Heikal: The Strategic Sheikh - Failed To See What Is Happening In Baba Amr

15 July 2012

By Mshari al-Zaydi

Those who were shocked by the recent statements issued by the "Sheikh" of the Egyptian Nasserite press, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, regarding the Syrian tragedy, should perhaps pay more attention to Heikal's rhetoric in the future!

We have long been accustomed to hearing Sheikh Heikal's "strategic" talk regarding the game of nations, the regional vacuum, power struggles, the Cold War, warring axes, and all his hidden secrets and untold tales that he keeps in his dangerous archive. Over the past two decades, Heikal has appeared as someone who no longer lives in the present day, but rather is captured by his own Cold War thought process between the communist Russian bear and the capitalist American eagle. Yet his recent statements about the Syrian crisis, as published in al-Ahram daily newspaper and circulated by several news websites, suggest that perhaps Heikal this time is living in the present day.

In his article and assessment of the current Egyptian stance towards the Syrian crisis, Heikal says that he does not imagine "the Egyptian stance towards Syria to be driven by others. The relationship between Egypt and Syria has held a special nature throughout history. I do not imagine that Egypt can break off its contact or its political, trade or cultural relationships with Syria for whatever reason, because Syria is Syria, regardless of the nature of the ruling regime in Damascus." He then goes on to describe what the Syrian opposition and the entire international media, not only the Arab media, say about the nature of the horrors taking place on Syrian soil as "a feverish campaign of exaggeration, with an element of truth of course, yet the amount of exaggerations and overstatements far outweigh facts." Heikal reveals that he fears "a perfect strategic vacuum in the east, extending from eastern Iraq to the shores of the Mediterranean."

Sheikh Heikal concludes his shocking view by saying "I can also see the influence of al-Qaeda, but I do not know the logic of those who facilitated its access to Syria, in order to blow up and kill people. I also know that Blackwater a company known for its secret and bloody history of weapons services is active around and inside Syria, albeit under a new name, and that there are nearly 6,000 affiliates of this company who are operating both inside and outside the country." Heikal then alleges that Turkey has its own considerations when it comes to the Syrian crisis, and has begun to reconsider its earlier push, whereas some Arab states are persisting to topple the al-Assad regime with determined zeal, which he believes to be either naive or a display of complete ignorance regarding the facts of strategic balance.

In summary, Heikal's words do nothing more than promote the propaganda of Bashar al-Assad's media, the Iranian media and the rhetoric of Sergey Lavrov - the Russian Minister of Propaganda serving his country's Tsar, Vladimir Putin.

There is nothing new in this rhetoric, just Heikal's usual blend of spice and excitement, and the latest example is his "Blackwater" story, something we can neither confirm nor disprove. Mr. Heikal previously alleged that a Serbian nationalist group was behind the September 11 attacks on the US. Indeed, it seems he does not want to acknowledge the existence of a popular uprising, or that a regime is ravaging its own people, and that people are being displaced and killed purely because of their sectarian identity, as evidenced by the daily footage of such crimes.

Heikal seems to have failed to see what is happening in Baba Amr, al-Khalidya, al-Hawla, Daraa, Deir Al-Zour, Zamalka, Douma or rural Aleppo, nor does he see the most blatant savage massacres committed in the present century in front of the entire world and in a daily live broadcast.

This is his own business, yet what matters here is the bitter malice he bears towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, a sentiment which he has long harbored and which is seemingly a remnant of the Nasser-Faisal struggle. I imagine that if Saudi Arabia had not sided with the Syrian people, perhaps Heikal would have changed his stance, or at least adopted a more relaxed one.

The man still seems to be captured by the 1950s and 1960s period of inter-Arab struggle. He believes Saudi Arabia acts with a sense of superiority, and as such stands against any role it may perform in the region, something that it never seeks to do in the first place. Heikal believes there is a vacuum between Iran and Egypt - perhaps with the exception of the Damascus oasis. In his view, the region consists of Egypt and Iran only, and perhaps Turkey, and this view is not radically different to that of the most hardened orientalists and Zionists. Indeed, it is odd that he promotes this in the name of Arabism, Islamic history and civilization.

Sheikh Heikal recently attempted to evoke Nasserite memories by quoting the late President Gamal Abdul-Nasser as saying "It is important that Syria should remain."

There can be no doubt that it is important that Syria should remain. Who would dare to argue with such a sentiment? Yet the devil lies in the detail, so which Syria does Heikal mean in this context? Which Syria does he want to maintain?

He wants the Syria that he came to know with Hafez and Bashar al-Assad, one that can perform its required role externally, regardless of the fact that it kills its own people in a systematic manner. He wants the Syria that Putin and Lavrov can maintain in some way, and that Khamenei and Hassan Nasrallah can also maintain in their own manner. He wants the Syria that can continue to perform its regional function, and perhaps this is what the West wants as well.

The West and Russia need the al-Assad regime because it maintains peace with Israel, of course with some added sound effects of war that guarantee that any effective Arab Sunni role is curbed and confined to specific boundaries. The Russians and the West are negotiating for the ouster of the "employee" Bashar al-Assad, but not his job.

In March, Lavrov himself issued a statement about Russian and Western views towards the Syrian crisis, in which he highlighted the crux of the matter, not the superficial impression given in negotiations and conferences. In an interview he gave to Kommersant FM radio, and also published by Russia Today, Lavrov said: "You said that our position on Syria differed from what they think, say, in the West. On the contrary, what they think does not at all differ from what we declare in our position. They think in just the same way. There is a great difference between what they discuss in the calm and quiet of their offices and military headquarters and what they are saying publicly in the capitals."

Lavrov suggested that Russia and the West unanimously agree of the crux of the Syrian crisis, saying: "They [the West] perfectly know that as far back as last April there were first reports about armed men among demonstrators provoking the authorities into a disproportionate reaction." With such an inclination, Lavrov is promoting the same version of events as peddled by the Syrian regime about the existence of al-Qaeda, weapons, armed gangs and so on.

It is worth noting that with regards to the Syrian crisis, demonstrators only began to carry weapons after five months had passed since the start of peaceful protests and continual bloody repression. Yet Lavrov and Sheikh Heikal fail to take this period into account.

Why have the US and the European Union slackened their overt political and legal support for the Syrian opposition, failing to provide weapons and cover, or at least buffer zones to facilitate the regime's collapse and maintain the Syrian state after al-Assad has been overthrown? This is another matter that goes beyond the same old rhetoric of conferences and negotiations, but now is not the place for this.

Heikal's recent rhetoric convinces us that the al-Assad regime will certainly be overthrown, given that he also offered his wisdom and advice to Abdul-Nasser and Saddam Hussein in the past!

A Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well as Saudi affairs. Mshari is Asharq Al-Awsat's opinion page Editor, where he also contributes a weekly column. Has worked for the local Saudi press occupying several posts at Al -Madina newspaper amongst others. He has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.



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