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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La Syrie vers une guerre civile et confessionnelle

by Marc de Miramon

Syria : In For a Civil and Religious War ?

Translated Tuesday 29 November 2011, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Marc de Miramon interviews Alain Chouet. A former head of the Security Intelligence department of the French DGSE (Foreign Surveillance Directorate General or counter-espionage services) until 2002, Alain Chouet lived several years in Syria where he still has many contacts. In this interview he gives his opinion on the Arab League’s and Turkey’s diplomatic offensive and voices his fear that the situation may lapse into civil war [1] .

HUMA How do you interpret the suspension of Syria’s membership of the Arab League?

CHOUET: Financially, the Arab League is under the dominion of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who have vowed to topple the Alawi regime in Syria, as it is the last secular and non-Sunni Arab regime. It is also to be noted that the Arab League, rather surprisingly, is fretting over Syria but much less over Palestine … That being said, the consequences locally may well be disastrous since the Alawi minority, to which the Wahhabis promised a genocide, won’t go down without a fight. The risk is that Bachar Al Assad might be kicked out only to be replaced by the most radical fringe of his followers, the upshot of this being a Lebanese-style civil war for a good twenty years.

HUMA: Has this diplomatic pressure anything to do with the resurgence of the Iranian nuclear question?

CHOUET: Naturally, since the Gulf monarchies are scared stiff of Iran’s atomic bomb: they know they’ll be on the front line. But toppling the Syrian regime would not change anything much for Iran. If Syria cannot survive without Iran’s support, the converse is not true.

HUMA: Has the Syrian regime any freedom of manoeuvre?

CHOUET: For one thing, the Syrians have long been used to diplomatic isolation. That being said, the Syrian regime has less and less room for manoeuvre as it is caught between its Sunni opponents and the tougher fringe of the Alawi community which will not give in an inch. Let’s face the truth: the Syrian political opposition is mostly the Muslim Brotherhood.

HUMA: To inform the public on what really takes place locally, the Western media draw upon a single source almost, namely the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, based in London, which the regime accuses of being a cover for the Muslim Brotherhood…

CHOUET: 90% of the NGOs that provide information on the situation in Syria are run by Islamists. A simple look at the pedigree of those organisations’ leaders gives sufficient proof of this. Pictures are sometimes deceiving, and you must know how to decipher them. I was impressed for instance by the flags waved by demonstrators in Hama – a detail that no journalist commented upon. The Syrian flag has three colours: red for socialism, white for the Umeyyads [2], and black for the Abbassids [3]. The demonstrators had replaced the red stripe with a green one. Likewise, the slogans shouted in Hama were not “Long live democracy”, but "Let’s throw the Alawids into the sea, let Christians go to Beyrut, and let’s take their houses and put their wives in our beds.”

HUMA: What’s your opinion of the Syrian National Council, which claims to be the main opposition force?

CHOUET: It’s an incredible hodgepodge –but it’s true that there are real opponents in Syria and that this regime is truly abominable. There are real democrats, but I believe democrats are a minority and not very well organized. The hard core militants locally are the Islamists who enjoy foreign support besides, notably from Turkey’s AKP. For it is not the Turkish State, but the AKP that has organized the CNS demonstrations in Turkey: the AKP has totally adopted the codes of the Muslim Brotherhood.

HUMA: How much is known of the free Syrian Army set up in Turkey in July by Colonel Ryad Al Assad? Can this army truly claim responsibility for the havoc wrought in the Syrian repressive machinery?

CHOUET: No. Real civil conflicts are taking place in Syria right now. Somehow the emergence of that pseudo-army is good news for Bachar Al Assad’s regime: as long as his opponents were unarmed civilians, his repression of the protest was unjustifiable. Now that he can make the most of the existence of an armed opposition, it gains in legitimacy.

HUMA: Who in Syria today might embody a political transition from Bachar Al Assad?

CHOUET: As things stand now, no one. What the Allawi need is to be reassured. For this country to open up it is essential also to reassure the Christian, Druze and Shiite minorities who fully support Bachar Al Assad. 30% of the population lives in fear of finding themselves under an Islamist rule. If things calm down, those minorities will exact a high price from Bachar Al Assad. If the unrest goes on, they will support the regime, even by resorting to violence if need be. We are not in a fairly homogeneous country ethnically, like Tunisia or Egypt..

[1Alain Chouet has just published “Au cœur des services spéciaux. La menace islamiste: fausses pistes et vrais dangers” (In the heart of the Intelligence service. The Islamist threat : false tracks and real dangers), Discussions with Jean Guisnel, La Découverte publishers.

[2Umeyyads are a dynasty of caliph who ruled the Muslim world from Damas between 660 and 750.

[3Abbassids are a dynasty of Sunni Arab caliphs who ruled over the Muslim world from Bagdag between 750 and 1258.

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