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The ‘black out’ – a view from The Great Wen

In Meor Alif on August 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 reads as follows;

114A. 

(1) A person whose name, photograph or pseudonym appears on any publication depicting himself as the owner, host, administrator, editor or sub-editor, or who in any manner facilitates to publish or re-publish the publication is presumed to have published or re-published the contents of the publication unless the contrary is proved. 

(2) A person who is registered with a network service provider as a subscriber of a network service on which any publication originates from is presumed to be the person who published or re-published the publication unless the contrary is proved.

(3) Any person who has in his custody or control any computer on which any publication originates from is presumed to have published or re-published the content of the publication unless the contrary is proved.

(4) For the purpose of this section—

(a) “network service” and “network service provider” have the meaning assigned to them in section 6 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 [Act 588]; and

(b) “publication” means a statement or a representation, whether in written, printed, pictorial, film, graphical, acoustic or other form displayed on the screen of a computer.”.

 

The Centre for Independent Journalism claims that;

Applying to both civil and criminal cases in which allegedly illicit content is published on a webpage, Section 114A presumes that the following groups or individuals are guilty of publishing the content in question:

(1)Those who own, administrate, or edit websites open to public contributors, such as online forums or blogs;

(2)Those who provide webhosting or Internet services to the webpage in question; and

(3)Those who own the computer or mobile device on which the content in question was published.

And finally you will read tweets from the usual suspects, agreeing across party lines, that the law has to change, or at the very least a review of the law is argued to be in order.

While thousands of Malaysians wait anxiously for the other shoe to drop – as is always the case with bad news in the country that it sometimes seem to pile up – a few basic questions appear to have gone over the heads of almost everyone, myself included (self-incrimination for the sake of fairness).

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s not for one minute pretend that the Malaysian “web space” or “internet realm” or whatever the term is to describe the collective imagined spatial territory which constitutes Malaysia’s web usage is the bastion of intelligent discourse and a sort of noble fourth estate that needs to be revered with every written sentence  – It’s not. It’s the internet, it doesn’t have to be, it’s okay if it’s otherwise and if anything, the World Wide Web is first and foremost the space for modern day anarchy where anything goes.

The truth is Malaysians use the internet most of the time to access services. The Alexa rankings will show you that at least 6 out of the top 20 most frequented sites in Malaysia consists of bidding and trading sites like Mudah, Cari, Lowyat.NET and the likes. Maybank2u and CIMBclicks also feature in within that lists taking up another two spots in the rankings, and finally to what can only be described as the surprise of the century, Facebook is the most frequented site in the country. Nowhere will you find the name of any well-known conglomerate news sites, not until number 56 at least where BBC News Online is ranked, and CNN interactive at number 156. This last piece  of observation is of course in no way saying that local news companies are completely unreliable, some of them are great (I think you know which ones I’m talking about – although I’m quite surprised at how some of them ranked), but this snapshot is just meant to put a little perspective into our overall surfing habits.

In any case, the point is; let’s not pretend like we use our internet to rid the world of misinformation, one bad idea at a time.

But just because we don’t use our rights, or we don’t use it the right way (if such a concept even exists) it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t possess the said right altogether. If one were to miss, for whatever reason, voting day in this coming election (whenever that is) and missed the balloting process completely, it doesn’t mean that his or her right to vote should be revoked on the grounds that “he or she isn’t using it anyway”.

Similarly, say what you want about how Malaysians use their internet, but just because most prefer to drown in right wing conservatism or look up the latest on unadulterated local celebrity news, one shouldn’t mistake this as a sign of collective consent to intimately molest our common sense and the laws that protect our internet usage in the way it has been these past few days.

And yes, a lot of us are apathetic to high-brow, snooty, philosophical discussions on justice and equality – I personally reckon that there is nothing wrong with that (other than free loading on those willing to put their reputation on the line to protect your safety as an internet user of course). But even if we are apathetic, I am sure that the thought of knowing that a right exists and it is waiting to be seized is more comforting than the thought of having to argue for one where none exists.

Now back to the basic questions I was talking about earlier.

Well for one, how in the world did we get here? To wake up one morning and realise that we are now only that much closer to having to learn Newspeak isn’t exactly a good indication of how self-aware we all are with regards to what goes on around us. That a law was passed and it was incidentally one of the most freedom encroaching legislation of our generation and we hardly flinched an inch in April only to react retrospectively right now is beyond ludicrous.

