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Proletarian issue 42 (June 2011)
Defend Syria against imperialist aggression
The vicious campaign to overthrow the anti-imperialist regime in Syria must not be allowed to succeed.
The imperialist powers, principally the United States, Britain and France, along with the Israeli zionists, are continuing with an aggressive campaign against Syria, which, along with Libya and Algeria, is one of the only remaining Arab countries that presently maintains an independent stance. This campaign is aimed at destabilising the country and overthrowing the government led by the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party.

Well-rehearsed imperialist script

The strategy and stages of this destabilisation process are, or ought to be, familiar by now:

•    Using grievances, both justified or unjustified, among sections of society to foment protests and demonstrations;

•    Encouraging terrorist actions against not only police and security forces but also against the general public and even against anti-government protestors, whilst conducting a propaganda war that all is that is happening is peaceful protest;

•    Presenting the government’s legitimate response to such provocations in the most lurid and exaggerated terms, with every rumour and falsehood, frequently invented by the imperialists themselves, presented as fact;

•    Using the hysterical atmosphere thus created to impose sanctions on the country, both as a form of psychological warfare and to impact on its economy by, for example choking off trade credits and restricting access to the international banking system; and finally

•    Launching outright armed aggression against the victimised country, using overwhelming military force, in particular aerial bombardment that constitutes nothing less than state terrorism, with or without the fig leaf of a resolution from the toothless and spineless United Nations Security Council.

This cynical scenario, already played out this year in the case of Libya, is now targeting Syria. Although the imperialists have failed to attain their aims in Iraq, are being defeated in Afghanistan, are presently stalemated in Libya, are under pressure from the people’s movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and other Arab countries, and are shaken by the revitalised struggle of the Palestinian people, who are unifying their ranks and intensifying their struggle, there can be no complacency regarding imperialism’s war agenda against Syria.

If Damascus is to be spared the fate currently being experienced by Tripoli, and previously by Baghdad and Belgrade, then it will be entirely due to the resistance of the Syrian and other Arab people and the solidarity of their allies and friends.

Western media lies

From the time that disturbances broke out in Syria in mid-March, manipulation, misrepresentation and lies could be discerned on the part of the imperialist mass media (as well as by their stooges who in the case of Libya and Syria have been joined by Al-Jazeera, the wholly owned mouthpiece of the Qatari feudal dictatorship, despite the positive role that it played with regard to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt).

The Syrian police and armed forces were accused of indiscriminate firing and of killing unarmed ‘pro-democracy’ demonstrators. But as Michael Chossudovsky of the Canadian organisation Global Research noted:

While these police shootings did indeed occur, what the media failed to mention is that among the demonstrators there were armed gunmen as well as snipers who were shooting at both the security forces and the protesters.” (‘Syria: Who is behind the protest movement? Fabricating a pretext for a US-Nato “Humanitarian Intervention”’, 3 May 2011)

Besides this, there have been numerous demonstrations in Damascus and throughout the country in support of the government and President Bashar al-Assad, some of them tens of thousands strong (even according to Reuters figures), but these have scarcely been mentioned. Indeed, on several occasions, video footage and photos of pro-government rallies have actually been presented by western media as mass anti-government protests!

Chossudovsky further notes: “From the initial casualty figures ... there were more policemen than demonstrators who were killed: seven policemen killed versus four demonstrators. This is significant because it suggests that the police force might have been initially outnumbered by a well-organised armed gang.

According to Syrian media sources, there were also snipers on rooftops which were shooting at both the police and the protesters.

What is clear from these initial reports is that many of the demonstrators were not demonstrators but terrorists involved in premeditated acts of killing and arson.” (Ibid)

Such reports have continued to come out of Syria, but they have been blacked out by corporate media, imperialist governments and politicians alike, who are all determined to stick to their prepared script of a ‘brutal dictatorship slaughtering its own people’.

