Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
I will be on vacation for 4 days and not on email or the blog – hurray!
Middle Eastern vultures circle over a wounded Syria
August 10, 2011
By Rami G. Khouri
The Daily Star
The sudden heightened rhetoric on the events in Syria by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League is unlikely to change how the situation in the country unfolds. However, it marks an important shift in the place and wider role of Syria and other states in the wider Middle East.
The most significant of trends is probably the more aggressive or assertive role of regional actors, as international players find that they have very limited means of influencing Syrian government actions. This is linked to the slow transformation of Syria from a leading actor that often defined key political realities around the Middle East, into a more passive player whose domestic troubles have suddenly clipped its regional wings.
The third big change is Syria’s sudden vulnerability at home, causing other regional powers to start working more diligently to either protect their interests or to make sure they are well positioned to take advantage of any forthcoming changes in Syria.
All of this has happened in just over four months. However, it is in fact the delayed and inevitable consequence of four decades of autocratic rule where the extended Assad family, security services and business interests badly gutted and corrupted Syria’s governance institutions. This helped expose the hollowness and weaknesses of the ruling edifice once a domestic challenge erupted. Syria’s ruling establishment remains strong and broadly unified for now, but its end is certain if it uses no other means than military force to respond to the populist national uprising that challenges it.
Three major regional players – Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran – are now actively working in different ways to secure their strategic interests by trying to influence events in Syria. Israel presumably also is keeping an eye on things there, but its capacity to intervene is much smaller for now. This extraordinary spectacle of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran focusing on Syria is not yet a bevy of vultures hovering over the wounded Syrian body – but it is the first step toward that. All the countries see trends signaling change, and for different reasons they want to influence these to suit their preferences.
Iran wants to keep the Syrian system in place, because its close relationship with Syria (as well as Iran’s links to Hezbollah in Lebanon) represents the one and only foreign policy achievement of the Iranian Islamic revolution. This is presumably why Saudi Arabia and the GCC, who fear more Iranian influence in the Arab world, have spoken out against Syrian government policy and asked President Bashar Assad to pursue political reforms – however lacking in credibility or sincerity is such a message from Gulf monarchies.
Saudi Arabia has been leading the Arab official tide to hold back the wave of populist democratization propelling the street revolts across the Middle East. It must calculate that it has more to lose from continued Iranian influence in the Arab world than it has to lose from Arab democratic reforms; so it works diplomatically (and presumably behind the scenes by assisting some Islamist anti-Assad forces) to weaken both Syria and Iran’s regional conduit via Damascus.
Last summer, Saudi Arabia was working closely with Syria on several issues, including stabilizing conditions inside Lebanon. Today, Saudi Arabia seems to have decided to pressure the Damascus regime, if not also to actively change it. Arab politics, like politics everywhere, can be a fickle and tempestuous beast.
Turkey’s involvement in Syria is the most intriguing. Turkey has several direct economic, security, humanitarian and diplomatic interests in its bilateral ties with Syria, and has proved willing in the past to throw its weight around in the region, including militarily, to secure its national interests. Turkey’s economic and political development in the past several decades has been one of the few regional success stories, and now Ankara is being tested on its diplomatic prowess. It says it has not ruled out joining the Western, and now increasingly Arab, trend toward imposing greater sanctions on Syria to push it to use political rather than military tools to respond to its domestic challenges. The trouble with everyone’s approach is that Syria, like Iran, has proved to be stubbornly resistant to external diplomatic or economic pressures ever since the U.S. unilaterally initiated sanctions almost a decade ago.
For now, the most interesting and historically important aspect of the situation in Syria is less the behavior of the top-heavy, security-based Assad regime – an endangered global species – and more the continued awakening of regional powers intervening in Syrian affairs more openly, as major global powers watch the people and regimes of the Middle East (still two different phenomena in most countries) retake control of their destinies.