Which begs the question of, how did this law passed through parliament? And even if there were opposition to it, why did it feel more like a whimper than a bang? Which office wrote or proposed this amendment? You would think that political careers can be made around opposing such an indefensible policy – Labour or Tory, Government or Opposition – regardless.

I am sure you might be correct in smugly saying that this isn’t the time to point fingers.

Well, to be honest, it is actually, and it should be pointed all around, myself included – this is our fault. How a whole country allowed its collective freedom to express get undercut so easily is a sure sign of carelessness. True, it might be other factors too, like dubiousness at the highest level of politics, or insensitivity and mis-prioritisation of issues to oppose by those sitting across the floor in Jalan Parlimen, being two equally plausible explanations to how we got here, but all of it shouldn’t detract from the fact that most of us didn’t know, didn’t care to know and subsequently just allowed for “it” to happen. This is a country that boasts having 14569 lawyers and enough civil society groups to make something out of something if they wanted to. We were careless, let’s face it, we were.

To make matters worse, the issue of 114A runs the risk of having a very short shelf life just like every other thing on the internet which quickly combusts into fad like a dangerous chemical reaction one day, then as quickly as it combusts – fizzles into nothingness, out of sight and out of the public mind.

The final Jenga piece is of course the comfort we conveniently find in hindsight. Review isn’t the same as not enacting a law. Returning what shouldn’t have been taken is not the same as not taking it in the first place. Accidental as it may have been, and to be completely fair accidents do happen, each and every one of us, regardless of socio-economic background or political leaning (notice I didn’t use the usual categorisation in Malaysia of race or religion) must be very careful in tip-toeing around the issues of fundamental freedoms – one wrong step and the date tomorrow will read 17/08/1984.

This my friends, has been the classic case of “you snooze, you lose”.

Meor Alif

*This article was originally posted on wewriteaboutthings.

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The road not taken – How Frost is teaching us to understand the Muslim Brotherhood in the fight against Al Qaeda

In Meor Alif on February 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm


“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both”

For decades the international community pretended to lose sleep over the fate that had befallen Egypt. It wasn’t too long ago when instability, oppression, deprivation and the lack of respect for human rights were all words that we didn’t even think twice to use when describing the domestic conditions that the country was under. Despite our supposed best efforts to facilitate change, Egypt remained a quicksand for hope and with its hopelessness, thousands upon thousands of fellow human beings were left to rot under a government that they simply had no say in. And as though that was not bad enough – the real irony of the bigger picture was that Mubarak and his league of truly extraordinary gentlemen claimed to be coherent with democracy, and worst of all, our tacit acceptance and cooperation with his regime made a mockery out of the universal principles that we claim to stand for. Rather than change it – we lived with it. And we tried to make a profit out of it – after all what were we to do? It was just how it was and we were just making the best out of it.

Well, when enough is enough, three weeks is all it takes.

The events that unfolded between 25th January and 11th February 2011 were magnificent. The word uprising has never described something so meaningful in the 21st century until it was used to describe the protests that occurred in Egypt. The near impossible was achieved through several series of mass protests in Egypt, and now, almost a year after that fateful February day when Hosni Mubarak was escorted to the dustbin of history, the world and the entire Egyptian nation is still reeling from the shockwaves that Tahrir created.

However, the bigger question remains, how will the future look like? Can we support the change that is happening in Egypt? Can we, against every fibre of our conviction that is unwilling to support ‘evil Islamists’, rally behind the Muslim Brotherhood?

The devil is in the detail.

“Then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim”

As the story goes, and we thank god that it turned out the way it did – Egypt ascended into elections and avoided the long and painful descend into civil strife. And today, as the ‘democratic system’ has allowed it to be so – we have the Muslim Brotherhood supposedly emerging as the ‘will of the people’ at the ballot boxes.

But what is Al Ikhwan Al Muslimun? Or rather, what is the Muslim Brotherhood?

