This is the transcript for the Empire episode A revolution for all seasons (Thursday, November 3, 2011)

Marwan Bishara

Hello and welcome to Empire. I am Marwan Bishara.

The seasons have turned on the Arab revolution. The Arab spring in Tunisia and Egypt has given way to heated summer in Libya, Syria and Yemen leading to the deaths of tens of thousands with no end in sight. The violent crackdown, the militarisation of the revolutions and international intervention in Libya have derailed the popular uprising from their original trajectory and could lead to full blown civil wars, with spill-over effect to neighbouring countries. Will Syria and Yemen follow in the footsteps of Libya? Or is there another way out?

Well, joining me to discuss the future of the region are Nadje al-Ali, professor of gender studies at the Post-colonial Studies Department of London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). And author of Secularism, Gender and State in the Middle East, among many other titles. Professor Radwan Ziadeh, founder and director of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights studies, visiting professor at Harvard University and a member of the newly formed Syrian National Council. And film maker, writer and journalist Nir Rosen has just returned from Yemen and Syria, author of Aftermath, Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World. And last but not least, Seumas Milne, columnist and associate editor of The Guardian newspaper and author of The Enemy Within. But first, let’s take a closer look at the latest balance sheet from Syria.

Narrator 

Many predicted Syria would be different; saying their president, Bashar al-Assad was actually popular in much of the country.

Syrian MP

“The Arab world isn’t enough for you, you should lead the entire world Mr President".

Narrator

Many were wrong. 

Member of Syrian Public

Traitor! Bashar al-Assad is a traitor! 

Narrator

The Assad family dynasty has ruled Syria for more than four decades. Bashar inherited a personality cult from his father, Hafez al-Assad, but there was another pattern passed down from father to son, ruthlessly crushing any opposition.

The country has been under a state of emergency for almost half a century. But when Syrian forces cracked down hard on a small incident in the southern town of Daraa, the fuse was lit. 

Demonstartions spread across the country, as calls for reform gradually turned into calls for the downfall of the regime. For the Syrians expecting real concessions ... President Assad's defiance was the last straw.  

Bashar al-Assad

Syria now is being subjected to a strong conspiracy, as are other parts of the world. There’s been a wave of popular uprisings, they all affect Syria. 

Narrator

While many of the demonstrators were unarmed and non-violent, some were prepared to fight. At first it was disorganised ... 

But as members of the military defected, there was a more organised armed opposition conducting ambushes, attacking checkpoints and defending the demonstrators. Now after six months the rebellion is deadlocked.

Riad Kahwaji (SECURITY ANALYST)

What could tip the balance internally in terms of the use of force is if we see some cracks within the Syrian military, Syrian security, within the Syrian regime.

Narrator

The UN's top human rights official has warned of a full-blown civil war.

Navi Pillay (UN COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS)

I’m watching with great dismay, how the numbers of people who are killed has increased, it’s now 3,000.

Narrator

The reason why the uprising has failed to catach fire is sectarian divisions between the opposition, who fear the alternative Islamic rule, communa; violence between Sunnis and Alawites only inflames the situation.

Meanwhile the Syrian opposition is divided, with the two main rival groups undermining each other. International pressure is building, Bashar has lost the support of his close friends and neighbours in Qatar and turkey and now the US has weighed in, withdrawing its ambassador, calling for Assad to step down.

Hillary Clinton (US SECRETARY OF STATE)

The world has borne witness to the Assad regime’s contempt for its own people. This morning president Obama called on Assad to step aside and announced the strongest set of sanctions to date, targeting the Syrian government.

Narrator

The sanctions that have been imposed will do little to weaken the regime and President Assad is warning of an earthquake that would burn the whole region if the West does intervene.

Syrian

International involvement, as long as its peaceful would be perfectly acceptable. We have no problem with that. But if it’s a matter of violence and military intervention, air strikes on our military and air force, then we have a problem.

Narrator

For now, it appears the government and its supporters are as stubborn as the opposition.

Some dictators in the region have fled or would up in prison. Others have decided to fight to the bitter end. With few options, Bashar al-Assad is facing a difficult choice.

Marwan Bishara

Nir, you’ve just come back from Syria, you’ve written extensively and you mainly concentrated on militarisation and sectarianism. 

Nir Rosen (AUTHOR: AFTERMATH)

I think sectarianism is almost inevitable given the events in the region.There’s a regional war within the Muslim world happening between Sunni and Shias. At the beginning in Iraq and the American invasion of Iraq which created a Sunni-Shia civil war, the assassination of Hariri, the execution of Saddam, the Hezbollah victory over Israel which sort of made the Sunnis wanna go to war against this brother by demonising them as Shia. King Abdulla of Jordan talking about a Shia crescent Mubarak of Egypt, talking about Shia being traitors, culminating with Bahrain, the Saudi invasion of Bahrain to suppress and uprising which was, to them, like this big Shia threat. So it was almost inevitable that events in Syria would be seen through the sectarian prism because you have a majority Sunni country and a majority Sunni opposition battling a government which they’re portraying as an Alawite government.

