What side do you think you are on? This is not our war.
About 15 years ago, a prominent Israeli dealing with world affairs told then-MK Natan Sharansky about a “future leader of the Arab world” who “thinks exactly” like Sharansky — a modern and moderate young man who “believes in democracy” in the Middle East. The Israeli offered to fly Sharansky to Paris to meet this future leader — one Bashar Assad, then the son of and today (still) the president of Syria — hoping the two would advance bilateral relations.
Before agreeing to fly to Paris, Sharansky asked if Bashar was going to be democratically elected. “No, of course not. His father [Hafez Assad] is going to appoint him,” the interlocutor responded. Sharansky politely declined. Obviously, he could not have known that this ostensible would-be believer in democracy would be massacring his own people a decade-and-a-half later for daring to challenge his rule. But for Sharansky, a leader who was not elected, or seeking to be elected by his people, it was not worth his time.
Arguably the world’s most famous former Prisoner of Zion, who spent years in a Soviet prison fighting for his right to immigrate to Israel, Sharansky’s belief in democracy is unshakable. While a political hawk, he is one of the few public figures in Israel who fully embraced the Arab Spring, arguing that it is in everybody’s interest — emphatically including Israel’s — that the people of the Arab world choose their leaders themselves and move toward free, democratic societies.
Many Israeli politicians, especially from the right wing, bemoaned last year’s Tahrir Square demonstrations and subsequent fall of president Hosni Mubarak, which paved the way for the Muslim Brotherhood to win Egypt’s parliamentary and presidential elections this year. But Sharansky, 64, insists that Mubarak’s dictatorial regime should have ended much earlier.
“It’s a pity that it didn’t happen 20 years ago,” said Sharansky, who today heads the Jewish Agency for Israel. “It had to happen.”
Having presaged the fall of the Soviet Union when he crossed the Iron Curtain and came to Israel 26 years ago, Sharansky believes that all dictatorships are doomed to fall sooner or later. “Every dictatorship, however good it is for the West, will be overthrown one day,” he said.
His 2004 “The Case for Democracy” is one of former US president George W. Bush’s favorite texts — it served as his foreign policy guide — but Sharansky differed from Bush on one crucial point. “Bush was saying [in 2007], if it’s not Mubarak, it will be the Muslim Brotherhood and we don’t want the Muslim Brotherhood,” Sharansky recalled in a recent interview in his Jerusalem office.
“That is the big mistake of the West: If the only options are either Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood, you will get the Muslim Brotherhood. If the only options are Yasser Arafat or Hamas, the answer is Hamas. If you understand that [autocratic regimes will not last] forever, that they have to fall, then it has to be said: the sooner it will happen, the better.”
‘That is the big mistake of the West — if the only options are either Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood, you will get the Muslim Brotherhood’
Opponents of the Arab Spring initially believed that the despots of the Middle East could defy it, and go on as if nothing happened. But it would have been smarter to accept from the beginning that the status quo could not continue, he argues. “The later they will fall the more the people [in the Arab world] will hate you, and the smaller the opportunity for any liberal democracy to work,” Sharansky said.
The free world often forgets that dictators like Mubarak and Assad were subjugating their people; the more the West supports such regimes, the more it will be hated by the people once the regimes, inevitably, fall apart, he added.
“The main message of the Arab Spring, even with all the other negative things which happened afterwards, was: now the people will be deciding who will be their leaders. That is a great opportunity. Why? Because whoever is in power, they depend on the will of the people. That means that whoever is in power will have to deal with the problems of these people. Mubarak and Assad built their power on fear and physical control. The moment we have these new leaders who are dependent on the anger — but also on the satisfaction — of the street, they have to deal with these problems.”
The new Egypt, for example, has bigger and more urgent problems than Israel, Sharansky reasons. “They [Egypt’s leaders] can speak as much as they want about their hatred for Israel or Zionism or Jews or whatever, their main problem is what to do with the economy that is falling apart, with housing which is not existing and with how to feed tens of millions of people without jobs,” Sharansky said.
The free world should support the budding democratization of the Middle East, but any aid should be contingent on the development of a free civil society, he suggested.
“It will not happen in one day, but more and more governments at this moment depend on the will of their people, and will have to cooperate with the free world in trying to solve their problems through helping to build institutions of civil society,” he said.
Sharansky, a former interior minister and deputy prime minister, will defend democracy no matter the outcome, regardless of whether moderates or extremists win at the ballot box. In February 2011, before the Muslim Brotherhood come to power in Egypt, he had hailed the Arab Spring as “the moment to try to put our trust in freedom.”
