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October 24, 2021

Syria: The point of no return?

“The international community
has already turned into a decisive
factor in what regards the future
of Syria. Also on Friday, May 6, Washington stated that violence against protesters was ‘deplorable’ and asked for ‘strong international response’ against official Damascus if it does not end its brutal behaviour.”

At the beginning of the Arab spring, many realised Syria was among the few countries apparently refusing to ‘move’ (the other ones were Morocco, Lebanon or Jordan). On the one hand, Tunisia and Egypt changed their respective regimes, Yemen, Bahrain and Algeria were experiencing unfolding revolutions of various intensities and, on the other hand, Syria was not at all touched by contagion. The initial situation raised many questions and a thesis was advanced to suggest that Assad’s regime was highly stable, also listing the particular factors that supported such a domestic balance. But, all of a sudden, towards the end of March, Syria became inflamed. It started from some more peripheral towns, some of which lying near the Turkish border and inhabited by an important Kurdish community (as a matter of fact, the regime in Damascus immediately moved to award citizenship to the almost two million Kurds).

Ever since than, mainly on Fridays, huge crowds of protesters have been in the streets of many Syrian cities. Originally unresponsive, the Army soon proceeded to massive reprisals and the regime of the son of late Syrian leader, Bashar Assad, was in tremendous difficulty.

Is Syria on the point where keeping the Assad – son regime is no longer possible and where a democratic system will be born from the last convulsions of a dictatorship unable to grasp the trend and make the necessary changes in order to clam down the crowds before it is not too late?

The question and, most of all the answer, are crucial, because they help anticipate the direction of the major geo-political transformations the ‘Arab spring’ is bringing along. These transformations are in progress and the way in which events develop poses a special importance to the future of this region. Syria was a highly important piece in the old geo-political balance of the Middle East. The Assad regime has blamed foreign powers as other regimes found in the same situation did of concocting the uprisings in Syrian cities, with the preferred target being Saudi Arabia. To Riyadh, building a common front against the treat represented by Shi’ite Iran’s hegemonic inclination has become an existential need and the removal of the Allawit regime (a form of Shi’ism) from Damascus that is close to Tehran would be consistent with such philosophy.

Syria may be an important piece in the puzzle, but, in the US’ large-scale strategy in particular and of the West in general, Saudi Arabia’s regional importance supersedes Syria’s. Only the fall of the Syrian regime could have some major effects on the regional geo-politics, as Iran would be ‘freed’ of one of its competitors and rivals over a prime role in the Muslim Middle East. Of course, Syria is a ‘bridge’, via the Assad regime, of the Iranian influence in Lebanon and Palestinian territories (through Hamas and Hezbollah), but, at the same time, it is a lay state and the possibility that it may turn into a theocratic state in the pot-Assad age is real and undesirable to the West. On the other hand, even if it has no peace treaty with Israel and still at war with it, Syria is a predictable neighbour with which it started peace negotiations three years ago. The fear of the unknown post-Assad epoch prompts the West to urge the withdrawal of the Damascus leader without further delay.

But it seems the will of the Syrian people is ahead of sophisticated geo-political calculations minding the regional balance. While at the beginning of the uprisings the demand that the regime should go was not really heard, when Damascus resorted to military oppression so far yielding almost 800 deaths, it gradually went up to the first position on the comprehensive list of protesters’ demands. Recent press reports suggest the demand became almost general in the uprisings held in several cities, including Damascus, last Friday.

The future of the Bashar Assad regime will from now on depend on the institutions of power of his regime – the army and the intelligence services. To Assad, ‘running forward’, meaning amplified reprisals, using institutions of power to oppose the wave of people’s demands to replace him by violent means is the only way in which he can save himself. But such ‘treatment’ will increase the number of protesters, strengthening their will for political change. The moment when the international community steps in demanding that repressions should stop and, possibly like in Libya’s case, that Assad’s team should go is close. On Friday, the EU already took sanctions against members of the Assad team, but not against the head of the regime, which automatically entered into force yesterday, as no member state opposed. The international community has already turned into a decisive factor in what regards the future of Syria. Also on Friday, May 6, Washington stated that violence against protesters was ‘deplorable’ and asked for ‘strong international response’ against official Damascus if it does not end its brutal

On the other hand, there is a possibility that the institutions of power of the regime may abandon Bashar Assad and monitor a peaceful change. It could assure the cease of violence and also impact the length and nature of transition, while also putting some order in the regional situation. Turkey has already advised the launch of reform processes in the state, being interested to have ‘peace’ at its border. Iran is also interested in keeping the ‘bridge’ Syria provides to Lebanon and Israel through the aforementioned organisations classified as terrorist and the survival of some of the old regime’s institutions would be good from that point of view.

The options therefore are either fast and violent reprisals which would secure the survival of the Assad regime before the decisive intervention of the international community, especially the EU and US, or the abandonment of the leader by the institutions of the regime to secure their own continuity for a while. It is obvious that no one knows for sure the direction of developments after the disappearance of the Assad regime. What happened in Egypt after Mubarak’s departure is, of course, a ‘lesson’ learnt by the ones now managing power in Damascus.

The question if Syria has reached the ‘point of no return’ continues to be valid this week. Meanwhile, the situation in that country is open for any developments.


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