Posted by Alex on Sunday, November 18th, 2007
Posted by Zenobia
The fourth and latest discussion topic for Creative Syria’s Forum deals with these questions:
Which international and regional powers (Turkey, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Untied States, Russia, France) should Syria have good relations with, economically or politically? How flexible do you hope Syria will be on Lebanon, Iraq, the Golan, and Palestinian right? Should Syria be more involved or more hands off in the surrounding region's many conflicts?
I invite all the Syria Comment readers and posters to log on to the Creative Syria Forum site and check out the latest articles written by your fellow talented bloggers. Come see what we have to say, partake in the discussion, and give us your feedback.
The following are some selected excerpts from the different articles.
Wassim | graduate student | United Kingdom
The twentieth century can be considered the Middle East's lost century or, to paraphrase from Gabriel Marquez, its "100 years of solitude". The overwhelming tide of secular politics and nationalism, which engulfed the region following the end of the "Western mandates" marginalized and drowned out the region’s own rich political, socio-economic and religious realities with those that had a context in Western Europe. Almost two generations of Arabs have thus been educated to look West instead of East – they are lost. The tragedy is that most of these "lost Arabs" now either rule us (the moderate countries) or dominate what is taken as a political opposition in most countries, including Syria. As Shariati once said, there are three strands of political thought: Humanist, Nationalist and Religious. These three factors, when applied in the correct context and reality, can in fact be productive and useful. It is when they are applied in the wrong context and reality that they can cause much damage. For example, they can make people who should be enemies friends and vice versa. Rather than be partial to one or the other flavor, Syria has proven adept at manipulating each of those three images where it saw fit. This should be commended and notcondemned at a time when nationalism is used to divide the Arab countries, religion is used to divide Sunni against Shia and the secular against the religious whilst in one breath humanism is being used to justify the continued occupation of Palestine and Iraq.
Syria's non Arab allies (Turkey and Iran) are helping Assad counterbalance Syria's traditional Arab allies who joined the US administration in boycotting him. Uniformly improving relations with Sunni Turkey made it difficult for Syria's Arab critics to continue suggesting that Assad turned Syria into an Iranian client state.
Qunfuz | Educator/Author | Oman
Despite its Arabism, Syria has always been prepared to go against the grain of Arab alliances in what it perceives as the true interests of Arab causes. Syria had the honor of being the only Arab state to support revolutionary Iran against Saddam Hussain's barbarous Western-backed attack. Despite some conflicts of interest in Iraq, and despite the very different nature of the two regimes, Syria and Iran have preserved and developed their alliance. This is certainly a good thing. Whatever the future of the current clerical regime, Iran will continue to be a regional heavyweight, with a large population of well-educated people, with a crucial geo-strategic position and a wealth of resources. I know from my visit to the country that the alliance with Syria is popular even with opponents of the mullahs.
Syria's regional allies are well-organized forces, which will remain key players in the region indefinitely. Iran is one example of this, and Turkey, with its huge and growing economic power and connections to Europe and central Asia, is another. Hizbullah is by far the best organized, deeply rooted, and efficient political force in Lebanon, and perhaps the second most effective military force in the area after Israel. Indeed, despite Israel's continuing technological superiority (which translates into a superior
ability to kill civilians and destroy infrastructure), and despite the political-sectarian traps limiting its capacities domestically, the fact that Hizbullah frustrated all of Israel's war aims in the summer of 2006 remains a matter of pivotal importance in the region and the world.
Mazen Salhi | Engineer | Canada
Syrian society can in fact make credible claims to being a tolerant and successfully diverse culture. Modern Syria has acted strongly against radical fundamentalist movements. It protected the Christians of Lebanon
from potential uprooting by extremist forces in Lebanon (some of whom are preaching about peace, freedom and independence today), and it opposed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Nevertheless, the gravity of religion, political history and oil companies is always looming overhead when making decisions about the country's regional and international political relations.
