David Calling

Dictators’ Options Narrow

A BBC documentary about the uprising in Syria brought out very clearly the plight that Bashar Assad has brought on himself. The uprising began in Deraa when boys painted graffiti on walls. Assad’s security forces rounded up the boys, tortured them, and returned to his family the mutilated corpse of one of them. A confident regime would never have resorted to brutality like that. After that, the regime’s fear of dispossession dictates the policy of violence now in full spate. There can be no going back for Assad or his goons, they have so reduced their choices that they have to kill or be killed. In any case Syria is a country in which the consent of the ruled is of no account to the ruler. It will be a matter of luck if civil war is avoided.

Palestinians are not yet in such desperate straits, but getting there gradually. Mahmoud Abbas should have held elections two years ago, but postponed them from the all too well-founded fear that Hamas, his implacable rivals in Gaza, would win. Throughout the West Bank his own Fatah are loathed and despised for their corruption and arrogance. So Abbas rules by decree, a dictator although on a smaller scale than, say, Assad. The decision to ask the United Nations to endorse a Palestinian state was his and his alone. The Palestinians were not asked for their opinion. A number seem to have backed him, but a silent majority is apprehensive. Abbas cannot really have thought he would succeed in obtaining a state by refusing to make the least concession to Israel. He will never acknowledge a Jewish state, and his assertion that no Jew will be allowed to live in a Palestinian state is racism. So the United Nations delegations gave an ovation to someone without legitimacy, riding roughshod over the concept of consent or representation, and making proposals so one-sided that nothing constructive could come out of them. It will be a matter of luck if this peace process does not end in war.

Perhaps the temptation is always there to rule without the consent of the ruled. The European Union is another example of it. I woke up one day to discover that I had a president, a Belgian, of whom I had never heard. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy take decisions for whole populations like the Greeks who are expected to obey. Such figureheads have no legitimacy to be acting for people who are not their constituents and never will be. It is painfully plain that those who set up this EU made a historic mistake. It will be a matter of luck if the world gets out of it without a major crisis.

David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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