Many yesterday had their eyes on Syria. Supposedly there was to be a big demonstration in Damascus, the latest in the chain of protests against dictatorship in the Middle East. From outside Syria, it is hard to be quite sure what actually occurred, or why, as the media were among those who did not have their eyes on Syria and have reported virtually nothing. Seemingly, the demonstration was a total failure. But this non-event has as much to say about reality in the Middle East as the Cairo fracas.
The dictatorship in Syria is an insult to humanity. A perpetual spoiler, moreover, the regime for decades has done everything in its power to counteract and destroy American influence. An ideological ally of Iran, and therefore of Hizbollah, it makes no effort to conceal its preparations for war.
For almost half a century the country has been in the grip of the Assads, father Hafez and his son Bashar forming an unholy republican dynasty. They are Alawites, that is to say members of a Shia sect. Amounting to about 10 percent of a population that is otherwise Sunni, they maintain their grip through fear and police-state methods. Hafez simply turned heavy artillery on the Sunni Muslim Brothers in Hama, killing 20,000 or more according to some estimates. Bashar has ordered the killing of Kurds and recently the machine-gunning of prisoners in Saidnaya jail. Brazenly he encourages terrorist organizations to operate in Syria and he had some sort of input into political assassinations in Lebanon. His goons would certainly have beaten and arrested everyone in a small demonstration, and opened fire on a sizeable crowd. To protest in such circumstances is to dice with death.
President Mubarak has been an ideological ally of the United States and helped maintain peace, at considerable cost to himself. Yet President Obama is pressuring this friend to step down as soon as may be, while rewarding the odious and hostile Bashar Assad with the resumption of diplomatic relations and talk of a new relationship with Syria. More than a contradiction, this is incoherence, folly, a sure way to a foreign policy with no future in the region.