Syria changes some aspects of Arab political culture

In 1968, the Soviet Union invaded the former Czechoslovakia. The “Prague Spring” was trampled by Warsaw Pact tanks. Alexander Dubcek, the communist who wanted to renew socialism and give it a “human face”, was sent to Moscow. Europe was more terrified than it had been in 1956, when the Hungarian revolution had been crushed by the same tanks. True, that same year saw the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, at which Joseph Stalin and Stalinism were famously denounced.

However, it is also true that the Khrushchevite turn did not include Central Europe, which was supposed to remain a ring around the USSR safeguarding its security. Moreover, the Hungarian invasion did not take place until three years after Stalin’s death, while Czechoslovakia was invaded 12 years after his death.

After Hungary 56, it was said that Stalin was dead, but not Stalinism. After Czechoslovakia 68, it was said that Stalin was dead, but not Stalinism.

The Arab world did not pay much attention to the question of Stalinism. The overwhelming majority sided with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The few who objected either remained silent or expressed their thoughts in a roundabout way. This is because the Arabs had suffered the humiliating defeat of 1967 a year before, and Moscow, as the mainstream narrative said, is our ally against Israel; that year he had begun sending experts and officers to Egypt to participate in his “war of attrition” against the Israelis. The Jewish state, on the other hand, opposed the Soviet invasion, and that was reason enough to support the invasion, not to mention all the poison spat out – as some have claimed at the era – by the snakes of the “Jewish conspiracy” which do nothing else.

Positions and attitudes regarding the ongoing Ukrainian war are different. The change does not amount to a paradigm shift, but it is remarkable. A solid majority in Arab countries still supports Russia, and there are several reasons for this: anti-Americanism is one reason, a culture of clinging to authoritarianism and admiring authoritarians is another, and the rejection of unipolarity (which is justified in principle) is a third reason. To these factors are added what remains of the memories of the “Arab-Soviet friendship” which faced the “imperialist plots”…

Nevertheless, in the 54 years that now separate us from the Czechoslovakia of 1968, we have come to hear different voices: education and openness to the world have become widespread. Sensitivities towards justice, the rights of the weak and respect for the right to independence of small entities have increased, especially among young people. Comparisons have been made by Lebanese and Kuwaitis, who both know what it means to have an arbitrary and tyrannical neighbor. Communists in Sudan and Iraq have become half-communists or ex-communists, and as for Arab nationalism, in almost all Arab countries it has become a thing of the past. The former has become less sure of the benefits of “Arab-Soviet friendship” and has no confidence that a friendship with Putin would be beneficial. Some of them may have remembered that Karl Marx himself warned in the 1850s that invasion had become second nature to the Russian state since Peter the Great in the early 18th century.

As for the former Arab nationalists, the alliances in the service of “fateful battles”, in the Nasserian and Baathist sense, only provoked a yellow smile. Bennett and Putin meeting in Sochi while Israeli planes slam into Damascus is too much, even for those with iron stomachs. Bennett spoke of Russia as a country “with which we share a common border”. Putin, according to Haaretz, demanded that Israel improve coordination with Moscow on its actions on Syrian territory, and do so with more precision.

These and other factors weakened majority support for the Russian war. They reduced it slightly. But Syria, more than anything else, brought about this change. Today it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the Syrian people are the only people in the Arab world to be in the majority behind Ukraine, although with some bitterness at the inequality in the way he and the Ukrainians are treated by the West. It is there, in Syria, that the relationship with Moscow becomes common knowledge: destroying Aleppo, protecting a crumbling regime, establishing military bases, displacing entire sections of the population and turning the country into a testing ground. for Russian weapons. Some observers and strategists now speak of “applying the Syrian theory to Ukraine”. The Syrian people have experienced the suffering of Ukrainians with their own flesh and blood.

But there is also the Syrian revolution and the Arab revolutions more generally. With them, freedom and human dignity were installed, for the first time, at the heart of Arab political culture. They confirmed that our peoples are not an “exception” and that they are not only motivated by the causes of Arab nationalism, Arab unity and the liberation of Palestine, but also by the pursuit of freedom . This significant breakthrough explains the partial transformation that has taken place. The Syrians and their revolution deserve our thanks for this achievement.

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