Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Who is the Syrian Opposition?

    October 31, 2012   No comments

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Since the start of the uprising in Syria, countries supporting the opposition groups wanted to unify them. They organized a series of the so-called “Friends of Syria” conferences one after another only to adjourn without realizing their objective. In most cases, the meetings created more discord than opportunities for unity.

The unrealized Eid Ceasefire (hudna; quiet) proposed by the new UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, exposed the level of disunion among the armed groups as well. Although the government, the Syrian National Council (SNC), and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) all agreed to the four-day quiet, violence during the religious holiday continued unabated and it may have gotten worse. The FSA attacks on Kurdish neighborhoods in Aleppo during the same period, for example, added another dimension to the conflict and offered a preview of what may happen in the future.

The failure to honor the ceasefire and the attacks on Kurdish neighborhoods add credibility to Brahimi’s pessimistic assessment of the crisis in Syria. He has been reminding leaders of every country he’s visited of the gravity of the situation and warning them that it will get worse unless the world community act in a constructive way. That is not lowering expectations; it is statement of facts. While defections of high ranking officers stopped, signaling the purging of the Syrian military from unreliable elements, the opposition forces are outgrowing there leadership frame. Instead of coalescing into a single block with a single agenda, the political and military oppositions continued to splinter into disparate organizations each of which claims that it represents the Syrian people.

The SNC that was hastily established in Turkey lacks unity, vision, will, and popular support inside Syria. But it enjoys the widest support from Western and some Arab and Islamic countries, especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey. It is dominated by exiled dissidents including members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The NSC has links to the Free Syrian Army and is believed to channel financial and military support to select groups from among the Free Syrian Army. But the SNC inability to reign in extremist groups caused some western leaders tosecond guess their earlier decisions.

The National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change (NCC short for National Coordinating Committees) consists of representatives of left-leaning and Kurdish opposition parties inside and outside Syria. It called for regime change through peaceful means. Most leaders of the NCC oppose “the militarization of the uprising” and support armed struggle only for self-defense. They lack international support (compared to the SNC), although China and Russia have shown interest in talking with them. If there is going to be a political settlement, the position of the NCC might end up being the basis for an agreement.

In August 2011, another group of Syrian political parties announced the creation of another coalition, the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC). Leading figures of some thirty groups met in Istanbul on August 9, 2011 to form this entity. The coalition has no political platform and no known mechanism for influencing events inside Syria.

Most recently, the Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution (SCSR) was created to provide a voice for the youth inside Syria. Leaders of the SCSR argue for a dual-track plan of action, civil and military, to overthrow the regime. Until the writing of this article, the SCSR is believed to have some representatives in the Syrian National Council but it did not formally join it.

The earliest political and advocacy entity established to organize the movement against the Syrian regime is the loosely connected Local Coordination Committees of Syria (Lijan al-Tansiq; LCC). The LCC consists of a network of local groups that organize and report about protests, arrests, kidnappings, and killings. The LCC is committed to civil disobedience and opposed to armed resistance and international military intervention.

The armed factions are just as fragmented as the political groups. They only share the goal of overthrowing the Assad regime. But they have radically different agendas for post-Assad Syria and they have different international backers, too.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is generally referenced as the main armed entity. It was founded by some Sunni military officers who defected in the early months of the uprising. The head of this organization is Riad al-As`ad (Riad Mousa al-Asaad) who defected in the summer of 2011 and settled in Turkey. He announced in August that he was moving his command center to inside Syria but, according to news reports, he returned to Turkey few days later. The absolute majority of armed groups portray themselves as affiliates of the FSA and they display the latter’s logo and colors. Even many of the Islamist groups operate under the banner of the FSA. Islamists’ affiliation with the FSA is less about operational, command and control matters and more about “mainstreaming” themselves. Since Turkey, Qatar, and some Western nations are willing to support the FSA, armed groups sought its cover in order to avoid the label of “terrorism.” The fact that the FSA leadership accepted the ceasefire but most armed groups affiliated with it continued to fight indicates that the membership is nominal and symbolic. This reality bolsters some observers’ conclusion that the FSA has no actual influence over armed groups inside Syria—at least not over all of them.
The Military Council for the Syrian Revolution (MCSR) is another self-declared military leadership organization believed to have local command and control centers in most Syrian provinces. It is headed by another defecting officer, Mustafa Sheikh. Unlike the FSA, this organization is believed to operate from within Syria.