For example, on 8 May, China’s Xinhua news agency reported that:

Thirteen army personnel were killed Sunday in an ambush set by an ‘armed terrorist group’ in the central city of Homs, Syria News local website reported ... Meanwhile, state SANA news agency reported that the army mourned on Sunday three of its personnel who were killed by a terrorist group last night in Homs, 160 km north of the capital Damascus.” (‘Thirteen Syrian army personnel killed in ambush set by “armed group”: report’)

The following day, the same agency noted: “Al-Watan newspaper also reported that Banias has been under the full control of the Syrian army after fierce battles with armed terrorist groups, which it said were using heavy weapons and mortar shells.

The army units and security agents are still chasing the terrorist groups in the city and in some villages of the southern province of Daraa, it said, noting that six army officers were killed.” (‘Syria president says turmoil will end’)

Economic challenges

There are, of course, economic and other reasons why some sections of the Syrian population have become estranged from their government.

For many years, Syria had an essentially socialist-oriented economy, in which the state played the dominant role. As in a number of other countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, relentless pressures in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of central and eastern Europe forced a retreat from this.

In particular, in 2006, the Syrian government finally accepted an IMF plan that imposed austerity measures, a wage freeze, opened the economy to foreign banks and privatised a substantial number of previously state-run enterprises. Predictably this led to increased unemployment and inflation alongside deteriorating social conditions. On the other hand, a small number of people were greatly enriched, including some with close ties to the ruling circles.

But besides these new government policies, there are other reasons for Syria’s present economic difficulties, the blame for which cannot be laid at the door of Damascus.

The country, like many in the Third World, has been badly hit by the dramatic global rise in food prices, and particularly by the suspension of grain exports by Russia and Ukraine, traditionally major suppliers to many Arab states, following the severe drought and devastating fires in those countries.

These woes have been compounded by severe water shortages, due at least in part to the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, home to a major aquifer, since 1967, as well as the building of dams and the resultant diversion of waters from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers by successive reactionary regimes in Turkey.

Perhaps the greatest issue has been the refugee burden that Syria has long assumed as a result of the imperialist despoliation of the region.

Writing in the US paper Workers’ World, Sara Flounders noted:

Syria has had the added burden of providing for more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants for the past 63 years. Their conditions are better than in any surrounding countries because, unlike in Lebanon and Jordan, health care, education and housing are accessible to Palestinians in Syria.

The massive US invasion and destruction of neighbouring Iraq, the Bush-Blair discussion of a similar attack on Syria in 2003, and the harsh new sanctions on Syria have added intense pressure.

But the most dislocating factor is never discussed in the corporate media: more than 1,500,000 Iraqis have flooded into Syria to escape the last eight years of US occupation.

This was a huge influx for a country with a population in 2006 of 18 million. According to a 2007 report by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the arrival of 2,000 desperate Iraqis per day had an extreme impact on all facets of life in Syria, particularly on the services offered by the state to all its citizens and all refugees. Syria has the highest level of civic and social rights for refugees in the region. Other surrounding countries require a minimum bank balance and ban destitute refugees.

The unexpected arrival of these Iraqi refugees has had a dramatic impact on the infrastructure, on guaranteed free elementary and high schools, on free health care, on housing availability and other areas of the economy. It has led to a rise in costs across the board. The prices of foodstuffs and basic goods have gone up by 30 percent, property prices by 40 percent and housing rentals by 150 percent.

Iraqi refugees also benefited from Syrian state subsidies in gasoline, food, water and other essential goods provided to everyone. Such a large mass of unemployed people led to the lowering of wages and increased competition for jobs. The impact of the global economic downturn during this difficult period added to the problems. (Middle East Institute, 10 December 2010, Report on refugee cooperation)

The US created the refugee crisis, which left more than 25 percent of the Iraqi population displaced ... Yet it accepts the lowest number of refugees and has donated less than the cost of one day of the war in Iraq toward UN relief costs. US sanctions on Syria have increased the economic dislocations.” (‘Events in Syria – which side are you on?’, 5 May 2011)

It is clear, therefore, that the main cause of any problems in Syria lies in direct and indirect imperialist pressure, be it in the form of military threats, occupation of part of the national territory by the ionist entity, economic sanctions and the impact of the ionist dispossession of the Palestinian people, and the imperialist occupation and destruction of Iraq.

