How is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad still in power with all the opposition and pressures that are against him? His end seems near. The latest attack will provide moral superiority for the opposition, and the situation will now be even tougher for the dictatorship in Damascus. The last bastion of Baathism is about to fall. We still ask these questions: How come the West hasn’t been as active in Syria as it was in Libya and Egypt? Why is the West still searching for reconciliation in the country? How come Russia feels strong enough to support Syria as much as it is doing?
Egypt and Tunisia Scared the West
The West supported the Arab Spring. Albeit with some hesitancy at first, the West calmly accepted the Muslim Brotherhood’s march to power in Egypt.
But the genie is out of the bottle now. While the Arab Spring was toppling pro-Western, one-man autocracies, the maneuvering room for radical movements was also expanding. This means the path for threats and attacks against non-Muslim communities is now unobstructed.
The first example of this was in post-invasion Iraq. Christians, which make up 4% of Iraq’s population, became targets for al-Qaeda and radical Islamists. They then began to emigrate from the country to save their lives.
In Egypt, Christians make up 6 to 10% of the population. After the uprising, some Islamic groups attacked the Christians and their churches. No matter how hard the Muslim Brotherhood tried to disown these attacks, it was obvious that the radical segment was gaining strength.
In Syria, Christians constitute 10% of the total population, and there are Christians in the Assad regime. Although they resent the regime, the Christians do not approve of deposing Assad as they are more worried about the possibility of an Islamist regime in Syria.
When you include “Israel’s security” in the equation, the situation becomes clearer. The Mubarak regime in Egypt was on good terms with Israel, but the Muslim Brotherhood cannot continue to nurture the Egyptian-Israeli relationship in the same manner. The West is concerned that a new ruling power in post-Assad Syria could embolden the Islamist wave in the region.
Israel is worried about being sandwiched between a Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt and an Islamist Syria. The risk of this happening truly worries the West.
These kinds of fears guide Kofi Annan’s efforts for a “reconciliation regime”’ in Syria. But Assad is not accepting a reconciliation solution. He noticed the reluctance of the West, secured Russian support and continued with his intransigence.
However, the current developments are decreasing the survival chances for the Assad regime. It is not easy to stand against the winds of change in the Arab world, and this regime cannot continue to exist. Russia, and even the United States, is trying to find ways to prevent an Islamist hegemony over a new regime in Syria, hence their efforts to establish a coalition.
Similar calculations were also made concerning Egypt, but Islamists were ultimately able to take control of the government. Syria has a more secular past. Islamism in Syria is not, at least for now, as intense as it is in Egypt, but of course, the sectarian Sunni-Alawite rift is important. Assad’s family is Alawite (which constitutes 12% of the total population), but the vast majority of the people (72%) are Sunnis. We still cannot find answers to these vital questions: “How will the new government be shaped?” or “Could this rift split the country?”
Indecisiveness from the West and Assad’s determination not to take any backward steps make prospects for a solution in Syria all the more bloody.