Belmont Club

The Fight Within the Fight

Developments in the Middle East have highlighted the differences amidst those trying to over the government. In each country wracked by the Arab Spring there are two struggles: one between the rebels and the regime and the second is between factions among the rebels themselves.

Wait and See in Tunisia: Lee Smith describes the ambiguous character of the Islamist regime elected to majority in Tunisia by examining the policy record of their leader.

Often described as the very model of the moderate Islamist, Ghannouchi spoke of women’s rights, democratic principles, and freedom of speech in the new Tunisia. Regarding freedom of religion, he seems to have surprised most of the dozen or so assembled scholars and analysts when he offered his opinion that people “are free to quit any religion, or change their religion.”…

He had relatively kind words for America. The U.S. diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks were evidence, said Ghannouchi, that the United States was “slightly better” than France in so far as they were concerned with Ben Ali’s human rights abuses. He sees “the position of the U.S. on the Arab revolutions as very positive,” said Ghannouchi, “It provides a new basis on the ruins of what the extremists have wanted to destroy through war.”

Nonetheless, Ghannouchi says, “bin Laden was right.” “The regimes can’t be changed from within, but he didn’t see they could be changed peacefully,” said Ghannouchi. “This is our contribution,” he said of Tunisia, where the winds of the Arab revolts first picked up almost a year ago now. “It’s our patent,” said Ghannouchi, “and Tunisians are very proud of it.”

In Egypt, No Alliance With Ultraconservatives, Islamist Party Says: “The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm on Thursday distanced itself from a more conservative Islamist party as early vote tallies indicated that the two factions would claim the two largest roles in the first Parliament elected since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.”

Part of this dynamic may be internal rivalry. Now that one faction of Islamists is in power their solidarity vis a vis others is broken. The moves to keep the Salafi profile low may also be aimed at keeping Egypt from starving. Egypt cannot afford to alienate aid donors just yet.

The statement appeared to be aimed at quieting the anxiety of Egyptian liberals and Western governments about the unexpectedly large share of the vote apparently won by Al Nour, which was formed by the ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis.

With Assad still in power the Syrian opposition has not yet reached the point where they may bicker.  The rival factions are being shepherded together though they appear to have as many differences agreements.

Syrian Opposition to Ramp Down Attacks: “The Free Syrian Army agrees to scale back its campaign of attacks on Syrian forces after talks with the Syrian National Council, which advocates nonviolence.”

Leaders of the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army met this week in southern Turkey, which has provided sanctuary to its neighbor’s two most prominent dissident groups while pressing them to take steps to avoid all-out civil war. It was the first official meeting between the council’s leader, Burhan Ghalioun, and the Free Army chief, Col. Riad Assad, though there have been lower-level contacts between the groups, said Free Army spokesman Maher Nuaimi.

Once again the problem of internal coalition building between a “moderate” wing and the guys the guns is visible. The likelihood is that the united front will last only until Assad is overthrown and then the differences will emerge. One internal division that is hard to paper over is between the ethnic communities.

On the one hand, the UN is characterizing the conflict as a “civil war” and that anxiety may be driving diplomats to support the rebels in order to influence the shape of the successor state.

The president retains considerable support from ethnic and religious minorities that fear an outbreak of sectarian bloodletting if his government is toppled. Most of the country’s 22 million people are Sunni Muslims, but the political and military leadership are dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Leaders of the Free Syrian Army acknowledge that many of those defecting are Sunni conscripts. But Rima Filhan, a council spokeswoman who said she was at Monday’s meeting, said her organization had received assurances that the Free Army was “a national army, not a sectarian army,” and would “protect the country from chaos once the regime falls.”

From that point of view it will be important to include Alawite and Christian elements in the rebel alliance so that their presence in the successor regime might prevent an all-out ethnic conflict.

French Forces Reported to be Training Syrian Rebels
: So say the Turks, which added that the French, British, and Turkish authorities “have reached an agreement to send arms into Syria.”

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