Marwan Bishara

Which you think it is an Alawite government, an Alawite regime or … 

Nir Rosen

It’s more complex. 

Marwan Bishara

It’s a regime that Alawites at its core?

Nir Rosen

Obviously the ruling family has been Alawite for the last 40 something years. But its more an Alawite dominated security force married to a Sunni business class. Many of the top people in the regime are Sunni or Christian for that matter but it’s inevitable that it’s being seen by both sides increasingly through a sectarian divide.

Marwan Bishara

Radwan, do you see that going that way? That there is this more of a sectarian, a new sectarianism?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

No.

Marwan Bishara

Why not? 

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

As soon the international community is not intervening and helping to stop the killings committed by the Assad regime will seem all possibilities to have civil war in Syria.

Nadje al-Ali

How can the international community help, in which way?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh (MEMBER, SYRIAN NATIONAL COUNCIL)

By different ways. Until now it has been eight months and the Security Council was unable to take any actions to adopt resolution to refer the crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court. 

Nir Rosen

Yeah but how will this end the violence? Specially, what can the UN do? 

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

I mean all it, now the uprising in 2011 in Syria different than the uprising in the eighties which much more was sectarian, Muslim brothers against the Assad regime at that time.

Nir Rosen

Yeah but what can they do? Specifically?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

This is widespread demonstrations in and all over the countries only in all places.

Marwan Bishara

So you’re not worried about increased sectarianism in the country because of violence?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

I’m worry if the uprising last much more time because this is much more possibilities because the regime is investing on the civil war, creating fear among the Alawite community that will be massacred if the …

Marwan Bishara

So you think this is in favour of the regime, sectarianism in the country today? 

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

This is the question, the sectarianism is not favour in the country. Nothing favour in our nation. 

Nadje al-Ali

I think there’s a real tension actually.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

We have to understand that but at the same time the regime is investing on that. The main source of this should be, unfortunately the Alawite community.

Nir Rosen

In Aleppo all the pro-government thugs are Sunnis.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

From tribes. From tribes and different tribes.

Nir Rosen

Yeah.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

But I mean this is entirely how much has it been seen.

Nir Rosen

Yeah.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

And all the videos, all the victims, the overwhelming of the victims are Sunni and all of the murdered are Alawite. How to avoid that, how to avoid that by the international community taking an actions and enforce Bashar Assad to step down.

Marwan Bishara

How?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

Because the Assad family, they linked their family in power with Alawite community. They should the Alawite community take in distance from the Assad family because now the only goal for the protestors on the ground floor is that Assad step down. There is any of sectarian.  Sectarian slogans or sectarian banners in all of the protests.

Marwan Bishara

So you think it’s more implicit?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

Yeah.

Marwan Bishara

It’s like taking an explicit manifestation.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

And the Alawite victims, their Alawite victims has been killed by the security and we know any Alawite have been actually defected into army will be punished much more, stronger than others.

Marwan Bishara

Actually Seumas, Nir started by saying that sectarianism in the region has an overspill or spill-over to Syria, but that also is gonna have now the opposite effect. I mean Syria is going to have quite an effect on Iraq, Lebanon and so on and so forth if sectarianism goes trans-regional. 

Seumas Milne (ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE GUARDIAN)

Well of course, I mean Syria is part of a region which has been, as Nir said, infused with this sectarian spirit since, in particular, the American invasion of Iraq. And I mean I find it hard to understand how any kind of western intervention and when we’re talking about the so-called international community, we’re talking about the western powers overwhelmingly. But any kind of western intervention in the Syrian conflict and confrontation can in any way lessen sectarianism. All the experience in the region, historically over the last 100 years with the western powers, colonialism in the region, but also since in multiple interventions, all that experience shows that such interventions exacerbate and increased sectarianism, not lessen it. Now, that doesn’t solve the problem but I think it’s a very important warning to people in Syria who are calling for foreign intervention.

Marwan Bishara

Just one second, Nadje from your work on secularism, do you think sectarianism and violence are basically inter-related? 

Nadje al-Ali (GENDER & POST-COLONIAL STUDIES, SOAS)

I actually see a dilemma. I see a dilemma that I can actually understand your perspective, but from my perspective of someone who has followed very closely what’s happening in Iraq, I’m very, very dubious about any kind of positive outcome of any form of foreign intervention. But at the same time I mean I was also, when it came to the invasion of Iraq I was debating with relatives inside Iraq who at the time were divided over foreign intervention, so I understand that you know it’s easier for us in a way …

Seumas Milne

They’re not divided now are they? 

Nadje al-Ali

No, they’re not divided now, but it took a long time, exactly.

