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Whither the Old Order?: The Regional Implications of the Syria Crisis 26 février 2013

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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GCSP Policy Paper (Geneva Centre for Security Policy) 2013/2, 26 Feb. 2013

Karim Emile Bitar *

The Syrian revolution started in March 2011 as a spontaneous and non-violent movement, akin to the uprisings which had taken place in Tunisia and Egypt. While the underlying political, economic and demographic causes of the Syrian revolt were similar to those that triggered the earlier revolutions, the regime’s brutal reaction, Syria’s geostrategic position and its sectarian make-up, as well as the agendas of regional and international powers led the revolution to morph into a bloody civil war.

While it is unlikely that post-colonial borders will be redrawn, the territorial framework that was born following the demise of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I is beginning to shatter, illustrated by the weakening of central authorities, the flourishing of old solidarity networks and the negative reactivation of tribal loyalties.

The Syrian fault lines are increasingly sectarian and, throughout the Middle East, the animosity between Sunni and Shiite is rapidly rising. In the wake of the rise of Iranian power that followed the US-led Iraq invasion, some are hoping to see a Sunni restoration take place in Syria and Iraq. As Syria burns, contiguous neighbouring countries are teetering on the brink.

Iraq is progressively veering towards civil war. The Lebanese Sunni-Shiite ‘balance of power’ logic has yet to be hammered out in Iraq. Iraqi factions seem less willing to compromise than their Lebanese counterparts. The Kurds could emerge as winners. In a reversal of earlier policies, relations between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds improved, while Syrian Kurds are benefiting from the chaos to establish facts on the ground which will be hard to reverse.

Despite their denials, Lebanon’s two opposing camps are deeply involved in Syria, the Iranian- supported Shiite movement Hezbollah trying to prop up the Assad regime while the Saudi-backed Sunni Future Movement is attempting to hasten Assad’s demise. While the fall of the Syrian regime would represent a severe blow to Hezbollah,it is questionable that such blow would be fatal.

* Karim Emile Bitar is Senior Fellow at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris and Editor of French monthly L’ENA hors les murs.

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