To many, the Muslim Brotherhood is a statistic – it reads; Freedom and Justice Party; 253 from a total of 498 seats translating into a 47.2% majority. To others, the Brotherhood is less Hassan Al Banna and more Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones, and to the rest, the Muslim Brotherhood is the new (old) Egypt. Either way, the Brotherhood is now at the cusp of meaningful historical institutional change in Egypt and for the first time since 1928, they have the means to make it count. However, despite their electoral gains (many say expectedly so) in the recent lower house elections in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is slowly feeling the squeeze of responsibility – Egyptians are hungry for progress and the Brotherhood must now deliver.

Here in the West, there are still certain sections that see the Muslim Brotherhood as the bud of a greater evil that needs to be avoided at all cost. The memory of Hosni Mubarak’s removal on the 11th of February last year is now being replaced with the possibility of having to deal with Islamists at the helm of the Egypt of the future. To the sceptics, the uncompromising ambition of the Brotherhood to establish a state ruled by Sharia, the stance it adopts against Israel and the United States and the Brotherhood’s commitment towards human rights is of great concern. Understandably, as with any new regime anywhere in the world, old friends as well as old foes have good reason to be wary of what is to come.

It is a real mystery why it has taken so long for the international community to realize that the Muslim Brotherhood is not going away anytime soon. The once ally to Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser has seen purge after purge attempting to eliminate it, and yet despite Nasser’s best efforts at violent crackdown on the Brotherhood’s political role, it survived throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. Even under the restrictions and hurdles that the Brotherhood had to endure under Sadat and subsequently under Mubarak, the Brotherhood still managed to somehow find a nice quite corner on the political spectrum in Egypt for itself.

The important thing to consider is this;

If the Brotherhood were really Islamists who were interested in being radicals, by right, they would have done so a long time ago. Instead, the Brotherhood has, since the 1970’s, refrained from engaging in any violent activism. Furthermore, it has also over the years, consciously made an effort to move into mainstream politics in Egypt, which is remarkable considering how futile and pointless mainstream politics really was during the Mubarak years. The Brotherhood first participated in local and parliamentary elections as independent candidates in 1984 and has consistently been involved in subsequent elections since then. In 2005, it won 88 seats in the parliament which made up about 20% of the legislature and at that point, it constituted the largest opposition block against the Mubarak regime. Tactically, it has displayed that it is willing to work within the system even when the system was broken – something which is worthy of a mention, a testament to their patience and an indication of a more moderate motivation than a radical one.

Moreover, and rather cynically, I would point out that the beauty of a democratic system lies in its respect for the public’s will. And it would be rather arrogant to discount the validity of the choice that the Egyptian public has made at the polls on the account that the outcome fits rather awkwardly with what all of us had in mind.

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back”

What about the Brotherhood’s historic ties with Al Qaeda?

One of the biggest concerns when discussing the Brotherhood is that of the connection between it and Al Qaeda.

Understandably, there are many out there who unequivocally deem the connection to be too close for comfort. They share the view that Al Qaeda is a spawn from the words of Sayyid Qutb who was once a member of the Brotherhood and by the thinnest of implications, this fact is used to pin culpability to the Brotherhood as being ‘just the same’. Moreover, it has become an open secret by now that Ayman Al Zawihiri was a great admirer of Qutb and his involvement with the Brotherhood at a young age makes it that much harder for a reasonable person to ignore the fact that the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and subsequently Al Qaeda has some roots in the Muslim Brotherhood.

There is no denying that the Brotherhood is a strong intellectual movement that has influenced great swaths of individuals – it has inspired many and many have taken inspiration from it. However, as we are rarely convinced by spurious causations to quench our curiosity, it would therefore be, in the words of Ed Hussain, a Senior Fellow from the Council for Foreign Relations, “wrong for us to make the brotherhood responsible for the actions of all of its intellectual offspring”.

The truth is that public spats between Ayman Al Zawahiri and the Muslim Brotherhood have become somewhat of a permanent fixture in the Islamists fight for broad based support amongst Egyptians and the Arab world in general. In attempts at ‘out Muslim-ing’ the Muslim Brotherhood, Zawahiri has not been shy to be publicly at logger heads with the Brotherhood on issues such as the Brotherhood’s participation in previous elections under Mubarak – claiming amongst others, that the Brotherhood had ‘abandoned’ the religion for democracy. It would be careless for us to forget that even early on during the Egyptian revolution when Al Qaeda called for violent Jihad amongst the Egyptians in the midst of all the protests – the Muslim Brotherhood was quick to disassociate and condemn these statements from Al Qaeda by insisting on their firm stance against using violence. The long standing exchange of blows (no pun intended) between the two entities is indicative of the undeniable gap between the Brotherhood and the more robust militant Salafists approach of conducting politics and promoting Islam.

