The death toll in Syria has exceeded 100,000. The refugee population approaches two million, including one million Syrian children and excluding the Palestinian refugee population which is enduring secondary forced displacement as a result of the Syrian conflict. The horrors of the conflict which began two and a half years ago, reached new heights amid reports of a chemical weapons attack that killed 1,000 civilians in Ghouta on 21 August 2013. The attack crossed the Obama-declared "red line" and intensified calls for military action against the Syrian regime. Now there are reports that the Obama Administration will indeed strike Syria in the coming days. According to reports, the strike will be swift and discrete. Its purpose seems to be more political, than military, as it is a loaded demonstration of military capability without the specter of a full-on intervention. This is not surprising.
The US Administration understands that the conflict in Syria is also a proxy regional war aimed at shifting the balance of power in the Middle East. There is little possibility that the US can intervene in Syria and not trigger a broader regional conflict that it does not have the capacity to handle and that Syria's neighbors prefer to avoid. Meanwhile, Iraq's ominous shadow is chilling Europe's enthusiasm for another military operation in the Middle East. The UK prefers authorization from the UN Security Council to intervene in Syria. It has put forward a proposal to discuss that in the Security Council tomorrow 30 August 2013. However, that is unlikely to yield any results in light of Chinese and Russian support for the Syrian Regime.
So what does this mean for the Syrian civilians who are enduring a tremendous humanitarian crisis? In the short to medium-term it is quite dismal. Even if the balance of political will and interests were to shift, military intervention will not solve the conflict nor miraculously end the crisis in Syria. To the contrary, the situation could get worse. Consider that in Libya, for example, "between the start of the conflict and the passage of UNSC Resolution 1973, approximately 1-2,000 civilians were killed. By the end of the NATO bombing campaign, 30-50,000 lives had been lost." Moreover, Syria is markedly different than Libya. As I wrote in an IntLawGrrls post last year, intervention in Syria, similar to collective action taken in Libya is inappropriate because:
► Syria, unlike Libya, is not constituted of vast swaths of sparsely populated land. To the contrary, it is densely populated and relatively small.
In their poignant piece, Why There is No Military Solution to the Syrian Conflict, Asli Bali and Aziz Rana explain:
... [T]here is likely no form of direct or indirect military involvement in the conflict that will spare civilians or advance either side towards a decisive victory. In short, there are too many interveners and too many strategic interests at stake for any side to allow too great a tipping of the balance. Some might argue that the ongoing destabilization of Syria serves its own strategic purposes. Aside from the deep moral bankruptcy of such a position, its logic of perpetual conflict threatens to engulf the region with spillover effects radiating beyond the control of potential interveners.
This of course not a call to idly sit back and watch Syria tear itself apart. To the contrary, it only heightens the necessity of a diplomatic solution - as elusive as that may seem. In his insightful essay, Chemical Attacks and Military Intervention, Omar Dahi explains:
A political settlement would be the beginning not end of the struggle. Right now, the struggle is drowned out by a war of annihilation that is also a proxy war by regional countries at the expense of Syrians. There is no doubt that the Syrian regime has waged a war of destruction against its own people with decisive material and political support from Iran and Russia, and that it bears the primary responsibility for the violence. It has not shown a serious inclination for anything other than total victory. However, from the start of the uprising, the Gulf countries immediately saw the opportunity to defeat Iran in Syria and have used their money and arms to highjack the uprising and the language of the revolution in the benefit of a sordid counterrevolutionary agenda. This has led Iran to become more entrenched in its support of Syria, and to increase its support at every turn. The United States and its allies were setting up the possibilities for an endless civil war. The fact that the United States is threatening to strike now has nothing to do with the welfare of Syrians, and everything to do with the United States maintaining its own "credibility," its position as a hegemonic power.
It is most difficult to witness this human catastrophe unfold and do "nothing" about it. But in this case, "something," in the form of military intervention, offers little additional benefit and significant negative unknowns. It is best to build political, legal, and moral pressure for a political solution. Meanwhile, we can also give serious thought to the notion of "preventive" solutions. The policies and regimes that have been propped up by powerful external actors, like the United States, have created these dreadful contradictions where there are no optimal choices for solutions. As Bassam Haddad noted nearly two years ago, enemies of Syria, not just of the Syrian Regime, seek to foster a protracted conflict wherein Syrian resources are ultimately depleted.
