'Peaceful Egyptian Elites' Differ From 'Violent Syrian Elites'

Article Summary
Jihad al-Zein questions if the divergent paths of the Egyptian and Syrian revolutions, that is one characterized by a relative peace and the other by violence, have anything to do with the political culture of the two countries. In spite of recent turmoil, he expresses optimism for the Egyptian political scene and calls it a “non-violent” country.

Why is the peacefulness of the Egyptian revolution being reinforced under the rule of law, whereas the Syrian revolution is relapsing into civil war? Does the difference lie in the peaceful traditions and culture of the elites of the Nile Valley, as opposed to the violent traditions and culture of the elites of Damascus and the Levant (including Lebanon)?

Barring the current atmosphere prompted by the wave of nominations for the Egyptian presidential elections — the most shocking of which was the nomination of General Omar Suleiman, Hosni Mubarak’s former vice president — the process of change in Egypt reflects peaceful and institutional dynamism. This dynamism is reassuring, especially when contrasted with the worrying one characterizing the “civil warish” results of the Syrian revolution.

Nothing remains outside the authority of the law in Egypt. The same applies to Tunisia, but the Tunisian case is less complicated and volatile than the Egyptian one.

Although the Egyptian revolution — since before January 25, 2011 up though the present day — has occasionally witnessed acts of violence, these acts, which were caused by multiple sources and happened at intermittent times, appeared "inharmonious" with the prevalent peaceful path. Either this is the case or the incidents were "referred" to the rule of law, not only through a decision from an authority of the state, but mainly as a result of deep consensus within the community on the need to do so. This is true irrespective of the fragile political and security situation currently prevailing in Egypt.

In Syria, the opposite happened, and quickly. The peaceful path to the conflict quickly collapsed, and along with it the rule of law. To deny the second while asserting the first is but an additional form of arrogance for countries in which the concept of a state has not yet been fully established as a contract between the authority and society.

The Syrian government — and this is characteristic of the regime — very quickly resorted to repression as the demonstrations began. The first few weeks were characterized by generally peaceful demonstrations and a repressive regime, since it was unable to absorb the idea that a wide segment of society has shown the ability to object publicly, even if peacefully. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a statement during the announcement of his new government, during the first months of the events. In a tragically humorous speech, Al-Assad, while listing his upcoming “reform” projects, said that the police force needed to be trained on how to deal peacefully with protests because it is was not founded on this basis (I remember clearly that he smiled — on television — when he realized the humor behind making such an admission).

But the problem was exacerbated as the pretext for the confrontations changed from simply opposing a partisan regime that had, through the military, excluded part of society from determining the affairs of Syria since 1958. With the "militarization of the Syrian revolution" through clear regional and international decision and support, as well as the enthusiasm of a few Syrian forces and individuals abroad, the situation devolved into civil war. We can still hear the same enthusiasm in those voices despite the disastrous results of such a deviation, no matter on which side responsibility falls. The situation in Egypt is quite different. It all revolves around the overpopulated Nile Valley, which falls under the authority of institutions that derive their authority from the law. However, in the Levant, with the Fertile Crescent, the political authority and institutions as a moral and physical reference have collapsed in many areas. Were it not for a combination of control and "wisdom" in the heart of Damascus and Aleppo, every link would have collapsed after the "militarization" of the crisis.

In Egypt, the former ruler was brought into court on a stretcher, in a unique scene that will enter the world’s history books. The story might even make its way into “entertainment” history books.

Voices of courage have arisen from the Syrian opposition. These strong opinions have emerged from leaders rather than from the general populace, although some of these voices may turn out to be political leaders one day. These voices were raised in opposition to "militarization" as a destructive project against the people of Syria. It may be too late to talk about this realization, if Kofi Annan’s mission — accompanied with the "Russian opportunity" — is not given a chance to restore the peaceful nature of the popular protests.

The paradox that has emerged in recent weeks is that the Bahraini opposition which seemed to be cornered, even finished — after not having resorted to arms, though it might simply have been unable to — now, while at its weakest point, appears to hold a moral advantage more powerful than the armed Syrian opposition. The opposition enjoys sympathy resulting from its image as an unarmed movement being isolated by the security apparatus. The Syrian opposition, however, is now the subject of a torrent of reports on violations on the part of its armed forces. This behavior is no longer limited to the regime.

Thus, we can conclude that the phenomenal nomination of Omar Suleiman for president of Egypt is a good sign for the firm, peaceful culture of the Egyptian elite, even if the nomination here was related to the strongest symbol of the "counter-revolution." It heralds good news for Egyptian political culture even it it is disqualified; any such banning would be implemented through a a law issued by the People’s Assembly.

Like many, I am not convinced by the abilities of the main Islamist current in Egypt — the "Muslim Brotherhood" — to successfully address the complex, difficult and aggravating problems facing Egypt. But obviously, this does not mean denying the right of this current to rise to power through democratic competition. This issue is not what we are dealing with here. It is rather the comparison between the power of the peaceful culture in the Nile Valley and its weakness in the Eastern Levant (Lebanon and Iraq).

The law in Egypt is a contentious standard to which official institutions and society are accountable. In this deep sense, Egypt is an actual "non-violent" country, such as India, even if novelist V. S. Naipaul described the latter as: “India: A Million Mutinies Now.”

Found in: violence, syrian revolution, syrian, political culture, omar suleiman, omar, militarization, egyptian revolution, bashar al-assad

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