No light at the end of the tunnel for Syria
After seven years of strife and war, we can give the following diagnosis of the condition of “sick Syria.”
First, it is going to be international and regional forces, namely — and by order of importance — the United States and Russia then Iran and Turkey, that will be deciding Syria’s future. The competing local forces of the Syrian regime and the opposition are dependent politically, financially and militarily on foreign support. Most of the local population has distanced itself from the conflict, especially since it turned violent.
Second, the Syrian regime has, with the help of its allies, removed most of the country’s society from the equation. It has either destroyed or besieged the communities that rebelled against it and that it considers fiefdoms of opposition forces such as al-Zabadani and Ghouta. The regime has displaced millions of Syrians.
Third, the Syrian revolution is in need of leadership. Its promises of freedom, citizenship and democracy need to be clarified, particularly after it has been hijacked by armed factions under the cover of Islam and professing extremist religious and sectarian ideologies.
Fourth, the Syrian regime and its allies changed the international perception of the Syrian conflict from being part of the “Arab spring” revolutions against dictatorships and corruption to being part of the so-called war on terror.
The world’s attention has been diverted to issues related to Syrian refugees. Suddenly, the priorities of the European and international communities have focused on damming the flow of refugees to Europe and on getting aid to the besieged areas in Syria.
The Syrian regime is behaving as if all of Syria is its private property and as if the Syrian citizens were mere residents with no ownership rights. The regime believes its slogan: “Assad’s Syria forever.”
Fifth, the Syrian regime has two major and powerful allies — Russia and Iran — which firmly believe that change in Syria would spell the end of their influence there, especially now that they have become the Syrian regime’s accomplices in its war against most of Syria’s citizens.
Sixth, the so-called Friends of the Syrian People group was not as effective as the regime’s allies. These supposedly “friendly” countries played with Syria’s revolution and tried to impose narrow and often conflicting agendas. Turkey, for example, paid more attention to the risks to its own national security presented by Syrian Kurds than to Syrian aspirations for freedom and democracy.
Another “friend” of Syria, the United States, is in control of a large portion of Syrian territory with eight military bases east of the Euphrates and in the south.
Seventh, up to now the United States had not been talking about ending the conflict in Syria. From the Obama to Trump administrations, the United States is happy with leaving Syria open to confrontations between foreign powers.
The goal seems to be to bleed and weaken Syria, which would explain why all peace talks about Syria, whether in Geneva or in Astana, have failed.
Seven years of destructive war and the Syrians are not about to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is Syria’s fate to suffer because of its geostrategic location as the gate to the Arab Orient and its importance to Israel’s security. Accepting this reality as Syria’s fate, however, does not justify ignoring the mistakes and shortcomings of the Syrian revolution.
That revolution failed to produce any credible leadership, political or otherwise, capable of federating the silent multitude of normal citizens and of speaking in their name. There is no common denominator capable of bringing together the various armed groups in the Syrian opposition and there is no link between them and the existing political framework such as the Syrian National Council or the Syrian National Coalition. Even the negotiation committees have splintered or changed their compositions.
Another surprise of the Syrian revolution is that various political and military bodies born from it have abandoned their initial discourse about freedom, democracy and dignity for positions aligned with the extremist religious and sectarian ideologies. Of course, these bodies have lost any credibility they could have enjoyed with the Syrian people and the international community.
The other danger to the Syrian revolution comes from the reliance of the different Syrian actors on foreign help. Naturally, they have become hostages of the agendas of the sponsoring parties instead of focusing on serving the national interests of the Syrian people and their legitimate dreams of freedom and democracy.
The last and most important risk to the Syrian revolution resides in systematic efforts by the various Syrian actors to chip away at the collective and unifying national Syrian identity. Fractures along tribal, religious, sectarian, ethnic and regional lines have been imposed on Syrian society as if Syrian citizens had no common and shared country to unite them.
It is natural that a national Syrian identity must be rebuilt on notions of citizenship and equal rights under the rule of law and state institutions.
For all the reasons mentioned, the end to the tragedy in Syria is still not on the horizon.