How I lost my illusions about the Arab spring and why I think Assad has become the lesser evil in Syria
When the Arab spring came, I thought there was a chance for real change in North Africa and the Middle East. Crowds of people demanding more freedom and democracy infused me with hope, that here was a region ready to make an important step forward. A hope for a new more liberal, open and just order, that could propel entire countries forwards, making them not only more free, but also more prosperous.
It didn’t end that well.
Gadafi was a dictator who in life did many bad things. He supported terrorism, waged wars, and his was not a free country. I never liked dictators, so I didn’t shed any tears for him, when his fall came. Yet, what came after, was terrible. Under Gadafi, Libya was the richest country in Africa. After him, chaos came. Now there are slave markets, where poor migrants end up, if they are not lucky. Different forces compete for control and we can talk about a divided country, a failed state. What’s worse, there is no end in sight, nobody really cares anymore. Forces, who supported the revolution from the outside, set their eyes on other targets, without any remorse leaving a country, they helped to destroy, in the dust. Syria was to be next.
There are those, who believe any revolution, any disturbance of the peace, even terror attacks, to be the work of outside powers, namely United States and Israel. While it is true US does interfere in other countries internal affairs, things are not that easy. An uprising in Libya wasn’t only a consequence of external medling, it had its inner causes. People were dissatisfied.
We can see that to be true in cases like Egypt and Bahrain, US allies. There too there were mass protests and in Egypt the government fell. It would be foolish to think, Washington was behind the protests, because those protests were endangering their allies. It is a bit arrogant to believe, people in the region are incapable of their own plans and wishes, incapable of staging their own uprisings. It is just so, that in places, that had governments opposed to the US, Washington decided to lend the rebels a hand.
Libya gave me an important lesson. If the alternative to an undemocratic regime was anarchy or even a fundamentalist islamic state, then it was better the regime stayed in power. Yet, at the beginning of the Syrian civil war, I genuinely wanted protesters to prevail and bring about a change in government. It was because, at that time the Libyan catastrophy wasn’t years old and I had illusions it would turn out better, than it did. I also had illusions, western governments, Europeans in particular, would step in in a country on their doorstep, one vitaly important for the flow of migrants from Africa. Yes, I have been a fool.
But my illusion left me, as the civil war in Syria became ever more bitter and as foreign powers were evidently trying to perform a regime change, even if that meant Al Qaeda (or whatever new name it took) or Islamic State would take control over Damascus. Think about it, a radical force, commited to terrorism, in control of a huge city of Damascus? Islamic State did, of course, take control of Mosul, another large city, in neighbouring Iraq.
After it became clear, that the so called moderate opposition in Syria was weak and didn’t stand a chance, it also became obvious, that Assad was the lesser evil in this war. Yes, I know, western media portrays him as a monster and western diplomats are adamant, he must be removed. But, are they not hypocrites? Do they not really just care for regime change? They seem to see only attrocities of the regime, while they are at the same time blind about the attrocities of the rebels. Those are the same people, who let Islamic state expand in Syria and Iraq and did little to stop it. Some believe, they were actually behind their success in the first place, allthough it probably isn’t that complicated. Islamic state fighters probably just benefited form various arms programs meant to equip all kind of rebels for their war against the regime and from a open border policy for any young muslim willing to leave the west and go fight in Syria, most often through Turkey.
It took the Russian intervention in Syria and Iranian support in Iraq, to turn the tide. I can’t keep but wonder, if Russians and Iranians would not have come, if Islamic state wouldn’t have been in control of both Damascus and Baghdad by now and western leaders would still be convincing us, that they are at war with them and doing their best.
Syrian civil war is far from over, now, years after it has begun. Foreign forces are still interfering. Russians and Iranians support the regime, Turks and their allies in the north are hell bent to destroy any Kurdish independence wish, while Americans have embeded themselves in that same Kurdish armies. Who knows, what the future could bring. A direct confrontation between Americans and Russians? A Turkish attack on Americans, if they don’t leave Kurds to their mercy?
What we do know is that Syria is a mess. Illusions about a democratic, free, liberal, secular Syria have long vanished, trampled in the dust, and now it is more about bringing peace to the country, that has suffered almost seven years of war. I believe, that can best be done, if Assad reaserts control over the whole country and gives some concessions to the more moderate opposition, as much of it that there is still left. Because, what is the alternative? Another Libya, left alone to rot, once those that wanted regime change, have obtained their goal? Can anybody really believe, United States, Europeans, or even Saudi Arabia are really willing to come and rebuild the country, after Assad is gone? They didn’t do that in Libya, why would they in Syria?