Syria is falling to bits. Who would have thought that the optimism of the so-called Arab Spring would come to this?
When the Arab Spring suddenly happened, it seemed like a new dawn. But it has disappointed; the phrase is a misnomer. There has been no metaphorical Spring, Arab or otherwise. In all the countries in the Middle East & North Africa, there has been much disappointment by both the people of the countries themselves & the international community in general.
What exactly the problem is – well who knows? – it could be the nature of modern Islam which is much given to fanaticism in general & suicide bombing in particular. It could the lack of a tradition of democracy. It could be the weather. It could be society itself. It could be the nature of the people. In Syria it has been more like the nature of the dictatorship itself. Assad’s father who originally seized power & then when he died handed over power to his son or maybe he didn’t. But at some point his son became the new dictator. If he had stepped down immediately or almost immediately, things might have been different. But then again, they might not have been. That is what is so futile about predicting alternate scenarios, the might-have-been situations – nobody can tell what would have happened because it didn’t.
There seems to be no end to the fighting. At the moment, it would seem that the most likely endgame is Bashar Assad, in the end prevailing, depressing as that is. It seems surprising to us in the West that he still has so much firepower, given that about 18 months ago the army seemed to desert en masse to the rebels. The air force seems still to be loyal to Assad & presumably there are some other fighting forces loyal to the régime some of whom may be mercenaries.
There has been talk about imposing a no-fly zone over Syria. But that is about all. The West has been badly stung by previous experiences in the area, most notably in Iraq. Even in Libya, the least unsuccessful of the Arab Spring countries, where the West helped greatly although the fighting on the ground was carried out mainly by Libyans & other Arabs. In the case of Libya, it appears that most of the ruler’s forces were mercenaries. Anyway Gaddafi has gone & now inter alia, women have less rights than before as indeed is the case in Egypt. In general, the West would like to help but feel impotent in the light of recent experience.
In Syria, there is so much factionalism that it seems unlikely that it can ever again function as a country. Much of the rebel forces are made up of jihadists & other extreme muslims who are not Syrian.
It is looking as though the civil war there is going to carry on for several years, much as civil wars in Spain & Nigeria for example have. As usual it is civilians who suffer most, the innocent bystanders as it were, the people who just want to carry on with their lives.
The future in Syria looks to be frightening; in the other countries of the Middle East & North Africa, it looks depressing.