Moreover, further proof of the Brotherhood’s moderate tendencies is the restraint that they exercised in the early stages of the revolution in self limiting their own involvement in the revolution to maintain the pedestrian character of the protests. Keep in mind that members of the Brotherhood were also amongst the many whom alongside others, protected Christians during prayers and pledged early support for the seemingly western oriented El Baradei.

Frightening as it is, an objective observer must firstly come to terms with the reality that although the discourse coming out of the Brotherhood is wrapped rather thickly with religious overtones, the Brotherhood’s true bite which allows it to resonate convincingly with the larger Egyptian public has more to do with its sensitivity towards very real contemporary social and economic problems in Egypt rather than the seemingly abstract conception of an Islamic state. Today, their political grievance is only different from others in so far as it is expressed through a religious worldview, in which other worldviews, like that of the Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism, can equally perform the same function. Hence, although these real life ‘worldly’ problems like unemployment and social welfare are expressed through reference to religion instead of a 20th century thinker, it does not necessarily make those grievances a purely religious one.

Furthermore, over the years, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown a willingness of moving away from explicit Islamist content as a political platform and has opted instead for more moderate positions on different issues. Even their language has changed to reflect their mood. The Brotherhood nowadays hardly ever mentions an Islamic state anymore, rather they lay claim to the ambition of creating a democratically viable civil state with references to Islam. They have also seen it fit to pledge a willingness to work with other secular and liberal parties, and recently announced that they intend to include as many groups as possible from different backgrounds to work together for the future of Egypt. In addition, the Brotherhood also recently pledged their willingness to respect any treaties that Egypt has previously signed and have indicated that they intend to uphold their end of the Camp David treaty as long as Israel does the same. The rebranding efforts of the Brotherhood is in no means a recent development, and we need only to look at their efforts in 2005, when the Brotherhood launched an internal rebranding effort meant to fix their image in the West and to ultimately soothe any lingering suspicions that the Brotherhood is dangerous.

The Brotherhood’s increasing sensitivity to public opinion is a good sign for the future of Egypt. Their awareness is an indication of a more pragmatic approach towards politics instead of the usual ideological swash buckling, hardcore, and unflinching approach that is synonymous to the kind of Islamist group we have in our minds. Moreover, if the Brotherhood is made to realize that there is more at stake to be in cooperation with the West through Western assistance either in the form of monetary, trade or investment incentives, it will be less likely that the Brotherhood would be willing to engage willy-nilly in precarious and controversial policies. Surely even the Muslim Brotherhood knows that the last thing any transitioning democracy needs are more reasons for its legitimacy to be undermined both domestically and internationally. The Brotherhood would be wise not to squander their decades of patience with rash policy making. In any case, as long as the Brotherhood can keep the gains that it can get from the West to itself without looking too much like the Nasser elites of old and distribute these gains to the public appropriately, they wouldn’t find it too hard to justify their relationship to the West to any reasonable Egyptian.

In the long run, the Brotherhood would see it fit to take positive measures on issues such as internal security from destabilizing forces of terrorism like Al Qaeda to ensure its own survival. Like any government, improving the living conditions of Egyptians and ensuring that the new democratic system in place is not lost in transition to more extreme elements will come naturally – aspirations which to say the least, are congruent with the overall interests of nations in the West.

The rise of the pragmatic, more moderate group of Islamists into government deals a hard hand to the Al Qaeda circles who have for a very long time now advocated for violent resistance and revolution to institute change. However, as it is telling till this very day, their brand of change and the method in which that change is brought about is slow coming – a far cry from the difference that moderate political Islam has made in the past year. The message is clear – indiscriminate violence is so yesterday.