The National Syrian Army (NSA) is a third entity founded by Mohamed Haj Ali, another officer who defected in the fall of 2011. Officers of this organization are criticized by fighters affiliated with the FSA for waiting too long before defecting. They are also accused of being created and co-opted by some Western nations in preparation for post-Assad era. Some observers contend that the NSA was created by France after succeeding in helping Manaf Tlas, a long time insider and personal friend of Assad, defect.

The fourth organization is the Joint Military Leadership for the Syrian Revolution (JMLSR) headed by Adnan Sillu, a Major-General who defected from the Syrian army in July 2012. The board of the JMLSR consists of about twenty officers said to represent armed groups that are active in the northern and central provinces.

In addition to these military leadership organizations, many other armed groups operate independently or under the leadership of the so-called Consultative Council of Jihad (CCJ). Some armed groups have multiple affiliations, others switch affiliation often. Some groups label themselves as “special ops” and have no affiliation. They specialize in kidnappings, executions, and assassinations of Syrian army soldiers and persons accused of being shabbiha (regime supporters).

In all cases however, the large umbrella leadership organizations serve as liaison offices to coordinate action among the various armed formations, provide financial support, and distribute arms and ammunition. They depend on foreign sponsors to maintain influence and control and operate sophisticated media campaigns to promote their activities and attract foreign sponsors.

On the ground, armed groups form at the level of brigades (sing. katibah) consisting of five to several dozen fighters. Some brigades may unite to form larger contingents (sing. liwa’), which then operate under the banner and nominal command of one of the aforementioned military leadership councils.

Recent reports from inside Syria indicate that most of the arms and ammunition are being stored, not distributed to fighters. Such a strategy of hoarding and stockpiling weapons signals the level of distrust among the various fighting groups and their desire to prepare for the battles for power and control in the future. That means that even with Assad out, infighting will most likely persist. Even if peace were to be attained in Syria, these weapons can be used later to destabilize neighboring countries and carry out attacks inside or outside Syria.

Given the multitudes of political organizations and military councils, it is impossible for any one country at this time to exert a significant level of control over the armed opposition. Regional and world powers have different reasons for supporting opposition groups the same way countries that are supporting the Syrian government do so for different purposes. Their initial support of the opposition groups and the supplying of arms created a fiend that cannot be easily controlled. Consequently, even a political settlement will most likely further fracture the opposition and may lead to factional infighting. If that were to happen, it will inflict even more devastation on a population that is on the brink of catastrophe.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The crisis in Syria is driving a wedge between Turkey and Iran

    April 05, 2012   No comments
Despite Turkish politicians’ efforts to downplay the diplomatic rift with Iran, more evidence has emerged suggesting otherwise. The main reason is Turkey’s increased role in supporting the groups that want to topple the regime in Syria. Iran considers that to be a red line and they seem to have communicated that to the Turkish prime minister who visited Tehran last week.

Signs of the cooling off of the Turkish-Iranian relations can also be seen in the lukewarm reception Recep Tayyip Erdogan received. Unlike  previous visits, he was greeted at the airport by the Iranian VP instead of the president. His meeting with the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was not conformed until the last minute. When the two finally met, according to Persian media, Khamenei had only one thing to tell the prime minister: Iran will not support the overthrow of Assad.

