Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Tehran, Abdul Rahman Bin Garman Al Shahri on March 3, 2014. Credit: ISNA/Hamid Forootan
Yesterday the NY Times reported on the closing of the ranks of Arab dictatorships against Hamas and the people of Gaza:
After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.
“The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” the prime minister of Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington and a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents.
One wonders why the Times did not mention another member of the coalition. By now it should be obvious that no leader is more committed to the war against “political Islam” than Bashar al-Assad as the Huffington Post reported on July 11, 2013:
In an interview with a state-run newspaper Thursday, Assad said “Arab identity” was back on the right track after the fall from power of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which he contends had used religion for its own political gain.
Assad’s comments to the Al-Baath newspaper, the mouthpiece of his ruling Baath party, came a week after Egypt’s military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi as millions took to the streets to urge his removal. Morsi was Egypt’s first freely elected president.
Assad calls the revolt against him an international conspiracy carried out by Islamist groups such as the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood – a branch of the Egyptian group with the same name to which Morsi belongs.
“The Muslim Brotherhood and those who are like them take advantage of religion and use it as a mask,” Assad said. “They consider that when you don’t stand with them politically, then you are not standing with God.”
Now of course this might be a bit of a paradox for those who have long argued that a Saudi Arabia acting in cahoots with the CIA was spearheading a drive to impose “political Islam” on the Arab world and mostly in Syria as stage one in an assault on Iran and then on—who knows—Russia. This article has been published in one form or another at least a thousand times in “anti-imperialist” websites.
Yet this argument can only be made by ignoring the evidence that the USA has made it clearer than ever that it sees Bashar al-Assad as a lesser evil to any of the forces opposed to him. It also ignores the rather obvious evidence of a thaw not only between the USA and Iran, but one between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as the National Interest pointed out in a May 15, 2014 article:
The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, has announced an invitation to his Iranian counterpart to visit Saudi Arabia. This development is unsurprising, and it is welcome. It follows visits that Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made a few months ago to some of the other Arab members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Rapprochement between Iran and its Arab neighbors is good for the neighbors as well as for Iranians, good for stability in the Persian Gulf, and good for U.S. interests in the region.
A careful reader might wonder how the Times would characterize Saudi Arabia’s opposition to “political Islam” when there is supposedly a preponderance of evidence that it has funded jihadist groups, most especially al Qaeda. Back in January WSWS.org, the website most committed to the USA-Saudi Arabia-al Qaeda axis theory, told its readers: “The Saudi regime has responded to the US postponement of war plans against Syria by pressing for stepped-up aid to the Al Qaeda-linked Syrian opposition, while arming itself to prepare for domestic repression.”
One wonders how such simple-minded assertions can be made without at least making the effort to account for the real as opposed to fictional relationship between al Qaeda and the Saudi monarchy. In February 2006 al Qaeda organized an assault on a Saudi refinery that was thwarted by security forces. Al Qaeda issued a statement hailing the abortive attack: “With grace from God alone, hero mujahideen from the squadron of Sheikh Osama bin Laden succeeded today (Friday)…in penetrating a plant for refining oil and gas in the town of Abqaiq in the eastern part of the peninsula, and then allowed two car bombs in driven by two martyrdom seekers.” Six years later the campaign was continuing as the BBC reported:
Saudi Arabia’s continuing campaign against al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism has enjoyed considerable success. The atmosphere in the country is noticeably more relaxed than it was a few years ago when the kingdom was buffeted by several major suicide bombings.
But the arrest earlier this month of eight men accused of plotting terror attacks in Riyadh and Jeddah is proof that the campaign is not over. As one Saudi newspaper editorial put it: “Renewed vigilance is required.”
Of the eight men arrested in the latest sweep, two were Saudis and the other six were Yemenis. There seems little doubt that the terror plot was hatched in Yemen.
With respect to Saudi support for its own proxy in Syria, the Islamic Front, it is necessary to point out that there are Saudi billionaires willing to back such formations whatever the stated policy of the monarchy. When Osama bin-Laden put up his own money to back jihadists across the planet, he was not acting on orders from the regime but on his own beliefs. In fact it was the decision of the Saudi monarchy in 1990 to provide a base for American troops entering the war against Iraq that initially led to bin Laden’s breach with the royalty and to his jihadist turn.
The hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood is based on other factors since the group never posed a direct threat to the monarchy. Despite this, the monarchy had no problem amalgamating it with al Qaeda linked groups as the BBC reported in March:
Saudi Arabia has formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.
