New York - The political compass of Arab leaders who are challenged by their people favors, as usual, the Regime at the expense of the State. Ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had always placed the regime above the country, costing the Iraqi people dearly through oppression and policies that invited war upon Iraq. Inevitably, he went down in history not just as an utter failure, but also as a tyrant who exploited his country in order to further his own ambitions and delusions. The men who cling to power at any cost in the Arab region risk a similar fate if they do not place the country and state over and above their regime. The first wrong step they took was their deceptive approach to reform in response to the people's loud and clear call for change. In the beginning they turned a deaf ear, then they pretended to engage in reform only after it was too late. Today, those leaders have but one choice: to meet the demands of the people through a dignified exit strategy to avoid being ousted in otherwise undignified ways. They have no choice but to admit that the logic of "the regime first" has been dealt a fatal blow and that there is no way to return to the status quo ante that prevailed before the onset of the Arab Spring. If those men were to recognize this clear logic, they would find many ways to save themselves from a dark fate, dark legacy and an abysmal place in history. But they must first accept to place the country and the state over and above the regime. Events in Libya, Yemen and Syria portray the leaders' willingness to accept the collapse of both state and country, but indications on the ground point to the imminent collapse of the regime -- a certainty ignored only by the masters of these regimes. There is no shame in backtracking from the wrong course for the sake of the country's interest, and in order to avoid additional bloodshed. Leaving power through a strategy of partnership [with the opposition] that puts the country above the regime would guarantee a certain amount of respect for those who back down and modify their stances. Such a strategy is still being offered to the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh -- in spite of his insistence on manipulating this offer repeatedly, all at a great cost for Yemen.
Ali Abdullah Saleh may believe that he represents a security valve for Yemen's unity, but the fact of the matter is that his obstinacy and presumption that he 'owns' the power, the country and the nation threaten to fracture Yemen into two states. The opportunity is being wasted yet again at a high cost for millions of Yemenis, and for generations to come. Even if Ali Abdullah Saleh is not solely responsible for the deteriorating situation, he remains the man who claims to be the father of the Country while he is in effect behaving as if he were its proprietor and master. The signals he is receiving from Washington are doing him no good especially if he interprets them as reassurance that things will return to normal when the dust settles. It would be better for the Obama administration to express itself without ambiguity in order to help Yemen and help Ali Abdullah Saleh reach the inevitable conclusion that it is high time for him to leave. This might convince him to place the country above the regime for once.
Leaving with some kind of immunity is also still possible for Muammar Gaddafi where the regime is engrossed in fighting its people all over Libya, perhaps with the exception of Tripoli. The man who has ruled Libya for four decades and squandered the people's wealth to become the King of Kings of Africa claims that he is a man without a post, despite having drowned himself in a sea of titles. His refusal to step down is rooted in his belief that he owns Libya and has absolute ownership powers. But what the Libyan people have said to Muammar Gaddafi with one voice is that they are neither tenants in Gaddafi's property nor are they mere lodgers in his house. They have informed him that both the country and the state belong to the people and that the era of the regime owning the people and the country has come to an end. The most that Gaddafi could achieve today is to shed more blood to prevent the regime from being overthrown. He may believe that partitioning Libya would be better for him than losing power and that the regime will remain standing as long as he continues to act defiantly.
Those are mere delusions. They are the delusions of power and of absolute rule which rulers such as these have become accustomed to. It is over for the regime, no matter how long the suffering of the Libyan people is to be prolonged. Muammar Gaddafi and his sons must realize this -- in particular Saif Al-Islam who failed to seize a historical opportunity for Libya and for himself when he took the wrong decision. Doubtless it must cross his mind to reassess what he did and hold himself accountable for his historical mistake. Doubtless he must worry and feel regret. What he and his father should do now is seize their last opportunity for partnership in an exit strategy to step down instead of remaining arrogant and obstinate until they are ousted by force. There are international efforts underway to provide a safe way out if Gaddafi truly becomes convinced that he has no choice but to give up his status of leader and the regime. Let him then claim afterwards, as much as he wishes, that he was the one who finally became convinced that he should place the country above the regime and saved Libya. It is very important for Gaddafi not to misinterpret the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir's ability to dodge international justice and an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
True, Bashir is still in power, China's leaders have received him as a President, while the leaders of the West sit in his presence and listen to his speech even as he remains "wanted" by justice through their own decision. But it is also true that Bashir was a main contributor in the "partnership" that led to South Sudan seceding and declaring its independence. He has paid the price of half the country seceding in order to preserve the regime, placing the regime above the country and its unity. This is one part of his legacy, but there still remains the other part, which is that Omar Al-Bashir is still pursued and wanted by international justice on charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against part of his people; such a high price paid by Sudan and its people in order to maintain and perpetuate his regime at the expense of the country.
China and some African countries have provided a cover of protection to the Sudanese regime just as Russia and some African countries are providing cover to the Libyan regime. Yet the difference is that Russia and China are now forced to cooperate on the Libyan issue, where their interests are limited, while most African countries find themselves "indebted" to Gaddafi, both morally and financially. But at the end of the day, Gaddafi cannot follow Bashir's "model" not just because the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) has entered as party to the conflict in Libya, but also because Muammar Gaddafi does not hold the cards today which Omar Al-Bashir held yesterday, i.e. offering half the country as a price for staying in power. Even the partitioning of Libya would not ensure the continuation of Gaddafi and his regime. So it would be better for him to acknowledge that he has no choice but to step down and that the best way available to him is to take part in a strategy that would see him step down instead of pursuing the futile strategy of partitioning Libya.
Syria's leadership is also better off if it would soundly interpret the writing on the wall to avoid chasing delusions and committing a grave mistake. Neither the United States nor Europe will back down on opposing oppression, exerting pressures or classifying the regime as "illegitimate" after 1500 people have fallen victim at its hands. Nor will Russia, China or Iran succeed at breaking the isolation of the regime in Damascus. President Bashar Al-Assad's taking the initiative of placing the country and the state above the regime would allow him to record a historical precedent for himself, different from those men who placed the regime over and above the country and the state. The opportunity is available to him too through partnership in an exit strategy, rather than having to succumb to a strategy that would seek his ouster.
The Obama administration had insinuated to the Syrian leadership that it was not enthusiastic about taking a firm stance against it, and that there was perhaps some space for coexistence with Bashar Al-Assad in power on the condition that he "amends" his regime. This situation went on until this week when President Barack Obama was angered by the attacks against the American and French embassies which took place in protest of the two countries' ambassadors' visit to Hama; this visit was taken by the regime as a stance against it and in favor of the protesters who want to topple it. The attack against the two embassies resulted in a clear change in American positions as both Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the expression "lost legitimacy" in describing Bashar Al-Assad, in addition to informing him that he should not delude himself into thinking that he is "indispensable" for the US administration. This means that any hesitation Washington has had in the past is now gone and that the European countries which are leading the process of isolating the Syrian regime have now successfully removed an "obstacle" -- which may have been real or a figment of the imagination of the leadership in Damascus -- the obstacle of American hesitation to take decisive action towards Damascus.
The noose is getting tighter and tighter. The opportunity for partnership is available only to end the siege on the country and the state in Syria, and not to serve the delusion of disentangling the regime's ropes of isolation to ensure its survival so that it will be business as usual once again.
The political compass of the Arab leaders who have been now told by their people of their intent to decide their own destiny may continue to point in the direction of the rulers' delusions. The non-delusional option is the option of partnership in placing countries over and above regimes.