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Sunday
Feb172013

Syria, L'Enfant Terrible of Foreign Politics

Contributed by Claude Salhani of Oilprice.com. Claude Salhani is a political analyst and journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia, terrorism and political Islam.  His latest book is "Islam Without a Veil.” He tweets @claudesalhani.

Syria today finds itself on the edge of a precipice, on the verge of falling into a deep political, social and economic abyss that could send the country spiralling into an endless vicious web of internal battles as current allies in the war to overthrow the government become future foes vying for ultimate control of this strategically placed country in the Arab world. Yet, with the exception of neighbouring Turkey, the rest of the international community has been extremely slow to react.

One may even find a certain Machiavellian notion in the slowness in which the international community reacted to the civil war that has now ravaged Syria for two years, perhaps silently content that passing time allows all forces involved in this conflict the time needed to weaken one another.

Why? Perhaps a reluctance to interfere in a country’s internal affairs? Hard to believe as this had never stopped nor deterred Western nations in the past. So consider then why the situation in Syria was allowed to deteriorate to the point it finds itself today.

Two years into the conflict, it is a given that the current regime needs to go, say many analysts. The leadership in Damascus has demonstrated how utterly ruthless it can be. Human rights are nonexistent and the government appears to have absolutely no consideration for its citizens. This is a regime that did not hesitate to turn its own tanks, warplanes, attack helicopters and heavy artillery on its own populace. With few exceptions most of the world community agrees that it's time for the regime to go.

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If that seems to be the general consensus, why then this hesitation to grant the opposition the support it needs to shorten the war? Why this dragging of feet during which time Syria is destroyed, large chunks of the population forced into exile, tens of thousands killed and the country set back economically several decades? Many will say the opposition often did not fare better.

Perhaps the short answer might be that it is hard to sympathize with either side as both government forces and opposition fighters seem to believe that fundamental human rights is something that does not apply to them.

The Internet is rife with pictures and videos of prisoners being tortured in the most brutal manner (not that there might be a humane form of torture) by both sides. Fighters summarily executed; people made to lie on the pavement where armed men kick them in the face, trample on their backs as though they were old rugs, then shoot into the pile of human bodies with all the emotions one would have if they were shooting at rats. Prisoners tied up and stabbed to death with small knives, or others having their heads bashed in with large bricks.

All revolutions are harsh, but Syria’s seems more so. Perhaps it is because of the presence of the Internet that allows instant viewing of events that would otherwise have never surfaced?

The West’s reluctance to interfere is partially moulded on the supposition that the rebels, at least those who are in the military, were formed in the same military academies as those attended by the pro-government forces.  In other words one could expect more of the same just under a different name.

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And then there is the added confusion over who to support among “the opposition,” a context used to describe a wide range of groups with no unified front.

Indeed some of the names can be very confusing. For example, the Syria Liberation Front (jabhat tahrir souriya), may give the impression that it is a large and important organization, it is not. Or yet the Free Syrian Army headed by Riad el-Asaad, Mustafa el-Sheikh, Qasem Saadeddine, a group that has benefitted much of the international media’s attention, perhaps because of its name and the inclusion of the word “free.” Yet it is not a real army per se. It has no central command and control structure no organized chain of command.

In Damascus alone there are a number of different organizations united in their cause to overthrow the government, but disunited in everything else. There is the Tajammou Ansar al-Islam fi Qalb al-Sham (“The Gathering of Islam’s Supporters in the Heart of Damascus). This movement came about as seven different factions joined forces; those were: Liwa el-Islam, Kataeb el-Sahaba, Liwa el-Furqan, Liwa Ahfad el-Rasoul, Kataeb Der’ el-Sham, Liwa el-Habib Mustafa, and Katibat Hamza bin Abdelmuttalib.

Some analysts believe that one group worth watching is the Syrian Islamist Front. And they are right. Islamists in Syria, should they come to power, will pose a threat to the regional security, given Syria’s geo-strategic role.

Geographically and politically Syria has always played a major role in the region. What goes down in Syria impacts the rest of the Arab world. Changes in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood or in favor or groups associated to the Islamists will impact neighboring Lebanon, a country that is looking suspiciously at the civil war transpiring next door and praying that the war and its effects do not spill over.

As Iraq is looking over its frontier as is Israel too. Yet Turkey, remains Syria’s only neighboring country where there appears to be genuine concern to the point that Ankara has taken active steps to try and quell some of the violence before it reaches a most perilous state.  An example that the West should not ignore before it is too late. Contributed by Claude Salhani of Oilprice.com.

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