In a newspaper interview at the time, he said that the free world was lucky in two respects. “First, that what happened in Egypt happened when the Muslim Brotherhood is not yet strong enough [to sweep into power]. The longer there is dictatorship, the longer the free world helps to destroy all democratic dissent, the stronger the Muslim Brotherhood becomes… So it is good that this is all happening now in Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood is not strong enough.” The West’s support for dictatorships that promised stability but didn’t care for the people has been helping the Muslim Brotherhood gain steam, Sharansky suggested.
Roughly 18 months later, the Muslim Brotherhood is ruling Egypt, and in Jordan it recently started organizing mass demonstrations against the king, leading some observers to predict a Tahrir-style revolution there too. Yet Sharansky is adamant that democracy is, and remains, the only way forward.
‘If you believe that for Egyptian people it is more important to kill Jews than not to die from hunger, then you cannot explain why this revolution happened’
“That’s the problem with the free world: we’re not learning anything. At each stage in history, we do the same. We’re looking for which dictator in this awful chaos will be more sympathetic toward us,” he said. “The free world has to understand: We cannot decide for these people to be a democracy or not. We cannot guarantee the survival of the dictators. We cannot guarantee the creation of free society.” Therefore, Sharansky insists that the West support Egypt’s young democracy — which needs the West’s help to survive — but should tie all aid to Egypt to the strengthening of a free society there and the acceptance of peaceful coexistence with Israel.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammed Morsi, while certainly no Zionist, has publicly indicated his commitment to honor the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. He sent a friendly letter to his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres (though he later denied sending it) and appointed a new ambassador to Tel Aviv, after the post had been vacant for months. Morsi understands, it seems, that at least for now his country has other worries than picking a fight with Israel.
“The more the government depends on its own people, the less dangerous it is to us,” Sharansky posited. “Because the government depends on its own people, it has to deliver goods to the people. If you believe that for the Egyptian people it is more important to kill Jews than not to die from hunger, then you cannot explain why this revolution happened. Because when the people went on the street there was not a word about killing Jews or hating Israel. Well, there was sometimes ‘Mubarak is an agent of Israel,’ but that’s about it. It was all about, ‘We want to have a normal life, we don’t want to live in fear, we want to have jobs’ — that was their message.”
‘Returning the Golan? Only if Syria becomes democratic’
In 2000, prime minister Ehud Barak believed he could reach a peace agreement with Syria, in exchange for the Golan Heights. Before joining the coalition, Sharansky’s Yisrael B’Aliyah party, which then had six Knesset seats, made sure of one thing:
“We put a condition on the coalition agreement: Our vote on the Golan will be linked to the democratization of the regime in Syria,” Sharansky recalled, adding that politicians from the left and the right were ridiculing the party. If you want to keep the Golan, that’s one thing, but what does the Golan have to with this, he was asked.
“But we insisted,” Sharansky said with a smile. The coalition agreement he and Barak eventually signed is “one of the few documents in Israel’s political history” linking Israeli territorial concessions with regime change in an Arab country, he noted.
“Imagine for a moment that we did give back practically the entire Golan to that regime,” he said. “The fate of the regime would be the same, because people won’t live better [with the Golan]. Only today, [Assad] would be bombarding [his people] near the Kinneret, and chemical weapons would be hidden 10 meters from our borders. That’s what [concessions] have to with regime change.”
Hearing Sharansky — a member of the rightist Likud party — making the case for democracy in the Middle East, one might assume he’d be unhappy about the way the current government has been dealing with the recent developments in the Arab world. Prime Minister and Likud chair Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed skepticism about the Arab Spring, saying his initial concern that the upheavals would turn into an “Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli and anti-democratic wave” all came true.
In fact, Sharansky compliments the prime minister on his handling of the situation. “Netanyahu is right in formulating the conditions which are absolutely unacceptable from our point of view and should not be acceptable for the free world if they want to cooperate with this regime,” Sharansky said, speaking of Egypt. While he is in favor of the free world working together with Morsi, the West should clearly state that fighting terror in Sinai and keeping the peace agreements with Israel are the very basic conditions that Cairo has to fulfill for any kind of support and cooperation.
“We don’t believe in the New Testament’s teachings that if you’re slapped in the face you should turn the other cheek,” Sharansky said. “We have to think about our dignity, about our interests and power. We don’t have to die of happiness now that the Muslim Brothers are there. We have to formulate, in a very cool way, the minimal threshold of what we believe should be included in the relations with this government.”
