The SNC, SDC, and Timbuktu's Warnings for Syria

Others besides Arabs are also entitled to their own fair share of the justice pie--if not in unity with their Arab neighbors, then by themselves in their own newly-designated lands.

Gerald A. Honigman,

OpEds Honigman

Professor William G. Moseley's recent analysis in Al Jazeera of the new, would-be nation of Azawad is among the best out there so far.

Having written about the quest for justice by the region's various peoples for decades myself (, I have watched these new developments in North Africa very carefully.
What has been of special interest are the unique players involved. These are not just more Arabs demanding yet another state--almost two dozen to date--at everyone else's expense....
The Touareg make up the majority, or at least a good proportion, of the population of the northern part of Mali. Like other native, so-called "Berber" peoples (about 35 million remaining who have not yet been effectively Arabized by their conquerors), for a variety of nasty reasons they were denied their own share of political rights when the region was being primed and/or fought for independence after the mid-20th century. Their collective fate was tied instead to various Arab or black African nationalist entities and neo-colonial manipulators.

Like a similar number of Kurds, the Amazigh too were deemed unworthy, by other powers that be both in and out of the region, of their own national existence.
Neglect and other problems festered for decades, and when a power vacuum was created during a coup in the south, Touareg fighters, who had been paid to fight for Qaddafi, returned home from Libya loaded with arms. By April 2012, they had joined their brothers in the secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and booted the southern Mali forces out of northern strongholds such as Timbuktu.
While Professor Moseley's analysis was good, for whatever reasons (I suspect deliberate, given that his article seems to have been written for the Arab publication, Al Jazeera), he only slightly hinted at what the true stakes were and are in Azawad...especially the emergence of the region's first Amazigh state, and the potential nightmare-come-true for adjacent Arabized nations, such as Algeria and Morocco, with their own long-subjugated and large Amazigh/Kabyle populations.
From the get-go, it was feared that Islamist groups like Al-Qaeda in North Africa and Ansar Dine would also do in Azawad what they did earlier during the so-called Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt: emerge from the background to take control.
While on the surface some may claim that this is a good thing for democracy (whether others like the results or not)--since the masses (if not endangered minorities) got what they wanted out of the new situations--let us consider the following...
Democracy--at least as we have come to recognize it in the West--can be a wonderful idea. No doubt, while variations can be found, equality and freedom have been closely identified as important characteristics since its origins. While ancient Greece is often touted as its birthplace, other nations and peoples also contributed to democracy's basic concepts.  America’s own Liberty Bell, for example, has a quote from Leviticus 25:10 in the Hebrew Bible on it…”proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof.” 
But there are, indeed, different species of democracy--and this is where the problems emerge.
Some provide more freedom and representation, others provide better protections for minorities, and so forth.
More importantly, however, democracy may also simply be translated to mean the rule of the majority, and--especially in some situations--such a system can easily lead to the oppression of others. These latter points are key to understanding some of the main concerns about what is now taking place in the region.
Since my focus here is now mostly about North Africa, how, for instance, can the plight of tens of millions of native, but non-Arab, people not be addressed in a discussion about democracy? A

ctually, the story of the various Amazigh peoples has been too often deliberately ignored--even by most of the experts in academia and the State Department. Arabs and Islamists have had their way as well. Native Amazigh culture and language have often been suppressed and outlawed, to the point where parents have been forced to name their own children with Arab  Islamic names instead of their own. Berbers (earlier allied with native, North African Jews who also pre-dated the Arabs) resisted the Arab Jihadi conquests for centuries and are still murdered when they protest against their subjugators too loudly.

Imagine, for one moment, what the reaction of the world would be if Israelis were doing such things to Arabs. Arabic, by the way, has been made the second official national language of the oft-criticized--and yes, imperfect--state of the Jews.
How will democracy change things for such people (be they Imazighen, Copts, Kurds, Assyrians, native kilab yahud "Jew dogs"), and so forth when Arab majorities, with their non-egalitarian elitist ruler and ruled mindsets towards various non-Arab/non-Muslim populations still prevail?
This is not to say that grievances of the Arab people themselves should not be addressed. But it is to say that the mere fact that millions of Arabs, who suffer under the type of rulers that their own culture seems to specialize in producing, demonstrate and rebel against their own repressive regimes does not erase the fact that there will still be much to worry about by non-Arabs even when Arab despots, medieval potentates,  or other autocrats are toppled.
 In this case, whether the oppressors are Arabs or black Africans (who should certainly know better), justice demands that the plight of the Amazigh people at long last be addressed as well. That brings us back to Azawad and the latest news out of Timbuktu...

The secular Touareg MLNA had pleaded for outside support to counter Islamists who were also making their moves to capitalize on the new power vacuum resulting from the coup in the south of Mali.

No one listened...It was if, for a variety of reasons, an Islamist regime was favored over the emergence of the first Amazigh state.

Whether for fear of alienating other Arab and black African nations, a desire to keep the oil and mineral-rich country intact, and/or whatever, Mali's former colonial French masters, the American State Department (which rarely met a Muslim Brotherhood clone it didn't like), the Arab League, black Africa, and so forth were all determined to see Touareg Azawad aborted.

It appears that the plan has become to unify the outside opposition to the Allahu Akbar crowd which has now apparently defeated the MLNA and razed parts of Timbuktu. This is still confusing, however, considering that no such plans exist to topple other ascendent Islamist regimes which have replaced secular ones.

And perhaps it really just doesn't matter...Anything would likely be preferrable to them rather than the birth of that first Amazigh state which would likely send shockwaves into neighboring North African "Arab" countries the same way the creation of a truly independent Kurdistan would do and for similar reasons in the area of Mesopotamia and its environs.

As for the Kurds, the lessons of Azawad and Timbuktu are profound. 

It's just a matter of (bloody) time before the butcher of Damascus falls. But the question in Syria is the same as in Azawad--or in Egypt, Libya, and so forth...

Who will replace Assad and Saddam's Syrian version of the Ba'th? If it's up to most of the outside world--including the Turks, the Arab League, and the American State Department--Syrian counterparts to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood or the Ansar Dine will prevail.

There is in Syria--as there was and still is in Azawad, if the MLNA could only receive support--a viable alternative to the Islamist-dominated Syrian National Council. The latter will not even acknowledge the political rights of millions of various non-Arab peoples (Kurds, Druse, Assyrians, and so forth) in the different from Assad's Ba'th Party's own position for decades now.

While this is indeed nothing new for Arabs, who like to proclaim that the entire region is simply "purely Arab patrimony," this subjugating mindset should not survive a post-Ba'th/post-Assad era.

Others besides Arabs are also entitled to their own fair share of the justice pie--if not in unity with their Arab neighbors, then by themselves in their own newly-designated lands. Iraqi Kurdistan is the model here--despite the jitters it too creates in the neighborhood.

The Syrian Democratic Coalition (SDC) represents an opposition truly dedicated to democracy Westen style--far more tolerant, more inclusive, more egalitarian, and so forth. What the SNC offers, in contrast, is simply the democracy of majority rule...and this bodes nothing but nastiness for the future of non-Arab, non-Sunni Muslim, and non-Muslims in general in the nation and elsewhere as well.

The defeat of repressive secular autocracies should yield something besides oppressive Islamist theocracies when the dust finally settles in the wake of the alleged Arab Spring.