Finally, as the venerable Kissinger used to say in the 1980s (I am paraphrasing): let the Iranians and Iraqis kill each other into impotence, for it facilitates things for the United States thereafter. Thus, some would like Syrians to continue killing each other, for a while longer, before an intervention is advanced. They would be happy to see Syria weaken even further its institutions and infrastructure, while social and political divisions are excascerbated enough to undercut possibilities of collective action for a long time to come. Syria’s long-term trajectory after the Ba'ath fall is an unknown, whether one considers questions of resistance, anti-imperialism or the struggle for restoring the Golan. So, from the perspective of those in the "Kissinger camp", why not wait for Syria and Syrians to disempower themselves further, instead of pushing for a swift conclusion now? If one, or a government, supports the safety of the apartheid state of Israel, what else would be better than a protracted killing field in Syria?
For more readings on Syria, I recommend Jadaliyya's Syria Page.
Since the military removal of Mohammad Morsi from office on July 3, the situation in Egypt has rapidly become intensely polarized. The entrenchment of two broad camps - for the military-led take-over or against the coup - obscures the complexity underlying Egypt's dramatic transformation. Millions of Egyptians converged on Tahrir Square in January 2011 to remove the US-backed authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak. They demanded a new relationship to the state including a full panoply of economic, social, and political rights. Who can forget the the ringing call for 'Aysh, hurriyya, `adaala ishtama'iyya (Bread, freedom, and social justice)?
This revolutionary vision seems more distant then ever now when the same liberal base who insisted on Mubarak's removal are now supporting the Army and other vestiges of his regime. Rather than tackle the security state, police brutality, and exclusive control of state resources, this base seems to forgive these structural ills in a fight to rid its government, and society, of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not to be confused with the calls made on, and leading up to, the June 30 mass marches. Then, the indictment against Morsi was squarely his failure to use his Presidency to effectuate the demands of the revolution; failure to prosecute the security apparatus for its murder of 800 civilians during the 2011 Uprisings; its attacks on women and minorities; its hijacking of a Constitutional reform process; and, generally, its consolidation of power in an attempt to maintain Egypt's authoritarian regime but supplant its secularist character with an Islamist one. The "people" rejected these developments and the June 30 protests appeared to be a popular referendum.
But what began as a referendum has seemingly devolved into a battle between secular and Islamist authoritarianism- and more pointedly into a deleterious campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is not only one of the most significant political parties in Egypt, it is constitutive of a broad swath of its society. Any campaign that aims to "remove" it mistakes its social and political character for a malignant cancer. By framing the Brotherhood as a terrorist network with foreign ties, the Army and its supporters have declared war on their own body.
Presumably, the liberal base has thrown its support behind secular authoritarianism, meaning for the Army, the feloul, and all its ills, as a first step towards the real battle against authoritarianism itself. Presumably. In truth it is almost beyond reasonable comprehension. There are no signs that tackling the Egyptian security state is next on the liberal agenda so far. If this is true, then the excuse many of us gave regarding the hijacking of the Tamarod movement by the army becomes less plausible. One wonders, in what fundamental ways will this new regime differ from Mubarak?
To help make sense of recent events, here is a selection of worthwhile articles and commentaries.
DEVELOPMENTS WITHIN EGYPT:
The Revenge of the Police State
Wael Eskandar argues that the greatest threat to Egypt today is the return of the police state.
"More specifically, the threat concerns, not only the reconstitution of a police state, which never really left since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, but also the return of the implicit, if not overt, acceptance of the repressive practices of the coercive apparatus. In this respect, the current face-off between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood holds very damaging potential. Widespread anti- Muslim Brotherhood sentiment is currently providing the state with legitimacy to use of force against the Brotherhood, and, in the future, a potential cover for using similar tactics against other dissidents as well."
Statement from the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists on the Massacre in Cairo
The Revolutionary Socialists issue a statement in response to the August 14th massacre that left 630 civilians dead. The massacre was the direct consequence of the Army's attempt to break up a sit- in demanding the release of ousted President Mohammed Morsi from custody. Their stance aptly breaks through the polarization that otherwise grips Egyptian society and politics right now.
US questions Egypt prisoner deaths, Mubarak may be freed
Egyptian forces killed 36 detained Islamists by suffocating them with tear gas during an alleged attempt to flee custody. In response, Islamist militants attacked police barracks in the Sinai and killed 25 Egyptian policemen. On the same day, judicial authorities announced that deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, would be released from prison by the end of the week.