Seumas Milne

Exactly because once they’ve had the experience, they’ve seen what that can lead to.

Nadje al-Ali

Yes.

Seumas Milne

And that’s the lesson that has to be learnt.

Nadje al-Ali

Exactly.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

The situation in Syria like this. We have the power of the people which actually the people they reach their no return point but at the same time they cannot get the momentum, they cannot achieve to topple the Assad regime and the other power actually the security or the army. As the situation continues like this, none of them they can prevail. This is why much more possibility to have civil war because overwhelming the victims are Sunni. And the overwhelming of the criminals and murderers are Alawite from the security. As the situation continue, goes on, this is the possibility to have civil war.  

Seumas Milne

My impression is that neither the opposition, nor the regime has sufficiently large level of support in the country really to prevail. I mean the opposition clearly has very substantial support but not enough to prevail and the regime clearly has a social base which has allowed it to survive.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

The Assad did not stop the killing since March 17.

Seumas Milne

Yeah.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

But how to prevent going to the civil war? If the international community committed to say that the Assad has no chance to stay in power.

Seumas Milne

How can that be enforced without military power?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

This is the question of the international community.

Nir Rosen

What can they do, short of military intervention?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

No, two ways. The first it has the Security Council to start with the resolution with sanctions on Bashar Assad and other security officers and refer their crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court.

Nir Rosen

Then they have another reason to never step down though. You know if they step down they’re finished.

Seumas Milne

What was the record of that in Iraq before 2003? Was it successful or not?

Marwan Bishara

If there is no international interference of whatever kind do you see militarisation of the opposition taking place de facto because of the de factions from the army?

Nir Rosen

I saw it myself; I mean I actually met with the military, with opposition military commanders in the Rastan area. I think it’s misleading to talk about the people because Syria is so divided among different groups of people. But certainly among the opposition supporters within Syria, there was a growing realisation during Ramadan, during August that peaceful demonstrations are not going to overthrow this regime. And they began to call for armed international intervention. But even before that, by July, there were armed attacks against security forces, ambushes.You had people defending demonstrations; you also had people initiating attacks against security forces in parts of the country.

Marwan Bishara

Is that increasing?

Nir Rosen

That’s been increasing.

Marwan Bishara

On the chart do you see it going up?

Nir Rosen

It’s an increasing trend and we also see villagers and slum dwellers, people who already have access to weapons, using weapons to defend themselves. As security forces come into a neighbourhood they’re met with fire from some of the young guys who happen to have guns. So it’s not very organised but you also have a very organised phenomenon developing of ex-army officers and enlisted men.

Marwan Bishara

What’s amazing about this Nadje, in the senior positions there are so many women leaders but in places like Libya, where there is violence, and in places like Syria, the more the violence the less role …

Nadje al-Ali

Yes exactly.

Marwan Bishara

So how do you see that translating? 

Nadje al-Ali

That’s I mean a big concern for me and that’s why I’m not very optimistic with respect to Libya for example, what I’ve seen and also now I get worried hearing about the militarisation of the whole process. I think that there is a relationship between the militarisation of a society and gender based violence. The more militarised the society is, the more we find violence against women and the more women are marginalised. That’s something not unique to the Middle East, that’s something that actually historically it cross-culturally happened, everywhere. And I see that also happening or unfolding in certain context now.

Marwan Bishara

And Radwan, one of the positive things about Syria is that it has this pluralistic society, so what are you doing at the Syrian National Council and the opposition to make sure that the council’s representative of the society and of the various sections of the society that we spoke about earlier?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

We don’t have a national council depends on the sect’s group. Rather than we look, we have all the political and the social powers in Syria and Damascus, the creation, the Muslim brothers, the Kurdish political parties and the independence and all other intellectuals and the activists, we say that we’ll have actually an umbrella for the opposition which called the Syrian National Council but every political party has to put their different ethnic groups in consideration. 

Marwan Bishara

So you don’t want quotas, but you do want something that’s representative?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

Exactly. 

Marwan Bishara

Why isn’t Aleppo and Damascus fully involved in the revolution as others? 

Nir Rosen

Well there’s two arguments that could be made for why.

There’s more than one third of the population of the country and the most important cities in the country the capital and the economic centre. You could argue that the security forces have been very smart about preventing demonstrations from happening, which is certainly part of the reason. But also this is where much of the wealth of the country is, in business class and they’re inherently conservative and they would rather maintain their life that they have now than venture into the unknown. And I spoke to many Sunni regime supporters in Aleppo and they have been disillusioned by the opposition. They say even if we don’t like Bashar, we’re afraid of this opposition, it’s Islamist maybe or the violence kind of scares them. Their fear of a civil war and of sectarianism and they prefer the decent life they have now, which if you have money is actually quite good.

Marwan Bishara

Are you scary Radwan?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

No, no, no.

Marwan Bishara

Do you think we should be scared of the Syrian National Council?

