It would be a big mistake to assume that the end of Syrian crisis is near. Those forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad will fight to the bitter end in a protracted war, stated a colleague of mine.
Actually, several reports and analyses that appeared during the past year made it clear that the “inner core” of the Syrian regime’s military and security apparatus has remained almost intact. Even the gradual weakening of the regime’s grip on Syria’s cities and countryside has not drastically affected the destructive capabilities of that power-wielding circle.
This “inner core” is composed of individuals to the president, who boast an advanced arsenal of weapons.
In this instance it is worth remembering that the official U.N. casualty figures put the number of those killed at more than 60.000. Furthermore, Lebanon’s minister of Social affairs said before the Arab foreign ministers’ meeting last week that the number of Syrians displaced by the war, and now living in Lebanon, is about 200,000. He added that by next June the number is projected to more than double.
With this in mind, let us take into account the numbers and situation of those taking refuge in Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, and the victims of the internal “forced migration,” where reliable reports talk of more than a million refugees.
Still, in spite of the above, the Syrian president and his functionaries have continued to insist on their own version of the events. This may prove that the regime is fighting a “war of survival.”
The regime is operating in a regional climate beset by division and polarization, one that is increasingly threatened by unprecedented blood-stained fragmentation.
Such a catastrophic “scenario” transcends the Syrian situation to cover the whole Arab Near East under the weight of several factors which include:
The Israeli case, where Israel feels threatened by any kind of regional peace that would help the current countries in the area on their way to development, institutionalization, coexistence and respect of liberties.
The Iranian case, based on Tehran’s regional expansionism under the
slogans of Islamic leadership against a “West” hell-bent on demeaning Muslims, while dealing with its Muslim Arab neighbors in flagrant sectarian way that deliberately destabilize their countries.
The factional-sectarian culture, which has remained deeply-rooted in the social and political narrative of the area’s countries which have deluded their people into believing that they were living under revolutionary, secular, liberal, or progressive regimes. This is what we are unfortunately witnessing today in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, or even Egypt.
Another factor is the rise of “Political Islam,” and its role as the sole alternative to the nationalist, liberal and leftist currents that have lost popularity throughout the Arab Near East during the last four decades. This has also led to the emergence of extremist Islamist groups that do not care much about civil society, and show total disregard to the fears of those considered outside the extremists’ political agenda.
No wonder then that a security-based mafia-style regime like that of Syria has been able to murder 60.000 of its own people. The factors above have allowed the leaders of such a regime to gain power and keep it despite carnage and destruction.
The factors have also allowed a rich country like Iraq to end up all but partitioned, while the only sign of “sovereignty” is issuing death sentences and rushing the condemned to the gallows as the fabric of Iraqi society disintegrates.
In any normal situation it would have been unlikely that Lebanon’s Christians, traditionally the pioneers of enlightenment and education in the whole Arab world, should follow a reactionary and extremist party whose leader has led them to wars; some against one another. Even less likely that the Greek Orthodox sect, one of the most progressive and open-minded Christian sects, should allow a divisive electoral law to carry its name.
Additionally, tribalism and provincialism have emerged in Yemen and Libya following decades of the rule of “comrades”, “brothers” and “revolutionary committees” seeking to revolutionize the world.
But perhaps the worst case remains that of Egypt, where some of the “Political Islamists” seem to regard 10 to 15 million Christian Copts as outsiders in their own country.
To conclude, we look as if we are facing an existential problem.
Are we aware enough to deal with it?
Is it not incumbent on us to reach a realistic and historical compromise, based on recognizing the fears and respecting the differences within our societies, en route to eliminating any excuses for partition and disintegration?
We in the Arab world have tried since the 1950s, “total” centralized unions which failed. We have also tried impulsive personality-inspired unions which turned out to be stillborn. However, the unions that have survived were the ones that eliminate nobody and bluff nobody. Thus it is time to safeguard our vulnerable countries through real national unity that upholds coexistence and is built on administrative decentralization.
*This article was published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on Jan. 15, 2013.
(Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon. Joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances
Active in academic, social and charity work, and a former active member of the Labour Party in the UK)