the Middle East share the idea that chaos and terror is going to follow if the dictator steps down. The idea that no democracy is possible in the Arab world is so well built that anything calling for freedom has to be depicted as a “foreign conspiracy”.
Assad is not the exception to the rule. It’s been more than a year that Syria has proved not so immune to the “freedom fever” sweeping its region. People have taken to the streets demanding the overthrow of Assad and his government, and an end to nearly five decades of Ba’ath Party rule. So Assad rushed to deploy his imperial doctrine blaming the Syrian uprising on a US-Israel conspiracy, believing that it would spare him a revolution.
But something seemed to go wrong and responded to protesters with a bloody crackdown leaving more than 9,000 people killed and the UN counting. He has managed to resist a bunch of human rights, peace and security organizations, blocked any UN resolution and has made NATO lose appetite in getting directly involved like in the case of Libya. What is it that makes Assad of Syria unstoppable?
Its secret foe: Israel, a strategic ally that even the world powers can’t afford to upset. Israel has been monitoring the Syrian uprising with fear. Because Israelis, like all Arab despots can’t believe any democratic change will happen in Syria, they are convinced that Assad’s fall is bad for them. For Israel, Assad’s fall would lead Syria to a sectarian strife that will ultimately see the appearance of a new and unknown enemy to Israel, maybe worse than Assad. They bear in mind Egypt’s example, which has seen the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in its political system after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. And of course the example of Lebanon, in which a sectarian civil war led to the emergence of Hezbollah, Israel’s worst nightmare. Even though the emergence of a less hostile regime in Syria could also pave the way for a long, indefinable peace deal with Israel, some analysts argue.
Unlike Egypt, Syria never made peace with Israel following a 1973 war, but it has reached a tacit agreement leaving both sides with no complaints. Assad, like his father Hafez, has ensured that the Israeli-Syrian border has remained Israel’s quietest front for decades, enabling that country’s northern residents to thrive in an environment of relative peace even though the two states are “theoretically” in a state of war. But as long as Assad is in power the Golan Heights, a border plateau seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in an abrupt move by Israel, will remain under Israeli control, and settlements in Palestine will continue to expand.
Ever since, Assad has turned down any peace talks with Israel to hand back the Golan Heights. But if you rule at the head of a small Alawite minority, why take the Golan Heights and throw away the imperial doctrine that keeps you in power?
The Syrian regime believed it could postpone democratic reforms and hush Syrian people simply by blaming Israel. Mr. Assad should keep in mind that “doctrines are the most frightful tyrants to which men are ever subject”, William Graham Sumner once said, “because doctrines get inside a man’s own reason and betray him against himself.”
Julie Jalloul is Managing Editor at AlYunanyia.com