The only sticking point in the new arrangement of power in Egypt for the West is that of the Brotherhood’s stance against Israel and its association with Hamas. Of all of the revisions that will occur, the slowest change will happen here – and this is largely due to the greater context of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and the long history behind it. However, if there is any consolation, the ascendency of the Muslim Brotherhood is slowly having a moderating effect on Hamas themselves. Speaking a day after the Brotherhood electoral success, Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of Hamas spoke to the press to highlight that the rising political power of Islamists in Egypt and everywhere else in the Arab world is encouraging Hamas to moderate its policies and adopt more peaceful methods to affect change.

“I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”

Either way, the way I see it, we can either moan all we want and continue to shout at the top of our lungs that we wanted a purely liberal group of individuals with little interest in fusing religion with state affairs to emerge as the replacement of Mubarak in Egypt, or we could start to smarten up and realise that considering the nature of the Brotherhood – the commitment to non violence that they have shown and their more moderate approach towards Islam and its relationship to the state – the world maybe has found the right partner to end this decade with.

In terms of priorities, what needs to be avoided at all costs at the moment is the possibility of Jihadist elements in Egypt (either through government in the form of the Al Nour party or outside government through any other means) hijacking the progress that the country has made. It would be prudent to constantly keep in mind that the Salafi section of Egypt will be relishing the opportunity to capitalize on any short comings of the Brotherhood in attempt to strengthen its own support base. We simply cannot afford to let the claim that the Brotherhood is not Muslim enough to gain resonance with the public for fear that this will be the inroad which will lead to more extreme elements gaining traction in the country and ultimately reverse the progress in Egypt.

Only time will tell and will reveal if the Brotherhood is pulling a fast one on all of us, but as it stands, we have good reasons to be optimistic of what is ahead. Yes, they might not be liberals (not that everyone should be), but at least they are democrats – and it is up to us now take the road less travelled by.

Meor Alif


Hezbollah – Enter the Arab Summer

In Meor Alif on January 23, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Hezbollah – Enter the Arab Summer.

Very few fighting units in the course of modern history can boast to have such an impressive portfolio than that of Hezbollah in waging effective asymmetric warfare. It doesn’t take much to realize that given the right time of day and the right weapons in their hand, Hassan Nasrallah’s band of brothers can make a Thermopylaeic stand against any incoming hoard. There is no doubt that it has traditionally been able to hold its own despite all sorts of geopolitical changes that has occurred in the Middle East. In recent weeks however, as we have witnessed in the news, there have been interesting developments in the politics surrounding the Sparta they live in. Hezbollah might be facing their toughest challenge to date with the slow but certain demise of the Assad family in Syria. This regime change seem to be ebbing away against Hezbollah’s traditional power bases and draws out a very intriguing point to consider; what is the future of Hezbollah in Levant? And will they be able to adapt to the changes to continue to be the force that they are in the axis of resistance?

It wasn’t too long ago that Hezbollah was just another reactionary group that emerged from the abyss of Palestinian refugee camps in Southern Lebanon. The creation of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent Arab-Israeli war that ensued the same year created a backdrop of the Nakba which would give birth to many attempts to salvage the conditions of the several thousand Palestinians who were pushed into Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Hezbollah’s meta struggle against Israel was in no means a cause that it took upon itself without any precedence. Before it, there was the PLO and although they were far from being joined at the hip as organizations, both were nevertheless associated through their struggle against Israel. It was Operation Galilee, a full scale invasion attempt by Israel in 1982, in retaliation to prior PLO attacks, which really brought Hezbollah to the fore.

