Problems on hold
Russian airstrikes in Syria:
Stone in stagnant waters
The active role that Russia has recently assumed in Syria has the potential of altering the entire situation in the country and lifting it out of the quagmire that has engulfed it for four years now. It is not that Russia alone possesses the winning cards capable of resolving the Syrian dilemma; a western coalition was formed over a year ago by the US and some 40 other States to fight Islamist terrorism in Syria, but failed utterly. The result was that, as before in Iraq, the conflict became rooted and terrorism in the region rose to unprecedented levels. The Islamic State (IS) grew and spread to occupy close to one third of Iraq and Syria as the neighbouring States and the whole world watched in bewilderment. The sweeping capacity of IS to invade new areas and extend its dominion over villages and towns, wreaking terror and tyranny wherever it set foot, has caused panic in the region. To say nothing of the horrendous acts carried out by IS and its supporters against the inhabitants of the land and their property, as well as the catastrophic destruction of heritage that is not merely local but belongs to the entire human family.
The Western coalition failed—or procrastinated—in hitting IS. The statements issued by the coalition reveal that the number of airstrikes they carried against the clusters, communities and command centres of IS were appallingly too few and lame given the coalition’s military might. This opened the door for speculation that it was the West that created IS and is funding and arming it, overlooking its crimes and the carnage it works. Allegations abound that the West is working to alter the region’s demography, divide its States, and fragment its population along ethnic and sectarian lines so that conflict consumes them. This appeared to have been working in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, but failed in Egypt. The allegations gained credibility with the public in view of the Western military coalition’s failure to eliminate IS despite its worse-than-the-Dark Ages deeds.
Russia’s involvement in the fray was thus imperative in order to put an end to the international farce of apparent inability to deal with IS. The Russian intervention predictably disturbed the Western coalition, politically and militarily, since it upset its plans and changed the rules of the game. This came as no surprise. The exchange of words between Putin on one hand and Obama and the European leaders on the other reached an alarming level of cold war. At which point Angela Merkel stunned the world with a declaration that upset the international equilibrium when she advised her fellow Europeans to quit supporting the US and negotiate with Russia in order to find a political way out of the Syrian predicament.
Talk of a political solution in which Russia would be a key partner was not new. It surfaced before among the Western coalition; some members even talked with Russia on whether Bashar al-Assad should stay or not as President for Syria. But Russia was adamant that Assad was not going away. As the different parties were preparing to sit to the negotiation table and were recommending flexibility and compromise in order to involve all the Syrian players, Russia took everyone by surprise and carried its first air strike against IS. Russia’s relentless strikes went on, which embarrassed the Western coalition and disclosed their appalling failure.
Now the world is looking on as the cards are being reshuffled and the roles re-dealt around the negotiation table. But what do the Syrians themselves think of their nation and its destiny? How do they perceive the current and potential goings-on in Syria?
The matter is extremely intricate; some are with Assad and some against him; some convict the Syrian armed opposition and others vindicate it. Some welcome the political Islamisation of the conflict and others are wary of it. Some support the allegation of there being systematic attempts to ethnically purge Syria of its Christians, and that there are forces that fund and fuel this in a nation that never witnessed religious fanaticism. Digging into this can of worms reveals serious facts. Most importantly for us Egyptians is that it vividly brings to mind memories of our recent history since the 1952 Revolution and up to the 2013 Revolution. But this is another long story.
11 October 2015