Should Assad Go Next? Not So Fast

Tuesday, 30 Aug 2011 03:17 PM

By Christopher Ruddy

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Moammar Gadhafi is gone from Libya, and another dictatorial regime has fallen in the wake of the "Arab Spring" that began with the Tunisian revolution in December 2010.

And the press accolades for NATO and the Obama administration policies are near universal.

Truth be known, it is simply too early to tell if the overthrow of Gadhafi will lead to positive results for the Libyan people or for U.S. interests in the Mideast.

Already we have some serious inklings from Egypt that all is not well there, and that the cause of freedom and democracy, cited as the battle cry that successfully led to Mubarak's overthrow, may not play out as we hoped.
Image of Libya's ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Moammar Gadhafi


At the time of the Cairo demonstrations, I praised President Barack Obama's decision to move against the Mubarak regime and push for his ouster. Since then, the developments in Egypt are worrisome and should create anxiety about what's next for Libya, Syria, and other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia.

We should not forget that Mubarak was, in fact, a staunch ally of the U.S. over three decades. He kept alive the Camp David peace accords signed by his predecessor, Anwar Sadat. The peace with Israel was a cold one, but real nonetheless. He also kept Islamic radicalism at bay.

Still, Mubarak, his family, and cronies were corrupt and his regime fell under its own weight after a popular uprising, and perhaps with a helpful push from the Obama administration.

Now, Mubarak, on his death bed, is being tried in a Cairo court, lying in a cage. This image of Mubarak in a cage seems a terrible symbol of what happens to leaders that befriend the United States and champion their interests.

The English statesman Edmund Burke long argued that revolutions that offer radical change usually end in blood. The French Revolution based on ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity ended up bringing none of these. Instead, a reign of terror ensued followed by Napoleon's dictatorship and war.

In Egypt the same model may yet unfold. The interim military government has made an informal alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical group that is rising in influence with a strong assist from the Obama administration.

Egypt's military rulers quickly lifted bans on the Brotherhood, and freed from prison thousands of its most dangerous members, including those who killed Anwar Sadat. Still, other Brotherhood members exiled from Egypt have been invited back.

Cairo also opened the Suez Canal to Iran's ships and parliamentary elections were called for this fall, giving the Brotherhood a leg up over less organized political parties.

Israel and the West has much to fear. As a Jerusalem Post editorial recently explained, "In the end, the Muslim Brotherhood’s ambitions remain unchanged: the radical transformation of Egypt’s political order into a wholly Islamic state and the consequent reappraisal of its relationship with Israel."

In Libya, the dust has far from settled. We know that Gadhafi in recent years had done a 180 degree turn, renouncing the use of weapons of mass destruction, he sought positive relations with the U.S. Libya's military and intelligence agencies began cooperating with us, and there were significant signs he was liberalizing and modernizing his nation.

Make no mistake about it, Gadhafi had been a cutthroat dictator, but one who was moving into the U.S. orbit. After a populist uprising began, the U.S. and NATO moved quickly to support the "rebels."

Months have passed and we still don't know who these rebels are. Are they Islamic radicals? Will they be friendly to U.S. interests?

We do know that Turkey poured in more than $200 million to help the rebels overthrow Gadhafi. In recent years, Turkey has moved away from its close alliance with the U.S. In Ankara, Islamists have gained control, so much so that Turkey's once powerful, pro-Western and secular military has been swept to the side.

Libyan rebels were also said to be supported by Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The result of the uprising could be the emergence of numerous activist Muslim regimes, hostile to the U.S. and bringing a new level of antagonism with our long time ally Israel.

With Egypt and Libya cooked, the Obama administration appears anxious to overthrow the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. But we need to ask again, Who replaces al-Assad?

Al-Assad is a dictator, but we should note several things. First, he and his father, have kept stability along the Syrian and Israeli border since war lasted erupted in 1973. It appears Syria has been anxious to modernize and even to be accepted by Western powers, but it has been rebuffed for several reasons.

Nevertheless, the al-Assad government’s recent efforts to crush civilian protesters should be universally condemned.

Al-Assad himself had been educated and trained as an ophthalmologist in England. The young al-Assad who took power in 2000 after the death of his father appeared to bring a whiff of fresh air into Syria.

Al-Assad is an Alawite, part of a small Muslim religious sect. His regime has repressed radical Islam. At the same time, his regime has been powerful protectors of Christians in Syria. Christians there are descendants of the original followers of Christ and represent about 10 percent of the Syrian population.

The rise of Muslim-backed regimes in the region have been the death knell for Christians. Even the U.S.-backed Iraq government has done little to protect the Chaldeans, the ancient Christians of Iraq. This community has been decimated by the Shiite majority as hundreds of thousands of them have fled in the wake of widespread murder sprees, kidnappings, and other violence against them.

Back in the 1980s, I celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem, part of the West Bank. At the time, in Bethlehem and other West Bank cities, Christian Arabs thrived. As the power of Islam grew with the rise of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, Christians have suffered immensely.

Today just a handful of Christians remain in the West Bank.

In Egypt, the Copts, among the original Christians, find themselves under siege as well. Mubarak had protected their essential rights. Since his ouster, there have been clashes between Muslim extremists and Copts, and many Copts fear that they could witness a repeat of Iraq if the Brotherhood gains more power.

Sheik 'Adel Shehato, one Muslim Brotherhood leader and jihadist recently released from prison, has become a force in the new Egypt.

In mid-August, the sheik told an Egyptian newspaper that “Christian churches may need to be blown up and Christians exterminated to allow the advance of Islamic law, or Shariah.”

Radical change and radical religion won't yield stability in Egypt or anywhere, nor will it bring democracy and freedom.

The U.S. would be wise to go slow in demanding regime change, until we have a clear plan on who replaces the "bad guys." In the meantime, we should be demanding religious tolerance in the region and seek to protect persecuted Christians.

Christopher Ruddy is CEO and editor of Newsmax Media Inc.

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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