This is great news for President Assad
Egypt is the best thing to happen to Syria for a long time. Just when Western leaders – and Qatar – were hounding President Bashar al-Assad for his brutal suppression of opposition demonstrations, along comes the latest crisis in Egyptian cities where security men brutally suppress opposition demonstrators who want the army to obey the orders of a real democratic parliament and to stop posing as the “guardians” of a new constitution.
Of course, Syria is not Egypt, which, I suppose, accounts for the mouse-like silence of the Obamas, Clintons, Camerons, Sarkozys and the Emir of Qatar over events in Cairo.
This gives yet more time for Damascus to talk about democracy, reform, pluralistic politics and a new constitution while its army fights the armed insurgency that has spread from Homs – a city that is now the centre of a vicious sectarian war. Is it still possible, conceivably, that President Assad will use this tiny bottle of oxygen from Egypt to prove that he really – really – means what he says about democracy, pluralism, etc?
Dr Faisal Mokdad, Assad’s Deputy Foreign Minister, is a believer. “Syria is changing and the old Syria will never come back,” he told me in the new Battlestar Galactica-style foreign ministry. “It will be a country free for the press. The ballot box will decide.” The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq set back early plans for reform, Dr Mokdad insists. I have my doubts about this, but take note of the minister’s conviction that Obama made the right decision in withdrawing from Iraq.
“Today, I heard that the number of young American soldiers killed in Iraq – quite apart from the huge civilian casualties – was 4,600. This is a question the American people should ask themselves. Saddam Hussein has gone – but was it worth $400bn? In Libya, I’m told the cost was 30,000 dead.” Needless to say, I had to turn to the little matter of civilian casualties in Syria and the UN’s claim that 3,500 had died. Was it worth it?