Seumas Milne

No, but what I’d be interested to know is what your strategy is to advance without civil war?  Because it seems to me your only approach is to say we must have foreign intervention and I mean, for many people in the region and beyond, we’ve seen that that can have disastrous consequences.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

Yeah I know.

Marwan Bishara

Why not peaceful protest because that’s the whole magic of the Arab revolution? That’s how it’s succeeded in Tunisia and Egypt, perhaps in Yemen.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

Yeah. I’m not in favour of military intervention.

Marwan Bishara

Are you in favour of militarising the revolution?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

No, no, no. One of the principles of the Syrian revolution against any military intervention. And in all the opposition conferences in June, in May, in June, in Antalya, in Cairo, in other places, against any military intervention. But then look to the regime what’s happened, more killings and the way have they been torturing their people, they feel the security officer they are immune.

Marwan Bishara

So has the position changed now?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

Of course.

Marwan Bishara

It’s in favour of international intervention?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

The people on the streets, they’re calling actually for a no fly zone, it’s kind of military intervention.

Nadje al-Ali

No I get very dubious when I hear ‘the people’.

Marwan Bishara

I mean the protestors they carried … signs.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

You have protestors in 159 cities.

Nadje al-Ali

Right.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

And villages in Syria, all of them raising banners, no fly zone.

Seumas Milne

I don’t think it’s surprising at all that sections of the Syrian opposition have turned to armed resistance, given the level of repression that there’s been in the country. But the question is, you know from the point of view of the opposition, what strategy is that going to lead to from the point of view of getting change in Syria? Getting the kind of society you want? And it seems to me the logic of everything you’ve said is that the only way, the only path out of that is foreign intervention. Exactly what you’re saying, people are being pushed towards calling for a no-fly zone which is a polite term for aerial bombardment, as we’ve seen in Libya. I mean there has been mass repression in Yemen as well, but I don’t see the opposition there calling for an intervention.

Marwan Bishara

But there are military, it’s becoming militarised in Yemen as well.

Seumas Milne

Well of course in Yemen the Americans are already intervening and have done for some time and supported the government. 

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

What’s the number of the people who have been killed in Yemen, the number of people have killing in Syria.

Marwan Bishara

How many, 3,000?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

No, no, no.

Marwan Bishara

No in Syria 3,000?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

We do believe the number is much, much higher.

Marwan Bishara

And you think with intervention it will decrease or increase? 

Seumas Milne

I mean in Yemen it’s getting close to 2,000.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

Let’s have small comparison, during 18 days Egyptian revolution, the Human Rights Organisation confirmed that 230, 250 have been killed in Egypt during this 18 years. Where Egypt they have stronger Human Rights Organisation, they have Al Jazeera on at the Tahrir Square, which is God’s eye, they protect the protestors on the ground. Syrian, we have none of that. None of that. And it has been seven months and this is why the Armed Council in Egypt confirmed later on that the people who have been killed is 822. This is why we get only five per cent of the real situation on the ground, of the people. Yesterday the report of Amnesty International, half their people have been killed inside the hospitals. This is the everyday life of the Syrians.

Nir Rosen

What’s the point of a no-fly zone if there’s no flying? I mean the Syrian air force is not involved in this oppression of the uprising. So what will a no-fly zone accomplish?

Seumas Milne

But we know that a no-fly zone is in fact an armed intervention from the air.

Nir Rosen

Yeah bombing them.

Marwan Bishara

Gentlemen, Nadje, we’re going to need to take a news break. Before we do here’s a recap of the recent events in Libya.

Narrator

It has been a long time coming but Libya is at last starting a new chapter.

The mood here is one of elation.

Libyan soldier

Our happiness is not just for Libya, but for all the Muslim world. All Arabs. 

Translator for Libyan citizen

We are happy. By God so happy for our people and our men.

Narrator

Western leaders, by contrast, elected for a more sober reaction.

David Cameron (British Prime Minister)

Today is a day to remember all of Colonel Gaddafi’s victims.

Jose Manuel Barroso (PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION)

This marks an era, the end of an era of despotism.

Ban-Ki Moon (UN SECRETARY GENERAL)

This is only the end of the beginning. The road ahead for Libya and its people will be difficult and full of challenges.

Narrator

The first of those challenges will be to disarm the fighters who are now more familiar with ballots ...

In order to fashion a new military.

Libya will need a massive reconstruction programme to rebuild the battle-scarred country. But forging a completely new political and social landscape will be equally challenging. the National Transitional Council seems aware of its own limits, especially since none of its members will be allowed to participate in the elections next year.

Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Libya now has to wipe the slate clean to purge all traces of the regime from society. That approach is not without its own blessings and curses, especially as the psychological scars might prove hard to heal in a society that has been at war with itself. Bur if they succeed, it will prove a vivid example to countries like Syria and Yemen, still struggling for freedom. For those countries this inspiration can't come quickly enough.

