“Tens of thousands of Assad supporters flocked to the hilltop embassy in a town south-east of the Lebanese capital to cast ballots, snarling traffic outside, keeping schoolchildren trapped in buses for hours and forcing some schools to cancel scheduled exams. Lebanon has more than a million Syrian refugees. “With our souls, with our blood, we will sacrifice for you, Bashar” and “long live Syria!” were some of the chants heard from many in the crowd. Despite the carnage in Syria, the country’s president has retained significant support among large sections of the population, particularly among Christians, Alawites and other religious minorities……………”
Comparing Middle East elections and regional and international reactions to them can be enlightening and educational:
- Remember when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election as president of Iran in 2009? He won with only about 57% of the vote, allegedly with some “irregularities”. There was a huge media and political circus from Riyadh through London and Paris all the way to Washington and New York. Even absolute tribal ruling families from Riyadh through Doha to Manama and Abu Dhabi lamented the sorry state of democracy in Iran. It was about several weeks of “tsk tsk”. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opined publicly that Iran was now a “military dictatorship” (she was talking about Iran and not about Egypt or China). When Rouhani won his election in 2013 it was a different story.
- Back to Egypt and her perpetually funny non-elections under both Mubarak and Sisi (not under Morsi: he won a close election and fairly, maybe because the Mubarak bureaucracy was still running Egypt and tried to lose him the election). Now Generalisimo Field Marshal Al Sisi apparently unofficially has his 98% victory (Al Ahram early estimates), in true Arab style (not as perfect as North Korean style, but close).
- On to Syria. The cheeky Bashar Al Assad is also running in his own election in Syria, but he has more opponents on the ballot than Al Sisi. The shocking thing may be that percentage voter turnout among Syrians is probably much higher than in Egypt: that is what it looks like now. Even Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, most of them Sunnis, are voting heavily, no doubt most of them for Al Assad whose days are supposedly numbered. The media pictures from refugee camps and from Beirut and Amman and other places show long lines of Syrian exiles voting for the man whose actions supposedly made them refugees. Which is puzzling, given that they are allegedly supposed to be eager for the Al Saud and Al Thani and Al Hollande and Al McCain and a bunch of Al Others to liberate their country for democracy.
- Meanwhile Al Sisi, the newest dictator on the bloc and his henchmen have tried to extend voting time and threaten people to vote in order to avoid embarrassing low turnout.
When it is all over we will have the expected predictable results, with Al Sisi matching or perhaps outdoing Mubarak in his “victory” margin in the upper nineties. Early results claim he won by nearly 98% but still less than Kim Jon Un’s victory margin and less than the Saudi King’s margin.
- The Western powers and others will sigh of relief and welcome the new “democratic” order in Egypt, except that it is an old order, actually older than the old order in Syria. And it is also no more democratic than the one in Syria.
- Then there is divided Iraq, which is beset with Wahhabi terrorist bombings almost every day, yet it manages to complete its elections. They are imperfect and tinged with both sectarian and tribal prejudices, but they don’t seem to need to coerce and threaten people to vote.
“The largest coalition of Islamist rebels in Syria issued a manifesto over the weekend that calls for the increasingly fractious rebels to unite around the notion of liberating the country from the government of President Bashar Assad and installing a free state that will protect the rights of religious minorities, not an Islamist state. The position spelled out in the statement, titled the “Revolutionary Manifesto of the Islamic Front,” marked a reversal of a policy articulated last year that called for creating an Islamist state after the defeat of Assad. Analysts and observers agreed that the statement seemed directed at the international community, particularly the United States, which has been reluctant to support widespread military aid for the rebels over concerns about radicalism. he statement, which was released as an audio posting on jihadi websites…………….”
An interesting “manifesto” by the so-called Islamic Front, but many days late and many dollars short. The old one by Marx and Engels was more eloquent and more succinct. There is nothing new here in spite of some gushing by the usual Western think tank analysts and experts. Hell, even I would call for them to unite just out of curiosity if not out of any good will toward these sectarian Jihadis.
