Arab Spring in Syria — dilemma for the Left?

“Why would you allow criminals to be present here?

They are responsible for our situation now…

It is they who turned our country into the centre of national and international wars”

— Malalai Joya, former member of Afghan Parliament

Recently, commentators on the Left in Brisbane have been trying to grapple with what is going on in Syria in particular and in the region generally.

Oil prices are rising as a direct result of Western economic sanctions placed on Iran.

This is a problem for the West.

If oil prices continue to go up, the financial crisis in Europe will deepen i.e. for the West to place economic sanctions on Iran is a dangerous game. Not solely because it may force Iran to close the Straits of Homuz.

We have witnessed that recent events in Syria have polarized the political situation into two camps — US, Europe, Saudi, Qatar on one side and China, Russia, Syria and Iran on the other.

Broadly speaking, one camp supports state capitalism, the other state socialism.

Sections of the Left in Brisbane argue that the uprising in Syria is part of the Arab Spring and should be supported by progressive groups.

So which side is the Left on, if on any side? I am reminded of a section of Left in Brisbane giving support  to the fundamentalist revolution in Iran in 1979.

I recall a discussion at a film showing at the Universoty of Qld’s Schonell theatre in 1979 — someone argued the Left should side with the Ayatollah in order to defeat the Shah of Iran.

This was supposed to bring US imperialism into check in the region. I also remember an Iranian man in the sudience rebuke this position at the discussion after the film. He was wary of the fundamentalists and the damage they would do in Iran and elsewhere.

The rest is history, the Iranian people were savagely repressed by successive fundamentalist governments in Iran.

The immediate question is “How will the lack of oil and rising prices be resolved?’ Neither Libya nor Venezuela have provided a solution. Chavez has come out in support of Assad in Syria. After a long and bloody struggle, US imperialism is on the run in Latin America but not so in the Middle East. Gas exploration and exploitation in Africa, the US and Australia has failed to quench the thirst for oil. So prices will continue to rise and place pressure on the oil dependent economies of Europe and US.

Will the conflict in Syria spread and bring about civil war in neighbouring countries, resulting in untold suffering?

One perspective on the conflict lines up against the Syrian government with remarks like “the demonstrations and protests in Syria were not manufactured by the West but are legitimate peoples protests against a dictatorial regime, and hence a legitimate part of the Arab spring.” and “Look at the Syrian regimes record. In 1976 they intervened into the Lebanese Civil war on the side of the Israeli backed Christian Maronite government, against the Lebanese left and the PLO. In 1991, Syrian troops were part of the US lead attack on Iraq.”

Others are more defensive of the Syrian government with “Syria has been the sole nation to support the Palestinian cause” and “Hamas has it´s roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, and was established by well connected Muslim Brothers Families. From this perspective it is not entirely surprising that Hamas is now aligning itself with the Muslim Brother Sunnis from Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who together with NATO´s Al Qaeda (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Tripoli Military Counsel, & Free Syrian Army) are aligned against the government and people of Syria.”

The former demonstrates idealism; the latter, an understanding of the geopolitics of the region.

The following article gives a good account of the dilemma facing the Left.

“The dilemma that this component of the Left faces in Syria is rooted in a more fundamental failure to read the Arab Spring in general – for if they denounced the Green Movement because the US had allocated some millions of dollars for “regime change” in Iran, that sum was peanuts compared with the money that the US had invested in the Egyptian army, and that the Saudis had in ensuring the Islamists had the upper hand in post-Mubarak Egyptian elections. So what to do with the Egyptian revolution? Dismiss the whole thing just because the US and the Saudis were trying to control its outcome?”

Read more …

Greater discussion and a better understanding of these important issues is needed on the Left here and elsewhere. Perhaps a political forum should be convened to address these issues? What do you think?

Ian Curr
28 February 2012

7 thoughts on “Arab Spring in Syria — dilemma for the Left?

  1. Ray Bergmann says:

    I prefer the online discussion forum that naturally develops when people respond to what I and others have sent in. The benefit is not only that one’s own glib prejudices and ideological preferences are challenged but that one has the opportunity to research and check online the statements and issues as they come up. At a non-virtual forum one can only espose the understanding one has at that time without the opportunity to research more information and finding other references.

