Demonstrators protesting against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad march through the streets after Friday prayers in Homs November 11, 2011. Banner reads?We have finished off Syria and there is no longer a crisis?. (photo by REUTERS/Handout)

Syria: The ‘Sick Man’ of the Arab World

Author: assafir Posted February 10, 2012

It has been almost a year since the beginning of the revolution. The [Syrian] system reckoned that Syria would remain untouched by the Arab upheavals. The authorities read the power shift in Egypt and the Libyan chaos the wrong way. But before long, Syria was gripped by the revolution, to the amazement  of the regime and its allies... The system miscalculated events. Today, Syria has been in turmoil for almost a year. There are no signs of salvation in the offing. Optimists say: Let us wait another five years and see.

SummaryPrint Just as the Ottoman Empire was known as the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ at the turn of the twentieth century, so to is Syria now becoming the ‘Sick Man’ of the Arab world, writes Nasri al-Sayegh. The country now stands on the brink of civil war, and the repercussions are likely to be felt throughout the region.
Author Nasri al-Sayegh Posted February 10, 2012
TranslatorSahar Ghoussoub

There is no point in repeating that [Assad] has failed to see that his regime is shaken. He has dug in his heels and refuses to change, insisting on preserving the three pillars of his system: security, money and religious leaders.

Similarly, it is no longer useful to repeat that the revolution is real. It is not a foreign plot intended to divide Syria. These are no longer sterile polemics. They have turned into a bloody controversy for which the people are paying dearly. The regime reckoned that it could keep a lid on dissent, carrying on with [the illusion of] political stability and muzzling the people's voice. All of that is over now.

Today, despite all the attention drawn to it, Syria has become captive to its new chronic and incurable illness. A solution is highly unlikely.

When the Ottoman Empire reached a deadlock [and became unwilling to adapt], in spite of all the serious attempts made by Turk and Arab reformers, it tried to buy time in order to avoid [implementing] reform measures. These measures included setting up a constitution, enshrining freedoms, modernizing institutions, and responding to the demands of the people who lived under the iron fist of the empire. When the empire attempted to impose stability through the brutal use of force, it was alienated by Western nations, which increased pressure on Istanbul.

Back then, Turkey was the [‘sick man of Europe’]. Its power had been eroded by the sweeping revolutions across the Balkans, Greece, Armenia, Egypt, the Levant and the Hijaz.  Turkey was left with Anatolia, where it won the battle through the force of its army.

Turkey failed to find a solution to different nationalities and ethnic groups’ problems and to change its ‘dictatorial nature.’ Thus, it fell. Its ‘empire’ was scattered with the implementation of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in [the Middle East]. This is in addition to the loss of some areas that had been dear to Turkey, which were alternately occupied by Italy, France and Greece.

Lost Bets

Everyone is in trouble. The noose is tightening around Syria's neck. However, no one is able bring [the crisis] towards its conclusion, whether from inside [Syria] or abroad.

After almost a year of ferociously cracking down [on protesters] (regardless of the human cost), it has become apparent that tightening security measures has only made matters worse and resulted in the further deterioration of the situation. The peaceful protests have been transformed into armed clashes, adopting the gang fighting style of ‘hit and run.’

After beginning as protests in Daraa, what the regime describes as a “plot” has over time escalated into an uprising pitted against an increasingly brutal military onslaught. Thus all chances of dialogue have swiftly vanished. The authority rejected the dialogue, followed by the opposition's announcement that it rejects it as well. Blood was the only common denominator [between the two sides]. Syria has fallen victim to a tug of war: an unending standoff between the strong regime and the powerful opposition.

The regime’s reliance on suppressing dissent through its military crackdown proved ill-advised. The opposition also lost its bet on [its ability] to overthrow the regime. Both have now reached an impasse. There is no solution inside. Syria is a sick man, and its illness has no cure; but death is still far off.

Potential Solutions

There is no solution emanating from inside [Syria]. The battle continues. Failure has resulted in bloodshed and fear of the unknown. There is no solution coming from abroad. Syria is sick and the region is in even worse shape. [The Arab states] are either taking advantages of the situation or waiting for events to unfold further. [Among the Arab states,] no one is in control; the Arab League is playing roles written by others. It is toothless; it bites but it does not hurt. There is no hope. The Arab plan is stumbling. It bears an Arab title but its content is purely American. It is based on international double standards.

The only possible solution lies in the hands of Arab. Turkey and Iran are fighting over the legacy of dying Syria. Iran wants to preserve Syria. Turkey wants it to serve as its gateway into the region.

Syria has become the cradle of geo-strategic and sectarian conflicts. The regime, backed by Iran, hits the opposition hard, while the opposition - with the support of Turkey and financed by the Gulf - attacks and retreats.

However, neither Turkey nor Syria will bring the solution. While the security measures are getting increasingly tighter, the media is massing around Syria and the major countries are lurking, the number of victims is on the rise.

There is no solution coming from the UN Security Council. Russia was betrayed in the Libyan crisis, which cost it dearly. Thus it is fiercely protecting its relationship with Syria. Syria is Moscow's last gateway to the region. Syria links Russia to the Gulf and Mediterranean waters, and separates Turkey from the other Arab countries. Iran and Russia are Syria's main allies. They join hands to shield it from opposition attacks and from the Western alliances' policies. The standoff continues.

Is it Too Late?

Tidal waves of protests have hit Syria in Daraa, Homs, Dar ez-Zor, and Damascus. Sometimes the protest's infection extends to remote places which had been thought to be immune to the revolution.

After what had started as peaceful protests, today Syria suffers from sectarian strife, teetering on the brink of civil war.

Lebanon's war, which first broke out in Ain el-Roumani, ended up in a war between sects, ethnicities, socialists and liberals, where "everyone was at war with everyone else."  Many great Arab powers and Palestinian organizations of every stripe intervened in Lebanon's battle. The crowning jewel of the war was the Israeli military occupation of Beirut, which turned it into an important political factor in the Lebanese authoritarian pyramid.

At the time, Lebanon was also a sick man. The war killed its noble causes, leaving only those that were despicable, whose traces remain to this day, provoking rancor and chaos in a traumatized country.

Among the many sign of Syria's chronic illness is that the military forces deployed [by the regime] suffer from great losses in the field and dissidents in their ranks. Moreover, Syria lacks effective political and security solutions at a time when the economy has hit rock bottom. The few cities and towns that have been left unscathed by the political upheaval are no longer immune to the protests' infection. It is too late.

It is the miscalculation of the Syrian regime at the beginning that have left Syria a shaken country, no longer in confrontation with the Israeli enemy alone, but also with its own people. The damage is irreparable.

It is too late [to find a solution]. We expect nothing but the worst. A year ago, who would have seen this coming?

The old Syria is gone. There is no turning back. Syria's erstwhile glory has vanished. Today, Syria is a wreck and scarred for life. Will the Syria of tomorrow be recognized under the rubble, the pain, the scars and the chaos [now reigning] in Homs, Hama and Deraa...?

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2012/02/syria-is-sick.html

Published Beirut, Lebanon Established 1974
Language Arabic Frequency daily

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