The recent marriage between al-Qaeda and al-Nusra Front, irrespective of the ambiguity surrounding it, is no passing matter. Evading this by invoking the role of the Syrian regime in manufacturing terrorism is of no use, nor is citing the impact of international reluctance to rush to the help of the Syrian people, or the Western tendency to overblow terrorism. While many of these excuses are correct, they do not help answer the actual questions raised by that marriage.
If we consider the Syrian revolution, and the rest of the revolutions of the Arab Spring, in a global context, we may assume that it and they represent the fourth wave our modern world has seen in breaking tyranny and the isolation that comes with it: The first wave came with the collapse of fascist totalitarian regimes following the First World War. The second wave began with the democratization of southern Europe (Spain, Portugal, and Greece) in the mid-seventies.
The third wave then occurred with the collapse of totalitarian communist regimes following the end of the Cold War, and the ensuing democratization of large parts of Latin America and Africa.
This fourth wave, which has discredited claims about Arab “exceptionalism,” is supposed to unequivocally topple tyranny and the isolation from a world where the United States and Western Europe occupy center-stage. This was the outcome of the three previous waves; so will the outcome of the fourth one prove that it merits its characterization as one?
We know full well that our reality is more complex, where revolution against tyranny and isolation has to coexist with powerful and cumulative tendencies for strife – religious, sectarian, and ethnic. In this context, the sphere occupied by al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, and supporters of Saddam Hussein in the broad environment of the Syrian revolution, represents that faction which seeks to replace tyranny with another, and isolation with another.
In the same vein, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the revolutions of the Arab Spring in general, is probably somewhere in the middle between the advocates of getting rid of all tyrannies and isolation, and the advocates of only substituting them, be they radical Islamic groups or nationalists. Indeed, the Brotherhood lurch, even if slightly, to this side at times, and to the opposite one, at others.
But while the “pro-substitution” camp shows boldness and initiative, the best the advocates of the complete elimination of tyranny and isolation can muster is a few hundred characters on Twitter, posted by Moaz al-Khatib!
In fact, this does not deviate from a longstanding Arab tradition, to which the ruling classes and the bourgeoisies have always been loyal. Among the signs of it is the fact that what is said behind closed doors is not said in public, undermining the supposed leadership of a given leader or opinion-maker. Yet the most important manifestation may be standing politically “with the west,” all while standing in cultural and social issues with what “the people” deem to be necessary.
Today, the problems of arming the Syrian rebels reveal how this vacillation is fatal to the Syrian revolution and Syria itself, especially as the West, which is supposed to arm them, is still fighting a war against a party that considers itself part of the Syrian Revolution. Needless to say, you can only extend support to those who support you in return.
This is also tantamount to an Arab political and cultural tradition, whose most common interpretation was: Let the world support us in Palestine, but we are not concerned with the affairs of the world!
Difficult and sharp choices? Certainly; but this is Syria.