Syria and Ethiopia–two peas in a pod.

Syria and Ethiopia–two peas in a pod. By Yilma Bekele
Tahrir Square, Misrata, Darra, Homs are becoming a household name. They are home of the brave and the bold. History will show epic battles were fought in this locations and the people won. The battles were not against foreign aggressors but rather it was the people against one of their own. Movies will be made, musicals will be composed and poetry written chronicling the taste of freedom and the average person’s sacrifice to keep it. They are locations we should all be proud of. They are places where the word ‘NO’ resonated to be heard all around the world. Some will say they are places of shame. No one likes to wash dirty linen in public. The people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria showed us sometimes it is necessary. It has to be done to cleanse the country from of years of accumulated spiritual dirt.
We in Ethiopia have a lot of cleaning to do. Our house is filled with dirt and grime. Sweeping the dirt under the rug did not work. Painting over the dirt only aggravated the existing illness. In our case reform is not such a good idea. It can be said that we introduced the concept of remodeling a crumbling house. We did not have a prototype to test our design. Our model failed twice. Fear no more. A final design is emerging in the Arab World. We have a successful prototype to adapt to our situation.
We thank our Arab neighbors for the heavy lifting. We envy their success while we are not ashamed to bask in their reflected glory. Our self-esteem is enhanced by their success. We are ready to learn and implement the final battle. The question is not if there is going to be a war but how best to prepare for it is our issue. What better teacher than our Arab friends can one ask for?
All three countries have their own story to tell. There is a common thread running thru out their story. All three were cursed with evil men in charge. Two have overcome and one is on the verge. We have watched all three closely and here is the lesson I have grasped from this unfolding event. As I write this Gadhafi and family are on the run but by the time you read it he could be in custody either in Tripoli, Benghazi or The Hague, even dead. A sorry ending to a sorry life.
Tunisia is the spoiler. Ben Ali is not a good prototype. He loved himself too much. He was able to see the writing on the wall. He bailed out the first instance of trouble. As a dictator he was not the pride of his club. Mrs. Leila Ben Ali did not fare any better. While the mob was outside the walls she was busy hauling gold from the National Bank. At least she got her priorities right. They took the last train out of town. We noticed Tunisians don’t have the stomach for violence. Compared to what came after, theirs is the quiet revolution. Even the name given to their uprising is so laidback. What do you expect from a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ other than love? The world will never forget Mohamed Bouazizi our hero that lit the fuse which is still burning.
Egypt is a different matter. Mubarak was a formidable foe. Unfortunate for him his opponents were more formidable and savvy. He had plenty of tricks in his bag and used them all. First he was belligerent. He dismissed the whole incident as another attempt by the feeble. Then he brought the old Moslem Brotherhood into the picture with al Qaeda thrown in to please the West. That did not get traction. It was time for good old cabinet shuffle. The people of Egypt went into collective yawn. It was time to bring out the tugs on camel back. Single handedly our Mubarak ignited Tahrir Square like never before. It was a matter of time before the dominos started to fall. The Generals grabbed the last parachute and bailed out. Egypt is too educated and advanced for us. The lesson for us is dictators are paper tigers.
Now Libya is very interesting. The resemblance to our Ethiopia is borderline freaky. They are not our twin but close. The Leader is someone existing in his own zone. Why not, he has been hallucinating for the last forty years. He had the nerve to scold the Tunisians for chasing Ben Ali and Leila. That requires balls made of titanium. Too bad the brain is a mush. Gadhafi thought he has all his ducks lined up. Nothing can go wrong in Libya. What – me worry he said. Delusion was his undoing. He has his elder son berating his people, his middle son with his own battalion rearing to burn and pillage and his only daughter screaming on National TV. Libya was a family affair.
Vain, selfish, spoiled and totally mad is a few of the adjectives used to explain this dysfunctional family. The oil money helped fuel their eccentric behavior. For forty years Libya was run like a family business. For forty years ‘The Leader’ was allowed to bully his people, bully his neighbors and entertain humanity. The West accommodated him when it suits their interest. The Libyan people suffered quietly. Today it is payback time.
Gadhafi felt he was safe why? Because he thought he did his homework that is why. He had all that is needed to run a police state. No independent Parties are allowed. Check. No independent media permitted. Check. No independent civic organizations tolerated. Check. Country divided among tribal lines. Check. Secret police let loose on the population. Check. Those that can be bribed, black mailed or exiled taken care of. Check. What in heaven went wrong? Sometimes it is not all about the belly. Mental and spiritual freedom is another necessary component. That is what is lacking in oil rich Libya. That is what Senor Gadhafi is finding out as he is hiding in a cold and wet underground bunker with no light and no TV to watch himself bully his people. Today he is the rebel and they are the State. Life has a way of catching up, you think? The Leader has a date to keep with International Court of Justice or a single bullet. He brought it on himself.
Syria is a different animal. Syria is our identical twin. Ato Meles meet Dr. Assad your long lost brother. Their resemblance is uncanny. Syria is our prototype. What Assad does Meles will do, you can be sure of that. What is being done to the Syrian people will be done to us, no question about that. Because the primitive nature of our society we get double dose. What exactly is Assad and company doing to their people is a good question.
