Addressing an inter-Arab forum on Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar Assad denounced the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings as a triumph for “extremism” over “Arab identity,” described the Muslim Brotherhood as an English plot to undermine pan-Arab nationalism, and said there should be no conflict between Arabism and Islam.
The event in question was called the Arab Forum for Confronting the Zionist-U.S. Reactionary Alliance and Supporting the Resistance of the Palestinian People, according to Syria’s SANA News service.
He suggested the Arab Spring was engineered by “enemies” of pan-Arabism who sought to exploit the “weakness of pan-Arab affiliation and weakness of pan-Arab sentiment.”
The result was Arabs either “throwing themselves into the hands of foreigners” or “embracing Islamist extremism as a replacement for Arab identity.” The enemies of Arabism “succeeded in undermining society partially, dividing this society into groups, some of them distant and some of them discordant, and others are contentious and conflicting.”
In other words, Assad does not consider himself responsible in any way for the brutal Syrian civil war and thinks Arab leaders should stop hassling him about it so they can embrace “pan-Arabism.”
After warning his audience about the skill of the West at “setting traps” and the lamentable tendency of Arabs to fall into those traps, Assad defined one such ideological pitfall as the effort to separate Arabism from Islam by redefining it as “secular or atheist.”
He explained that when “simple citizens” are told they “have to choose between faith and atheism, naturally they chose faith.” This leads them to “stand against any affiliation other than faith and Islam,” and since Arabism was marketed to them as such a conflicting affiliation, they turned away from it.
This is where Assad looped in the Muslim Brotherhood, which most observers would not describe as an atheist organization since “Muslim” is right there in the name. However, Assad claimed the Muslim Brotherhood was “planted by the English during the first half of the 20th century in Egypt and later moved to other areas,” with the goal of undermining Arabism and separating it from Islam to the detriment of both.
He was generous enough to add that Christianity, which has a significant number of adherents in Syria, should also be compatible with Arab identity. “I would say that of course this is the same relationship; the relationship between nationalism and religion, but colonialism and enemies of pan-Arabism didn’t work in this direction, rather they focused on Arabism and Islam,” he said.
This might sound like an awful lot of pan-Arabic tub-thumping for a man who takes orders from decidedly non-Arab Iran and owes his continued power, and probably continued life, to Tehran’s intervention, but Assad handled that apparent dichotomy in the next portion of his speech, where he revealed that “pan-Arabism” has nothing to do with being Arab.
Assad said the “enemies of pan-Arabism” labored to give it an “ethnic nature, saying that it is exclusive to the Arab ethnicity, and if one doesn’t belong to it then they need to find an identity elsewhere.”
“They focused on the ethnic issue and took away from pan-Arabism the most important civilized aspects in it which are related to the cultural aspect, language, geography, history, and other things,” he said.
In other words, by “pan-Arabism” he means the Middle East sticking together as a group and resisting outside influences, except maybe for those nice Russians who have done so much to keep “terrorists” from unseating Bashar Assad.
Pan-Arabism also requires fidelity to the Palestinian cause in Assad’s view. He castigated Arabs who became exasperated with the Palestinians and said “the whole Palestinian cause can go to hell,” deriding them for “immaturity” and lacking a proper “sense of affiliation.”
Needless to say, there is one country in the Middle East that does not fit into Assad’s vision of pan-Arabism for non-Arabs. Hint: it is the country most unlikely to attend a “Forum for Confronting the Zionist-U.S. Reactionary Alliance and Supporting the Resistance of the Palestinian People.” In what is doubtless a completely unrelated development, that country has lately been developing improved relations with Iran’s rivals in Saudi Arabia.
Interestingly for a leader who relies so heavily upon foreign assistance for military power and the economic reconstruction of his war-torn country, Assad went on a tear against “globalization,” which he said, “ultimately aims at having us all belong to the financial institutions that lead the world which are practically centered in the United States, through which they lead politics, economy, and everything else.”
Assad claimed Syria has no “inferiority complex” about social or technological “backwardness” in the Information Age, portraying criticisms of inadequate Middle Eastern social development as another plot by sinister globalist forces to undermine pan-Arab nationalism. He encouraged his audience to resist this effort by embracing Arabic language and culture.
Assad framed the Syrian civil war as an especially potent conspiracy against pan-Arabism that appealed to Syrians who had “lost their identity, their ethics, and with them lost the homeland.” He praised the Syrian Arab Army for its efforts to combat extremists and “keep this homeland safe.”
“Today, I affirm after 7 years of sacrifices, that we wouldn’t think for even a second to make concessions about creed and Syria’s pan-Arab affiliation just to appease the rejects of the 21st century of the Muslim Brotherhood and Daesh or al-Nusra, or any other groups, whether outlaws or the groups which work in the interests of the Americans and the West in our region,” Assad declared. “Daesh” is another name for ISIS, while al-Nusra is al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
While Assad was delivering his sermon on Arab nationalism, Amnesty International was publishing a report that accused his regime of committing crimes against humanity by using a “starve or surrender” strategy to subdue rebellious cities.
The report accuses Assad of systematically withholding food and medicine from civilian areas, deliberately attacking civilian homes and hospitals, and forcibly displacing civilian populations. Some of Assad’s victims reportedly resorted to eating grass to stay alive.
Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers have also been accused of violating “deconfliction” agreements to continue destroying rebel populations. The latest bombing of a civilian market, conducted by what looked suspiciously like Russian aircraft, killed 60 people this week. Not a single comment on this violation was made by the supposed guarantors of the deconfliction agreement, including Assad’s government, Russia, Iran, and Turkey – the latter of which had troops only ten miles away, ostensibly charged with preventing attacks while peace negotiations continue.