|From top, Red Square, Tiananmen and Umayyad squares|
The Syria crisis sprung many surprises in the 17 months since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution.
What looked like one more of the Arab Spring waves of democratization originating in North Africa turned out to be much more turbulent, according to veteran Lebanese political analyst Jihad el-Zein.
True, he writes for the independent Beirut daily an-Nahar, the waves of Arab revolutions represented per se a new phase of dramatic political and ideological change across the region. The change calls to mind (Francis Fukuyama’s essay) “The End of History” and the ascendency of democratic thought in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.
These were preceded by the wave of democratization in Latin America in the seventies and early eighties, Zein notes.
All this is true. But the interplay and aggravation of past and present events in Syria precipitated confrontational twists and turns in international relations – so much so that the new world order’s image will be shaped by the outcome of the struggle over Syria.
The said twists and turns, according to Zein, brought about a series of seven major surprises:
1. The first underscored not so much Iran’s all-important status and role in the region’s future, but Russia’s part in reordering international relations.
2. The other was Beijing choosing to side with Damascus – a sort of discordant Middle East diplomacy outside the bounds of the Far East and Southeast Asia – amidst mounting political strains in China’s immediate milieu, which is becoming the hub of global economic vitality.
With both Russia and China on board, Syria sees its borders stretching from the Caucasus to Central Asia. And with the United States preaching “soft power,” Damascus’ Umayyad Square now adjoins Red Square in Moscow and Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The common peril of liberal democracy is binding the three regimes’ together.
3. The third was Turkey’s rush to come nearer the Arab Spring waves when unprepared. The hurried move to drastically change premises set by Kemal Atatürk in 1923 and turn around to the Muslim East will consequently determine the future in power of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
4. The AKP’s passionate Syria approach triggered a fourth surprise. It exposed the affinity between Turkey’s Alevis and Syria’s ruling Alawites. In other words, the Syria saga unmasked a sectarian divide in Turkey.
5. Not counting paramilitary forces, Syria’s 200,000-strong, heavily armed and highly mechanized army is startlingly still capable of handling the threats it is dealing with.
6. Perhaps the most spectacular surprise is the level of destruction in Syria. The devastation exceeds that seen in Iraq or the one suffered by Lebanon in the course of 15 years of infighting.
7. Lastly, Christian support of the Syrian regime, subtly by the Catholic clergy and vociferously by the Russian Orthodox Church, which is openly aligned with the Kremlin.