Nine days before the nuclear talk with the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany), top Iranian officials announced that they are interested in changing the venue of the meeting from Istanbul to Iraq or China. Some of the Iranian officials were explicit about the reason behind the change in venue.

On Wednesday, influential lawmaker Seyed Mohammad Javad Abtahi called on Ahmadinejad's government to choose another place, other than Istanbul, for the upcoming talks with the world power. Abtahi went on to argue that the “Friends of Syria” conference held in Istanbul last week is evidence that Turkey is implementing the West’s policies in the region.

Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezayee, too, called on Tehran's nuclear and foreign policy officials to change the venue of the upcoming talks.

Reacting to these developments, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and coordinator of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group told the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, during a phone conversation late April 3, that Baghdad was out of question.

Even if the meeting eventually takes place in Turkey, the diplomatic rift between the two countries would have happened and Syria was the cause of it. Iran, as expected, supported Assad because he was its only reliable Arab ally. Turkey on the other hand, seems to struggle in its reactions to the Arab Spring. Although it took a muted stand toward the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Turkey first opposed NATO’s involvement in Libya and wanted a political solution, not a military one, to the crisis there. When Qaddafi’s regime fell however, Turkey tried to repair its image by supporting the rebels. Apparently, they did not want to make the same mistake in Syria. As soon as demonstrations started, Turkish leaders gave Assad one ultimatum after another leading to the full break of diplomatic relations. Perhaps they thought that the regime will fall fast, too. That did not happen so far and they have many reasons to worry should Assad’s regime survive.

It seems that Turkey picked the wrong time and the wrong side to make a stand against authoritarianism in the Middle East. By supporting armed rebels against the Syrian regime, The Turkish leaders found themselves in the company of only Saudi Arabia and Qatar--even the U.S. is opposed to arming the opposition. These two countries claim that they are interested in democracy in Syria while denying it to their own peoples. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the contradiction cannot be more pronounced: the Saudi rulers mistreat women and minorities. They even sent the military to suppress a peaceful uprising in Bahrain. In Qatar,  14% of the population deny political and civil rights to the 86%. It is the right decision to support genuine political reform in Syria, but Saudi and Qatari rulers are not the company Turkey wants to keep if they want credibility in the Arab street. 


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Libyan and European rulers’ treatment of Blacks and immigrant workers: Apathy in the face of Cruelty

    December 14, 2011   No comments
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Since the start of the Libyan uprising, mainstream news outlets have reported that African and even Eastern European mercenaries were fighting with Qaddafi’s forces. The Libyan rebels, eager to minimize any support for Qaddafi among the Libyan population, have fed western media horror stories of mass murder carried out by Black Africans. Consequently, many immigrant workers were caught between the ire of a regime that did not care much for them and a new wave of prejudice and discrimination fueled by the media and rebel propaganda. The fact that some foreigners fought for the regime does not tell the full story. Most African immigrants were unwilling participants in a war that no one had anticipated.

In order to understand the presence of so many Africans and non-Africans in Libya, one must understand the role played by the former dictator.

Using Libya’s large oil revenues as if they constituted his personal fortune, Qaddafi engaged in meddling in the affairs of his neighbors, supporting nationalist movements, and conspiring to overthrow regimes he did not like. He also used immigrant workers to blackmail his neighbors. In the 1980s and 1990s Qaddafi gave hundreds of thousands of Tunisian workers hours, not days, to leave the country empty-handed. The sudden “dumping” of workers without their earnings was meant to create economic and social crisis for neighboring governments. That was his way of punishing the Tunisian authoritarians Bourguiba and Ben Ali. He used the same tactic with the Egyptians. But Qaddafi’s most bizarre achievement was coaxing some European leaders to use him as a gatekeeper, in charge of preventing Africans from reaching the shores of Europe.
Speaking at a ceremony in Rome on August 31, 2010 and standing next to (then) Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Qaddafi declared:

Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European, and even black, as there are millions who want to come in. We don't know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Black Africans. We don't know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.

