Fear and Loathing In the Middle East – From Cairo to Damascus
The police and security services were beaten and fire-bombed into submission at some point early in the revolution in Egypt. First they shed their uniforms, blending in with the protesters, gathering like vultures and waiting till the crowds were distracted, and then striking at the vulnerable backs of the young revolutionaries, or tazering, zap-strapping-and-black-hooding opposition leaders, whose faces they’d memorized from social media, mugshots, and confirmed with huge, high-res images of earlier protests (a trick pioneered by Iran’s masters of repressive brutality).
The “security services” knew who to grab. But once the street had filled with angry Egyptians, the leaders were only enjoying, rather than shepherding or controlling the massive crowds surging down the streets of Suez and Alexandria and Cairo and Port Said. And the other protesters included young people who were expecting a fight. Protesters smashed through the police barricade on the Qasr al-Nil Bridge on January, 25.(WATCH: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5iIU9HHOMQ) They routed the hundreds of police sent to hold the bridge and prevent the massive, angry crowds from reaching Tahrir Square. Protesters overcame the tear-gas and club-swinging riot police and flooded into the Square, and would fight to defend it with bare hands, rocks, fists, chunks of concrete smashed out of the roads, turning the police barricades into defensive fortifications, along with the walls and roofs of small shop-stalls.
Nine hundred people died over those days, when crowds of pro-regime “civilians” replaced uniformed police. They came armed, and backed up by paid thugs, ready to crack heads and take shots with pistols at troublesome rabble. But the sheer number of Egyptians protesting– fighting, taking a rock or club or shotgun pellet to the face and still returning to the fight, bandaged, bleeding and vengeful– drove back the rallied muscle of the Interior Ministry.
The ULTRAS joined the fray, a charmingly violent group of street-fighters, the politically-charged version of soccer-hooligans. They would take center-stage at later protests, inflicting suffering on police and pro-regime thugs in the “battle of the camel” in Feb 2011, protecting the protests at Tahrir Square, putting more pressure on the military junta ruling the country.
The ULTRAS, by standing firm in a brutal attritional battle, had won. But they would be punished for their audacity when the police and hired thugs killed 74 of them in the Port Said Stadium riot, letting rival Masry fans into their fenced-off areas, and allowing them to go in armed. And one could speculate there were certain agents engaged, with clear orders and deadly weapons, of a kind that we saw before the fall of the Mubarak regime in Tahrir Square– naked brutality, enacted by men who have had time to examine the photographs of their targets.
The ULTRAS met the real power behind the “regimes” and front-men, who wield power but do not own it. They are not a religion or a creed or minorities; they are a monster with a thousand heads, who we generously call the “security services”. The citizens brutalized by them know it as the Mukhabarat; the secret police; the alphabet-soup of Security Directorates and Divisions and Units, who control their leaders with information and paranoia, who lock away forever uncounted human beings in innumerable secret prisons, like files in cabinets to be eventually shredded and destroyed. These Leviathans, and their Mafioso mirror-images, the Shabiha and Basij, are the true powers in the Middle East – North Africa.
These powers refuse to be touched by revolution or election; in Egypt, when the People threw back the Interior Ministry’s police and thugs, the Army moved in to secure their supreme power. When a weak and vulnerable, but democratically-elected leader named Muhammed Morsy began toying with the Army’s mechanisms of absolute control, he was disposed of and silenced.
In Syria, the horrific sadism and wanton violence of the Assad regime permitted not even such partial revolutions, no convenient change of faces at the apex of power. For Syrians it would be all or nothing; the cancer of the Assads would be torn out by the root. But, as the world’s decision-makers turn their back on the Syrian revolution, we see their instinctive resistance to any revolution that goes too deep, demands too much justice, and threatens to cast bright sunlight on a whole region’s guilty conscience.
Like when the secret files of the Russian secret police were made public by the victorious Russian revolutionaries; like the expositions of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden; such a victory strikes at the very structures of power, and is therefore a deadly, intolerable threat to those who wield that power.