From all of the above, we can pretty much be certain that no matter how hostile the Saudis grow towards Syria, the Syrian government cannot break it with Saudi Arabia, which houses Mecca and Medina and influences the lives of a great many Syrians through religion and sheer economics. Also, no matter how costly the influx of Iraqi refugees may be on the Syrian infrastructure, Syria cannot afford to turn its back on them, with so much in common with the Iraqi people. And no matter what lows the likes of Jumblatt – who suggested in Washington recently to send car bombs to Damascus – sink to in Lebanon, Syria cannot and should not break it with Lebanon either. Decision trees are as complex as the realities in the land that gave the world agriculture.
So much for not reaching the point of no return with these countries, but what about active diplomacy and the right allocation of priorities? Well, to start with, there is no doubt that the times are dangerous and literally anything can happen. The first priority should be to avoid a large-scale war that could be devastating to the country. I think the regime is right about emphasizing relations with countries that make their own decisions. In that sense, it is vital for Syria to maintain and promote excellent relations
with Russia, Iran, Turkey, China, India, the European Union and Canada.
Bashar Elsbihi | Alenfetah Party of Syria | United States
In a world that has become a global village no one country can pursue its sole national interests without working through the web of international diplomacy to seek those mutual benefits and enhance cooperation among the regional parties to bring about peace and prosperity to all.
Based on these premises, there is an urgent need for an overall political change to those policies which have endangered our beloved country and placed it in the uncompromising position against the international community which have led to the isolation of Syria from the West where the political, economic, social, and security interests of the country are now in great jeopardy.
On the regional level, if there is one thing the regime can do immediately to save it from further escalation with the West is to act on the Lebanese and the Iraqi fronts.
Leadership begins with a vision. When the entire world surrounding you seems to be ablaze you simply cannot ignore the signs of the imminent danger to yourself and your country. Today, Syria is surrounded by chaos and danger and without a vision in the leadership the danger and chaos will soon be
knocking at its doors.
Fadi | Academic | the Gulf
Syria's challenge in the near future is to try to shift the countries from the "Hostile" and "Neutral" categories into the "Friendly" one. Israel and the current US administration on the other hand will persistently try to do the opposite by forcing these countries -through using carrots, sticks or both- to follow the most extreme anti-Syria policies possible (even if it is against those countries' own interests). The extent of their success in persuading such countries to follow anti-Syria policies would depend on complex sets of factors. For example, despite their best diplomatic, military and economic attempts, Israel and the current US administration were only able to win Saudi to the "Hostile" group from the "Neutral" one. Shifting Egypt to the "Neutral" category from the "Friendly" one was a limited success. On the other hand, Syria's major win was shifting Turkey from the "Hostile" to "Neutral" and then quickly to the "Friendly" category in a relatively short period of time. For the objective reader trying to understand how the power struggle in the region functions, this somewhat simplified framework makes it easier to understand the dynamics that govern the complex relationships between these countries.
Zenobia | Doctoral Candidate | United States (visiting Syria)
The notion that Syria can disengage itself from the conflicts involving the Palestinians, Israel, Iraqis, Iran, the Lebanese, and even Turkey is simply an impossibility, a denial of reality. The only conflict arena in which Syria can reasonably stay at a distance is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And this last sentence should suggest the number one reason for my assertion that the region's conflicts inherently involve Syria. Geography. Just look at a map. Syria is geographically in the center of the middle-east stage. Not only this, but like Turkey and Lebanon, it sits on the Mediterranean Sea at the bridge between Asia and Europe. Dare I say that Syria is in the center of the world.
Anybody who takes the view that things like the political borders and 'sovereignty' of each of the middle east nations determine the boundaries of their rightful concerns and interests is engaging in some kind of fantasy. Where the boundary of Syria ends and Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey begin on the map reveals nothing about what Syria actually is. The same confusions would apply to many colonially carved 'states' of the world. The reality is that the Palestinians are in Syria. The Iraqis are in Syria. Kurds are in Syria. And Lebanese are in what was Syria. So is some of Turkey. And some Syrians up in the northeast might as well be Turkish. And the Syrians are in Lebanon, and they are sometimes also Lebanese. The Israelis are in Syria! The Iranians are now everywhere in real and in spirit, and might as well be in Syria.
