When the Muslim Brotherhood initiated a rebellion in 1982 in Hama Hafez al-Assad, Assad Senior, leveled the town. The Assad regime, and it’s extreme violence, is generations old. Even the fighting right now, the civil war, is years old. It’s practically unmentioned in UK news. But, for some reason, it suddenly popped up on the media radar this year. Coverage is still limited to backdrops for the movements of our politicians. In no time the struggle of the rebels was brought to our attention and shortly after the issue of whether we should arm the rebels.
The EU releases the arms embargo allowing in principal movement of arms to the rebels. Actually, what happened was that the embargo had a built in release date and because the commission couldn’t agree on whether to extend it, it disappeared automatically. William Hague was there giving soundbites. He said that the outcome was what “the UK wanted,” which is interesting because I don’t remember being asked. Nor do I think anyone I know has a crystalized opinion about it.
There was in interview with a politician on BBC this morning in which they were asked if they can be sure if the ‘rebels’ can be trusted with the weapons they might get. He said that people had been to meet them and they seemed like nice upstanding guys. That’s not what he said but it’s the gist. Obviously politicians think that the best way to understand the state of the world is to go and talk to half a dozen people.
[Update: 29 May 2013] The opposition Ahrar al-Sham Brigade, according to al-Jazeera, a militia that has been involved in some of the fiercest fighting, holds a hardline Islamic ideology very different to the Free Syrian army.
Not too long ago Moaz al-Khatib quit as president of the opposition. Actually, they rejected his resignation and told him to get back to work. According to the higher google hits he said that it was a lack of international support that made his mind up. The language and writing priority gives the strong impression that he quit because of a lack of support and because he was being forced to open a dialogue with al-Assad, and that he thought “red lines” had been crossed – in the case of the Guardian letting us conclude that the red lines were being force to talk to Assad, while in a BBC article saying that what the red lines are is unknown. At the time, when I heard the news on al-Jazeera the impression I got was that he quit because of external interference. If you look for coverage that contains quotes rather than edits you’ll find him saying “I have become only a means to sign some papers while there are hands from different parties involved who want to decide on behalf of the Syrians,” which does seem to align more with fears of interference than fears of independence. One of his first actions was to bypass the coalition and offer to talk to Assad directly. More recently he has offered Assad a 16-point plan by which he could step down from power. That doesn’t sound like the activity of someone who wants to resist negotiation with the dictator.
I have to wonder why we are so interested so recently in arming the rebels. And why chemical weapons form some kind of threshold. We should conclude, I guess, that chemical weapons are fine so long as they’re explosive. Is it that our government want to replace a client of Russian firepower with a client of ours? Much of Assad’s military power comes from his ties to the Air Force. He’s been bombing Syria for years. I think our aim, if we are interested in helping Syrians, should be to establish no-fly-zones.