European leaders did not object to these words, despite their abhorrently racist nature. In fact, even after the Libyan people began their revolution in early 2011, Berlusconi claimed that his personal friendship with Qaddafi prevented him from taking an active role in NATO’s mission in Libya.
What was never asked is the obvious question: why would Africans demeaned, insulted, and belittled by the dictator risk their lives for him? Why would “ignorant Black Africans” pay with their blood and sweat for a dictator who called them so?
According to reports, Qaddafi asked the EU to pay him about $6.3 billion a year to stop illegal African immigration. It is evident that since the Italy-Libya friendship agreement, Qaddafi became very effective in stopping the flow of African immigrants to Europe through Italy. According to European Commission figures, the number of people caught trying to enter Italy illegally fell from 32,052 in 2008 to 7,300 in 2009. These figures do not include the number of young men who perished at sea trying to find different escape routes. They drowned when their makeshift rafts fell apart. Those who reached the EU shores were immediately returned to the brutal regimes of North Africa. On numerous occasions, Italy intercepted immigrants and handed them over to Libyan authorities without screening and without the due process required by human rights treaties.
Unemployed Africans, like unemployed Latin Americans, go north to make a living and to feed their families, not to fight ideological wars. Immigrants cannot choose their line of work. In the case of Libya, Qaddafi used European money to hire some of these immigrants, and to deport others. Given his distrust of his own people, he hired many of these immigrants in the security sector before the uprising began.
Like in the U.S., the rights of immigrant workers are not part of the national conversation until there are national economic implications. In the U.S., a national need for seasonal migrant workers meant that the government eased border controls to allow up to 12 million people to cross. When the unemployment rate went up and the economy slowed down, all political parties developed slogans to deal with immigration issues. In Libya, Qaddafi used immigrant workers as bargaining chip to blackmail other states.
In Europe, former colonial powers wanted to limit migration from Africa. They relied on the southern rim countries to keep sub-Saharan Africans from reaching Africa’s northern shores. Then, in 2008, the French president and several other European leaders pushed for the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean, consisting of over 40 nations with the actual (but unstated) aims of offering Turkey an alternative to the EU and creating a buffer zone in North Africa. Naturally, these efforts failed given the dissonance between its stated goals and intended aims.
The former Libyan dictator’s words and European attitudes towards the people from the south is more than economic and social policies. They stem from latent racism and cruel indifference to the plight of millions of people who have been disadvantaged by unfair economic trade, political corruption, and natural disasters. While the latter cannot be blamed on anyone, the former two causes of unemployment and poverty in the south can easily be traced to Western complicity. Western leaders’ support of corrupt dictators and unfair trade practices contributed to the harsh conditions these people want to escape. Both sides-- African and European--would be better served by an honest commitment to respecting human dignity irrespective of national origin and citizenship status. The powerful North ought to adopt an international relations system founded on shared humanity, not on artificial borders.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of the book, Contesting Justice. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Foundation of Supremacy: Racializing Human Acts

    August 03, 2011   No comments

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

I vividly remember the day of the Oklahoma bombing. Not because of the news reports—I was too busy working and with school to watch the news. Consequently, I was not aware of what had happened that day until late in the afternoon. But as I walked into my workplace after a long day of school, I felt the stares and tension from almost all my co-workers. Many ignored me when I greeted them. While waiting for my shift to start, I entered the break room where a friend sat reading the newspaper. It took him a moment before awkwardly asking me what I thought of the “terror attack on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma.” I thought, “Terror? Murrah? Oklahoma?

As a new transplant who knew very little English at that time, none of those words made sense to me. I certainly did not understand the definition or meaning of “terror.” I definitely did not know the meaning of “Murrah” or what the “Murrah Building” was. And I did not know where or what is “Oklahoma.”