One major problem with these rebels is that they all want everybody else to unite…….. behind them. Even Saudi-appointed Ahmed Al Jarba controls only his own media room in Turkey and all the GCC media microphones. He also travels to Washington and Europe, which can be fun but he controls about as much ground inside Syria as old Joe Lieberman and John McCain did.
Their other and main problem is that the tide and momentum of the civil war turned last year, and the other side is winning every battle now. Al Assad’s days are not as numbered now as they were three years ago. Au contraire, he has outlived a gaggle of predecessors of Al Jarba, and if the war continues another year, he will almost certainly outlast Jarba as well.
Hassan Rouhani is facing the toughest test of his career, the toughest test any Iranian leader has faced in decades. Can he fulfill the promises he made to the majority that elected him by opening up the country and get the Western economic blockade lifted? He faces regional and domestic obstacles:
- Israel: the debate about the Iranian nuclear ‘program’ has been a Godsend to Benyamin Netanyahu and he has been milking it for all its worth since the 1990s. He has claimed various deadlines by which time Iran would have nuclear bomb, and then he has ignored his earlier deadlines and suggested yet new dates. Top ‘retired’ Israeli intelligence and military leaders often contradict him on this. The amazing thing is that all the caca de toro has not hurt him with the Israeli electorate. Nor has it hurt his credibility in the U.S. Senate and Congress: on the contrary, the schmucks now look at him as an oracle of Middle Eastern and Iranian (especially nuclear) matters. Besides, it has served one of the purposes he used it for: for years it has helped him divert Western attention away from his problems with the Palestinians.
- Iranian hardliners: the country needs a nuclear deal but any reasonable deal will probably have to get past these old revolutionaries. Many of them would prefer no deal but they also realize that most Iranians are young and want to open up to the world and want more freedoms and less intrusion in their private lives by the mullahs. Besides, the economy is hurting from the blockade no matter what officials claim.
- American Hawks (Democrats and Republicans and others): when it comes to the Middle East, almost the whole Senate and Congress are hawks. Being seen as soft on the Iran negotiations is like being against “motherhood and Memorial Day and Independence Day”, and not necessarily in that order. It is like being soft on Ho Chi Minh before 1968 or accepting Chairman Mao as the legitimate leader of China before the 1970s …………
- Gulf GCC: it is divided over Iran, as it is divided over many other issues. But the GCC states are divided among themselves regardless of the Iranian question. Three of them have pulled their ambassadors from Qatar because its government rejects Saudi hegemony on certain aspects of the Arab turmoil.
- Saudi Arabia: the Al Saud have been the most hawkish about both the nuclear issue and Iran’s ties to the Arab world, until recently. Failure of their policies in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon (and American advise) may have pushed them to seek some form of accommodation with Tehran.
- UAE: there are some divisions. Abu Dhabi potentates are hawkish but Dubai and possibly some others do not seem so.
- Qatar: has been concerned about balancing worrisome forces (Saudi vs. Iran). Its dispute with Iran has been mainly over Syria and possibly Iraq. But it has had more serious and more threatening disputes with the Saudis. Some Arab media even reported in recent months allegations of military threats against Qatar from the Saudi-UAE alliance. I have posted about past tensions between Qatar and the Saudis.
- Kuwait: was invaded from both Iraq and Saudi Arabia during the past century. It also uncovered at least one large Iranian espionage network in recent years. It tries not to antagonize either Saudis or Iranians, mindful of the ability of both to cause trouble. Then there is the recent past experience with Baathist Iraq………
- Oman: has been mostly neutral and it does not seem to buy the Saudi argument about either the nuclear issue or the general “Iranian threat”. It does not seem to feel threatened. Oman was reportedly instrumental in starting the recent Iranian-American dialog last summer.
- Bahrain: the least important of the GCC members. Nobody cares wtf its repressive rulers think now. It has become a full-fledged Al Saud appendix and the ruling potentates do exactly as they are told.
