Regime change, geopolitics and Syrian lesson | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 18, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 18, 2012

Regime change, geopolitics and Syrian lesson

Photo: AFP

The crisis in Syria has unfolded in March 2011 with having its own roots. People have discontents with government's action and came out to street while the government reacted in a way that most dictators do. We have, however, two versions of accounts of the event. It is almost impossible to independently verify the array of information that comes from both sidesinternational media is struggling with its ebbing credibility for quite some time, while the Syrian government media is naturally hiding information to save President Assad. Nevertheless, nobody has a reason to believe government's story that only 'terrorists' are to blame for all the misfortune the Syrians are facing on the street.
Syria has its sectarian tensions for long time; it has tribal issues as well as a four-decades-old dynastic regime. The Syrian economy is no better off. All these are enough to justify the resentment of Syrian people, their movements against the regime and their demand to bring about change. Syrian regime has failed to reconcile with the opposition instead it kicked off the madness, started indiscriminate killing of and torture on its own people. Now if that is the hotbed of a possible mass upsurge, the movement then could be hijacked by some Western and Arab countries driven by their own narrow political agenda rather than the core interest of Syrians.
Syria has been the key country in all the Middle East conflicts since the first Arab-Israel war in 1948. From 1948 to Lebanese civil war, Syria remains the key regional player. Syrian strong strategic alliance with Iran and Lebanese Hizbullah militia, a powerful Shiite movement, has not only irritated Israel and the West, but also some Sunni countries, mainly the Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan. When political tension was simmering in Syria, these countries sought to exploit the situation to undermine the Shiite Assad regime and started funding and arming the Sunni opposition groups. The US and other major Western powers tacitly allowed such a move and provided hard cash and communication equipments to the rebels. They left no stone unturned to impose Libyan-style no-fly zone over Syrian sky and for military campaign under UN cover which has been turned down at UN Security Council by the Russians and Chinese.
Now when most Syrians would be happy to see a better political system at home, I doubt if they would want to see their country falls in the hands of Wahabi extremists and Al Qaeda elements. The New York Times newspaper (on 24 July, 2012) and Time Magazine (on 26 July) reported that these terror elements are already gaining foothold, operating inside Syria side-by-side with the rebels, taking a deadly role in the conflict. That creates a risk that Syria could turn into the hotbed of militant extremists if Assad falls. If that happens, Sunni regimes led by Saudis (who themselves are extremely undemocratic) will bear the most burden. What costs the Syrians' aspiration to a healthy democratic political transition is these regional power-playing. Turning the political activists into armed rebels overnight has diminished the possibility of any democratic Syria in the foreseeable future (as we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya). Instead, the conflict is impregnating the social and tribal hatred (as happened in Libya), sectarianism (as happened in Iraq), and a political vacuum for the decades to come. An armed rebellion, mostly guided by the external interests, to oust a domestic regime is more than the worst solution for a nation than amalgamating a dictator. President Assad would be gone in any caseeither through this arms fighting or in a natural course; but, in the changing geopolitical circumstance, the Syrians will be in no better position without Assad. With Assad, they have a few years extension of bad rules, but without Assad there is a greater possibility of absolute chaos in Syrian society.
On the other side of the conflict, Syrian crisis will take a dramatic turn if the West opts for a Libyan-style military campaign. Any such move could be a disaster given the nature of the conflict. Russians, Iranians and their other proxies and allies in the region could turn the game ever difficult.
While everybody is trying to score in Syria, the Syrian people are losing everything. Some Syrians become the victims of the gamefighting with each other, and many others are fleeing the scene, taking refuge elsewhere. Russians are too concerned about the fate of their Naval base in Tartus and the lucrative market of their arms (remember, in the post-Gaddafi Libya alone, Russians have incurred $5 billion direct economic loss$4 billion arms deal and $1 billion railway contract scrapped by the post-Gaddafi regime), Iranians are concerned for losing one of its best allies in the regional power game. Americans, on the other hand, cannot wait for Assad to go to grab the next big market for their arms as well to eliminate the last bastion of anti-Israel regime around the Jewish state. The Saudi, Qatar, Jordan and Turkeydriven by their Sunni-brotherhood (rather than Muslim brotherhood) zealare waiting for a post-Alawaites regime to shift the balance of regional politics, while Israel would be ever happy to see another of its fierce foe down without costing it a single bullet. Everyone in the conflict is trying to score at the cost of the Syrians' blood.
What remains for the Syrians, even if President Assad goes? The long protracted civil war? Syria, Libya, Afghanistan should be the best lesson for any nationalist groups or parties of a third world country seeking political transformation not to be caught in the middle of external interests that will eventually lead them to self-destruction. It will be worse to suggest that Mr Assad should stay, but it will be the worst to suggest the opposition groups to wage a war against its own people with the arms and funds that are tagged with vicious interests of rogue foreign elements. It's an opportunity cost that the Syrians have to choose. Apparently, some Syrians are going with the worst choice.
Regime change did not bode well for the Iraqis; the ouster of Taliban regime in Afghanistan has only contributed to the protracted civil war and establishment of the second most corrupt regime in the world (Transparency International 2011). Post-Gaddafi Libya is fraught with sectarian and ethnic tensions and risking rather worse. If we look at the last three regime-change efforts, forcibly with guns, neither one did help the people of the respective country. Neither democracy is prospering nor have the citizenry been benefitted from the changes. The only beneficiaries of these bloody events are the multinational oil and gas contractors and arms dealers. If winning such contracts was the only objective of NATO air campaign in Libya and killing thousands of innocent Iraqis, now is the time we should rethink the world orderbecause the order is in disorder, allowing profit mongers to determine the fate of the millions.

The writer is Research Assistant, IGS, BRAC University.

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