Indeed, the arrest of Michel Kilo did not come as a unique occurrence, but was immediately followed by a series of summonses to other activists who, not too long ago, had signed a petition calling on the Syrian regime to normalize its relations with Lebanon, including demarcating borders, establishing diplomatic relations and freeing all Lebanese political prisoners in Syria jails, and accounting for the missing. These summonses could, of course, easily turn into arrests seeing that this is indeed what happened to Michel.
So, what is the significance of these moves?
Well, as I have noted in an earlier post, this is region-wide pattern closely related to the troubles of the US in Iraq and the ongoing crisis with Iranian regime. Clamping down on dissidents, especially moderate ones as is the case with Michel Kilo, in times of increased international pressures and security is meant as a sign of defiance and inflexibility.
The Assad regime is simply upping the ante, then, and demonstrating its continued internal strength, while underscoring the failure of the international community, for all its criticisms, complaints, condemnations and resolutions, to produce any serious outcome on the ground. At the end of the day, the Assads are signaling, there is no one in Syria but them with whom the international community can deal. So, and unless the international community is willing to undertake or sanction another military intervention in the region, it has no choice but to seek a deal with the Assads, its reservations, misgiving and revulsion aside.
The problem here is that there is really nothing that the Assads can really give. They can promise not to interfere in Lebanon, but they will continue to interfere in Lebanon – they simply have too many vested interests there to really behave, – and they can promise to help in Iraq, but they are more likely to end up helping themselves to Iraq, or portions of it. Why? Well, the very complexities of the Iraqi situation, the direct interest that the regime has in ongoing arrangements in the Kurdish region, the alliance with Iran and the relations with Turkey are bound to:
1) Compel the Assads to seek to weaken the Kurds, America’s only real allies in Iraq.
2) Exploit the Sunni/Shiite Divide and factionalism to recreate a similar role for themselves in Iraq, just as they had done in Lebanon, with all the side-benefits that can be derived from that.
On the surface of it, this might actually seem good for the sake of regional stability. After all, weakened Kurds cannot seek independence, and the Assads might actually be able, at some point in the future, to broker some kind of a Taif accord between the various Iraqi factions and confessions.
Of course, one needs to be a complete moron to see things in this light. For, none of the existing Assads is capable enough to manage such a state of affairs. So, in fact it will be the Iranian mullahs who will be actually running the show, which means that the more probable scenario for Iraq will involve the emergence of some kind of new Shiastan in at least parts of Iraq, and in which the Sunnis will most surely be subjugated. Meanwhile, the Kurds and the Turcomen, with Turkish duplicity and blessings, will be “encouraged” to engage in a prolonged civil war centering on Kirkuk, thus serving to postpone indefinitely the Kurdish drive for independence.
Other scenarios are possible, of course, but I doubt any of them will be conducive to the kind of regional stability that we can actually live with.
So, if the Assads cannot deliver any of the desired fruits, why should the world deal with them? Because they will make trouble? Well, yes, they probably will make trouble should this isolation of theirs continue, the Assads simply don’t know how to bide their time. But, with a deal in hand, and as I have just argued, the Assads will make even more trouble. The Assads are trouble.
So, and until such time that the world is more ready to deal with the Assads at large, it might as well keep them under lock and key for the time being. This may not exactly keep them on the straight and narrow, but whatever trouble the Assads can make in these conditions is nothing in comparison to what they can make when they are “free.” The Assads have lived up to their name a slight too many times for comfort sake, but if we cannot go on a lion-hunting safari for the time being, the least we can do is to keep them caged. Let them roar their asses off. The Assads are challenging us to become lion-hunters, but if we opt not to play their game, we are better off learning how to be good zoo-keepers.
This arrangement may not do anything to save the Kilos, Labwanis and Jamouses of Syria from paying a rather heavy price, but neither will the world’s willingness to let the Assads loose. In fact, they were the loose Assads who jailed Kilo, Labwani and Jamous the first time around, and they were the loose Assads who continued to harass and terrorize them and their comrades when they were “free.”
The Assads has transformed all of Syria into a large zoo-prison. They were not alone in this, I know, and they are not alone now, I am sure, but they are the leaders, they are the ones to have insisted on branding Syria and everything Syrian with their name. Indeed, they are the “builders of modern Syria,” as they continuously remind us, so they are the ones who ultimately responsible for all that is wrong with it.
Still, and the geopolitical context of the current going-ons aside, as an activist, one who was inspired by none other than Michel Kilo himself to shake down his bohemian lethargy and seek to become more involved in pubic concerns, I have to say that the least we can do at this stage is to protest loud enough so that Kilo et al are not left forgotten.
For this reason, I hereby renew my call for a large public rally in Washington, DC to protest the dismal state of civil rights in our region. It’s time we did something other than blogging for this. I am already in touch with several colleagues around the country to see what can be done to this end, and I will speak about our plans in due course of time.