The ironic Friends of Syria
It was an irony, as one Syrian state television anchor said, that the Istanbul gathering of the “Friends of Syria” took place on April Fools’ Day. Their previous meeting in Tunis was less than good and too fractured. The fine spring day in Istanbul has refreshed hopes, but the Friends of Syria may have to tour half the globe before they can eventually meet in Damascus.
The date for the meeting was not the only irony. The foreign Friends of Syria have committed more funding for the Syrian Friends of Syria, but the Syrian Friends of Syria, not happy with the $30 million budget for their march towards democracy, are asking for a minimum of $1 million per day.
The Turkish Friends of Syria, boasting the world’s second fastest growing and 16th biggest economy should be able to provide that negligible sum – and more in the future. But Russia and China are not smaller economies and their vaults are not cash-stripped.
Of course, the Friends have every liberty to call themselves whatever fancy and amicable looking name they choose. But a more realistic brand could have been the “Foes of Bashar al-Assad.” My friend’s cat simply meowed and left the room when I told him that a philanthropic coalition, which deeply cared for its Syrian brothers, was at the beginning of a possibly long world tour. Like a philharmonic orchestra, it was performing next in Paris. Shiraz is a Persian cat who is very keen on Middle Eastern politics.
Perhaps the bigger irony on April Fools’ Day was the Turkish treatment of the group of Syrian protestors who rallied against the Istanbul meeting. The pro-al-Assad demonstrators were pushed away and pepper gas-sprayed by the police who must have thought they are the Foes of Syria, since the Friends were inside the building. The Foes of Syria were silenced while inside the building the Friends of Syria were busy discussing how to introduce democracy to the Syrians.
Nor did the dignitaries from over 80 countries hear the humanitarian aid organization İHH, whose members addressed the “Fake” Friends of Syria thus: “We oppose both the Baath despotism and any western imperialist intervention.” These are the Angry Friends of Syria. How happy, the Syrians have friends all over the world.
Before befriending non-Baathist and non-imperialist Syrians, the İHH had befriended the Palestinians when it spearheaded the 2010 “humanitarian aid” flotilla that was bound to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The excursion ended before it reached land after Israeli commandoes put their signature on possibly the silliest operation in their history, killing nine people aboard the Mavi Marmara. It is time, perhaps, for the İHH should put together another flotilla to take aid to the Syrians. How about launching the Mavi Marmara en route to Latakia to fight the “Baath despotism?”
But let’s go back to the Syrian Friends of Syria. Ironically, these Friends are known for their habit of violently competing with the Syrian Foes of Syria – it’s only that they are less powerful. In a public letter to the Syrian National Council, the umbrella organization for the Syrian Friends of Syria, the credible international watchdog Human Rights Watch denounced on March 20 “serious human rights abuses committed by the armed opposition (the Syrian Friends of Syria), including torture, kidnapping and executions some of which have been directed at Shia and Alawite sects.”
And who were the seven million or so Syrians who voted for constitutional amendments in a referendum? The Syrian Foes of Syria? That’s confusing. Apparently, the Syrians have millions of Foes, both inside and outside Syria, while in every corner of the globe their Friends are mushrooming. Sadly, their foes must be more numerous given the populations of China, Russia and Iran.
Speaking of democracy and reforms, perhaps the philanthropic philharmonic orchestra would care to consider a world tour to visit Saudi Arabia and Sudan too?