The literature on Hezbollah is nothing short of diverse. However, a running consensus from the differing views appears to suggest that the foundation of Hezbollah rests on a few notable factors. Among those include the explanation of a structural imbalance that existed in the Lebanese National Pact which in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s no longer reflected an accurate demographical breakdown in Lebanon at the time. During this period, the Shiite population was no longer the small confessional group that it was during the early years post Lebanese independence. In fact, it had grown to become the largest Lebanese confessional community – rendering the old arrangement, and the outdated context it was created in, almost obsolete in terms of representation in the legislative, executive and military positions in Lebanon. The poor living conditions of the Shiite community, especially in the south, and the lack of development for them further entrenched the feeling of communitarian isolation. Hence, having always seen itself until this very day as the protectors of the Lebanese Shiite community – at its conception, the identity crisis plaguing the Shiites in the context of the broader Lebanese society is argued by many to be an important factor in precipitating the creation of Hezbollah. The overwhelming battering which the Shiite community had to endure as a result of military defeats, like that of Operation Litani, and the injuries inflicted as a result of Operation Galilee combined with the feeling of helplessness, contributed to the fostering of militant movements.  But more importantly, as the world witnessed in 1979 – the Iranian revolution carried out by fellow Shiite clerics in Tehran gave the Shiite community in Lebanon the impetus to take domestic matters into their own hands. The eviction attempt by Israel on the PLO brought together organizations like the Islamic Jihad, the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth and the Revolutionary Justice Organization to assimilate and form what is known today as Hezbollah. Either way, what was clear then, and is still clear now, is that this Iranian sponsored organization is essentially an armed organization hell bent on expelling Israel from Lebanon and fighting them in the long haul. Hezbollah has, till this day, managed to claim several hall mark victories in the cause of fighting Israel – starting with the 1984 American pull-out from Beirut and the subsequent Israeli pull-out under Ehud Barak in 2000, and its most recent ‘victory’ against Israel in 2006 – all of which have contributed to Hezbollah fame and the almost mythical status of Hassan Nasrallah. More importantly, Hezbollah’s efforts in the social and development programs that it provides for its people and the substantial electoral gains it has achieved over the year has made it a force like no other.

However, in these past few weeks, Hezbollah’s existence and its future has been called into question. Their close tie with Damascus is an open secret and with the regime in Syria slowly inching into disrepute, what can be said about the future of Hezbollah?

As the entire international community peers into the country, almost unequivocally, there is a consensus that a toppled Assad regime would create a more democratic Syria – something which Hezbollah would not necessarily welcome as openly as it did in Egypt and Libya. We know now that a few months ago, Hassan Nasrallah was quick to condemn the two ‘dictators’ but has since refused to say the same about Assad. A joint statement between Hezbollah and Amal claiming “firm support for the Islamic Republic in the face of American and Israeli threats” in November highlights Hezbollah’s stance with regards to the issue of Syria, as part of the statement read;

“What is happening in Syria is an international conspiracy targeting Syria’s rejectionist position and its policies which support the Arab and Muslim resistance movements, particularly in Palestine.” It goes on to reaffirm that Lebanon will never be “a conduit for a conspiracy against sisterly Syria”

In simple terms, a new, more democratic Syria would most likely be more reflective of the Syrian demographic, hence, in all likeliness a Sunni government will be formed in replace of Assad’s Alawite regime. There is a fear for Hezbollah that a new Sunni government in Syria would be disinterested in shaking hands with them, especially seeing how Hezbollah has grown to become the face of Shiites in the contemporary world. Although the new Syrian government would be united with Hezbollah in so far as fighting Israel is concerned the religious divide between them will prevent and stand in the way of Syria continuing to support Hezbollah in the way they previously used to. Furthermore, given this change in leadership, Syria would also be likely to review all its long standing relationships with its neighbours, including Iran, and position itself more moderately on different issues so as to gain as many new allies as they can, including those previously alienated by Assad. Given the atmosphere of revolution that the Arab spring has brought to the several countries that endured it, it would make sense for a new Syria to be interested to continuing its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah (albeit less vigorously in terms of ideological commitments) while balancing that out along more Arab nationalist overtures, which could bring together Egypt, Palestine and all the other Arab countries coming out of dictatorships over the last few months against Israel.

It would be interesting to also consider if the Muslim Brotherhood will play any part in a new Syria and how that would affect Hezbollah in the long term. Nasrallah’s continued support of Assad at the present moment is not doing itself any favours. The more Hezbollah continues to pledge unfettering support for Assad, the dimmer its post Assad future will be, because such a move will only result in Hezbollah positioning itself in direct contradiction to the Syrian opposition, as disorganised as they may be. Even if for some reason the new Syrian government does decide to take Hezbollah in as an ally in the future, it would surely never forget or lose sight of Hezbollah’s past and their staunch support in favour of the dictatorship at this present time. Either way, the way forward, presumably for Hezbollah, is to keep this consideration in mind and attempt to manufacture some sort of new relationship with the Syrian opposition as early as it can in anticipation of the crumbling of Assad and his government.