Jerusalem is not obligated to declare its passionate love for the Muslim Brotherhood, Sharansky allows, but it should also not make the error of wishing back Mubarak. “I don’t believe in a new Middle East based on dictators.”
Eternal Jew hatred, even in a new Middle East
Even a democratic Middle East will not be free of Jew hatred, not even 20 years from now, Sharansky acknowledges. But that’s not for us to worry about, he argues.
“As someone who today is dealing a lot with anti-Semitism [as head of the Jewish Agency], we know that there is anti-Semitism in places where there are no Jews at all. So I don’t think that suddenly these [countries affected by the Arab Spring] will be areas without anti-Semitism. But most people firstly expect their government to deliver a good quality of life, more than anything else. “So their hatred of Jews will be an addition to the heart of their lives, which is how to build a good quality of life.”
When leaders of a country need to worry about being reelected, he believes, their hatred of Jews becomes secondary. “Of course anti-Semitism is unfortunate — the brainwashing of a thousand years has worked. And they do hate us. But they’ll have a different set of interests, which in many ways will be [in line with] our interests.”
The situation in Syria is terrible. Hundreds_of_people_have_been_shot; others arrested and tortured. And yet after weeks of demonstrations and repression the West has done nothing. True, the U.S. government has shifted from defending the dictatorship to scolding it mildly. Big deal. …Assad is likely to survive both because of his own ruthlessness and the West’s shameful behavior. Warsaw, 1944; Budapest, 1956; Prague, 1967; meet Damascus, 2011. more via rubinreports.blogspot.com
(La,la land) Syria is not a democratic country, the only time in history where the people voted for their leaders (freely that is) was between 1946 and 1949. Since 1949 Syria has known only Military rule. The current incumbent Bashar al-Assad is the son of Hafez al-Assad who took power (via a coup) in 1970. During the Assad dynasty, Human rights hasn’t been on the top of the list of things to do. Which kind of explains why opposition groups were simply wiped off the face of the map when it came to complaints against the system, Something the Syrian government accomplished in the city of Hama in 1982 when they killed up to 40,000 people because they could.
Currently the Syrian Government is trying to do likewise with the general populace of the country and to date they have despatched around 400 people to the great mosque in the sky. What I’m trying to point out here, is that when it comes to Human rights Syria is way back there at the end of the queue.
Which brings me to the United Nation Human Rights Council.(UNHRC) Which since it’s inception has only had eyes for..Israel (That country in the Middle East contrary to the neighbours,doesn’t have the Death Penalty, affords equality to: Women,Gays,different Faiths etc..) is deciding to inaugurate ‘Syria’ as its newest member.Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com
No doubt, the UNHRC will issue a declaration of ‘no genocide’ in Syria just like it did in 2005 when its then member ‘Sudan’ was accused of genocide in Darfur. That accolade is only reserved for ‘Israel’.
The United Nations Human Rights Council plans to hold a special session on Syria this Friday in Geneva to urge its government to stop attacking civilian protesters.
“The international community has been shocked by the killing of hundreds of civilians in connection with peaceful political protests [in Syria] in the past week,” said US Ambassador to the UNHRC, Eileen Donahoe, on Wednesday.
Her country filed a request for a special session on behalf of 15 other member states, including: Belgium, France, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Korea, Moldova, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Zambia.
“At the special session, we expect Human Rights Council members will call on the government of Syria to meet its responsibility to protect its population and stop these attacks,” Donahoe said in a statement she issued to the press.
It marks the first time that a special session has been held on the human rights situation in Syria, which has submitted a bid to become a UNHRC member. On May 20, the UN General Assembly in New York is expected to hold an election for 15 of the council’s 47-member seats.
On February 25, the UNHRC held a special session on Libya, in which it condemned the human-rights violations. It also urged the General Assembly so suspend Libya council membership.
The Assembly did so on March 1.
The text of the Syria resolution has not been finalized yet. The US would not comment on the substance of the text, or whether it would include a call for the UN General Assembly to reject Syria’s candidacy for the UNHRC.
On Wednesday, an international collation of 17 humanrights groups led by UN Watch, called on the UNHRC to include such a call in its Syria resolution.
Earlier this week the group launched its campaign to bar Syria from the UNHRC.
UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer said, “if the council this week declares President Bashar al-Assad unwelcome as a member, it would sound the death knell for Syria’s cynical candidacy to be elected a global judge of human rights.”