Syria and Turkey: The farewell meeting
10/08/2011, By Tariq Alhomayed
It was as important as the famous meeting between [then Iraqi Foreign Minister] Tariq Aziz and [then US Secretary of State] James Baker in Geneva prior to the war to liberate Kuwait. It was also no less important than the meeting between former Turkish Foreign Minister Bulent Ecevit and [then Iraqi Vice-President] Taha Yassin Ramadan prior to the war to occupy Iraq. I am, of course, talking about the meeting between [Turkish Foreign Minister] Ahmet Davutoglu and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.
Nikolaos van Dam: The Syrian regime is rapidly running out of options
Independent, Wednesday, 10 August 2011
So long down the road, what options does the regime have to bring this crisis to an end? For almost five months now, there have been protests against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. First, they were asking for nothing more than peace, freedom and unity. It was only afterwards that they demanded the downfall of the regime.The truth is there are not many options, both for the regime, and for their opponents. The regime could try to talk to the opposition, but the problem is that its proposed reform measures regarding multi party democracy and changes to media law simply haven’t gone far enough.
The most significant thing it could do is to stop violence and suppression and see what happens. If demonstrations continue, which they probably will, the regime might lose control over cities – but it would at least provide a better climate for a resolution to the crisis. The dilemma for the regime is if it really does reform, it will lead to its own downfall.
One resolution would be for elements from within the military to move against the regime. Several times we have seen officers break away, but without units they are powerless. And any move against the regime would be extremely difficult, and those behind it would likely be uncovered and killed. Another possibility is civil war, which nobody wants and would bring even more destruction. I have the impression that there are armed groups which have tried to exploit the situation and to jump onto the bandwagon; like Syrian Salafists who have been fighting in Iraq. These groups want to re-establish Sunni dominance in Syria, a country where they are the majority. The present Alawite-dominated regime is considered by many Sunnis as heretic. So it’s also important that countries take Syria more seriously when it says it is fighting terrorists.
So what options are there for the international community to force Assad’s hand? There have already been mis-steps. The US is powerless and is not really communicating directly with the regime; their ambassador visited Hama and has lost his position as a neutral. The Turks announced in advance that they were going to convey a tough message. But if you want to influence the Syrians, the dialogue has to be confidential to at least have a chance.
Military intervention is not going to work. Libya is relatively speaking, an easy – albeit thus far not really successful – operation, but in Syria where and who would they attack? Sanctions don’t work, and may even worsen the situation. So we are back to dialogue. And here the voice of Saudi Arabia may prove to be very important.
Nikolaos van Dam is a former Dutch ambassador to various Middle Eastern countries. The fourth edition of his book ‘The Struggle for Power in Syria’ was released recently
Syria pledges to go on with national dialogue, reforms: FM
DAMASCUS, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) — Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al- Moallem said Wednesday his country was determined to go on with the national dialogue and accomplish the package of reforms announced by the president, stressing Syria would emerge from the crisis “stronger and more powerful.”
Moallem made the remarks during a meeting with a delegation of diplomats from Brazil, India and South Africa.
According to Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), Moallem briefed the delegation on the slaughtering and vandalism by “armed groups” some Syrian cities had witnessed, adding that the army units had restored security and stability to those cities.
The delegation members voiced solidarity with the Syrian leadership, stressing that their countries would keep supporting Syria to restore security and stability and against any intervention in its internal affairs, SANA said.
They said they were confident that reforms currently underway in Syria could “create a new status quo in Syria that would meet the aspirations of its people,” urging the international community to give Syria more time so that those reforms might yield fruits.
Syrians in the Golan, speaking for the revolution A well produced video.
Syrian protesters are calling on citizens to boycott products made or imported by friends of the regime, and are hoping foreign governments freeze investment in the country.
By Zvi Bar’el
It’s not just the regime; Syrians need to change the intellectual culture that bolsters tyranny
Imad al-Rasheed, guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 14 June 2011