    All of the information that comes out of Syria is coloured by ideological bent of one kind or another and the views of particular people we have contact with over there are obviously going to condition our impression of what’s going on there. I’m also aware that many many people don’t realise the political intentions of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights from where most of the information given out by mainstream Western press comes from!
    See Russia questions credibility of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at

    The alternative press also is problematic. Voltaire Network (or substitute here another alternative news source) “has learned from reliable source” or “In the opinion of political observers” are the vague commencements to many articles and statements!!

    It’s only occasionally that one gets enough information about a source to judge how reliable it is.

    And it’s no surprise that the contenders for the Foreign Office top job and opinion banters fail to mention Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan, Syria or the rising price of oil caused by recent events in the middle east. Not only is Rudd proud of being first off the block to call for the bombing of Libya (though he called it a “no-fly-zone”) but all of the contenders approve of it too. Australia’s Foreign Policy comes straight out of Washington. They were all calling for the same for Syria too until the Pentagon backed off last week (vd. ) and now everyone’s on the new tack issued from Hilary Clinton.

    The UAE (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, et al) has distanced itself from from the common position of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and decided to adopt a neutral stance and have now banned all demonstrations, pro- or anti-Syrian, on their territory (according to Thierry Meyssan at ).

    Ban Ki-Moon’s Special Advisor Edward Luck is no longer just blaming the Syrian government for not protecting its people, but stresses that this obligation is also incumbent upon the Free “Syrian” Army. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) That’s a good step forward at least!

    But the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva had a meeting again about “the humanitarian situation in Syria” putting forward a draft resolution by Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to arm the opposition in Syria ‘for self-defense” and European countries considered the establishment of humanitarian corridors for beleaguered civilians in Syria to get help. UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said many people were cut off from supplies of food, water and medicines but in contrast Saleh Dabbakeh, the spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said in Damascus that a “humanitarian catastrophe” does not exist in Syria!

    Karin Leukefeld writes in Junge Welt :
    “For months, weapons and fighters have been smuggled from the neighboring countries into Syria, and moved into position in the Homs suburb Baba Amr. In order to extend their control to other parts of the city of Homs, the fighters supplanted peaceful protests that took place on the central Clock Square (renamed Tahrir Square/Liberation Square), threatened (and kidnapped) residents who did not share their views and attacked police stations and military posts. Tens of thousands of residents have left their homes, to avoid being caught in the crossfire between the army and the armed fighters. They fled to the villages in the mountains west of Homs, to the coastal cities of Banias and Tartous, where the population has almost doubled, and to Damascus.” (Ray’s translation from the German original)

    In the opinion of political observers, the families that media reports showed in refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, are those of fighters arrested or killed in Syria who were transported by the armed opposition to bring their own families to safety far away from the fighting, K. Mahmud said in an interview with AGF.”

    Voltaire Net writes:
    Michael Jansen of the Irish Times observes that arming the rebels only increases the spiral of violence and leads the country towards civil war: the rebellion has no chance of winning on its own, and the more it will be artificially prolonged, the deeper the trauma it will cause to the society.

    Associated Press reported the assassination of several political figures by the rebellion. This fact is significant since the New York agency only started to mention such crimes about one month ago. This shift in information policy comes as the U.S. seeks to justify to public opinion the limitation of its support to the armed opposition.

  2. Ray Bergmann says:

    Israel aghast at shocking foreign intervention in Syria (An exerpt from:)
    Iran has saved Bashar Assad (for now)
    Anshel Pfeffer
    Haaretz (Blog)
    April 6, 2012 – 12:00am

    I asked a senior IDF officer with extensive intelligence experience this week why they were predicting Assad’s swift downfall a few months ago and are now saying he may have another couple of years in his power.

    “We didn’t think the Syrian Army would stay with him,” he answered. “We saw thousands of defections, including of some quite senior officers and thought that it would continue and Assad would be lost without military support.