In the mean time, Syria goes on her way… progressing slowly through the deep swamp, the same swamp that Cheney and company would like to drain to their liking. It is tragic that the 'think-tank' zealots in D.C. (who don't actually think) continue not to see how Americans will drown in the swamp first before it can ever be cleared.
Thankfully Syria is experienced with swamps, having cities that although they have turned to desert, nonetheless, have survived with their people through the rise and fall of empires.
Tarek Barakat | Fashion Industry | Dubai
Iran and to even a lesser extent Turkey can offer Syria so much before the latter will need to move back to a multi-polar realm. Syria needs Saudi Arabia and the Americans way more than they need her because both can provide Damascus influence Iran cannot. And if the Syrians can't win the American support due to conflicting strategic interest then at least they should avoid antagonizing them. The Saudis are also here to stay for the foreseeable future and therefore must be accommodated (especially in Lebanon). Compromise might sound like an overly simplistic solution to a very complicated situation. But time, especially in the Middle East, crops up new opportunities and tribulations. The trick is to sit out the current tribulations and exploit any upcoming opportunities. And while I am merely stating the obvious, this is a better solution than "surrendering" or committing fatal errors due to blind stubbornness.
Simo Hurtta | Information technology | Finland
For Syria, good and functioning relations with the Arab and Muslim countries are in the end much more important than the level of relations with USA and EU. Naturally, good relations with EU and USA can open possibilities in trade, technology and investments. But especially with the United States, the past decades' history has shown that good relations can exist only if Syria obeys and follows the will of America. And that has been proven difficult because the countries’ interests do not match with so many issues.
Peace with Israel is important for Syria but only if the two main challenges can be solved in a way that might not be in Israel's interests, meaning creating Palestine and giving back Golan. The decades long dispute has enabled Israel to play a much bigger role in world politics (and hugely benefited it economically) than it could keep up with peace with neighbors. Is Israel ready to become the Denmark of the Middle East – a prosperous small country, but politically rather insignificant?
Syria's chances, with all those geopolitical tensions and problems in the Middle East, to create and keep up good relations with all involved parties is challenging if not impossible. Syria should concentrate on finding the elements that unite the areas/nations and actively work for a tighter Middle East's political and economical union. Only co-operation can save the area from decades long civil wars and the faith of Afghanistan and Iraq. In the end it is not the question about Shias against Sunnis, as little as it had been in Europe Protestants against Catholics. As Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly showed, the outsiders cannot provide solutions, better living standards or stability. They only create more problems if they are allowed to lead the future Middle East.
Ehsani | Finance | United States
Syria's geopolitical importance in the region stems from the following
- It shares a border with Israel.
- It lies on the Eastern Mediterranean
- It is to the south of Turkey, an aspiring EU applicant and a Muslim present member of NATO.
- Following the US invasion of Iraq in early 2003, Syria's eastern borderhas suddenly capitulated the country into what is arguably the eye of the storm engulfing the Middle East region.
The departing Chairman of the US Federal reserve Board Alan Greenspan has recently argued that the Iraq invasion was "largely about oil". The vast majority of Arabs seem to believe that it is more about Israel and the Neo-conservatives of the Bush White House. The US administration in turn tried to argue that the invasion was all about fighting "global terrorism" and that it was a matter of "national security" in a post September 11th world.
No matter what the real motivation behind the invasion was, the indisputable fact is that the U.S. has invested too many resources in this endeavor to call it quits anytime soon. As early as 2004, the decision was made to build in Baghdad the largest American embassy ever. Some continue to believe that once this American Administration leaves office, the American soldiers will soon leave Iraq as well. My suspicion is that the Damascus leadership shares this mistaken view.