Hafez al Assad the father of the current president died in 2000 after thirty years of brutal dictatorship. The Parliament amended the constitution reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34 to allow his son to succeed him. In a referendum in which he ran unopposed he was able to ‘win’ 97.29%. You can say amending the constitution and rigging elections are a common trait shared by our brave leaders.
The Assad’s belong to the Alawi tribe. The Alawi are Arabic speaking ethno-religious community. According to Daniel Pipes writing in The Middle Eastern Studies ‘Alawis were the weakest, poorest, most rural, most despised, and most backward people of Syria. In recent years, however, they have transformed themselves into the ruling elite of Damascus. Today, Alawis dominate the government, hold key military positions, enjoy a disproportionate share of the educational resources, and are becoming wealthy.’
You see what I mean. Substitute Alawi with some people we know and you got a mirror image. The Alawi constitute 12% while ours account for 14%. Assad got Maher and Rifaat his two brother and other Alawi tribesmen in key positions controlling the Army and security while we got Smora Yunus, Tadese Worde and Gebre Dela. Where their allegiance lies is not difficult to guess. The Nation or the Tribal Leader is a hard choice to make. Sometimes but not today.
Here is where we and our Syrian cousins break ranks with Tunisia and Egypt. Ben Ali and Mubarak were measured in their response. The killing was a last resort. It was not a first response. An argument can be made for the two being a peaceful revolution or change thru non-violence. Without the population resorting to picking up arms. The regime of course killed but it was a half-hearted attempt. The nature of the Army made a big difference in the regimes psychology. Cairo and Tunis have a professional army loosely chained to the dictators while in Syria and Ethiopia the Army/State Security and the political leadership are peas in a pod. One cannot exist without the other. So what has Hafze’s son been up to? Nothing good at all!
His problem started when Tunisia erupted with Ben Ali fatigue. Bashir felt the heat all the way in Syria. It has been percolating ever since. All the standard responses have been tried. Nothing seems to work. He has tried sending tanks into neighborhoods, mass arrest, snipers on every tall building, concessionary speeches on TV, promises of coming election, lifting of draconian laws, setting up meetings with selected ‘opposition’ groups and encouraging inter-ethnic strife. None worked. There is no reason to think he is capable of meeting the demands of the people. The situation he has boxed himself does not allow compromise. The two thousand people his security has killed since the onset of the uprising have completely changed the situation.
Is there a formula that allows Assad to escape from this unfortunate situation? There is always a chance, isn’t that what Doctors tell you even when the diagnosis is terminal cancer? The truth is that there are not that many instances where serial criminals such as Assad or Gadhafi have negotiated a safe exit. A few have managed to negotiate a way out. Chile and South Africa are good examples. Assad’s Syria is a little different.
Both Augusto Pinochet and F.W de Klerk agreed to free and fair elections. They also received guarantees that the new regime will be measured in its dealings regarding the past. Their organizations and most of the upper class that benefited from the current order agreed ‘democracy with guarantees’ was a better way out. Is this possible in Syria?
The answer is a guarded no. There are factors that complicate the situation. How does the minority but highly visible Alawis react? They supplied the muscle to the regime wouldn’t a new situation complicate that? The resentful Sunni majority is not going to sit idle when they see a crack on the wall. Notice the role of the Mosques in this confrontation. How about the powder keg of the young and unemployed, what do they have to lose? Assad is between a hard place and a rock.
The opposition is becoming bold and relentless. The foreigners are putting a squeeze on him by freezing his account and threatening a few of his accomplices. The economy is tanking due to the strife economic and isolation and the Arab League has turned left. His Army is stretched thin and money is running low. Inflation is here.
Due to his and his father’s iron rule there is no credible opposition he can negotiate with. The mob on the street is not going to listen to his chosen leaders of the legal opposition. Accepting free and fair election is out of the question. Why would his Alawi base accept that? What guarantee do they have the Sunni majority will be so forgiving for years of abuse? Why would the criminal elements in the Security and Army expose themselves to trial and punishment? How about those paper millionaires both Alawi and Sunni, would they sit and watch while their wealth crumbles?
As you can see the similarities between the two countries is very scary. It is clear Assad is cornered. It has not occurred to him that further resistance is futile. The least we can do in Ethiopia is watch and learn and devise ways of turning our coming disaster into a positive moment. It is no use to pretend things are hanky dory. They are not. When a single Banana costs $10 bir, a liter of cooking oil costs $130 or so a kilo of coffee costs $140 it is not all right. It is not going to be all right in the near future. We have to discuss ways of confronting the problem and have a solution ready. We buy insurance in case we have an accident. When it happens, if it happens we are ready. Let’s us look at our country the same way. In case it starts to implode from inside, like the last two times I believe it is better to anticipate situations and devise appropriate response. This knee jerk response based on hate and insufficient knowledge and expertise is not rational or winning strategy.