Belfast Telegraph

Friday 21 November 2014

Egyptian crisis gives Syria time to talk about democracy

A female protester gestures as she argues with Egyptian riot police officers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Egyptian riot police beat protesters and dismantled a small tent city set up to commemorate revolutionary martyrs in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A protester throws a tear gas grenade back at Egyptian riot police near the interior ministry in downtown cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. Firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Egyptian riot police on Sunday clashed for a second day with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. The police battled an estimated 5,000 protesters in and around central Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day uprising that toppled authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A woman reacts to tear gas during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. Firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Egyptian riot police on Sunday clashed for a second day with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. The police battled an estimated 5,000 protesters in and around central Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day uprising that toppled authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February. (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali)
Egyptian protesters throw stones at Egyptian riot police, unseen, in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Police are clashing for a third day in Cairo's central Tahrir Square with stone-throwing protesters demanding the country's military rulers quickly transfer power to a civilian government. (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali)
An Egyptian protester holds canisters during the clashes with the Egyptian riot police, unseen, in Tahrir square, Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Police are clashing for a third day in Cairo's central Tahrir Square with stone-throwing protesters demanding the country's military rulers quickly transfer power to a civilian government. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)
Two Egyptian protesters throw rocks toward Egyptian riot police in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed dozens of people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military. (AP Photo)
Egyptian protesters run from the scene of a building fire, seen in background, near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. local people at the scene blame the fire on police firing tear gas in the area. Egyptian riot police clashed Monday with thousands of protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Protesters run from tear gas during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. Firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Egyptian riot police on Sunday clashed for a second day with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. (AP Photo)
Egyptian protesters and riot police face off in Alexandria, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed dozens of people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military. Protesters also marched Monday other cities, including thousands of students in the coastal city of Alexandria calling for those responsible for the violence in Cairo to be punished. (AP Photo)
An Egyptian protester wearing a gas mask waves a national flag at Tahrir Square, the focal point of the recent Egyptian uprising in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov.21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in a sustained challenge to the rule of Egypt's military regime. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
A protester stands on top of a burned car during clashes with Egyptian riot police, unseen, in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed at least two dozen people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Egyptian proteters shout anti ruling military council at Tahrir Square, the focal point of the recent Egyptian uprising in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in a sustained challenge to the rule of Egypt's military regime. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Protesters evacuate a wounded man during clashes with Egyptian riot police near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed at least two dozen people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A protester takes a cover behind a burned car during clashes with Egyptian riot police near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed at least two dozen people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A protester throws a tear gas cannister during clashes with Egyptian riot police near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed at least two dozen people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A protester covers his face as he looks from behind a wall at Egyptian riot police, unseen, during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed at least two dozen people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Protesters move away from tear gas fired by Egyptian riot police, not seen, during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed at least two dozen people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
An Egyptian protester throws a tear gas canister as a man, left, looks on during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed dozens of people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military. (AP Photo)
Protesters gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed dozens of people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
An Egyptian police officer throws a rock at protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Egyptian riot police beat protesters and dismantled a small tent city set up to commemorate revolutionary martyrs in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Egyptian protesters shouts at the scene of a building fire, seen in background, near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Local people at the scene blame the fire on police firing tear gas in the area. Egyptian riot police clashed Monday with thousands of protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Wounded protesters are seen in a field hospital during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. Firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Egyptian riot police on Sunday clashed for a second day with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. (AP Photo)
An Egyptian protester uses a handmade sling shot to throw rocks toward Egyptian riot police in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed dozens of people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military. (AP Photo)
Protesters carry a youth wounded during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Egypt's army-appointed government handed in its resignation Monday, trying to stem a spiraling crisis as thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square clashed for the third straight day with security forces in violence that has killed dozens of people and posed the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of the military. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Egyptian protesters gesture during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed dozens of people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military. (AP Photo)