The coalition of human rights groups, he said, has called for leadership on this issue from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton, Ban Ki-moon and UN rights chief Navi Pillay.
Neuer said that his organization condemns a recent statement by Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Zamir Akram, that Syria’s actions do not merit a special session. He threatened that members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference would use the meeting to focus on Israeli actions against the Palestinians.
Diplomats, however, explained that resolutions introduced at a country-specific special session must be focused on the country in question.
|Syrians living in Jordan shout slogans as they protest in solidarity
with anti-government protesters in Syria,
outside the Syrian embassy in Amman April 2, 2011.
But they added, there is nothing in the procedures that would prevent countries which take the floor at the UNHRC from bringing up other issues in their statements.
Friday’s Geneva meeting will be the 16th special session held by the Human Rights Council in the last five years.
Syrian soldiers have been shot by security forces after refusing to fire on protesters, witnesses said, as a crackdown on anti-government demonstrations intensified:…The Arab Spring can never bloom if the people can not be heard because of Saudi fears.
Syrians living in Jordan shout slogans as they protest in solidarity
with anti-government protesters in Syria,
outside the Syrian embassy in Amman April 2, 2011.
(REUTERS/Majed Jaber)The Syrian Revolution 2011: First Protest Shooting in DamascusA DEBKAfile Exclusive Report:
The Syrian uprising took a new turn Tuesday, April 5, when armed protesters opened fire for the first time on security forces from a well-laid ambush in a Damascus suburb. Two policemen were killed according to first reports. The fact that armed elements have taken over and are willing to use violence against Assad regime — and in the capital yet — marks a new and dangerous stage in the two-week long protest.
Syria’s banned opposition groups and Muslim Brotherhood, under the combined new banner of “The Syrian Revolution 2011,” earlier announed a fresh round of demonstrations against President Bashar Assad starting Tuesday, April 5, and lasting until next week, debkafile’s Middle East sources report.
Both sides of the conflict realize that the Assad regime is not yet at the tipping-point for its survival after street protest rallies and bloody crackdowns centering on Daraa in the south and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, in which 110 demonstrators died. However, a mass, nationwide uprising could badly shake its stability because it would seriously overtax Assad’s loyal military and security troops.
The opposition and the regime are meanwhile playing cat and mouse to see which holds the balance. The protest movement has already made an important gain: Even if Assad weathers the storm, his regime will never recover its old stability, arrogance and confidence. After 11 years in power, the Syrian president’s authority will be on the wane.
To knock it over completely, the Sunnis, who are 76 percent of the Syria’s population of 26 million, must join the protest movement en masse. This they have so far avoided doing for fear of the bullets which Assad’s loyalist forces do not hesitate to shoot.
Because it is hard to get ordinary Sunni Muslims out on the streets, the heads of Syrian Revolution 2011 have instigated a campaign of passive resistance. This week, for example, opposition leaders told the population to stop paying their electricity bills, an act of protest that has caught on in Syria’s big cities. The Assad regime is therefore confronted both by the “Days of Rage” and quiet civil resistance.
Furthermore, the important port-town of Latakia has split down the middle between two opposing camps — the 300,000 members of the ruling Allawite sect fear to venture into the districts populated by the town’s 400,000 Sunnis — and vice versa. Army control is reduced to keeping open the road linking the Syria’s main import and export port facilities to the highway out of the city.
In the next 48 hours, the opposition is hoping to whip up mass demonstrations in Aleppo and Damascus, the capital. Aleppo, a city of 2.8 million inhabitants is the political and economic hub of the Syrian Sunni community. Therefore, major outbreaks there would produce a big crack in Assad’s authority.
The Syrian ruler has tried to pre-empt the Aleppo demonstration by pouring substantial armed strength into the city, cutting its Internet links and arresting thousands of people suspected of opposition ties.
But he faces a huge problem. He can’t trust the Sunni rank and file to obey orders to suppress a large-scale Sunni insurrection in Aleppo — only the Allawite units which owe loyalty to the president and the Assad clan. He must therefore rely on the support of the 4th Army Division and the security and intelligence services and they may be too thin on the ground to shoulder the task. He dare not try and loose Sunni troops on the protesters of Aleppo for fear they join the protesters.
The Syrians have finally realised that their “young, charismatic, UK-educated and open minded” president is following in the footsteps of his late father, Hafez el Assad.
|Hating Israel isn’t enough