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Long struggle looms over Levant 5 mai 2012

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Gulf News (UAE) May 5, 2012, p. 7

By Ayman Mustafa *

Gulf countries must act quickly to avert that scenario or devise ways to limit its impact on region.

For more than a year, I didn’t comment on what is going on in Syria for many reasons. Least of it is the media coverage that couldn’t be taken at face value, not only due to bias of media outlets but because it comes after decades of suppression of free speech by the Syrian regime. What started as a popular uprising against the oppressive Bashar Al Assad regime in Daraa in March 2011, turned into a violent struggle weeks later with the escalating brutality of the Syrian regime and foreign assistance for rebels against its rule.
 
Before western politicians warned of civil war in Syria, war was already on. Majority of ordinary Syrians were caught in the crossfire between a brutal regime and armed rebels supported by foreign powers. Syria is different from Libya which lacked a proper society under Muammar Gaddafi, Egypt where oppression was less, and other ‘changing’ Arab countries. It is closer to Iraq under Saddam Hussain, not only due to the Baath rule in both countries, but the severe brutality of the regime that renders people extremely indifferent and afraid of even ‘thinking’ of engaging in public life.
 
Aside from daily developments, media coverage, official statements, and all the rhetoric and bloodshed the situation in Syria is heading towards one end: Another Iraq or even worse. The Al Assad regime will ultimately fall, and a Sunni leadership will be there. It is not going to be like deconstructing a Sunni regime and bringing in Shiite rule as the western invasion and occupation did in Iraq.
 
With no military intervention, invasion or occupation of Syria, the opposition is divided on many lines. International and regional powers supporting the rebels are not in agreement, adding another line of division among Syrian opposition. The only agreed cause now is to overthrow the regime. What might follow seems to be no one’s concern.

Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds will seek a share of power and separatist sentiment among Syrian Kurds will be emboldened. The Brotherhood will seek retaliation against Alawites.

Here, it is going to be worse than Iraq and Libya. Ethnic and sectarian divisions are expected to fuel a power struggle and might lead to violent internal wars. The future of post-Al Assad Syria is bound to complete a bleak picture for the whole Levant.
 
Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds will seek a share of power and separatist sentiment among Syrian Kurds will be emboldened. Muslim Brotherhood will seek retaliation against Alawites. Then we’ll have Shiite dominance in Iraq and the Sunni power in Syria. Kurds might think that the dream of Kurdish nation as one state — in parts of Syria, Iraqi Kurdistan, and south-east Turkey — is near.

Ironically, this might prove elusive as western support for Kurds could stop short of full independence. They could get help as far as it fits western goals in the countries concerned. Turkey is definitely aware of this and is calibrating western efforts in Iraq and Syria on the Kurdish scale.
 
Protracted conflict

Sunnis in Iraq and Syria are not going to be allied against Shiites in both countries; rather it’s going to be fragmented sectarian struggle inside as well as between the two neighbours.
 
A protracted low-intensity conflict (PLIC)looks a high possibility in the region, whatever the outcome of the current Syrian dilemma. Things in Syria have already reached an irreversible state, with the regime certain to fall and an opposition difficult to reconcile with, let alone when it comes to sharing power.
 
Unfortunately that PLIC scenario is nothing new; it is the strategic term used by the Polish-American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor of president Jimmy Carter in late 70s. Horn of Africa was the first test-ground and it left Somalia at the nucleus of the failed-states region spilling its PLIC into Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia. The same scenario looks like the most probable one for the Levant. Though all parties with interests in the region, international and regional, might think it is contained risk, developments could prove otherwise.
 
If the Sunni-Shiite struggle in the Levant draws the main regional powers, Turkey and Iran, that would be a disastrous regional conflict, bound to keep the whole region in turmoil for many years to come. Lebanon with its fragile ethnic and sectarian structure is the first country to suffer, but it won’t be the arena for that struggle anymore — exporting regional conflicts to a microcosm like the case in previous decades.
 
A long struggle in Levant, sectarian and ethnic, could be a worst-case scenario but all indications point to that end. Even if Gulf states think that the Iraq sectarian turmoil didn’t spill into the region as initially feared, there’s no guarantee the new struggle will be the same. Actually, Gulf countries must act quickly to avert that possible nightmarish scenario — or at least devise ways to limit its impact on the region. 

* Dr Ayman Mustafa is a London-based Arab writer.

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