Protesters carry a man wounded during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Egypt's army-appointed government handed in its resignation Monday, trying to stem a spiraling crisis as thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square clashed for the third straight day with security forces in violence that has killed dozens of people and posed the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of the military. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Protesters carry a man wounded during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Egypt's army-appointed government handed in its resignation Monday, trying to stem a spiraling crisis as thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square clashed for the third straight day with security forces in violence that has killed dozens of people and posed the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of the military. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Egyptian protesters gather around Tahrir square during the clashes with the Egyptian riot police, unseen, in Tahrir square, Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Egyptian riot police clashed Monday with thousands of protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)
Protesters carry a man wounded during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Egypt's army-appointed government handed in its resignation Monday, trying to stem a spiraling crisis as thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square clashed for the third straight day with security forces in violence that has killed dozens of people and posed the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of the military. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A wounded Egyptian protester reacts as a medic treats him in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed dozens of people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military. (AP Photo)
Two Egyptian protesters accompany a man, center, overcome with tear gas inhalation during the clashes with Egyptian riot police, unseen, in Tahrir square, Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Egyptian riot police clashed Monday with thousands of protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)
Egyptian protesters gather around Tahrir square during the clashes with the Egyptian riot police, unseen, in Tahrir square, Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Egyptian riot police clashed Monday with thousands of protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)
CORRECTS CREATION DATE - Egyptian riot police are seen on the move during clashes with protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. Firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Egyptian riot police on Sunday clashed for a second day with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. The police battled an estimated 5,000 protesters in and around central Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day uprising that toppled authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February. (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali)
A protester sits in a police truck destroyed during clashes in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Thousands of police clashed with protesters for control of downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday after security forces tried to stop activists from staging a long-term sit-in there. The violence took place just nine days before Egypt's first elections since the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
An Egyptian protester holds shells during the clashes with the Egyptian riot police, unseen, in Tahrir square, Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Egyptian riot police clashed Monday with thousands of protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)
CORRECTS CREATION DATE - Protesters evacuate a wounded man during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. Firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Egyptian riot police on Sunday clashed for a second day with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. The police battled an estimated 5,000 protesters in and around central Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day uprising that toppled authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February. (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali)
Tear gas surrounds Egyptian riot police as they stand guard during clashes in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Thousands of police clashed with protesters for control of downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday after security forces tried to stop activists from staging a long-term sit-in there. The violence took place just nine days before Egypt's first elections since the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Egyptian protesters help an injured journalist, Maher Malak, from the scene of a building fire, seen in background, near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Local people at the scene blame the fire on police firing tear gas in the area. Egyptian riot police clashed Monday with thousands of protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
A wounded protester is evacuated during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. Firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Egyptian riot police on Sunday clashed for a second day with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. The police battled an estimated 5,000 protesters in and around central Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day uprising that toppled authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February. (AP Photo)
Protesters help a wounded man during clashes with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Thousands of police clashed with protesters for control of downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday after security forces tried to stop activists from staging a long-term sit-in there. The violence took place just nine days before Egypt's first elections since the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Protesters evacuate a wounded man during clashes with Egyptian riot police to a field hospital near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed at least two dozen people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
Egyptian proteters shout anti-ruling military council slogans at Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed dozens of people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
An Egyptian protester gestures during the clashes with Egyptian riot police, unseen, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Police are clashing for a third day in Cairo's central Tahrir Square with stone-throwing protesters demanding the country's military rulers quickly transfer power to a civilian government. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)

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?



Dr Mokdad is the right man to ask, for he was the official chosen by President Assad to face the bereaved families of Deraa when two teenagers died under torture by state security police after writing anti-Assad graffiti on the walls of the city last February.



"There were peaceful demonstrations in Deraa," Dr Mokdad says. "What happened should never have happened. I was sent to Deraa to give condolences for the dead. I faced angry people. I told them the President did not want this to happen, that the President had nothing to do with it. I gave them the President's condolences and they said they knew mistakes were made, that the President had nothing to do with this. He fired the governor and he established an independent judicial committee to investigate. What I do know is that armed groups are killing demonstrators."



But demonstrators killed by "armed groups" is not what the YouTube pictures from Homs suggest; today, however, these "armed groups" are certainly killing Assad's soldiers in very large numbers; opposition groups deny they are behind the insurgency, though they express enough frustration to make anyone suspect they are.



Dr Mokdad believes foreign journalists should be in Syria, but tells me he does not want me to risk my life in Homs and that "the British Government will blame us if you are killed".





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