Only ‘Bad’ Alternatives in Syria and Egypt
Egypt and Syria, two key countries in the Arab world that shaped, or at least participated in shaping, the Middle East history and politics; the beating hearts of the Arab Nationalism for more than four decades; the military counter balance against Arabs’ declared enemy – Israel; leaders of the Arab world, have already lost their strong positions in the region. Currently, Syria and Egypt face a tremendous decline in their political and economic capabilities; both countries face difficult challenges in erecting their modern history. Having been the cornerstones of secularism, presently both countries face religious extremism; whereas both countries have been the symbol of resistance against foreign interference in the regional affairs, nowadays they are key gateway to the region not merely for the international but also regional greedy powers. One of the common challenges that Syria and Egypt face today is the absence of ‘good’ alternatives. Currently both countries face only ‘bad’ choices; either dictatorship, which is not able to offer stability anymore or chaos that cannot be called democracy.
The Egyptian Revolution in January 2011 was not the end but the start of Egyptian struggle for power and stability. Unlike Ben Ali, Mubarak was not willing to give up, aiming to pass the heir to his son. Therefore, Egyptians had to seize the public squares to force Mubarak relinquish power and give chance for free presidential elections. Such bloodless revolution in a state, which acquires strong and complex security apparatus, seemed impossible. However, the stand of military institution in Egypt changed the equation and shaped the new onset, which seemed democratic. As a result of the first relatively democratic elections, the Muslim Brotherhood Party reached power and gave promises. Nevertheless, the Party did not compose the majority of revolutionists who overthrew Mubarak, but they proved to be the most organized. The surprising factor was that the Brotherhood, being the main rival of the military and security institutions, won the elections under the military patronage indeed. Was Brotherhood a good choice for Egypt?
One year was enough for Morsi to prove its inability of controlling the country. However, it is still a major question whether the coup was made because of Morsi’s arguably failed domestic and foreign policies or because he challenged the military. For the time being, there is no clear plan for the post second revolution; the society is divided, the Brotherhood lost the game but it is not out of the game; What are the choices for future Egypt? The Muslim Brotherhood will not easily give up; even if it did not manage to impose its will, it will remain a crucial actor in the political arena. However, as leaders of Egypt, they already failed to lead the country; after long years of struggle for power, they aborted to use the opportunity when they had it. Moreover, the political Islam promoted by the religo-political parties such as the Brotherhood, is facing crisis not just in Egypt but also in other Arab countries and even in Turkey. Salafists, on the other hand, shape the far radical wing of the political actors in the country. It will be an arduous task for them to reach power throughout millions of secular activists residing the public squares. Finally, the secular choice, mainly represented by the military is not a good choice either. Although many locals welcomed the coup d’état and the role that military has played; it is necessary to remember that the current generals are the same against whom the people rose up at the first place. To conclude, the division in the society as well as the political actors is an issue but not the main problem; the central dilemma is that neither of these parties can secure economically and politically capable democracy.
The Syrian picture appears to be more complex and tragic. Principally, however, Syria suffers from the same curse that was born with the so-called Arab Spring – no ‘good’ choices in the horizon. The developments of the Syrian story were distinct in comparison to Egypt. The peaceful demonstrations, which started from southern city of Dara’a, soon proliferated to other cities and towns across Syria. President Assad, however, enjoyed good level of support from different fractions of the society and managed to organize ‘counter protests’. Accordingly, but not surprisingly, the decisive decision remained in the hands of the militants. Unlike Egypt, the majority of the Military and Security forces remained loyal to the government and implemented its brutal policies in the field. The emergence of the organized armed opposition and its increasing strength marked the onset of the Syrian internationalized civil war. These developments attracted radical Muslims from all over the world who joined the local Islamists to shape the bulk of the armed opposition.
On the political level, new opposition elite has emerged in the exile. Group of intellectuals and Human Rights activists initiated a political campaign against Assad to relinquish power and start a political process. Unsurprisingly, Assad denied to step down whereas the opposition failed to remain national and soon became under the clutches of Muslim Brotherhood. Regardless the difference in military of diplomatic capabilities, none of the preceding actors is a ‘good’ choice for future Syria. In a hypothetical post conflict phase, the current administration can hardly play any positive role. Corrupt, Military and Security apparatuses dependant government will not be able to impose stability and hence will remain unable to mark significant economic development. Muslim Brotherhood, which dominates the opposition, is in constant attempt of hijacking the revolution. In fact, the rejection to Brotherhood’s domination is not merely among the political opponents, the military wing of the opposition – represented by the Free Syrian Army – overtly declared its animosity against the Muslim Brotherhood. Accordingly, any role to the latter in Syria will be challenged by many parties and eventually create a new crisis. Finally, Jihadist Islam, which struggles to impose Sharia in Syria, has low chances of success. Although currently they have the upper hand on the ground amongst the armed opposition, socially and politically, as Haytam Manna would argue, they are odd to Syria and therefore cannot offer any comprehensive and inclusive solution for the Syrian conflict.
As a concluding thought, I would argue that the internal struggle for power in these two countries would continue until the appearance of a ‘good’ alternative. Even though the type of struggle differs, both nations need a party that can take decisive actions to seize, maintain and utilize the power to reach stability. However, expecting such leading actor in the political arena is unrealistic at least in the near future. Because the current opposition or authority representatives lack three main conditions: First, an ideological vacuum. Second, realistic and feasible political agenda and finally, rapid answers to the collapsing economies.