Since the Arab Spring began in January 2011 countries across the Muslim world have experienced uprisings unlike anything that has been seen before, and Syria is no exception. Bashar al Assad launched a massive crackdown on any perceived opposition, employing large-scale shelling on towns, besieging people in their own towns and sending in tanks to reduce them to rubble. Assad’s security services continue to systematically torture, rape and kill people whom they believe are opposed to the regime. However the regime has failed to quell the uprising and has been on the receiving end of an increasingly armed resistance.
To help assess the situation in Syria at the current time and give a clear picture of what the way forward should be, we have compiled answers to some of the key questions which we believe are important for all Muslims to understand:
Where do matters currently stand in Syria?
Currently matters stand at a stalemate. The Assad regime, in spite of employing tactics’ that would not even be fit for war, has been unable to quell the uprising, which has now spread to numerous areas across Syria. Whilst the Ummah in Syria has been very brave in challenging the Assad regime the armed resistance has lacked the strength to launch a sustained assault on Damascus.
What is the role of the International community in the Syria crisis?
As the killings escalated some in Syria turned to international help against the regime and this has now placed the solution to the crisis in international hands. The international community has put forward a number of solutions to the crisis. The US has shifted from publically backing Assad as a ‘potential reformer’ to publicly denouncing the regime – but all the time doing nothing to destabilise their vital interests.
It would appear Russia and China attempted to complicate the US plan in Syria by opposing attempts to pass a vague resolution and then using this as a cover for militarily intervention in February 2012. It was under the guise of imposing no fly zones in Libya that the West armed the Benghazi rebels, trained them, France, Britain and the US then cultivated links with different personalities to maintain influence after the overthrow of Gaddafi.
Both Russia and China generally oppose the West and use the forum of the UN to oppose Western planes. Such positions are generally weak and the veto to the UN resolution in early 2012 was no different. Aside from a naval refuelling facility in Syria, Russia lacks any political influence in country and so its stance was in reality a weak attempt to influence the Syrian crisis.
What has been the role of the Muslim countries?
The role of the Muslim countries in the region has been to implement foreign solutions. This has generally been the case in the region as most of the nations in the region generally play the role of surrogate, alternating between the US and Britain.
Turkey has been housing the defectors from the Syrian army who have now formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Turkey regularly implements US plans in the Middle East as can be seen by its actions with regards to Israel and the two state solution. Qatar of late has become active in the regions issues, it became the staging ground for Libya with regards to arming the rebels and housing them for negotiations. Scrutinising Qatar’s actions shows it has taken up many of the solutions developed by the UK and worked to implement them.
Similarly the Arab league like always has been a toothless organisation, but on this occasion it has got involved in implementing US aims in the region. The Arab league observer mission was another strategy amongst a number of strategies by the US to give al-Assad more time to quell the uprisings. Assad’s regime however continued its massacres even in the presence of the Arab League monitors. The Arab league monitors were provided transport and security by the Assad regime. It was the regime that escorted them around Syria.
The credibility of the monitors quickly evaporated after many in Syria were counting on it to expose the crimes of the Assad regime. In the end the Arab league monitors colluded with Assad by constantly arguing it needed more time to carry out its mission. Muhammad Ahmad Ad-Daabi the head of the delegation, whose hands are still dripping with the blood of the people of Darfur when he was the head of military intelligence constantly called for more time and concluded that Homs was not under attack – all of this was when images beamed around the world of the massacres taking place at the hands of the Assad regime.
What has been the US role in the Syria crisis?
After months of the US backing the Syrian regime through only calling for reforms, giving ample time for the regime to end the revolution, Assad failed in subduing the Ummah and the US started the process of his eventual demise. The US immediately called for the opposition to unify so a new ruling council could be formed, whom the US could deal with, just as in Libya with the National Transitional Council. Mark Toner, the US State Department’s deputy spokesman, told the CNN that “a real opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was beginning to form after five months of pro-democracy protests. We have seen the Syrian opposition begin to take shape, begin to stand up and become more cohesive and become more broadly representative… of Syrian society.” This was despite the fact that the factions the US was speaking with did not represent the Syrian people.
The US and the Western powers publically supported the opposition in the hope that they would overwhelm the regime. However differences between the opposition factions have hampered progress and as a result the various strategies to deal with the Syrian crisis have come thick and fast but have not shown much progress.
The US very quickly backed the Syrian National Council (SNC), which was established and led by the Paris-based dissident Burhan Ghalioun and included the Muslim Brotherhood. This council is composed mainly of foreign dissidents who went into exile due to the Assad regime. The council is composed of various groups secular and Islamic with many vying for eventual power in a new Syria. These exiles have been all too keen to spend time grandstanding in Western capitals and networking with Western diplomats. However after nearly a year of meetings in southern Turkey they are as divided as ever.