    But the great majority of the army and the generals are still with him because they feel that they have no alternative, since no-one else is stepping in. And of course, the Iranians are still supporting Assad which makes the generals believe that he can still survive. The generals don’t love Assad, but as long as he has the Iranians, they will stick with him.”

    And that support is being stepped up, as reported by Amos Harel in Haaretz on Friday, who, relying on Western and Israeli intelligence sources, reports that Iranians have given Syrian security forces training in the use of aerial reconnaissance drones and that Hezbollah members have been killed, fighting in Assad’s service.

    This week I spoke to a Syrian opposition figure that recently left the country, who said that “there are Hezbollah elements among the Syrian regime forces and also Iranian special forces and the Iranians are giving tactical support.”

    The Wall Street Journal, in a profile this week of Iran’ Qods Force commander Major-General Qasem Soleimani has additional details of four Iranian cargo planes carrying munitions to Damascus in February and backing up this are the claims made in an interview this week to Al-Jazeera by fugitive Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashemi that his country’s Shia-dominated government has opened up an air corridor over its territory for such flights. All this does rather make a mockery of the Iranian protests against foreign interference in Syria’s affairs.

  3. Ray Bergmann says:

    At the website of the Democratic Progressive Tribune of Bahrain I found this article “What is happening in Syria … And where are the forces of the left going?” – Press Briefing (political) from «24 – Aug -2011».

    That’s a long time ago in terms of what has been going on in Syria, but here we have the same discussion within the left that has been going on since the beginning of the crisis in Syria until now, but here between eminent representatives of each point of view within Syria:
    D. Qadri Jamil offers the viewpoint that preservation of the integrity of Syria against foreign forces arming the insurrection is an essential first step which must then be followed by

    “comprehensive solutions to economic, political, and social issues, and not partial solutions but radically deep and not a prosthesis, leading to profound changes in the structure of the system at the economic, political, and social level, and such solutions must be proactive and are not too late even now.”

    Professor Michel Kilo offers the other viewpoint that

    “there is a determination of the system to deny the nature of the crisis and it adheres to a foreign plot thesis to which it responds by the use of open violence against society, which in turn opens the gates of the country to outside interference, whereas the crisis is basically political, social, economic and cultural. So generally speaking it is impossible to solve the violence issue without first generating policy tools and general national consensus.”


    What is happening in Syria? A popular uprising, a revolution for change, a foreign plot? Dangerous developments rapidly occurred causing thousands of victims. There are many questions about the situation in Syria, and about what are the facts on the ground, and so our“Journal of Appeal for Campaign Prospects” speaks with the Secretary of the National Committee for the unity of the Syrian Communists, D. Qadri Jamil, and left-wing professor and thinker Michel Kilo. (Continued transcript of the interview:)
    What is happening in Syria?
    D. Qadri Jamil:

    In Syria there is a complexity to the apparatus of state that can be summarized briefly as follows:

    First: the institution of liberal economic policies especially in the last five years produced a high level of social discontent because of the high rates of poverty and unemployment, in addition to the decline in the social role of the state.

    Second, a very low level of political freedom continued for several decades because of the emergency laws, which prevented the society from expressing their concerns and problems in a timely manner so as to address them, and because of the extraordinary powers of the security services that were more often than not used in a way which was not drafted for them, and which became an intrusive pressure on the livelihood and dignity of the citizens.

    Third, as a result of unemployment becoming a personal and chronic problem for many in every region of Syria, which increased the level of discontent.

    Fourth, the increasing corruption and illegal looting of the resources of the state and society led to an unprecedented concentration of wealth in the hands of a few with the state apparatus taking advantage of the emerging social situation.

    We have warned that in the early American-Zionist schemes in our region, all this could lead to opportunities in the benefit of the external enemy to remove Syria from the equation of resistance and opposition in the region, by taking advantage of social tensions and political instability.

