Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Whither Syria? 

Before Greater Syria loses Lebanon, it's losing another piece to Jordann:

"Syria agreed today to hand back to Jordan a huge tract of land along their border, heralding a new era in ties with Amman after disagreements over the Middle East peace process and US policy in Iraq.

"Syrian Prime Minister Naji al Otari said the deal reconfirmed an internationally recognised border drawn in 1931... Under the accord, agreed after several top-level security meetings over the last six months, Syria will remove fences and posts on land it had gained in decades of creeping incursions into Jordan." [my emphasis]
I'm shocked - deeply shocked - that this decades-long aggression and illegal occupation of Arab land has not elicited strong international condemnation, a string of UN resolutions, and a range of peace initiatives launched by Jimmy Carter and the Swedish government.

Things are definitely heating up for the younger Assad. One important thing to bear in mind when discussing Syria is that, like in many other places around the region, the power is wielded by a distinct minority over a majority, which doesn't share its rulers ethnicity and/or religion. If you thought that the situation in Saddamite Iraq was particularly unusual, with the Sunnis (who comprised 20% of the population) lording over the Shia and the Kurds (to be more precise, a certain tribal subset of Sunnis lording over everyone else), spare a thought for Syria, where the current regime is based around the Alawite sect (an offshoot of Shiism), comprising just over 10% of the population, while Sunni Syrians make up some three quarters of the population. Not only are the Alawites numerically insignificant, they are still considered heretics by some mainstream Muslims on account of their
theological adventurism.

Granted, the Alawites have been reasonably inclusive in their rule, monopolizing mainly the military and the security apparatus, but there is little doubt of an undercurrent of resentment in the wider society. Just how much of a geo-political improvement any alternatives would be is open for debate.

Another piece of the Syrian puzzle to watch are the
Kurds, who also comprise about 10% of the population. A year ago we saw bloody riots and mass clampdown by Damascus on its Kurdish minority. Things might get really interesting once the regime starts losing ground, particularly with their brethren across the border in Iraq ultimately aiming for statehood.

Update: Interesting story - Saddam's half-brother captured by Syrian Kurds (with a tacit approval of Damascus, before being handed over to Iraqi Kurds and then to the Iraqi authorities.


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