The US also attempted the National Co-ordination Committee (NCC), an opposition bloc that still functions within Syria and is led by Hussein Abdul Azim and other longstanding dissidents, some of whom are wary of the Islamists within the SNC. This faction has largely called for reform in Syria.
The US tried to join them together in an agreement, in the hope that such a partnership would give it traction with the people of Syria and so it could gain momentum in weakening and removing the Assad regime. This strategy failed as such factions have little support from the people of Syria
It appears the US is utilising other countries and regional surrogates in creating the conditions that will eventually lay the ground for a Syria without al-Assad, but one which continues to serve US interests. The US has for the moment engaged in indirect efforts rather than direct military intervention and this may be due to it being election year in the US.
The US is supporting the embryonic opposition, who have been meeting for over 6 months in Turkey – a country that regularly implements US plans. Similarly France and Britain have also got involved in Syria by mediating between the opposition and the Assad regime. Recently Russia has also entered the fray to mediate between Assad and the Syrian opposition. All these powers are attempting to shape events in Syria where they are attempting to gain some influence.
Whilst the media has defined the international response as the US-EU on one side and Russia and China on the other, in reality Russia and china have virtually no political influence over the Syrian regime, Russia specifically has attempted to use the instability to influence the outcome in Syria in a way to gain influence in the country – its attempts however have been weak. In reality the struggle in by the US to protect its interests in the region and the EU looking to complicate us plans in order to gain some influence in Syria.
How important in Syria in the region?
Syria may be depicted as an international pariah state that supports Hizbullah and Palestinian militants. However, away from public scrutiny the US government views Syria as an important surrogate that is needed in the region. In Iraq the Syrian regime protected US interests by stemming the insurgency and constructing America’s political architecture. Syria played an active role in infiltrating the Sunni insurgents. After the fall of Saddam, many Iraqi’s fled Iraq and sought refuge in Syria. Syria set up militant training camps to recruit and train Iraqi refugees into fighters with the explicit purpose of infiltrating the Iraqi resistance, providing real-time intelligence to US officials. This fact was recognised by the baker-Hamilton enquiry in 2005.
On the Palestinian issue Syria has engaged with Israel on the two-state solution, including the Golan Heights – a US solution for the region. Whilst such talks have been on and off, the Syrian regime nevertheless, through peace overtures to Israel, facilitated America’s stranglehold over the region.
Israel’s Haaretz exposed in 2007 that between September 2004 and July 2006, the Syrian and Israeli representatives reached a ‘formulation for peace’ through secret talks. The Assad regime was willing to sacrifice Hamas, its alleged ally, in an attempt to appease Israel in the agreement. These negotiations continued unhindered under Turkish mediation between 2008 and 2010, despite Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2009 that led to the death of more than a thousand civilians in Gaza. This willingness on the part of the Assad regime to make peace with Israel, normalise relations with it and recognise its existence paints an image contrary to the popular rhetoric of the Syrian regime. And it is for this very reason that Israel’s leading security and political officials have expressed great concern at the thought of the Assad regime collapsing. Israel’s prominent daily newspaper, Ha’aretz, ran an editorial immediately after the start of the Syrian uprising declaring Assad to be “Israel’s favourite dictator of all’ and that ‘it seems Assad has wall-to-wall support here, as though he were king of Israel”.
What is the reality of the current Kofi Anan led ceasefire?
UN resolution 2042 which was approved by the Security Council calls for a ceasefire and the presence of UN observers to oversee the ceasefire. This solution is just another nominally useless proposal as the Assad regime continues to massacre its people. Like the Arab league observers before them their security is provided by the Syrian intelligence services, who take them around Syria and keep them away from areas were the regime shells the population. This attempt would again appear to be another attempt to delay matters so the opposition can be strengthened.
It should be remembered that through the involvement of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) the resolution to the Syrian crisis has been taken from the hands of the Muslims and is now in the hands of the superpowers, who themselves are all competing with each other. The US has been unable to cobble together a replacement for Assad and this is leading to other powers to get involved in the resolution to the Syria crisis, which will complicate US aims in the country. It appears the West is backing the FSA to weaken the hold of the Assad regime and is investing time and training to the FSA in order to achieve this. It is likely the Assad regime will respond in equally brutal fashion. This will lead to Syria descending into another Iraq where it may become impossible to distinguish between who is attacking who as such attacks will inevitably lead to mass casualties. It should be remembered that such a murky scenario was used in Iraq by the US to gain control over the country. Syria’s decent into civil war may eventually be the justification for military intervention by the West.