Defections don’t always mean the same thing

TW: Syrian civil war, military targeting of civilians

In light of the news of how much of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s cabinet has resigned against the backdrop of a presidential power grab and mass protests, it might be tempting to compare it to another government in the eastern Mediterranean – that of Syria. Much like the government of Egypt, the increasingly impotent Syrian regime has seen quite a few defections as well, which have also been concentrated among executive functionaries.

But unfortunately the comparison more or less ends there.

Time Magazine cover with President Morsi labeled as 'The Most Important Man in the Middle East'
(The most important man in the middle east? He can’t even hold on to a cabinet! From here.)

Al Jazeera’s rather detailed reporting makes a few things immediately clear about the situation in Syria. The majority of defections are not from the presidential cabinet (as Morsi’s government’s have), but from high-ranking military officials, the security establishment, and occasionally the assorted diplomats from Assad’s regime. The defections are just as political as the resignations, but they seem informed by protocol more than policy. In nearly ever public defection, the official declared that they couldn’t abide working for a regime that violently targeted its only civilians preemptively and without qualification. The politically-active intelligentsia have more or less joined the anti-Assad revolution in light of its violations of political standards, rather than in opposition to its conception of government.

In stark contrast, the resignations from Morsi’s government have been primarily the actions of highly visible cabinet members. Likewise, while almost every non-Islamist has left their position, significant numbers of Islamists, particularly from the now defunct al-Nour party, also left. To a certain extent, the growing list of presidential powers has been the same sort of lightning rod for opposition to Morsi, as one al-Nour spokesman made clear in saying, “our programmes and views on managing the state are different”.

There’s something a contrast between former members of the government from Islamist parties who are opposed to Morsi’s police actions and the various other former members who are opposed to the police actions necessitated by almost any Salafist government. One need look no further than the twitter of Ayman al-Sayyad, a former cabinet member who was an independent, who passed along a Guardian article that alleged that the Salafist movements in Egypt, whether aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood or opposed as al-Nour is, pose a threat to democratization of the country. That’s a far cry from the various defections from the Syrian government who have almost categorically stated that the existing regime needs to fall.

In short, Egypt has multiple oppositions that are no less opposed to each other than to Morsi’s government. Syria has a regime so violent that such multiple oppositions have prioritized its replacement over their various and at times violent disagreements. The defections and resignations are just that, in radically different contexts.

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