Legitimate irony

By Jin Liangxiang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, June 12, 2013
Adjust font size:

 [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

 [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

Western as well as Gulf Arab countries have been pushing for Bashar Assad's collapse from the very beginning of the Syrian crisis in the spring of 2011. Bashar Assad's regime has, however, demonstrated that it is perfectly capable of resisting these considerable external pressures, and the reasons for the regime's success in doing so are multiple. Perhaps the main reason is that external calls for regime change in Syria based on the perceived illegitimacy of the regime are themselves illegitimate.

Arab countries, with their different historical experiences and different cultural backgrounds, have their own ways of constructing legitimate states. Despite the influence of secularism to a greater or lesser degree, the religion of Islam is still the cornerstone of the legitimacy building of Arab governments and most Arab countries have demonstrated respect for religion. It is, however, a delicate balance. Mohamed Anwar el-Sadat, the late president of Egypt, consolidated his position when he demonstrated respect for Islam and was assassinated when his policies irked Islamists.

Besides religion, various Arab rulers have their own ways to construct legitimacy. The legitimacy of the Saudi monarchy is based both on its identity as a guardian of the two holy sites and the special contribution made by the royal family in the founding of the nation state. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has similar sources of legitimacy. The ruling families are descendants of the prophet, and they also contributed to the founding of the Kingdom.

The rulers of Arab republics, though disputed, are also more or less legitimate. Hosni Mubarak was a hero in the war against Israel in the 1970s; Bashar Assad inherited power from his father, who was dubbed "the lion of the Arab world", and was also a hero in the war against Israel. Yasser Arafat's legitimacy as Palestinian leader was not established through elections but by his leadership in the struggle for Palestinian nationhood.

This does not mean, though, that these Arab rulers do not have problems where legitimacy is concerned. Hosni Mubarak's fault lies in that he abused his legitimacy holding onto power for too long, despite a meager list of achievements. During his more than thirty-year rule, Egypt lacked any meaningful economic growth and Mubarak was viewed as having failed to address rampant official corruption. In addition, his pro-U.S. policy disappointed many ordinary Egyptians. If he had left office even a little before the protests erupted in Tahrir Square, history would remember him as a hero. The case of Syria is similar to that of Egypt. Bashar Assad's family abused the legitimacy of Hafez Assad by inheriting power from him.

Questions regarding legitimacy, even where such questions are pertinent, should not be used to justify external intervention. Neither the West nor Gulf Arab monarchies have legitimate reasons to push for the collapse of Bashar Assad's regime.

Most Western countries, politically advanced as they are, have elections as their major source of legitimacy. Judging by the criteria of the West, none of the Arab governments have sufficient legitimacy, but Arab countries cannot be legitimately judged by Western standards. In the longer-term, maybe all nation states, including Arab states, will have to depend on elections in order to establish the legitimacy of their governments. But radical change such as we have witnessed in Iraq and Libya, and are currently observing in Syria have already seriously undermined regional stability.

Gulf Arab monarchies are among the most vocal among calls for external intervention as they seek to take advantage of the Western push to promote democracy and humanitarian concerns. But their posture is somewhat hypocritical. After all, are the governments of these monarchies necessarily more humanitarian and legitimate than those of republics such as Syria?

If they are not, then, by their own logic, they should also be targets for external intervention. Their governments are also unelected, also face strong domestic opposition and have also taken hard-line measures to quash demonstrations – Bahrain is a good example of this. And if the West, and the U.S. in particular, had focused equal interventionist efforts on them, would they be as stable as they are today?

Many scholars believe the push for external intervention in Syria is motivated more by geopolitical reasons than by legitimacy-related humanitarian concerns. Syria's alignment with Iran is the key factor which has invited such loud calls for external intervention.

Calls for democracy and accountability are certainly alluring. But in practice, the promotion of democracy, defined by Western-style elections and by means of intervention, has been overused for geopolitical purposes. How, then, can external intervention be legitimate?

Support for the opposition in Syria also lack legitimacy. It might be true that the incumbent government in Syria lacks legitimacy, but is the opposition any more legitimate? Is it elected and is there any proof that it is any more legitimate than the incumbent regime?

The approximate death toll for the Syrian conflict has reached 94,000. It is true that the government should take responsibility for some of these deaths, but the wider world should not be ignorant as to the responsibility the Syrian opposition carries. A significant number of the killings were actually carried out by the opposition and its supporters, who should also assume responsibility for a number of terrorist bombings across the country.

It is certainly not moral to turn a blind eye to a humanitarian crisis. But it should not be forgotten that interventions, whether in Iraq or Libya, have caused even more serious humanitarian problems than the so-called authoritarian regimes they sought to replace. It is even more immoral to intervene for the geopolitical interests of individual countries.

All in all, intervention on the basis of legitimacy should itself be legitimate. If not, it will not enjoy adequate backing, either on a regional or global scale.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.


Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from China.org.cnMobileRSSNewsletter