Syria’s messy transformation enters a fourth year

Diplomatic measures to deal with the Syrian situation after three years are a mess, with many states to blame

Dr. Theodore Karasik
Dr. Theodore Karasik
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A slew of articles, analyses and commentary appeared on the third anniversary of the Arab Spring striking Syria. The facts and figures speak for themselves: Syria is a transformed state, bordering on failure. A good metaphor for Syria is the Syrian foreign minister who was rushed to hospital last week for heart surgery; the patient, like the country, is quite ill at this time.

Syria’s transformation from a Baathist-Alawite state into a series of ungovernable regions with a functioning central government is illustrative of a clear shift. The Syrian state no longer exists: the multiple terrorist and insurgent groups on the ground, the areas they hold, and their waning and waxing aspirations between themselves and towards President Assad’s government are never static.

With certainty, what we can really say about Syria after three years of conflict is that there is no going back. Evolution towards a new reality in the area “formally known as Syria” is occurring at speed.

Instability, refugee flows and economic disparity plague Syria to this day, as its morphs into a new arena of warfare. Assad and his people know this, as do his supporters, and they will continue to fight on, both politically and militarily.

Diplomatic measures to deal with the Syrian situation after three years are a mess, with many states to blame. They need not be mentioned but we know who they are. These states, the Syrian opposition and the slew of international and regional organizations involved are all talking past each other.

The Geneva process is muddled. Indeed, the biblical Tower of Babel is now a political reality in the core of the Near East as a “confusion of tongues” reigns supreme.

Diplomatic measures to deal with the Syrian situation after three years are a mess, with many states to blame

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Three years into the Syrian morass, the next steps are muddy. There is talk of new aggressiveness by Russia on the Syrian issue because of the Kremlin’s policies and actions against Ukraine and Crimea. There is also a shift in Saudi foreign policy to enact a new formula to support anti-Assad and anti-al-Qaeda actors on the ground. Riyadh is also wooing China to become more involved at the expense of Russia. Iran continues to support Assad and wants inclusion in any current and future diplomatic processes while wooing Oman and Qatar out of GCC unity. U.S. President Barak Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia and perhaps other states in the region to discuss Syria and other security issues with offers that Arab officials are not really sure of—it is likely that even those around the most powerful chief executive in the world will need to put forward a clear policy that is forward thinking and out of the box. The outcome may not be as productive as hoped a few weeks ago.

The ‘Syrian Effect’

The “Syrian Effect” on neighboring countries is spreading violence, revenge, and challenging the ability to govern, opening up old wounds and creating fresh lacerations against the innocent. The Geneva peace process seems to be turned inside out and upside down by events of the past few weeks, including Russia’s actions and Qatar’s isolation within the GCC. Arab officials are saying that the Saudi kingdom is ready to deploy thousands of trained assets on the ground in Syria to capture tracks of Syrian land in a bid to negotiate with Assad a type of cease-fire. We are already witnessing similar agreements between the government and resistance groups in and around Damascus. Thus, a major reset in diplomatic circles based on the above phenomena, is necessary.

Three years into the Syrian conflict, the rump Alawite state is planning for presidential elections this summer. Recently, the Syrian Parliament approved a new election law allowing multiple candidates to run in elections but the rules stipulate that those running for office must be residents – that excludes most opposition leaders. U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi stated that holding an election would jeopardize the Geneva process. Clearly, Assad and Company are planning to construct a new state so, like the Frank Sinatra song, the Syrian President can claim “I Did It My Way.”

Overall, there are key questions on what Syria will look like by the fourth anniversary in one year’s time. Will there be a new Syrian state based on a confessional system? Will Syria still be fractured as it is now? On that anniversary, how many more lives will be shattered and lost? Will the Syrian disaster be pushed to the back pages of newspapers and media headlines because of other global threats and emergencies? On this third anniversary, there are more questions than answers regarding this seriously ill country.


Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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