END OF PART 1

---

PART 2

Marwan Bishara

Welcome back. It’s like a fairytale, who would have imagined last November, that Tunisia would hold its first free elections within a year? And that Ennahda, the Islamist party the former dictator called a destructive danger on democracy, and terrorist and corrupting, would win two fifths of the vote, underlining its commitment to democracy and express its willingness to form a coalition government with secular parties?

Narrator

Twice this year Tunisians have done what once seemed impossible. In the first ever free elections, this new electorate has demonstrated an overwhelming commitment to democracy.

Tunisian voter

It’s a day that we thought would never arrive.

Narrator

The Jasmine Revolution inspired millions to take to the streets and join the Arab Spring. Now this election shows what to do once the regimes have been removed.

Dr Noureddine Miladi (JOURNAL OF ARAB & MUSLIM MEDIA RESEARCH)

In the same way we understood the Tunisian revolution, it served as an inspiration to other countries, Egypt, Libya and now Yemen and also Syria. The success of the democratic elections in Tunisia they will, I think they will serve as another form of inspiration.

Narrator

And for many here, they're all too aware that the difficult work is just beginning.

Dr Larbi Sadiki (AUTHOR: THE SEARCH FOR ARAB DEMOCRACY)

In Tunisia what you’ve got, you’ve got a political class, politically elite who begin now, a process of apprenticeship, democratic apprenticeship.

Narrator

And it's not hard to understand why. From the moment it won independence in 1956, until January this year, Tunisia has been ruled by just two men. Both Habib Bourguiba and Zine Abidine Ben Ali promised an open, largely secular and free society. Yet both manipulated the system, imprisoned their opponents and rigged elections to stay in office. This helps explain why the children of those early days of promise became the grandparents taking to the streets in this year's protest.

And yet it is recent history which must be confronted first. the legacy of the Ben Ali regime must be dealt with and Tunisians must decide how to engage with countries who were ince all too happy to prefer regime.

Dr Larbi Sadiki

There is really a narrative there that’s been hidden, the endorsement for a long time by lots of western regimes, governments, you know to the Ben Ali dictatorship.

Narrator

And while those countries deal with the embarrassment of their past behaviour, inside Tunisia ...

The emphasis will be on the immediate challenges, among them will be reconciling political and cultural differences, or at least setting them aside for the time being, in the interests of what's best for the country. Parties like Ennahda are now in the spotlight. During Ben Ali's reign it was banned, many of its members imprisoned and tortured. But with these results, it now holds the balance of power and is responsible for constructing a working coaltion.

Rachid Ghannouchi (ENNAHDA PARTY LEADER)

Tunisia was born again today. The Arab spring was born again today, not in a negative way, like the toppling of a dictator, but in a positive way, a way that represents the people. 

Narrator

Outside of the country, many worry about its intentions and whether it is truly committed to democratic ideals. But that just shows, say experts, why outsiders are getting it wrong once again.

Dr Noureddine Miladi

This is the time that an Ennahda has faced the real world by taking real responsibility. Whether they will be up to it or not, we hope that they will up to it. But I think, I hope they will do it with the others, they will not do it by themselves because they will not be able to do it by themselves.

Dr Larbi Sadiki

In the west everyone is obsessed with the Muslim brotherhood and Ennahda. I think it is their right to make mistakes, to sharpen their political skills and also to be subjected, you know to the grilling of society so that they are forced to moderate, you know their politics.

Narrator

The reason many inside this country feel confident that this first step toward democracy will succeed, is the fact that the Jasmine Revolution itself was not ideological.

Dr Noureddine Miladi

It was the Tunisian peoples’ revolution, that’s why nowadays all the political parties, they confess, everybody in the country they confess that it wasn’t done by them, they contributed to the revolution, but it was done by the Tunisian people of all age groups, of all genders, of all political parties.

Narrator

What's essential, they say, is not forgetting why they took to the streets in the first place.

Dr Larbi Sadiki

When politics takes over, you know you are actually neutralising the revolution and really what you need, you need actually almost segment of the populous to remain the keepers of the moral flame.

Marwan Bishara

Seumas, so we’ve seen that report on Tunisia and on Libya. What is the lesson for Syria Yemen and international community in terms of intervention, outside intervention in Libya? 

Seumas Milne (AUTHOR: THE ENEMY WITHIN)

Well I think you know the outcome of the Tunisian elections shows the positive face of what’s called the Arab spring, where people have been able to express the popular will, a party which stands for some sort of progressive Islamism and social justice and national independence has been elected with the largest number of votes. Now of course, the Ben Ali regime still has its fingers in, or the successor’s of it, still have its fingers in the society, there’s still many problems they effectively control with state. There are outside forces, including Saudi Arabia intervening in the process right now. So there are counter-revolutionary forces in Tunisia, but obviously right now it’s the most hopeful fruit of that Arab spring and the Libyan experience, I would say, is the ugliest and most unsuccessful because if what people were looking for with foreign intervention in Libya, as they claimed they were, was to protect civilian lives, then it has been clearly a catastrophic failure.