An interior ministry statement also classified two jihadist groups fighting with the Syrian rebels – the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – as terrorist groups.
The statement gave Saudis fighting in Syria 15 days to return.
A royal decree issued last month said any citizen found guilty of fighting in conflicts abroad faced a jail sentence.
Last month, King Abdullah decreed jail terms of up to 20 years for anyone belonging to “terrorist groups” or fighting abroad.
Who knows what an imbecile from WSWS.org would say about this? Probably that this was a “false flag” measure meant to deflect attention from the secret operation Saudi Arabia was mounting in Syria to topple al-Assad. After all, these are people who maintain that Joseph Hansen, Trotsky’s bodyguard, was a GPU agent who facilitated his assassination without any proof.
There are those on the left who would have to hail Saudi Arabia as comrades if you follow the logic of opposing “political Islam” to its insane conclusions. If the categorical imperative is to block the rise of jihadists in the Middle East and to rally around those governments most committed to that task, then naturally you would see Bashar al-Assad as an exemplar.
The constellation of forces grouped around the Baathists represent an Axis of Resistance according to Phil Greaves, a British leftist who claims that you can find within its ranks: President al-Maliki of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Russia “acting in a minimally supportive role.” Of course, those enduring Russian-supplied bombs and missiles in Homs or Aleppo might have problems with “minimally supportive” but why quibble?
Greaves sticks to the jihadists as pawns of Washington narrative like white on rice:
These actors primarily responsible for the fall of Mosul and the anticipated partition of Iraq are the de facto regional clients of dominant imperialism – ISIS are merely the shock-troop proxies that implement such policy, creating “facts on the ground” when diplomacy and old-fashioned economic coercion no longer suffice.
As is so often the case with those more interested in writing propaganda than serious political analysis, Greaves has nothing to say about the oppression of Sunnis that led to the fall of Mosul and large swaths of Iraq. In a bravura stroke of gross stupidity, Greaves denies that the Maliki government upholds “sectarian policies”. To state otherwise is to promulgate a “false concept”. This, I suppose, is the consequence of committing yourself to an analysis based on blind loyalty to a degraded “anti-imperialism” bereft of class distinctions.
This finally leads us to the question of the Muslim Brotherhood itself. Unless you are open to see this movement dialectically, you are better off avoiding Middle East politics if not politics altogether. In “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam”, Robert Dreyfuss—the Nation Magazine editor who covers the Middle East—portrays it as a CIA tool against nationalist and Communist influences in the region. Drawing from the arguments made in the book, Dreyfuss advised Mother Jones readers:
For the next five decades, the Muslim Brotherhood would serve as a battering ram against nationalists and communists. Despite the Brothers’ Islam-based anti-imperialism, the group often ended up making common cause with the colonial British. It functioned as an intelligence agency, infiltrating left-wing and nationalist groups. But it was also fiercely independent, at times clashing violently with the ruling authorities. On several occasions, Ikhwan assassins murdered top Egyptian officials, including Prime Minister Mahmoud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi in 1948.
This is the same kind of charge that has been leveled against Hamas, namely that Israel allowed its growth as a lesser evil to the PLO. I suppose if your method of judging political movements is based solely on their ties to the USA or Israel at a given moment in its history you would have to view the MB and Hamas as the enemy.
But there’s another more important dimension, namely how they relate to the masses they are accountable to. The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas’s problem was that in the eyes of the Saudi monarchs, the Zionists, and the Egyptian generals they were too plebeian and too unreliable. This was a function largely of their middle-class composition. Too closely tied to “the street”, the MB was never capable of serving the interests of big capital to the degree that was necessary. Hence it had to go.
Hamas is now suffering the consequences of being insufficiently subservient to Israeli demands. As opposed to the shibboleth about Jews being driven into the sea, Hamas and the population it represents certainly faces the existential threat of being expelled from Gaza just as Palestinians as a whole were expelled from their homeland in the original nakba.
One imagines that Bashar al-Assad will rub his hands in glee as Hamas gets its just desserts. After all they had the temerity to side with the Syrian revolution until desperation forced them to adopt a posture of neutrality. In 2011 Hamas deputy foreign minister Ghazi Hamad said “We supported the Syrian regime as long as it was fighting the Israeli enemy but when it oppressed its people we decided to part ways with it, despite the fact that this is considered a big loss for Hamas.” That took a lot of guts.