However, all of the above is not the worst case scenario – it’s far from it. The worst case scenario for Hezbollah is the possibility of the instalment of a new Syrian regime that although fights Israel, would also simultaneously crack down on Hezbollah viewing them only as nothing more than the dangerous religious splinter militant group they are.

Moreover, the cold hard reality is that, without Assad in the picture, Hezbollah will find it very difficult to transfer arms into Lebanon. Keep in mind that for decades now, the Levant area has always teetered on the brink of war and the prospect of it has, and always will, play in the back of the minds of Hezbollah leadership. In the event of war, anything less than a cooperative and supportive Syria would spell bad news for Hezbollah.

Unsurprisingly, on the other hand, the conflict which has engulfed Syria has definitely rung some bells in Israel. The changes in Syria have forced Israel to be more vigilant about the Hezbollah threat. The Israel Defence Force recently claimed that; capitalizing on the confusion in Syria – Hezbollah has managed to add the SA-8’s (a Russian truck mounted tactical surface-to-air missile system that has a range of 30 kilometers), several dozen M600 (the M600 is a clone of the Iranian Fateh -110, has a range of 300 kilometers, and can carry a half ton warhead with great accuracy) long-range missiles, and additional 302 mm. Khaibar-2 rockets (with a range of 100 kilometers) to its arsenal. This is to be added to the large quantity of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and the already significant arsenal of M600s that Hezbollah already possess. There is also a growing fear that in the state of chaos, Syrian chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah. The heightened sense of insecurity following the thought that Israel would be encircled on different fronts from a better armed Hezbollah and a trigger happy Iran will put the hawks in the Knesset at the edge of their seats and more ready to commit to war or self-defence more than ever.

It will definitely be a big few months ahead for Hezbollah. Its traditional position in the old political order will be challenged and both Hezbollah and Iran will have to find a way to fit in a post Arab spring Middle East. The emergence of Turkey and Erdogan’s efforts to reassert influence over what it sees as its old Ottoman playground, alongside the rise of Egypt from the ashes with the Muslim Brotherhood at its helm trying to reclaim Egypt’s dominance in Arab politics will be a stern test to Hezbollah’s and Iran’s staying power in the coming months. What is certain is that there will be a genuine power struggle for the leadership position in the Muslim world, to be the defenders of Palestine and to lead the push for the fight against Israel – it would be careless to assume that the veteran players; the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, Iran or Hezbollah, would just give in without a fight – watch this space, enter the Arab summer.

Meor Alif

Beware the Al Qaeda phantom in Syria!

In Meor Alif on January 12, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Beware the Al Qaeda phantom in Syria!

As Hafez al Assad stares down at the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria from that special place in heaven for Syrian dictators, surely the thought that a Libyan styled intervention happening in Syria would have crossed his mind. As much as it would make him turn in his grave, there is very little moral credit these days to staunchly deny that an imminent or at the very least a likely intervention is just around the corner.

All the quintessential elements are present and accounted for – there is a dictator with an alleged history of sponsoring terrorism who with each move he makes does no favours for himself in the eyes of the international community, there is a resilient population that knows not the meaning of being subdued, a Syrian National Council that should slowly gain momentum as things unravel in Syria and soon in the Free Syrian Army we might have a Northern Alliance. At the time of this writing, a humanitarian intervention makes sense, but what makes a moment opportune? Or more importantly is there something unseen here that ought to be?

In his recent address to the media, Mr. Bashar al Assad waved his iron fist and continued to pin the blame of instability unto the ‘terrorist’, possibly taking cue from his father and the responses meted out to the Islamists by the late Assad in the 1980’s. Quite understandably, given the impending end of this regime, the ‘blame it on the terrorists’ move is an easy card to reach out for which with it carries a certain hope of legitimation for the violence his regime continues to carry out every day. Logically, no one would say no to you when you are fighting terrorists in your own country, and who would be silly enough to get in your way if you are doing everyone a favour by making the world free of one less terrorist movement? Well, to this I say, the African National Congress were terrorists.

If we were to pause for a moment and muster in us the most minute amount of sympathy for Mr. Bashar by the mere fact that we respect the idea of an office of a president, then maybe we ought to look at certain facts and consider if there really are terrorist in Syria, and more importantly, are they the kind of fighters that we can learn to like and help or the kind that Mr. Bashar is right in blaming?