Marwan Bishara

You don’t buy into the argument that it could have been worse if the International Committee did not intervene?

Seumas Milne

Well obviously we can’t know that, just as we can’t know whether when Gaddafi’s troops were, in March, were outside Benghazi, what would have happened if there hadn’t been an intervention. What we see going on daily in Libya now, which is mass ethnic cleansing, torture, mass detentions, the destruction of an entire city in the case of Sirte. You know killings of prisoners in the most horrific manner and very large numbers of civilian casualties, I don’t think anyone can seriously say that’s a success in its own terms. And when it comes to the future of Libya, I think the danger is that Libyans have lost control of their own country, that the western powers that intervened you know hold many of the key strings and will not let it go lightly. And there’s going to have to be a battle now, if Libyans want to take back their future, to do that.

Marwan Bishara

Radwan, that doesn’t bode well does it for a scenario of intervention in Syria? 

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

No, I don’t like the debate to be that we are against or in favour of military intervention because no-one like to have military intervention in his own country. Of course this is obvious. But the question that’s how to stop the killings? They tried in different ways, they go to the street by large, critical numbers and the only response by the Assad regime, the live ammunition. 

Seumas Milne

Radwan, with respect, I mean I completely see your point there is a problem about how to stop the killings, but what we’re absolutely clear about after Libya, is that that is not the way to stop the killings because it multiplied them by a very large number so that foreign military intervention leads to disaster.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

The only way to stop the killings, to use force, to prevent the forces being used against the protestors.

Seumas Milne

Well that’s not what happened in Libya, the use of force externally, through a no-fly zone, so-called, actually led to the deaths of tens or thousands of people. So that didn’t work, it of course worked in terms of overthrowing the regime and if that was the intention, it was successful. But the question then is will Libyan’s control their own future? But it certainly didn’t stop killing.

Nir Rosen

There’s no similarity between Libya and Syria. I mean you had Benghazi in Libya, you had a big part of the country which was far away from the capital, 1,000 kilometres, controlled by the opposition and they had their own militias so they had a staging point and NATO was willing to interfere. And NATO is not going to be bombing Syria and there’s not even a pretext of Syrian air craft bombing civilians that would warrant a no-fly zone. So there’s no place in Syria where the opposition can kind of have its arm base. There’s no international desire, whatsoever, to come close to Syria. The Americans have the Iraq experience behind them, there’s no nearby bases they could use. I think Turkey is the most likely foreign actor which will intervene at some point, maybe a year or two down the line but it’s silly to look for comparisons.

Marwan Bishara

But that would be disastrous no less.

Nir Rosen

Probably, and it’s gonna take some big pretext, maybe war, a civil war kicks off or there’s a very large massacre or a lot of humanitarian displacement which is I think, quite far off still. I think though we do have to acknowledge that most of the Syrian opposition on the ground would welcome the opposition, would welcome military intervention of one kind or another and they’re actually hoping for it and asking for it.

Marwan Bishara

Nadje what do you think about it, a set back?

Nadje al-Ali

Well I mean for me I have another concern, or an added concern, which is the images that I’ve seen. From my perspective, it’s all about men fighting arms with other men fighting with arms. And in the process, for example we’ve heard accounts of African migrant workers being targeted, actually in Tripoli there were documented cases of female migrant workers being raped by the rebels. So for me in terms of thinking the future, in terms of just equal society where women play a role, this doesn’t fare very well. I mean there’s such a heightened violence and I also again, thinking sectarianism is not an issue in Libya, but in terms of the division in society, among tribes, in terms of different regions, I’m very worried.

Marwan Bishara

Why wouldn’t Syria go on the footsteps of Tunisia Radwan?

Dr Radwan Ziadeh (MEMBER, SYRIAN NATIONAL COUNCIL)

I can assure you that all, not only in Syria, in Yemen, also in Libya, they would prefer to go on Tunisian model. One of the problems why Syria has much more difficult situation than in Libya, because the Assad is using the full capacity of the army suppressing the people. Which I think Bashar Assad, if Bashar Assad should be held accountable because he’s destroying the Syrian army which much needed as a national institution …

Marwan Bishara

For the future.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

For the future.

Marwan Bishara

But Nir, the sense is, if you take a bit of a distance, the last seven months despite the, perhaps the gloomiest, of course the death and so on and so forth, that’s very important, but certainly the Syrian opposition have made major strides forward over the last seven months? 