It only gets worse from here
Egyptian liberals were wrong to believe that they could oversee political transformation under the Army's guardianship. The assumption that the Army would preserve stability while progressive forces continued with the transformative change is an illusion. Moving forward, the Army is not trying to prevent violence, but to stoke it amongst the Muslim Brotherhood. A violent confrontation enables the Army to set upon a protracted battle against the Muslim Brotherhood that it desires.
Everything Was Possible
Omar Robert Hamilton eloquently describes the struggle of Egyptians who have supported the revolution and sacrificed their lives and livelihood for it who are now bearing witness to unfolding events with horror. He insists the "revolution is not dead until we are no longer willing to die for it."
How Resource Shortages Sparked Egypt's Months-Long Crisis
The crisis in Egypt is one about resource scarcity and that seems to have faded in the shadow in a battle between secularists and Islamists.
"With some 40 percent of the population living on $2 a day or less, and rates of illiteracy and unemployment hovering around a third of the population, it was only a matter of time before economic grievances translated into political outrage. The trigger factor, though, was food--on which a quarter of Egyptians spend more than half their incomes."
Excluding the Exclusionary: Does the Muslim Brotherhood Have a Say in its Future?
The Muslim Brotherhood's legacy within Egypt helps to explain the reactionary response to its year in power and its protest against their military-backed removal.
"The group continues to represent its discourse as synonymous with Islam and as such distance themselves from any other political movement or trend. Indeed, the Brothers continue to portray their political struggle not as competition for political power but as martyrdom in the path of God. This is not new."
Egypt, the 'war on terrorism' and Islamophobia
The Egyptian Army has framed the Muslim Brotherhood as a bandit as terrorists in order to neutralize their political claims and to legitimate its brutal attack against them.
"The utilisation of Islamophobic and "war on terror" tropes in Egypt are reflective of the global post-colonial epistemological trend that problematise Islam, as a religion, and Muslims, when seeking political agency grounded in a living tradition in the "modern" nation-state. What started as a coup against an elected president was successfully trans-configured by the military and the elite into a "war on terror" against a sub-human group that no longer belongs to the Egyptian body politic."
From Revolution to War on Terror: Reflections on Post-3 July Egypt
An iteration of fundamental points and principles: The Muslim Brotherhood is rooted in politics, not divine aspirations; the military forces are not revolutionary; the war on terror is a discourse and exercise in power regardless of who is deploying it.
On Egypt's Day of Infamy
Editors and Contributors to the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) respond to the massacre on August 14, 2003 in roundtable form.
"August 14, 2013 was a day whose events and meaning Egyptians will be debating fiercely for decades to come. Following that day’s bloodshed, Egypt is in the middle of its most severe crisis since the fall of ex-president Husni Mubarak in February 2011. The fate of the country -- popular sovereignty or no -- likely hangs in the balance. We asked several veteran observers, all of them Middle East Report editors or authors, to offer their views of how Egypt got to this point and what the future holds."
ON MEDIA AND DISCOURSE:
Discourse Polarization and the Liberal Triumph in Egypt
Jadaliyya co-founder Bassam Haddad breaks down polarization of the discourse in Egypt and attributes it to ill-informed media experts and a failure to grapple with conditions in Egypt. Haddad also addresses the liberal support for Egypt's "war on terror."
Lina Atallah on Media in Egypt
Lina Atallah, the chief editor of Mada Masr, discusses the closing of the Egypt Independent, the discourse on Palestine within Egypt, and Iranian elections.
US FOREIGN POLICY:
Senator: Obama Administration Secretly Suspended Military Aid to Egypt
The office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the head of the appropriations state and foreign-operations subcommittee, told The Daily Beast on Monday that military aid to Egypt has been temporarily cut off.
Here are the top 10 American corporations profiting from Egypt's military
A list of the ten US corporations that profit the most from its relationship to the Egyptian military and its exercises.
Egypt's Rulers Have a New Friend in DC: The Israel Lobby
The Israel Lobby opposes suspending aid to Egypt for fear that it will cause instability and undermine the 1979 peace accord between Israel and the US.
"An AIPAC source speaking with The Cable on the condition of anonymity insisted that aid to Egypt was not a top issue for the lobbying group. But the source noted that AIPAC's support for the aid was not contingent on the way Egypt treats anti-government protesters. "The primary criteria on how we evaluate this issue is if Egypt is adhering to the peace treaty," the source said, referring to the 1979 peace accord that normalized relations between Egypt and Israel. "We realize that the situation is very fluid and that policymakers will have a range of considerations on this matter."
For more readings and incisive analysis, visit Jadaliyya's Egypt Page.