Syria and Us (Part I)
So far, the pummelling of Syria by the Arabs’ enemies has been successful. The fact that the regime has not fallen by no means indicates that the state is standing fast. The Syrian army has now become the cornerstone on which the regime stands. The Baath party and civilian institutions and even the pro-regime public have all become engaged in the struggle for local influence. The historic authority of the state has been dealt a major blow. The unreconstructed security agencies are ineffective. The daily bloodletting reinforces the division.
The result: a sharp decline in stability, an even bigger decline in economic activity, and a steep decline in the need for the state. That is from above. From below, there has been a collective resort to mechanisms of self-administration. These benefit the opposition, and particularly the armed groups which have been establishing themselves wherever the state has stopped functioning, the army is absent, and regime loyalists have retreated.
Rural Syria was the foundation of the uprising, and has become the foundation of its militarization. It is where the armed rebels are based, and from where they move and plan. These rural areas were the mainstay of the Baathist revolution decades ago. The late Hafez al-Assad later relied on them to consolidate his rule. They provided the counter-balancing element that made for the new Syria.
But the countryside’s share of human and economic development went into decline, for dozens avoidable reasons. Major mistakes committed by the regime over the course of 20 years exhausted it, leaving rural Syrians to journey to the misery-belts that grew around the main cities, or consigning them to wholesale unemployment. Falling school attendance and deteriorating public services – in addition to political, security, ruling-party and even sectarian oppression – also contributed to turning the countryside into fertile ground for the first popular uprising witnessed in Syria since the days of French occupation.
There is no place now for this discussion. The table onto which problematic issues were supposed to have been placed has been pushed aside. The regime thought it would be easier to resort to outright repression, while the insurrectionists erred by letting their demands be co-opted by enemies of all of Syria, be they Arab or Western. The result was to plunge the country into a vicious civil war, in which there is no place for reason, whose driving forces are malice and rage and whose outcomes are ominous.
Seventeen months after the start of the crisis, Syrians and outside observers alike have reverted to trying to prove that they were right all along. Both sides are now saying, scornfully, that they warned this would happen – though each comes from a different perspective and draws different conclusions.
The regime and its supporters reiterate that the opposition did not appreciate the fact that Syria differs from other Arab countries and disregarded the foreign and regional players willing to support any protest in order to serve their own interests and destroy Syria.
The opposition repeats that the regime turned a blind eye to realities on the ground, arrogantly denying there was any genuine domestic problem, and confined its efforts to a security solution which led to the militarization of the popular uprising
Amid the quarrel, the loyalists are calling for calm, for arms to be abandoned and the streets to be cleared, and for movement toward “realistic dialogue” with the regime. It opponents, meanwhile, are demanding the removal of the regime’s head as an absolute precondition for compromise with its props within the state and among the general population.
In short, there is no sign of either side backing down, and with foreign interests fuelling the domestic confrontation, it has again been left to the bloody warfare to judge. Each side is banking on a breakthrough on the ground which could open the door to political efforts. Until that time, Syria’s doors will remain open to death and destruction in every guise and to a confrontation whose savagery justifies the fears for the country’s future voiced by allies and enemies alike.
On the ground, meanwhile, the borders of mini-states are being drawn, in blood. Whether these are overcrowded or uninhabited makes no difference. But the Syria we know has died, and with it all dreams of a civil state in this dismembered sectarian East.
On Syria’s eastern, western, southern and northern borders, states and peoples are paying the price for the abandonment of a united Syria.
Iraq is bracing for a new round of sectarian warfare. The alliance which wants to bring down the Syrian regime seeks to topple the current regime in Iraq too. Even the US, which enjoys special privileges in post-Saddam Iraq, has been coming round to the thinking of Christian Europe and the Sunni Gulf states who would rather see a strife-torn Iraq than a Shia-ruled Iraq beholden to Iran.
Jordan is wallowing in internal problems caused by the regime’s corruption and the growing inability of the state to provide the requisites of life. The country is being torn apart by powerful forces pulling it in opposite directions. One of these wants Jordan to play a decisive part in battering the regime in Syria, even as a hireling paid by the Gulf oil monarchies. The other fears the collapse of current regime in Syria and the influence of political Islam spreading into Jordan. That is because for the Jordanians, political Islam can only translate into greater Palestinian influence, turning it into a decisive element which might lead the state. At that point, the US, the West and all their Arabs would seek to consolidate the idea of the alternative homeland, whether at the expense of the Jordanian state, or at the expense of Palestine.
Turkey, which prides itself as one of the region’s greatest countries, is witnessing a process of “Islamization” that is undermining the trappings of civic equality which characterized Ataturk’s autocracy. Nearly a century after the fall of the caliphate, the language of discrimination between sectarian, confessional, national and ethnic minorities has made a forceful comeback. The misguided adventurism of the Justice and Development Party’s theorists and politicians has meanwhile led it into blunders, and prompted it to tighten its authoritarian grip at home. Democracy, along with public and personal freedoms, is in retreat, while wholesale privatisation has become the only way of sustaining growth in an economy which could take a big hit from losing Syria along with Iraq and Iran.
This is in addition to the fact that all the barriers that partly held the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in check will soon have been completely lifted. Much Syrian territory is set to become a base for Turkish rebels who seek an independent national identity.
As for Israel, it is becoming more frantic by the day, its head full of big existential questions. The survival of the Syrian regime means the strengthening of the resistance axis which seeks the downfall of the Zionist regime. Yet the fall of the Syrian regime means exposing the northern front to all sorts of negative possibilities for Israel, whatever the nature of the central authority in Damascus.
Israel’s bigger problem, however, is that its traditional option of launching pre-emptive or preventive wars is no longer on hand. It is tempered by fears of unforeseen errors, which could lead to an explosion for which Israel would pay the first and biggest price.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.