Bouthaina Shaaban, an eloquent political and media adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, joins the list of Arab officials who applaud the Tunisian, Egyptian and other Arab uprisings. But she has nothing to say about the repressive policies of her own government. In a commentary on the Syrian website Champress and in at least one Gulf newspaper this morning, Shaaban writes as though she lives in some other part of the world and is merely an enthusiastic observer of a regional revolt that is long overdue. It is true that her main objective is to dispute the theory that the Arab protest movement has turned its back on solidarity with the Palestinian people - one of the pillars of the legitimacy of the Syrian government, at least in its public discourse. I would even agree with her in that. All the Arab protest movements say that they are committed to universal human rights and that the treatment of the Palestinians by Israeli racists is one of the most egregious and chronic large-scale violations of human rights in the world. Those who are banking on Arab peoples turning in on themselves and ignoring the plight of the Palestinians are deluding themselves. On the contrary, new democratic governments will have to reflect the views of the people, who are overwhelming outraged at the way their previous governments connived in the fiction that successive U.S. administrations have sought an Israeli-Palestinian settlement based on equality and justice.
But that doesn't mean we should overlook the plight of the Syrian people, who have been living for decades under a government which is just as oppressive as those in Tunisia and Egypt, if not more so. It just will not wash in March 2011 for someone working for the Syrian government to write:
With their spontaneous revolutions, Arabs are burying the mummy regimes once and for all. Enough with the age of frustration, apathy and despair! Like other Arab writers and intellectuals past and present, I laid my bets, in everything I wrote, on the fundamental nature of the values of freedom, dignity and justice for Arabs, the vitality of this people and the inevitability of rejecting the humiliation imposed by oppressive security agencies which spend more money on the equipment of oppression and torture imported from the West than on education and universities.
When it comes to 'mummy regimes' and 'oppressive security agencies', Syria comes close to the top of the table. If the Syrian mukhabarat imported their torture techniques from communist eastern Europe rather from 'the West', or indeed if they invented them for themselves, it is quite irrelevant.
The old regimes could have reformed themselves gradually from within, as did the democratic countries themselves. But some rulers persisted in their tyranny; they ignored the will of their people and forgot their aspirations.
That is why people in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere went to the streets and demonstrations have become the only way to push the political regime and move it to the 21st century.
Hypocrisy is always objectionable. When the perpetrator cannot even see his or her hypocrisy, especially in the case of someone in public office, it is alarming. The Syrian government has reacted to protests in Syria in exactly the same way as the Arab government reacted at first to protests there. If Shaaban wants to argue that Syria is different, she should argue her case, not just pretend that Syria does not exist.