Friday, August 05, 2011

Towards a Sectarian War in Syria?

The operation, which was carried out by the Syrian army on July 31st in Hama, brought the questions “why now” and “why Hama” to agenda. The first possibility about timing is the fact that it is related to the month of Ramadan. As there is no any organized opposition in Syria, the only place where people could come together and talk to each other are mosques. The mosques offer people the possibility of organizing, and enable them to be mobilized by adding an emotional dimension to the event. As throughout the Middle East, in Syria as well, the civil commotions mostly take place on Fridays. The crowd of people, who come together only during the Friday prayer, will have the opportunity of organizing anti-regime demonstrations during the month of Ramadan. This detection may have directed the Syrian administration to weaken the protest movement, right before the month of Ramadan.

As for the answer of the “Why Hama?” question; it is related to the sectarian conflicts, which create a part of the protest in Syria. Since the date, when Syria gained her independence, the Muslim Brotherhood has been one of the major actors in the Syrian political life. The pressures on the Muslim Brotherhood have become intense after the Ba'ath Party's coming into power in 1963, and they have had a problematic relationship with the Ba'ath administration, which they define as the “apostate regime”. The society of Muslim Brotherhood made an attempt to make an armed revolution in Hama in 1964, which is the following year of Ba'ath's coming into power. However, this attempt was squashed by the administration. The Muslim Brotherhood, which was reorganized, continued their struggle during 1970's. During these years, the Nusayri (Arab Alawite) originated soldiers, who worked in security units, were assassinated. Upon the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood seized a military guardhouse in the province of Hama in 1982, the administration responded in a harsh way and the bloody events known as the “Hama massacre” took place. As the regime, which sent the army to the province, killed about 30.000 people, most of whom were the members of the Muslim Brotherhood; the organization fell from power to a large extent. Therefore, historically, the province of Hama has become the epicenter of the Sunni majority reaction against the regime that is under the control of the Nusayris (Arab Alawites). For the very reason, after the most recent Hama operation, “the Alawite elites in the leadership of the Assad family launched the sectarian war against the Sunnis, and the province of Hama was one of the largest Sunni fortresses,” stated the leadership of Muslim Brotherhood, which is in exile.

The sectarian dimension is one of the important factors of the civil commotion, which took place in Syria. Neverthless, of course, it is not the only and the most important factor. Looking at the protester groups, it is seen that, seculars, liberals, the Arab tribes and even people from the minority groups such as; Nusayri, Druze, and Christians are also found in these groups. Therefore, it is possible to state that the regime has lost its legitimacy in many various sectarian, social, and economic groups. However, the sectarian dimension, especially the Sunni-Nusayri conflict is one of the major factors. The Syrian administration may be trying to reduce the civil commotion to only the sectarian level, by attacking to the provinces such as Hama, Deir ez Zor, Daraa, where the Sunni nature dominates. It does not come to mean that a nonexistent sectarian conflict was created. However, the regime may be trying to provoke an existing conflict. Because, in the current situation, the Assad regime could think that it could rebuild its lost legitimacy over security and force by creating a sectarian conflict. The fact that the problem is reduced to “Sunni majority's effort to take control of the power”, would prevent getting the support of other social parts, which hesitates the “Sunni Arab dominance”; and also it would prevent the civil commotion's spreading all over the country and the social segments. Thus, it would be able to achieve winning the groups such as liberals, seculars, and the minorities, who support the revolution movement, over.

In the future of the Syrian regime, the attitude of the middle and upper class in Damascus and Aleppo would be one of the determinants. Neither in Damascus nor in Aleppo, which are the largest cities of the country, any protest demonstration that could threat the regime has not been carried out yet. Roughly, it could have two possible reasons: The first reason is the fact that the Assad regime's legitimacy is relatively stronger among the urbanized, educated, secular middle and upper class. And the second is that the security controls are extremely high in these cities. The news, which claim that the military and the other security units make their presence felt in these cities more than ever, increase this possibility. Until a movement takes place in these two cities, the change of regime does not seem to be possible. Therefore, the attitude of the Sunni Arab upper class, which is in search of stability, and which has a relationship based on self-interest with the regime, is of great importance. If this segment of society starts to believe instability lies on regime's keeping on being in power rather than its breakdown, their attitudes could change.

One of the factors enabling Syria to behave freely is the fact that an international intervention in Syria is a very low possibility because of several reasons. First of all, almost all of the Syrian people and the opponents are against the international intervention. “The explicit refusal of the external military intervention” article takes place in all of the final declarations, which were published during the Syrian opponent conferences held in Turkey. It is believed that the international intervention will drag the country to a more severe chaos environment. In this sense, the Libyan intervention sets a negative example for the Syrians. In addition to this, the international community has severe hesitations related to the intervention. The Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen indicated that they carried out an operation based on the UN's open protection in Libya, that they received the support of the countries in the region, and that these two conditions were not created in Syria. Difficulties have been gone through even on issuing a denouncement decision on Syria in the UN Security Council. Although Russia and China criticize the Syrian administration because of its actions in Hama, they are not even open up to the denouncement decision with the concern of the possibility that it could lead to an international intervention. The chance of success of a military operation, which is not based on the UN's protection, is known to be weak. In fact, it can be said that the method the Syrian regime resorted to while squashing the civil commotions, and the level that the events attained are not different from the Libya example, and in this sense it can be said that the conditions of the intervention were created. Nevertheless, the factor forcing Rasmussen to make such a statement is related to the political facts. Considering the assessments such as; the consequences of the intervention in Syria would have severe influences on the region, the chance of success of the intervention is weak, the post-Assad period cannot be estimated and that they cannot see a substitute strong, organized opposition; the intervention is not leaned toward. For the very reason, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs William Hague indicates that, We should concentrate on alternative ways in order to affect the Assad regime and to repair the situation in Syria.” Therefore, the only choice for the West to follow is to increase the international pressure on the regime, and to try to improve the profile of the opposition. In this direction, the European Union expands the sanctions towards the Assad government. Related to the military operations in Hama, the assets of 5 authorities in the EU were frozen, and ban on leaving the country was introduced. However, it is obvious that these steps do not mean a lot for the Assad administration, which has encountered problem of the survival of the regime. Thus, having a result in a short-term is not possible. It's only a sign pointing out that the sanctions will gradually get tougher.

The Syrian administration, which think that it will not have difficulty because of the listed factors, would continue to squash the demonstrations with force. The reform steps, which are possible to create solutions before the demonstrations take place and the administration resorts to arms against its own people, would not create any solution as from this point. Therefore, in the following process, the spread of the instability in Syria to a long process could be expected. The following stage may be the Syrian civil commotion's attaining to an armed level. And this would come to mean that a further bloody process will start in Syria, which has been dragged almost into a sectarian war. Although it has not been confirmed yet, in northern Syria, in a region that is close to the Turkish border, the presence of an armed settlement under the name of “Free Syrian Army”, which was created by certain officers escaping from the army, is mentioned. As a result of the increasing number of escapes from the army, the opposition's increasingly being more organized with every passing day, and the external support to the armed and political opposition groups, Syria may go through a long process with the prevalence of instability in the country.

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