    This is where the root causes and the immediate causes of the explosion of popular spontaneous protests lie, which were an expression of the legitimate and just demands that parties have been trying to drag in the wrong direction: Firstly, some powers in the state apparatus associated with corruption have concerns over the possibility of radical overall reform which would affect their interests. Secondly, there are some radical and extremist forces in the society of Islamic heretics and Salafists and some criminal elements that wanted to cover up the SPLM and hide behind them to pass their objectives near and far.

    Ii is relevant that these two elements oppose in practice the possibility of comprehensive reform of the political, social, economic situation, and also reject any dialogue between the community and the State and the rest of the spectrum of society. They deny of the existence of a popular movement and try to deliberate confusion between the militant terrorists and any popular movement proceeding under the cover of the slogan “bring down the regime.”

    Experience has shown over the past 5 months that the forceful elimination of the popular movement by preventing peaceful expression of views through demonstration is not only impossible, but is also harmful to Syrian society because it only served to increase the number of victims. As experience has shown on the other hand, in analogy of the Tunisian and Egyptian experience and in Syria’s special circumstances, it is also impossible without compromising the unity of the country and its sovereignty.

    In these conditions it is increasingly the unprecedented external pressure that uses multiple forms of political, economic and even military activities, that leads to possibilities for outside military intervention. From here the search for a safe exit to the crisis is a matter of urgency, which requires comprehensive reforms as soon as possible, and this cannot be achieved in the present moment without providing the appropriate atmosphere for the start of a comprehensive national dialogue, which requires stopping the cycle of violence by creating appropriate forms to restrict all radical forces both in the system and outside it, including armed terrorist organizations as well as preventing the security forces from the use of arms in the street except only in cases of extreme necessity in self-defense, and ask the national army to protect civilians, protesters and others. The imperative is to prevent violence from any party whatsoever, and not least to release all peaceful detainees resulting from current events.

    All this will allow the opening up towards a comprehensive national dialogue to discuss the course of the reforms needed and the schedule, inevitably three forces needed to sit around the table are: firstly, representatives of the warring parties and forces allied with them; secondly, representatives of opposition parties and their various factions that have not been involved in aggression from abroad; and thirdly, representatives of the popular movement on the ground, which express themselves in different forms of activity and are relatively independent of the structure of the state system and all the political movements, expressing themselves not only through visible protest demonstrations in the street but also in different (intellectual) forms of protest that represents an important and essential part of the Syrian street.

    Conclusion: what is required are comprehensive solutions to economic, political, and social issues, and not partial solutions but radically deep and not a prosthesis, leading to profound changes in the structure of the system at the economic, political, and social level, and such solutions must be proactive and are not too late even now.”,.

    The country is increasingly threatened by external dangers and desperately needs to attend to severe interior honesty and transparence in the political system, security forces and economic society, in order to be able to exclude foreign powers and to reach the goal of social cohesion, which was and still is, our primary weapon in the battle of the grand national liberation of the occupied territories.

    Professor Michel Kilo:

    What is happening in Syria is a broad social mobilization that has two goals. The first is freedom of the people and the second is the equitable distribution of national wealth. These goals are offset by another movement led by the governing authority, that clings to the structure of the current system, which has expressed its refusal to respond to the demands of the people under pressure and wants to preserve the structure of the current system without change except to the outer forms of the establishment.

    It is perhaps unfortunate that there is a determination of the system to deny the nature of the crisis and it adheres to a foreign plot thesis to which it responds by the use of open violence against society, which in turn opens the gates of the country to outside interference, while the crisis is basically political, social, economic and cultural. So generally speaking it is impossible to solve the violence issue without first generating policy tools and general national consensus.

    It is clear that the continuation of the current political situation makes the answer to the question “Syria where” very difficult because this policy that wants to address the security crisis first does not generate the security necessary to address those issues that will put the country in a position to confront all the potential risks from disintegration that encourages the various types of external interference.

    Syria, to escape the three disastrous fates (i.e. absence of general national consensus leading to internal disintegration and external interference), must find a political solution able to bring us out of the current impasse, on the basis of meeting the demands of the people in an uncompromised way. Otherwise, continuation of the current policies will benefit those who are responsible for promoting the black fates awaiting Syria (if it does not radically change the current policies).