I remember a widely distributed line from one of the so-called “terrorism experts” in a local paper the next day. It read along these lines: “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it is probably a duck - this looks like Islamic terror.” Then, everything started to make sense. If a bomb explodes anywhere in the world, look around and check on the Ahmeds around you: if they did not do it, they should know something about it. The Ahmeds of the world are – at least in the eyes of my co-workers that day - terrorists, potential terrorists, or experts on terrorism. In all cases, being an Ahmed, in the eyes of my co-workers, I deserved the accusing looks and cold shoulders, if not a direct accusation.

Days later, when the actual bomber was identified and his associates were revealed, no one asked my friend Tim about it, though he is a Christian with hyper-critical views of the government and politicians who he thought were jeopardizing the true American values. In the end, it was very easy for the media to make Tim the Bomber unique and so unlike any other American Tim.

I revisited these thoughts and feelings the week another non-Muslim terrorist attacked in Norway. This time it was not because of the accusing looks and cold shoulders, but rather because some media outlets thought that I was an expert on terrorism and I should have something to say about the Norway bombing and shooting. As if being an academic with some research expertise on Islam and the Middle East qualified me to be an expert on terrorism. Those questions suggested that Islam and terror are one and the same.

American media and government agencies have contributed to this racialization of violence. People with no credentials except a minimum proficiency in Islamic studies and an ardent zeal for constructing a threatening image of Islam have suddenly become experts on terrorism. They are called upon by the Defense Department, the State Department, the media, and the public to explain the connections and workings of “Islamic terrorism.”

One example of a self-proclaimed expert is Robert Spencer, whose biography lists his connection to popular and official channels of power and influence. He publishes books and articles at the same rate I change my socks. His outline of Islam and its portrayal as a violent threat to the Western way of life inspired the brutal murders in Norway. The connection is not an assumption, but is based on the words of the confessed bomber/shooter. 

Importantly, the connection can be derived from Mr. Spencer’s own logic. In one of the Frequently Asked Questions on his website, Mr. Spencer states:
Q: Why should I believe what you say about Islam?
RS: Pick up any of my books, and you will see that they are made up largely of quotations from Islamic jihadists and the traditional Islamic sources to which they appeal to justify violence and terrorism.
In the Norwegian terrorist manifesto, Mr. Spencer was quoted 64 times. Using Mr. Spencer’s logic, it follows that since his writings are one of the main sources of the Norwegian terrorist, they served to justify violence. This is proof that in Mr. Spencer’s writings, violent haters, racists, and bigots find inspiration.

Mr. Spencer’s logic, the practices of Reverend Jones, the ideology of the British E.D.L, the legal war waged on Muslims by David Yerushalmi, and the agenda of David Horowitz runs a continuous line of hatred toward specific religious and/or ethnic groups. These individuals and institutions have found in the terror attacks of 9-11 the perfect cover to publicly unleash what would otherwise be recognizably bigoted views.

Mr. Spencer and his colleagues may argue that being quoted by a terrorist is not evidence of their guilt. It is not. But it is evidence of a direct connection between the audiences that they inspire and the ideology that they promote. It is evidence of where they belong in the spectrum of social and political discourses. They belong in the extreme. Mr. Spencer’s ideology mirrors the ideology of al-Qaeda’s ideologues. After all, those self-declared protectors of Islamic culture are saying the same thing, with minor adaptations: modern day crusaders (mirroring Jihadists in the anti-Muslim lexicon) are a threat to their way of life and must be fought on all fronts. 

While Mr. Spencer points to about 1% of Muslims living in any Western country as inassimilable aliens that are a threat to Western way of life, al-Qaeda ideologues point to the Western armies in Muslim countries as forward bases of the Christian and Zionist crusades. The two camps share the ideology of exclusion. They racialize victimhood the same way they racialize ethnic and religious supremacy. They are two sides of the same page, which catalogues the ideals of supremacism.


Most read this week...

Find related articles...