Sunday, March 10, 2013

Beware of Wahabis, beware of fundamentalists, beware of jihadis, says Syrian president Bashar Assad's political and media advisor Bouthaina Shaaban

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's political and media advisor Bouthains Shaaban It was a short interaction of some of us with Syrian president Bashar Al Assad's political and media advisor Bouthaina Shaaban at India International Centre (IIC) organised by journalist Seema Mustafa. Veteran journalist Nihal Singh chaired the session. It was a small audience of about 50 people. She holds a doctorate in English Literature and she loves the British Romantic poet Percy B Shelley, and quotes the lines from "Ode To West Wind" where the poet says "If winter is here, can spring be far behind." But she mistakenly thought it was from The Mask of Anarchy, which Gandhi had quoted in a speech in South Africa when he began his non-violent struggle. Shaaban was referring to the political changes in the rab countries which the Westerners have claimed to the Arab Spring. She said the changes were part of the Arab winter and the spring is yet to come. Shaaban outlines the developments in Syria since March 15, 2011 when the public protests broke out and how on March 24, the Assad government had agreed to political reforms including the scrapping of Article 8 of the Constitution which enshrined the one-party rule of the Baath Party and agreed to allow other political parties as well. But the opposition groups did not agree, and violence broke out. She said Arab League let down Syria because the first committee led by a Sudanese general said that the opposition was using violence, and so did the second committee as well headed by a Norwegian. Syria was expelled from the Arab League. She said that she met the National Security Adviser and the External Affairs Minister and they assured that the Indian stand was that it is right of the people of Syria to choose their political future and outsiders cannot interfere. She was happy and reassured by the Indian stance and when some from the audience expressed doubts whether the assurances given by the Indian government could be relied upon, she expressed full confidence in India and its people. Her great concern was about the spread of Wahhabism and that of fundamentalists. She said that these elements were destroying the country and that they were small in number and they did not enjoy the support of the people. "The Arabs are secular like Indians," she said passionately. She felt that India should support Syria at this critical juncture because if fundamentalists scored a victory in Syria it would prove to be a threat to India and other countries as well. She warned that there is need to beware of the Wahhabis, the jihadis, the fundamentalists. She said that the rebels have destroyed schools and factories, and that there was no safety for the people and the government could not reach out to them because of the armed rebels along the way which has made travel difficult. Asked about the dominance of minority Alavites in the Assad regime she said that Syrians never thought of themselves in terms of Sunni, Shia or Alavite. She said that she never stooped to call herself a Sunni, and revealed that there were only two Alavites in the Assad government, both of them relatives of the president. She was quite unhappy though she smiled broadly when I asked her whether the political reforms that Assad had announced in March 2011 came a bit too late. She cited the Israelis giving the same argument with regard to peace talks saying that it came a bit too late. She asked as to who should decide when is the right time. She said that Syria was the only Arab country that had supported Iran in the Iran-Iraq war because that war started by Saddam Hussein and at that time the United States and the West were supporting Saddam Hussein. She said that the Syria and Iran ties were political, and she pointed out that Syria supported Hamas on grounds of political resistance. She also said that a recent book published in Egypt showed how the US had supported the Muslim Brotherhood even during the reign of Hosni Mubarak. She said that Egyptians are now fighting against the Brothers.

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