Syria’s achievements

Yet despite all this, the Syrian government has, compared to others in the region, done a commendable job in providing for the social and economic needs and rights of the people. The literacy rate in Syria is 84 percent, whereas in Egypt, the world’s second-largest recipient of US aid after Israel, the literacy rate barely tops 60 percent.

According to the CIA World Factbook (clearly not a source unduly sympathetic to the Syrian government), life expectancy in Syria is 74.69 years, being 72.31 for men and 77.21 for women. This ranks at 94 out of 222, comprising 221 states and territories, with the world average taking the 160th place. To further put this into some kind of perspective, this puts Syria ahead of four members of the European Union – Romania (109), Bulgaria (114), Estonia (118) and Latvia (122).

Comparing Syria with its neighbours, we find it outranking oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which takes the 108th position, as well as Egypt (123), Turkey (126) and Yemen (173). Russia, after the disastrous restoration of capitalism, has sunk to 162nd place, whilst the blessings of imperialist occupation leave Afghanistan at 221 out of 222, with an average life expectancy of just 45.02 years.

Turning to infant mortality, the same CIA source puts Syria’s level at 15.62 in every 1,000 live births, putting the country in 115th place out of 222, with a world average of 41.61. Again, this puts Syria in a better position than Saudi Arabia on 16.16, Jordan (16.42), Turkey (23.49), Egypt (25.20), Tunisia (25.92), Morocco (27.53), Iraq (which in the time of Saddam Hussein had the best health service in the whole Middle East (41.68), Yemen (55.11), Mauritania (60.42), and Western Sahara, which is under Moroccan colonial occupation (60.44). Once again, Afghanistan has the second worst position in the whole world, with a heart-rending 149.20 deaths out of every 1,000 live births.

If the imperialist destabilisation campaign against Syria were to succeed, not only would these and other social gains for the Syrian masses be wiped out, the whole anti-imperialist struggle in the Middle East would suffer a major blow.

Anti-imperialist Iran would lose its only real ally in the region. The resistance movements of Hizbollah and Hamas would also be substantially weakened. According to Xinhua, no fewer than 11 Palestinian liberation movements are based in Damascus. These include Hamas, which has played the leading role in the resistance in recent years, as well as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

And whilst the United States would doubtless gain yet more bases in the region if Syria’s anti-imperialist government were to fall, Russia would lose one of its last two naval bases outside its own country, the other being in Ukraine.

History of sanctions and aggression

Imperialist hostility to the country did not begin with the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union in recent weeks.

Among the organisations believed to be implicated in the armed opposition to the Syrian government, two, the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (which staged a major insurrection in 1982) and Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT or Party of Liberation), have been headquartered in London for decades.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir claims to be a pan-Islamic party devoted to establishing a global Caliphate, or theocratic state with an absolute ruler, based on the most backward, most obscurantist and most medieval interpretations of Islam. Needless to say, it is violently anti-socialist, misogynist and opposed to national liberation.

But despite, or more likely because, of its professed support for a global Caliphate, there have been persistent reports that the organisation has been extensively used, whether unwittingly or otherwise, by MI6. British imperialism, its intelligence services in particular, has a long history of using fundamentalist movements in its machinations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya and elsewhere, including the Central Asian republics, both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

According to the State of Pakistan blog:

Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Britain emphasised the importance of muslims choosing loyalty to their religion above loyalty to Britain or any other country. In Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s view, Islam is anti-nationalist, transnational and pan-islamic in nature. Although it was founded decades ago and is active in many countries, its activities in Central Asia are considered as of vital importance to MI6 as part of Anglo-American strategy to contain the Russians and since the last decade to counter the growing influence of China. ” (‘Is Hizb-ut-Tahrir another project of British MI6?’, 21 March 2010)

Needless to say, the United States has been no less implicated. Syria has long been on the State Department’s notorious so-called “list of state sponsors of terrorism”, which has been one of the pretexts under which Syria has been subject to crippling sanctions.