So, who benefits from this parade of injustice and confusion? In Egypt, the beneficiaries are the feloul; ‘remnants’ of the old regime. In Syria, the remnants still hold the power. But, inch by inch, they are being annihilated by a shifting cadre of revolutionaries and holy-warriors. There will be no remnants in Syria if the revolution succeeds, and such a revolution can only succeed or die. The ‘peaceful’ revolution in Egypt has only changed the battle-lines and muddied the water (and let’s remember where that saying comes from: you ‘muddy the water’ with the tip of your spear, in order to confuse the fish you are about to skewer and eat for dinner). The people have been convinced that a military dictatorship is what they demanded in Tahrir Square. Yes, a great number of Egyptians wanted to be rid of Morsy and his ineffectual government. But perhaps even more voted for him, and faced bullets and tear-gas to help keep him in power. And the powers that be say, “The revolution is over.” Perhaps one general named al-Sisi will claim “I am the revolution.” He’ll be lying. An ending which disenfranchises half the nation is no fit end to a beginning like Tahrir Square. This ending could prove to be a long interlude; years, but perhaps not decades.
The victories of the ULTRAS were short-lived. A few years on, and a bare-faced military dictatorship rules Egypt. The thugs and fascists were not defeated, only pushed back. And they have returned. The Interior Ministry is torturing again, and the secret police are back at their posts. A beating and a humiliation was not enough to deter them. And now, prominent activists like Ahmed Maher of the April 6th Youth Movement, a key early organizer of the revolution’s core protesters, are joining thousands of Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) supporters in prison, and many more will join them who simply supported the democratically-elected, recently overthrown president Muhammed Morsy. They voted for him out of a hope that he could bridge the gap between devoutly religious Muslim Egyptians, who rebelled out of a desire for justice and human dignity, against a regime which outraged their consciences on daily basis, and the Western-friendly secularists who first took to the streets, and bought with their blood and lives the opportunity to help topple Mubarak’s regime, and then voted for him Muhammed Morsy was not up to the task. He was sabotaged every step of the way by the Egyptian Army’s agents. But he would have been out of reach, if he had kept the loyalties of Egypt’s swing voters; the liberals, Westernized middle classes, the Coptic Christians, other Islamists like al-Nour party. He walked into one too many traps set by the feloul, Interior Ministry, and the Egyptian Army, and then was removed via protest-coup.
Are all the Western-friendly liberals, the secular protesters who have taken the initiative in almost every protest movement in the Middle East and North Africa, doomed if they cannot make alliance with devote Muslims who speak the language of “justice” and “dignity”, but deride the language of “freedom” and Civil Rights? Islamists will tell you that these words they have seen perverted and used to enforce secularism and, like in Syria and Egypt, Fascism and political and social stagnation.
Bashar al-Assad’s “market liberalizations” of the late 2000s rolled-back the last pretensions of socialist populism and returned rural Syria to crushing, Dust Bowl-style poverty, hollowed out unions across the nation, and completed the disenfranchisement of the people of Syria. While the hopes of Syrians for a decent future slipped away, foreign investment increased a dozen-fold, from $115 million in 2001 to $1.6 billion in 2006, and further afterwards. By March of 2011, the middle classes and city-dwellers had seen their life-savings destroyed, and the waves of revolution caused by a destitute fruit-seller named Muhammad Bouazizi setting himself on fire in Kasserine, Tunisia, would rush deep into Syrian society.
In a matter of months, tens of thousands of men who might otherwise have been looking for jobs, or striving to excel in school in order to save themselves from the poverty they were being told didn’t exist, would find themselves firing Kalashnikovs around street-corners, dashing across sniper-alleys, or producing crude but constantly-improving rockets and bombs they’d use to attack gatherings of Shabiha thugs or advancing Syrian Army columns. And the Free Syrian Army, the mostly-secular group of army deserters and revolutionaries would be starved of support by a cynical world, and eventually be surpassed and subsumed by the Islamic Front; the last and most solid iteration of Syria’s Islamic resistance; by far the most powerful fighting group and the likeliest successor to power in Syria. (In their own words, they have two metrics by which to judge their group; first, to defeat the regime in the field and overthrow the Assad government and annihilate the “security services”– 13 different directorates and agencies in Syria, all closely watching the People and each-other) and, second, to avoid “abuses”.)
