In Syria, Protesters Are Pawns

What happens when a massively unpopular Arab leader does something that jihadi leaders support? That was precisely the question that popular Syrian jihadi ideologue Abdul Muhim Mustafa Halima, aka Abu Basir al-Tartusi, recently pondered in an online Q and A session.

“Why does the Syrian regime permit some of the demonstrators to cross the borders of the Golan with the Israeli state,” al-Tartusi asked in response to the opening of Syria’s border to protesters on May 15th. “Why now and with this timing, in which the Syrian people are going out chanting for the fall of the tyrant and his system?”

The question is of particular relevance in light of the response planned by anti-Israel activists on Israel’s borders, scheduled for May 20.

The questions also reflect a reality little discussed in Western media. Syria, easily considered to be one of the Middle East’s most oppressive regimes, has the ability to let off steam with anti-Israel demonstrations. Allowing Syrian infiltrations across the Israeli border is practically a godsend for jihadists around the world.

So the question is really why now? Why would the Baathist regime permit the first ever cross-border infiltrations by Syrian civilians? It’s a move that hasn’t been allowed during the nearly 40 years of al-Assad rule in Syria.

Interestingly, al-Bartusi’s answers hit the nail on the head. For one, al-Assad was telling the Arab world that he supports the “resistance” against the Jews. Simultaneously, he was also letting the West know that he is needed to control the border -- that without him, there would be mayhem and possibly another war. In addition, the act was a convenient distraction in the midst of his brutal crackdown on civilian protests.

On top of all these reasons, al-Assad was doing some serious signaling to Syrian society. “How are they demonstrating against the regime that permits them to demonstrate against the Zionist Jews in the Golan," al-Bartusi cleverly asks, "while he supports the front of the resistance and opposition?”

What’s missing from al-Bartusi’s analysis isn’t vitriolic anti-Semitism; there certainly is enough of that. Rather, al-Bartusi seems to miss that al-Assad had little choice in the matter. Never before has his family’s rule faced such a popular and cross-cultural threat to its existence, with so many segments of Syrian society calling for an end to oppression. Al-Assad didn’t permit the marches; he just chose to sidestep a wave of dissent that would further rock his shaky grasp on power.

Although al-Assad may have physical control over many parts of Syria, his regime has completely lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people. Controlling anti-Israel protests may give him the appearance of being the matador while Syrian society is the bull -- but events may steer him now more than he controls them.

On the following page, I provide my full translation of the jihadi question and answer session.

Translation of Jihadi Q and A: “Why does the Syrian regime permit some of the demonstrators to cross the borders of the Golan with the Israeli state?”

In the name of Allah, the most Beneficient, the most Merciful

After more than 40 years, this is the first and single time that the Syrian sectarian regime permits some of the Syrian civilian residents to demonstrate and some of them to cross the borders of the Golan ... for the Zionist Jews to kill four of them ... may Allah have mercy on them.

The question which one asks oneself is: Why now and with this timing, in which the Syrian people are  going out chanting for the fall of the tyrant and his system?

The answer: Firstly, Bashar al-Assad wanted to send a message to the international community and to Israel, that if you will not stop (inciting) against me and against my regime, this means I will release my grip on guarding the border, or at least I did not promise I can guard the borders like they should be and like is demanded of me. In this the Golan front will become loose and easy to cross for any crosser or intruder. As evidence, [one can see] what happened yesterday on Nakba day, and in this the risk to security and stability of the state of Israel as it is.

Secondly: The regime wanted to busy up the media and to distact their eyes away from it and its crimes, such as this new and strange event. Instead of the news of the crimes of the regime against the right of the Syrian people being the first news, [the regime wants] it to be the second, or the last!

Third: He wanted that the proud, revolutionary Syrian people, those demonstrating against the regime and its injustice, would go out. In this he said, “If you wanted to demonstrate, so go out and demonstrate against the Zionists in the Golan. Then how are they demonstrating against the regime that permits them to demonstrate against the Zionist Jews in the Golan, while he supports the front of the resistance and opposition?!”

Fourthly: The regime wanted to say to the Arab people: “It is not like you are being told about me, that mine is a treacherous and client regime. My role is ending the guarding of the borders and the security of the Israeli state. As a proof, I have permitted some civilian demonstrators to infiltrate and cross over the borders with the state of Israel!” These are the messages which the treacherous and client regime wanted to pass to all of the internal, local, and international factions, during this strange event, which it presents for the first time after 40 years!

But there remains a question which poses itself for us to ask to the sectarian Syrian regime. As long as you are interested in the state and the citizenry, and your functions and the functions of your army -- like you lead and lie about guarding the state and the citizens: Behold, it is the Jewish, Zionist army that is killing four unarmed Syrian citizens and injuring tens of others. Why don’t you defend them, fighting those who kill them? Or is it your task, and the task of your army and your troops, to stop facilitating and letting pass things like these demonstrations? And accordingly, then, what they [the demonstators] receive is what they receive, as it doesn’t interest you?!

Abdul Munim Mustafa Halima

“Abu Basir al-Tartusi”

5/16/2011 – 6/13/1432 AH

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