There’s nothing that Bashar al-Assad hates more than plebeian movements such as Hamas or the MB. That is something he obviously picked up from his father who served American interests despite a patina of “anti-imperialist” rhetoric. Like father, like son. Bashar al-Assad has been punishing the Palestinians at Yarmouk for the better part of two years, imposing a siege that has left people without food, medicine and other necessities–not to speak of bombing and shelling them indiscriminately as the need arises. Hafez al-Assad developed a finely honed skill for murdering Palestinians in Lebanon as Marah al-Baqa’i reported in Middle East Monitor:
At the end of June 1976, Syrian forces aligned themselves with extreme Christian sects of the time, as they cooperated to impose a frightening siege on Tel El-Zataar, a Palestinian refugee camp. The blockade lasted two months and the camp, which was home to 20,000 Palestinians and 15,000 Lebanese, were subject to violence and collective punishment. During this time, food and other basic supplies were prohibited from entering the camp. Approximately 5,500 shells fell atop the heads of civilians and the Red Cross was strictly prohibited from entering the premises.
On the night of August 14, 1976, Hafez Al-Assad’s forces stormed the camp, which had been weakened by hunger, fear and fatigue and they committed one of the most grotesque massacres that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Palestinians who fell victim to systematic violence. These militias marched under the guise of the Syrian government. They committed unfathomable crimes such as slitting the stomachs of pregnant women, massacring children and the elderly, as well as committing sexual assaults and looting.
In one of his boldest efforts against “political Islam” that clearly served as an inspiration for his son’s scorched earth policies, Hafez al-Assad took the fight to the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982. Nearly 20 years earlier Hafez al-Assad took part in a coup that ultimately led to the formation of a family dynasty that is the longest in the Middle East. Among its measures was a banning of the Muslim Brotherhood after the fashion of its banning in Egypt last year. In an even more draconian fashion, membership was ultimately punishable by death. In a purely defensive measure, the MB organized an armed resistance and just as is occurring now, the Baathists used every means at its disposal to put it down, including mass murder.
In 1982 Syrian tanks and jets pulverized Hama, a city that had been taken over by the MB after the fashion of revolts seen in 2011 and 2012, including one in Hama once again. Al Jazeera reported on the blitzkrieg directed against Hama. One can certainly imagine the IDF and Bashar al-Assad studying it for useful ideas about how to put down similar rebellions in Gaza or Aleppo:
It was February 2, 1982, when troops, ordered by the late President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, seized the city, and bombed its centre with fighter jets, according to an Amnesty International report, enabling tanks to roll through Hama’s narrow streets, crushing an armed rebellion by an estimated 200 to 500 fighters from the Muslim Brotherhood’s military wing.
The subsequent 27-day military campaign left somewhere between 10,000 to 40,000 people killed and almost two thirds of the city destroyed, according to human rights organisations and foreign journalists who were in Syria but were not allowed to enter the city.
Almost every family in Hama, which at the time had about 250,000 inhabitants, lost a member.
“The Taleea [the Muslim Brotherhood’s military wing] had tried to resist and clashed with the government forces but was crushed in few days. The Baroudiyeh neighbourhood, where the Taleea was based, was overtaken by the army just hours after the military campaign was launched,” said Abou Tamim, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who fled to Saudi Arabia amid the 1982 crackdown.
“But the campaign continued for days and most of the dead were civilians who had nothing to do with the Brotherhood,” he told Al Jazeera.
Khani’s father was one of them. An eye doctor educated in France, he was taken by security forces to a porcelain factory where his eyes were torn out of his face. He was left to die in pain, Khani said. Tens of others in the factory-turned-detention centre were killed in various ways.
Khani says if he had publicly accused the government of killing his father in the years since his death, he could have faced the same fate. He and many other residents were forced to say that Muslim Brotherhood fighters had killed their loved ones.
“Assad wanted to punish the whole of Hama. Through us, he wanted to teach all Syrians that challenging the regime would lead to this. And it worked. It worked for 30 years.”
The fear of Hama’s residents to even mention the massacre began to falter when anti-government protests erupted across the country last March.
The first protest in Hama in 2011 came out from the Omar Bin Khattab Mosque near Hama’s castle. People chanted for freedom and the fall of the regime, the first serious challenge to the Assad dynasty in decades.
That same mosque is where, Khani recalls, he and his mother and siblings took refuge, along with other families, during the first few days of the military campaign in 1982.
The mosque turned into a detention centre. Women and children were separated from their fathers, husbands and brothers. A day and a half later, a soldier shouted from behind the mosque’s gate: “Do not expect to see your men when you are out.” He was right.
And there are those who now refer to Syria as being part of the Axis of Resistance. That would only make sense if you expand the term thusly: the Axis of Resistance to Justice, Democracy and Human Rights.