It is almost common knowledge by now that historically Mr. Bashar’s regime are bigger fans of Hezbollah and several other more nationalist oriented terror organizations than the Islamist fashioned Al Qaeda. Understandably, it might be unwise to drag Al Qaeda into yet another rapidly deteriorating complicated conflict zone, but in the light of recent reports of links between the Free Syrian Army and Al Qaeda, a thought has to be spared for the possibility that being the violent entrepreneurs they are, that there is some truth behind Al Qaeda wanting a piece of the action in Syria.

We know now that momentously but rather thinly a few months ago America and Al Qaeda found themselves of the same side of the political spectrum for once in their long history. Although Ayman al-Zawahiri’s motives deferred greatly from America’s in that it saw the change in Syria brought by the protesters in July as yet another step towards the annihilation of America. But despite this obvious difference, it cannot be denied by a neutral observer that fundamentally, for the briefest of moments, both America and Al Qaeda agreed that the Syrian population had a cause worth supporting.

As I mentioned earlier, those familiar with Al Qaeda and who of course as a prerequisite, buy into the notion that Al Qaeda is an organization with a proper functional structure with tentacle like networks wouldn’t be surprised at the entrepreneurial reaction of Al Qaeda to the developments in Syria. A rational theorist interested in analysing Al Qaeda’s reaction would agree that it is completely understandable for Al Qaeda to be interested in ceasing the opportunity to support a movement that quite potentially would topple a secular regime and replace it with a more theocratic one. Similarly, the same observer would understand that America and the west would see in Syria like they did in Libya an opportunity to replace a dictatorship with democracy.

But as far as Al Qaeda involvement in Syria is concerned at the moment, the link thoroughly ends at the video released by Ayman al-Zawahiri a few months ago – or at least this is how much we know about their involvement currently. Certain reports claim that towards the end of 2011 sometime in September, meetings occurred between the Free Syrian Army and Abdul Hakim Belhadj. Some might say that this is evidence that there are certain Al Qaeda elements trying to weasel their way into Syria. However, the problem with this claim lies with the mistaking of Abdul Hakim Belhaj as being Al Qaeda, for at the very least there should be a world of a difference between being an Al Qaeda sympathizer and an Al Qaeda member.  Mr. Belhaj has always denied being an Al Qaeda member and moreover, the National Transitional Council in Libya has always vociferously insisted that there are no links between their revolution and Al Qaeda.

Moreover, very few out there are convinced that any Al Qaeda involvement is present at all in Syria; at least Omar Bakri is unconvinced.

In an interview conducted by Ashraq al-Awsat in January 2012, Omar Bakri is reported to have said during the interview that;

“Through my study of the literature of Al-Qaeda, the Islamist movements, and the Salafi jihadi tendencies, through my following up of the reports of their activities and operations, and through my presence in Lebanon, I can say confidently (describing the reality at face value): neither Al-Qaeda Organization, nor the Salafi jihadi groups have any presence in Lebanon or Syria.”

He goes on further to analyze the supposed Al Qaeda involvement in the recent Damascus explosion and comments;

“In my opinion, what the Syrian regime claims is mere falsehood that is unfounded. We have not heard at all from any of these organizations, which the regime claims to exist, an announcement of its responsibility for any operation. This is bearing in mind that Al-Qaeda Organization and the Salafi groups usually publish video tapes after each suicide operation in order to recruit youths and attract new supporters, which has not happened in any of the Syrian events.”

This alongside the insistence of the media in refusing to believe any Al Qaeda or terrorist activities are present in Syria, further bites away at the credibility of the claim that they are somehow present. Even as early as December, governments like Lebanon through their own efforts have refuted the existence of Al Qaeda in proximity to Syria.

At the end of it, the terrorist that we can neither like or support nor fight against is one that Mr. Bashar al Assad and his regime only sees in their minds and on SANA. What does exist however is a rebel group that should be assisted at the very least in their efforts in providing protection for the protesters and the establishment of safe zones in Syria. Beyond that, there is very little chance that the events in Syria will solve itself unless Mr. Bashar woke up with an epiphany either to win this struggle with a much larger blitz against the ‘terrorists’ or steps down. As it stands, he remains committed to the former.

Meor Alif