Indeed, such have been the extent of US sanctions on Syria that the BBC said that western governments were “struggling to find levers” to put pressure on Damascus in terms of further sanctions. The Guardian added:

The US treasury department and other American agencies are discussing freezing the assets of senior officials accused of human rights abuses and banning them from travelling to the US or doing business there. Such sanctions are mainly symbolic, as the US has long had stringent measures in place against Syria and has little trade with the country.” (‘Syria sanctions planned by US after Deraa assault’, 25 April 2011)

Sanctions by the EU could be considerably more dangerous to the country. On 28 April, the Wall Street Journal reported:

European Union ambassadors will consider a number of sanctions against Syria when they meet Friday, including an asset freeze, travel bans and an arms embargo, according to a document seen by the Wall Street Journal.

The document, sent to member-state representatives by the EU Foreign Service on Wednesday, says restrictive measures could also include the freezing of current and planned aid to Syria, including loans from the European Investment Bank ...

The EU has earmarked aid to Syria worth €129m ($191m) for various programmes to help economic and rural developments for 2011-13. The EU has given Syria €80m in aid in recent years to help the country cope with the influx of Iraqi refugees. More significantly, the European Investment Bank has programmes with Syria valued at about €1.3bn.

The EU is Syria’s main trade partner, with bilateral trade representing €5.4bn in 2009, some 23 percent of Syria’s trade, according to EU statistics.” (‘EU mulls Syrian asset freeze, arms embargo’)

Calling for further pressure to be placed on Damascus, a 6 May editorial in the Financial Times wrote:

The US has shown through its sanctions against Iran that it is possible effectively to freeze targets out of the international financial system.” (In fact, these tactics were developed and used on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK] before they were unleashed on Iran.) (‘Going from talk to action on Syria’)

In 2002, the US Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review was leaked to the Los Angeles Times. According to this, Syria was one of seven countries against which the US had actively developed and current plans for a nuclear first strike, the others being China, Russia, the DPRK, Iran, Iraq and Libya.

On 6 September 2007, Syria was the victim of an Israeli air strike, which the ionists and the United States claim destroyed a projected nuclear reactor, supposedly being built with assistance from the DPRK, although both the Syrian and Korean governments have consistently denied this.

WikiLeaks exposure

On 17 April, the Washington Post, relying on WikiLeaks, revealed important information regarding how US imperialism has long since been funding Syria’s right-wing opposition. The paper reported:

The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.

The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad.

Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified US diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funnelled as much as $6m to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

The US money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad.” (‘US secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show’)

Attempts to get the United Nations Security Council to condemn and sanction Syria have so far failed, owing to opposition from a number of countries, including Russia, China, India and Lebanon. The draft statement had been tabled by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal.

But even without a UN fig leaf, voices are already being raised for military action. Joseph Lieberman, an extreme right-wing former Democratic vice-presidential candidate and arch zionist, has called on the US to bomb Syria next, after Libya.

In the face of all these threats, the Syrian government and people remain defiant. Demonstrators outside the US embassy declared that US intervention “would only strengthen the unity of the Syrian people”. Similar demonstrations have taken place outside the French embassy and the headquarters of the delegation of the European Commission. (‘Hundreds protest US intervention in Syrian affairs’, Xinhua, 8 May 2011)

Hands off Syria!

> Syrian communists uphold the banner of Leninism in the Middle East - December 2010

> Syria: Imperialisms next target for destabilisation and regime change - Lalkar January 2011
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