    Where are the forces of the left in what is happening in Syria?

    D. Qadri Jamil:

    The truth in what is happening today in the country is the death of the traditional political space in which the post-independence era lay. Everyone here, left and right, suffers from a profound crisis, the other point being that a new political space is still in its first steps. The end of the ACTION will show the structure of a new political situation and certainly many forces of the old structure will evaporate and die completely, but it is imperative that the new political forces appear as a product of the flexibility of the current forces. Therefore the talk cannot be going on here only on the left, especially the historical left. Forces that were calculated nominally on the left are no longer what they are today. Historically in Syria, these were in first rank across the communist movement, which will react to the profound changes caused by the new conditions either with the ability or inability to adapt, to influence the movement without losing the firm foundations by trying to find the new structures and tools and forms of work in the new circumstances.

    The paradox of the current Syrian situation is demonstrated by the wide gap between political parties and the street, who are either looking for representatives in the old structures, or look for some hope in the formation of new structures.

    Professor Michel Kilo:

    The left is has been learning over the past four decades, how a national democratic change in Syria can be effected, and made plans many times to influence the process of this change, including some proposals based on the idea that cooperation of all political forces including the forces of power in order to implement the change program is required.

    Now look at the left in what is going on today, popular acceptance of the government program believing that people, in large part, are being converted to democratic principles by the bearer of this program! From here it is urgently demanded that the authority take the initiative to meet the demands of the people as the supreme national interest because there is violent rupture in Syria experienced by now at the community level and the state. The left is making great efforts to find and share national and common social values that can be a way out of the current crisis, and calls for the authority to accept the demands of the people, especially as they described in the just demands that were expressed in the first phase of the insurgency before the armed Salafist organizations appeared.

    It is not true that the battle is between the structure of the system and the Salafi organizations. The battle is the battle of freedom and justice in the first place of a community long deprived of their fundamental rights.

    The left must not accept the thesis of the government authority on the nature of the demonstrations painting all as violent, but considering protests as essentially peaceful opens the way to radical deep reform and is the way to take Syria to the process of transition that will end in parliamentary democracy in the interest of the whole spectra of the political present, including the Baath Arab Socialist Party.

    Call 168

  4. Robina Creaser says:

    First, well done Ian, for raising the issue of the ‘Left’s Dilemma’ over events in the ME. You also managed to articulate the split – between the somewhat and lukewarm, anti-Imperialists vs the ‘any protest is better than none’ camps, quite well, I thought.

    Beyond that, your article and the contributions that folllow, do not help too much – and speak volumes for the parlous, weak and ineffectual state of what passes for the Left, in the West, nowadays.
    Why is obligatory to peddle the US position, as if it was a duty ? They always lie and they always do very bad things. It is simple: think of 9 million dead in the Congo as a result of US operations – it might help.
    In general, at this point in history, opposing US Imperialism and Endless Wars, is all there is. Union membership and rights are little use if you are dead or dispossessed – and there are no jobs anyway as a result of wars and neo-Con Globalism. – see Iraq and Afghanistan (and US).

    Syria is like Libya, about which you draw no conclusion, despite the 60,000 dead, 1 million refuges and ongoing, nationwide, violent chaos, afer we ‘helped them’ (where are their ‘Rights and Freedoms’, now ?)
    Independent States are no longer allowed – you either stand with the US or you go down: that is the reality. The attacks, invasions and occupations will be sold as ‘Human Rights’ interventions – despite the blatant hypocrisy of the description.
    I also wonder why the Political reform process in Syria, is being given no acknowlegement, by the Left. A referendum completed; an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote for the new Constutution; multi-party General Elections on May 7th. Surely this is what the popular protests were about ?
    The Syrian people are happy with the government’s programme of reform and want a peaceful transition to Democracy – why is their voice, not given any airplay and why are their wishes being ignored by the MSM. 5 Aljazeera journalists have resigned over ‘biased and unprofessional’ reporting of Syria, Libya (and Bahrain) – another fact being generally ignored as inconvenient.