Nir Rosen

Sure and within Syria it’s actually remarkable, people of all sides of the political spectrum, even regime supporters, speak openly now in a way they never did before. And we see civil society initiatives, in homes for example, between opposition supporters and regime supporters to sort of settle their own differences and try to prevent the civil war. Things which you would never imagine under the Bath regime before, let alone opposition people who are now suddenly speaking openly and freely. So the Syrian personality has almost changed and people now speak openly and more freely than they ever have since the regime took over.

Marwan Bishara

So there is a positive evolution going in the Syrian society and the Syrian opposition?

Nir Rosen

At the same time we see this growing sectarian trend.

Marwan Bishara

Yes.

Nir Rosen

And a growing thirst for vengeance.  And actually communal violence is happening in some parts of homes in Hama which really reminds me of the early days of the Iraqi civil war.

Marwan Bishara

Let’s take it away from sectarianism and to the more micro picture if you will. You’ve been recently recognised by your fellow position on National Council in Libya and you’ve been there I suppose, last week. First of all, Seumas when will they, Europeans and others, recognise the Syrian National Council? Now that of course it’s celebrated in Europe and places as the legitimate representative, what stops the international community from taking a serious look at the representation of Syria?

Seumas Milne

Who is this international community?

I mean this phrase international community I think is a very problematic one.

Marwan Bishara

Yes.

Seumas Milne

But if you’re talking about the western states, I mean I don’t think there should be any question of recognising the Syrian opposition and there shouldn’t be any question of recognising any political group, whether I’m sympathetic with it or opposed to it. I mean when you’re talking about recognition you’re talking about people who control territory and they are effective, you know power authority in that country. And what’s happened in the case of the relations between Libya and the Syrian opposition is the purely political posturing has no I think direct significance. But I think it’s concerning for the Syrian opposition because it’s identifying them with a very bad and failed intervention and process which is very alarming.

Marwan Bishara

But it is likely for example, set aside the western world, Turkey. I mean Turkey might jump in and have some formulation of some sort in recognising before any other Arab country.

Seumas Milne

It’s perfectly true that there’s not going to be a Security Council resolution for intervention in Syria, that’s for sure because of the position of Russia and China. But I think if the process of civil war does develop, I think the responsibility to protect provision could easily be implemented and there are all sorts of scenarios one can imagine where that could take place. But I think your point about Turkey is important ‘cause it’s happening now. I mean the Turkish government is already opening up to armed elements of the Syrian opposition, that’s happened more clearly in the last few days. And I mean I think there is a risk of a regional proxy war in Syria taking place between Turkey and Iran, be very problematic.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

This is back to my argument that as soon with international community is unwilling to interfere right now we have the possibility of civil war. But at the end the situation will continue like this. Now I think it’s important to adopt sanctions on Bashar.

Nir Rosen

They already have sanctions. Look at Iraq under the sanctions, you had 13 years of sanctions, it didn’t do anything to the regime, it destroyed the people …

Dr Radwan Ziadeh

In Iraq there weren’t demonstrations. There are now demonstrations, and also, Syria is not like rich like Iraq.

Marwan Bishara

Why isn’t there the demonstrations in the Arab world and elsewhere in support of opposition in Syria and Yemen? Why are those Arab countries isolated?

Nir Rosen

Well I think first of all many of these countries are busy with their own revolutions. Yemen, Egypt is still in the process, Bahrain they’re sort of busy with their own problems and the ones that aren’t, you can’t demonstrate in those countries.

Marwan Bishara

So you think Tunisia is probably the actual fairy tail the only way forward for the time being?

Nadje al-Ali

The optimism that I have, and I have to say I was at some point very, very optimistic, but the optimism that I have left is very much related to Tunisia. I do think that the focus on elections is misplaced, I don’t think that elections equate democracy. Often elections actually institutionalise all kinds of either sectarian differences or other differences. I’m also still optimistic for Egypt, although I still see that one of the key problems is the military and the fact that the big difference between Tunisia and Egypt of course is the fact that the military never played such an important role and you have much more of a proper revolution. Whereas, in Egypt, with all due respect to people there, I don’t see that a revolution has happened. What I see there is actually that the old regime is very much still in place.

Marwan Bishara

Gentlemen, Nadje, thanks for joining Empire and I’ll be back with Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of the Ennahda party that has just won the Tunisian elections.

Marwan Bishara

Rachid Ghannouchi, welcome to Empire. 

After, maybe 40 years of struggle, 20 years of exile, years in Tunisian prisons, here you are, the head of the political party that’s just basically won the elections in Tunisia. 

Rachid Ghannouchi (ENNAHDA PARTY LEADER)

(translation from Arabic)

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

Did you expect this to happen in your own lifetime?

Rachid Ghannouchi

Yes, I was sure this would happen. During the past 22 years I was expecting free elections to happen at any time. 

Marwan Bishara

Why haven’t you been a candidate in the elections? Or you simply made the conscious decision not to be involved in the elections and not to be in the next government?

Rachid Ghannouchi

Before I went back to Tunisia I said I had no ambition to become a president, a minister or an MP. It was a personal decision that I’d taken, not that of the movement.