From the sands of Egypt, cross the Red Sea and the deserts of Gaza, and hop the State of Israel and the land of Palestine the two peoples are “sharing”, and you are in the Levant. Here, the world powers have decided to repeat the mistakes of the age of Imperialism. Contrary to the claims of the anti-interventionists, it is the “peace” process of Geneva II which is about to betray the people of Syria, again, into the hands of an artificially empowered minority; the Alawites, the tribe tapped by France to rule the land of al-Sham on their behalf a hundred years ago, confirmed in the notorious (in Syria) and obscure (in the West) Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Alawites, a fully co-opted sectarian identity, were beaten and molded first by Imperialism, and then the Syrian Ba’ath party’s brand of Stalinism/Fascism, into a set of chains for the people of Syria, and a leash for their sectarian thugs and killers.
For months, the Syrian revolutionists have derided the international effort to “save Syria” with a partition as “Sykes-Picot part 2″. They are correct. The world, led by the USA, is about to strong-arm the Syrian opposition into a deal which enshrines the fascist rule of a sectarian clan of ethnic-cleansing Mafioso thugs over a shattered nation. This will only serve to under-cut and abort the ongoing cultural revolution inside Syria (2), and will co-opt the ethical, moral, political renaissance of Syrian society being bought as we speak with so much blood and horror. The rationale enabling this agreement among the Powers that Be is a product of the same arrogant, poisonously cynical frame of mind which caused the world to starve a secular, free Syrian liberation army of all support, and then look with horror on the rise of Islamists. Increasingly the heroes of the Free Syrian Army are being assassinated by Jihadists who have enjoyed the knowledge that the Assad clan needs them active, brutal and noisy in order to justify the ongoing genocide.
The “realists” have decided that the boogey-man of al Qaeda is worse than the real monstrosities being visited on Syria. But how will Bashar al-Assad be better than they, when he has created the conditions on which they thrive? The Assad regime did not create al Qaeda, but it deliberately enabled them, it justifies them, and it depends on them to excuse the ongoing massacre. According to the “realists”, Syria must be sacrificed, served up to the gods of political expediency, and abandoned to a vicious tyrant, in order to score a point for the “free world,” as if the killing of Muslim extremists is a goal beyond all human considerations. Should we not be asking, first of all, ‘what is best for the people of Syria’? Does their well-being enter the calculations of the ‘Friends of Syria’ at all? And how far is this diplomatic scheming from ‘reality’, when the people in question, the families, the men and women and children, a whole society, are considered bargaining pieces, or means to an end, instead of the purpose itself? The American president is peddling cowardice and cynicism, and calling it pragmatism and ‘realism’.
These “realists” watched those men– the only hope for Syria’s new rule to be friendly or even tolerant of the American and Western “interests” they so worship– torn to ragged pieces by Iran, and Hezbollah, and the fascist Assad regime, and then saw fit to criticize them for their failures and chastise Syrians for allowing “extremists” to take over the revolution, as if the demand for justice and human dignity was the trademarked property of Western-loving liberals and secular democrats.
From the White House to Whitehall, they have watched the Assad regime start a sectarian war of repression on civilians, crush their own cities under aerial bombing, torture children to death as a matter of policy, and suffocate whole districts of their capital with nerve-gas. The ‘leaders of the free world’ have watched all these outrages and obscenities, the destruction and rape of a nation, and have decide that the regime responsible is not only acceptable, and not only useful, but indispensable.
photos from the brave work of Syrians like..
Young Mujahed’s Lens: https://www.facebook.com/LensYoungMojahed
Young Lens Horany: https://www.facebook.com/Lens.Horany
Young Lens Homsi: https://www.facebook.com/LensYoungHomsi
Young Lens Dimashqi: https://www.facebook.com/LensYoungdimashqi