    The media campaign against Libya was a well-orchestrated, tidal wave of lies. Cancelling Col Gadaffi’s Human Rights award, for his achievements for the Libyan people, was no problem for the Empire – with the media, Amnesty and HRW, all singing from the US song-sheet. Late last year he was leading an Amnesty online poll for ‘Human Rights Hero’ – so they canned the competition.
    It should be obvious that exactly the same ‘assassination by media’ is happening to Assad & Syria, so why is it not ? Syria is under attack from the US Empire & as always they work through proxies and mercenaries, extremist Fundies, covert-Ops, Blackwater et al – the worst of the worst, to carry out violence against civilians.
    The US have been doing this since Korea – endless, vicious wars – invariably via assassinations, $insurgencies and subversion of dissaffected political groups.

    Why do you all want to keep to a dialogue, that assumes the US is Chief of a jolly band of do-gooding helpers ?
    Helpers like the despotic Saudis and Qatar; the creepy British and French trying to snatch back bits of their failed empires; Apartheid Israel – a rogue state, involved in ongoing genocide.

    What is there to discuss ?- you are either with the Empire or you are against it and if you are with them, then you are not of the Left.
    oh & PS, Viva Iran !

  5. Piergiorgio Moro says:

    I think lot of the left has fallen into the easy paradigm of being either for or against in Syria.

    Revolutions for the most part are not that simple.

    Yes, it is a popular working class revolutions but it also has Salafist/fundamentalist components, has sectarian armed groups, has all kinds of imperialist forces trying to impose their will, and probably a collection of other forces as well.
    The question for the left is how do we support/build a working class revolutionary left in Syria. This is the only question. We need to find out how big this side is and help it.

    Turkey also has a very big left/trade union movement. They are the best placed groups in the region to have an active progressive role.

    Revolutions are not static games, but dynamic social entities, where if we don’t intervene for our class, then our enemies will surely win.

  6. Robina Creaser says:

    You are pathetic and useless apologists for the US-cabal and all their foul works.
    Anyone who needs to refer to the WSJ. Aljazeera and Israeli outlets to support their case, has made their position perfectly clear…compromised pro-US and a traitor to any Leftist position.

    Again I would remind people that the Syrians have demonstrated repeatedly, in support of government reforms – see Aleppo 19th May for the latest. They turned out in high numbers to vote in the recent election – despite threats and violence from the FSA & associated US-backed terrorists.

    The Syrian people are saying ‘No outside interference’ and you should listen to them and stand against vicious US Imperialism.
    Kudos to Iran and Russia in particular for standing up to the bullies opf the US-cabal and also to China, more quietly, but nontheless persistently, standing against US military aggression.

    Sources which need to refer back to 1976 or 1991 are showing their desperation, because that was another epoch in Syria – this is now:- as we all fight for our collective survival, in the face of the-crazy-US-war-machine, with its 1000 bases worldwide and troops and killings in 130+ countries..
    Syria is the latest ‘designated enemy’ for the US-warmongers; if you don’t oppose them – you ARE the problem.

    NB Look up ‘Committees of Correspondence’ – a process whereby a great chunk of the ‘hard-left’ and most of the Greens worldwide, signed on to support Obama and the Democrats. This arrangement has persisted from about 1991 to the present day.
    Socialist Alliance, Green Left and Green Left weekly, the AFL-CIO and associated unions & communist groups from around the world – all sold out to get him elected.. no doubt it seemed like a good idea at the time…

    see the BERSH protests in Malaysia – courtesy of the US NED and the NGOs they fund – same in the Phillipines, Tibet, all those ‘colour revolutions’, they are even trying in Russia – pffttt some hopes.
    Your childish talk of unions and workers rights is so much gas – what good are ‘rights’ if you are dead and your country a smoking ruin, tormented by fundy and other mercenaries =like poor Libya, once the jewel of the region 🙁

    Please – do some research and see how most of your organisations and publications are working for Obama – the most murderous, anti-worker and anti civil-rights President in US history.

    Wake up and oppose the Evil Empire.
    You can start that by supporting Syrian sovereignity and the Free Syrian people.

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