A “suspicious” new UAE opposition group now calls itself Emirates Freedom Movement (its Twitter ID is @Emirate_Freedom). In Arabic the group are: حركة احرار الامارات . It is not clear how large it is, since locals will be wary (actually fearful) to follow it on the Internet. Most likely it is a small group for now since Wahhabi Salafism has not been popular in the UAE.
It has just issued its manifesto, which is NOT fully very freedom loving or reforming. On the contrary it is extreme Wahhabi Salafi. Some good early goals listed by this group include: release all “reformist” political prisoners, justice, distribution of oil wealth equally…..
Then the true character of this “opposition” group shows up as they seek to repress and ban “others” with the following demands:
- Expulsion of all “enemies of Islam” from UAE. Probably meaning here expelling non-Muslims (Christians, Hindus, Budhists, etc) who are a large majority of UAE residents. The term “enemies of Islam” here seems to mean “enemies of Salafism”. It goes beyond that to take an extreme Wahhabi meaning with their next demand:
- End all Safawi (Safavi) practices in UAE. Safawi is a favorite Wahhabi Salafi derogatory term for Shi’as (and it is often used by some Muslim Brotherhood types as well). Even the clownish Chief of Dubai Police (Dhahi Khalfan) has used this term in his personal tweets in the past. This means that like all Salafis, and like many Wahhabi liberals from the Persian-American Gulf to North Africa, they are demanding that Shi’a religion practices be banned.
P.S.: Could this group be a plant by the rulers to confuse matters and taint the ‘opposition’? It could, it could.
“Nano Rebellion is what I can call the Syrian case. So many factions and groups and sub groups and sub-sub factions, all allegedly on one side. Splitting and sprouting and spawning new groups in the swamp that is the ‘Syrian opposition’……….” I, moi, я, ich, ana, ma,n…….
“The existence of Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi as a front group for ISIS perhaps reflects a wider pro-ISIS trend across central North Africa with the Ansar ash-Shari’a movements in Tunisia and Libya. In the former country, Ansar ash-Shari’a takes an official pro-ISIS line that dates back to at least the summer of last year (likely explaining the disproportionate number of Tunisian fighters in ISIS’ ranks). In the video linked to, Ansar ash-Shari’a in Tunisia’s official spokesman hails ISIS for making “the Jews, Rafidites [Shi’a] and Nasara [Christians] cry” in addition to freeing Muslim brothers from their prisons. In a document dated to 26th June 2013 and written by Sheikh Abu Ja’afar al-Hatab, a member of the organization’s Shari’a committee, it is argued that “the bay’ah [pledge of allegiance] of Jabhat al-Nusra is false in every aspect, so whoever pledges bay’ah to Jabhat al-Nusra, his bay’ah is corrupt, and there is no bay’ah to him or on him, and the members of Jabhat al-Nusra must repent to God and switch their bay’ah to the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham.”………….”
Nano Rebellion is what I can call the Syrian case. So many factions and groups and sub groups and sub-sub factions, all allegedly on one side. Splitting and sprouting and spawning new groups in the swamp that is the “Syrian opposition”. New factions and groups and militias split or emerge almost every day.
Syria‘s civil war evolved from early protests in 2011 into a civil war. It probably would not deserve the title of “civil war’ if it were not for the various tough Jihadist groups that entered the country and were joined by some locals. At one stage the so-called ‘more moderate’ rebels groups were so fractured that they became ineffective on the ground. That is why the rest, including the Free Syrian Army and the SNC, came out strongly in support of Jabhat Al-Nusra (Nusra Front) when the United States correctly condemned it as a terrorist group. They knew it was the only effective military force, relatively speaking.
Now that particular advantage of the more extremist Jihadists has dissipated with the breakup of some groups into factions and the emergence of new groups.
Of course in Syria it is all relative: moderates can kidnap and cut throats and hold for ransom as well as the extremists. They can kill civilians of other faiths or sects as eagerly. It is all a matter of degree. The regime can and has inflicted more damage on towns and casualties on civilians only because it has better and heavier weapons (both sides are happy to use whatever they have). Not necessarily because it is more vicious than the rebel militias.
