By Rebecca Witonsky
I spoke by phone with Professor Bernard Lewis on July 1, 2011, and he expressed deep pessimism about a post-Assad Syria. He believes the largely Sunni protestors in Syria are burning Hezbollah and Iranian flags as a protest against Alawite and Shi’ite domination and not out of any respect for Israel and the Jews. He also thinks it is very unlikely that a post-Assad Syria will make peace with Israel and the Jews. He thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to take power in a post-Assad Syria.
On a broader level, Professor Lewis is not optimistic about the overall trend in the Middle East region. He thinks the whole region, not just Egypt, is going toward radical Islam. He believes the Western attempt to impose our values on the foreign Islamic civilizations of the Middle East is a mistake. He also think the misguided focuses on free and fair elections as opposed to the development of civil society and respect for the rights of women and minorities and freedom of speech is likely to bring radical Islam to power.
On the other hand, the Syrian activists Ahed al Hindi and Rami al Nakhle were much more optimistic about the future of their country than Professor Bernard Lewis. During a conference call with Cyberdissidents director David Keyes on June 16, 2011, Mr. Al Hindi dismissed entirely my concerns about the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of a post-Assad Syria. He stated that only 4 out of 31 members of an opposition group elected in a conference in Turkey in June were Muslim Brotherhood. He also noted that the Muslim Brotherhood has reached a kind of informal treaty with the Assad regime and froze its anti-regime activity.
Nakhle stated that the goals of the Syrian revolution as follows. “We are fighting for democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression…We don’t want to divide people….We are not like Egypt….We want a democratic state.” Nakhle also noted that the Muslim Brotherhood is unpopular on face book, stating that the face book page for the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood had only 400 followers. I believe that Nakhle, like many other young protestors, is placing excessive faith in new technology as a means of transforming society. Nakhle seems to forget the fact that the Iranian Islamist regime remains in power in part because Iranians are increasingly using face book rather than live protests as a means of organizing against the regime.
I believe that a post-Assad Syria is likely to combine both positive and negative elements. The protestors have made clear their preference for a democratic Syria based upon respect for human rights, freedom of speech, and also equal rights for all ethnic and religious groups. The Local Coordination Committees have done an excellent job of articulating their support for non-violent forms of protest and their desire for a democratic outcome to the removal of the Assad regime. The protestors’ increased capacity for overcoming ethnic and religious differences also suggests that a free Syria is likely to avoid open ethnic and religious conflict. The Muslim Brotherhood does not seem to be a major player in the Syrian opposition at this point, although that could change.
At the same time, a post-Assad Syria seems unlikely to make peace with Israel and the Jews. Most of the military defectors have started their statements with formulaic attacks on Israel and the Jews which suggest a total unwillingness to see the Jews as human beings. First Lieutenant Hamjeed even absurdly accused the Assad regime of being pro-Israel despite its longstanding open commitment to the destruction of Israel and the Jews. Thus, I highly doubt that a post-Assad Syria will make a peace treaty with Israel and the Jews. Just as I saluted a free Iraq from afar after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the removal of the Saddam regime, it looks like I will be saluting a post-Assad Syria from afar in the near future.
Ahed al Hindi and Rami Nakhle. Cyberdissidents Conference Call. June 16, 2011.
Professor Bernard Lewis. Personal Telephone Conversation. July 1, 2011.
First Lieutenant Amjad al Hameed Defects, Rastan - June 29, 2011 -