I did that because I see that this uprising was undertaken by the young people. All the martyrs are young people, the elders only take the lead.

This is why the revolution should be youthful; we’re dealing with a revolution which is built on renovation. A revolution staged by young people who should take the lead, while the elderly should take a back seat from where they may give advice and guidance.

Marwan Bishara

Only to advise or are you actually leading from above or from behind?

Rachid Ghannouchi

I’m now leading directly as I am the party leader. I’m leading at the first row but I’m not intent on continuing to hold this position so someone else will take over. 

I’ll not however, remain unemployed, I’m the Deputy Secretary General of the Association of Muslim Scholars, so I have much to do in the Muslim world.

Marwan Bishara

So Ennahda is going to enter into coalition government with secular parties, that’s a major step forward. Do you think a constitution will be written in consensus among several coalition parties like that soon? 

Rachid Ghannouchi

The constitution should be written in the spirit of conciliation. This constitution is not for one or even three parties. This constitution is for an entire nation so it should be written in the spirit of conciliation, not that of the 51 per cent which means a majority that would impose its will, the constitution should cover a long period, so it should incorporate principles that would live up to 100 or 200 years in the future.

Marwan Bishara

What would be your continuing line when it says: “Sharia is … continue the line for me, in the constitution? 

Rachid Ghannouchi

Sharia is justice.

Marwan Bishara

And its role in the state is what?

Rachid Ghannouchi

Sharia plays the role of the source of values. It’s not a set of exact rules but it directs us to brotherhood, justice, freedom, equality, humanity. 

Marwan Bishara

So you still think that so-called “Islam is the solution” for Tunisia?  Or now you’re saying that a state with civic values is the future for Tunisia?

Rachid Ghannouchi

These two matters aren’t contradictory.  The Islamic system is a civic system, it’s not ruled by a church, it follows scholarly guidance. 

Marwan Bishara

But is this your own interpretation of Islamism or because certainly other Islamists don’t adopt this understanding?

Rachid Ghannouchi

That’s why there’s no one single interpretation of Sharia. Tunisia may adopt a certain understanding of Sharia, while Iran adopt a different one and Pakistan adopt a third one. The concept of Islamism is a very wide one with different understanding starting from Bin Laden all the way to someone like Erdogan, it’s a very wide range. 

Marwan Bishara

Speaking of those two specific poles if you will, do you think what’s happened in this last year is a victory for the non-violent, for the more tolerant Islam rather than the totalitarian Islam like Bin Laden?

Rachid Ghannouchi

I once said that al-Qaeda was over in Tunisia, the eruption of the revolution in Tunisia means there is a third way for a change. It’s not that of violence, it’s not that of integration into the current regimes under the pretext of aiming to reform them ‘cause these regimes cannot be reformed.

Rachid Ghannouchi

Changing the internal systems of these regimes failed and changing them through violence also failed. So the Arab world was going through a state of inactivity.

Tunisia came up with a third way which is the peaceful revolution. In one year three regimes have so far been toppled and two others are on the way to being toppled. This wave will not stop. 

Marwan Bishara

You were tortured, you were imprisoned, you were exiled. Is there going to be torture in the future of Tunisia, is there going to be exiled people from the future of Tunisia or it is going to be stated in law that there will be no torture, that Tunisia will no longer torture?

Rachid Ghannouchi

The constitution must include an article on criminalising torturers and to consider torture as a crime against humanity.  Utmost penalties must be executed against the perpetrators of this crime, regardless the ideologies they adopt.  Torture’s a violation of humanity. There must be national consensus on criminalising torturers.

Marwan Bishara

On the question of the economy. If there’s gonna be no employment and no jobs, I think all our talk here will be just philosophical. You’re perhaps socially concerned but economically is Ennahda  liberal on the economic level? You’re gonna attract investment and open up the society towards more capitalist mode of production?

Rachid Ghannouchi

We’ve adopted in our programme the system of free social economy. The same system of the market but within the framework of justice and humanity, not the system of brutal markets. Yes, we encourage free initiatives, but within the framework of humanity.

Marwan Bishara

On this encouraging note, Rachid thank you. 

POSTSCRIPT

Marwan Bishara

I have seen many victims become victimisers. The persecuted, then embracing prosecutor's roles, obsessed by those who had control over their and their family's lives. Determined to never again be subjected to gruesome injustice, they rush to wear their victimisers' outfits, put on their dark sunglasses and earpieces before holding their guns and occupying their torture chambers. Real change doesn't come by substituting national flags and names of internal security services or by growing, or shaving beards. It comes by ensuring that past injustice visited upon them isn't repeated under their watch.The humiliating murder of the captured former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is a case in point. But, that's the way it goes.

If you have any thoughts or comments please write to me. Until next time. 

empire@aljazeera.net 

Source: Al Jazeera