Syrian rebel groups are becoming harder and harder to follow and distinguish. Some of the names are bandied about in the media and there are probably others started in garages that I have never heard of, even as I write this. A few of the names are just anticipations on my part (lol if you must):
Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham (ISIS) –Jabhat al-Nusra – Not Quiet Free Syrian Army – Islamic Army of Syria – Syrian Islamic Council (SIC) – Syrian National Council – Syrian National Coalition- Syrian Opposition Coalition – National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces – Supreme Military Council – Muhajireen Battalions of Syria – Islamic Front – Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union – Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi – Ansar ash-Shari’a (Supporters of Shari’a) – Ahfad Mohammed (grandchildren of Mohammed) – Kataeb Abdullah Ibn Al-Zubair (Brigades of ABZ) – Kataeb Al Bu Omar (Brigades) – Kataed Al Bu Lail (Brigades)- Jaish Al Q’aQa’a Army – Ahl Al Sunna Wal Jama’a – Jaish Al Qadisiya – Military Council Brigades – Kataeb Al Farooq Brigades – Jund al-Sham – Army of Mujahedeen – Ansar al-Islam – Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan – Junud al-Sham (Chechen group) – Liwa al-Tawhid wal-Jihad – Army of Mujahedeen – Harakat Fajr ash-Sham al-Islamiya (Syrian Dawn Islamic Movement) – Martyrs of Syria Brigades – Northern Storm Brigade – Ahrar Souriya Brigade (Free Syrians) – Liwa al-Haqq (Righteousness Brigade)- Liwa al-Tawhid (Monotheism Brigade) – Suqour al-Sham (Eagles of Syria) – Syrian Islamic Liberation Front – Liwa Fath al-Sham – Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade – Jaysh al-Muhajirin wa al-Ansar – Ghuraba Al Sham Free Officers Movement – Furqat Hassaballah (Hassaballah Band) – Serial Polygamy Brigade – Syrian Tea Party – Diwaniyat Sho’ara Al Nabat (Nabati Poets Society)……..
The names of their leaders (often called Emirs) range from:
Abu Qatada, Abu Mus’ab, Abu Shallakh, Abu Lahab, Abu Lam’aa (Al-Assli), Abu Bin Adham, Abu Tibin, Abu Sinatra, Abu Boo Boo, Abu Polygamy, among others………
“The “Vibrant Gujarat” in Modi’s marketing materials stops, however, at the farthest reaches of the city, where thousands of Muslims displaced by the 2002 riots continue to huddle in relief colonies like Citizen Nagar, disconnected from schools, transportation, medical facilities and basic municipal services. Suleiman, a sixth-grader when his family was driven from their home, went to live with relatives in another Muslim colony to continue his studies. Most students just dropped out, he said. The warren of concrete shacks and unpaved streets fills every afternoon with young men his age lazing on rusted chairs and idle rickshaws, with no jobs to go to. In the home he shares with his parents and three other family members, a dug-out latrine serves as the bathroom. Only recently, after a months-long campaign by social workers and residents, did the city begin sending two trucks of potable water daily to the slum’s 200 families. The difference between his neighborhood and a more prosperous one, Suleiman said, was simple. “Go to any Hindu area and you’ll see running water, street lights, paved roads,” he said. “In all the Muslim areas, nothing has changed.” Over the last decade, Ahmedabad has become one of India’s most segregated cities. While Hindus and Muslims live apart from each other in many parts of India — and communal violence breaks out periodically — in Ahmedabad the divisions are more systematic and even supported by law……………”
Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India, is the Hindu ultra nationalist who enhanced apartheid in Gujarat. He supported an Gujarati anti-Muslim version of Jim Crow policies in the old American South. He has been quickly invited to the White House. Corporate America, always with a huge market and cheap labor in its sight, will be pleased.
Then again, running India is not the same as running a state. Political reality may modify the strident divisive “Hindu nationalism”.