Saturday 21 July 2012

Talking virtual reality after Assad’s exit

Syria activists documented 20,356 violent deaths in the uprising by July 18

This is my paraphrasing of a figurative think piece by Saudi mass media celebrity Jamal Khashoggi. It appears in Arabic today in the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat
Jamal Khashoggi
Imagine this:
Before long, Middle East leaders awaken one morning and find the Middle East without Bashar al-Assad and Syria welcoming them with open arms.
The new reality, with all its opportunities, risks and challenges, dawns on them.The regime imploded without their direct intervention. Their security advisers had told them to stay out of the fray for fear of repercussions at home. They were told the Syrians could fend for themselves. So they funded and pseudo-armed the opposition groups and granted them freedom of movement.
But regional leaders are worried about the state of post-Assad Syria. The breakup of the regular armed forces saw members defect to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or lay down arms and rejoin their tribes for protection. Only the armed forces’ Alawites organized an orderly retreat with their armaments to their villages and mountain strongholds – a great cause of concern for new-Syria’s prospects.
The Syrian army did not stage the semblance of a coup like in Tunisia or keep the country whole and put up with the revolution as in Egypt.
The opposition in turn failed to unify the FSA, which remains without a command and control (management) so it can inherit the ministry of defense and other security agencies. Their staffs are also considered enemies of the revolution.
Restructuring the Syrian army and its various branches is the most daunting task facing new-Syria’s leaders who remain divided between those in the Syrian National Council (SNA) claiming legitimacy and calling for a meeting of national forces to be held within days in Syria’s parliament and heads of other opposition groups objecting.
The head of state of one of the regional countries destined to groom Syrian affairs is perturbed.
He wonders, “How can we unite them? Is it a task the Arab League can handle?”
The fight with the Alawites is not over. Some of them are still resisting.
There is the risk of Syria’s Sunnites seeking revenge against Alawites for the series of atrocities and mass massacres committed against them.
The anxious head of state wakes up early the next morning to hear the newsreader saying Syria had a troubled night. Joy over the regime’s fall was mixed with concern about the future.
The head of state ponders; “What can we do? Send in our army? Sending in our troops is not politically correct. The SNA and local leaders promised to protect the Alawite minority. Hopefully, they will keep their word and the Syrians will restrain their anger.”
This restless head of state’s concern is not for love of the Alawites but for fear of some of their lot emigrating and sheltering in his homeland. He is also worried about unending unrest in Syria.
Syria is not Egypt. Change there won’t be internal only -- it will spill over.
There are several hundred thousand Syrians residing in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Some of them will return to their country of origin for the first time. Most of them are supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. They had left Syria during the movement’s clash with the regime in the Seventies and Eighties. Their homecoming would boost the Muslim Brotherhood’s chances in future national elections.
Jordan and the Gulf partners won’t be troubled by the departure of Syrian expatriates since their economic are all afflicted by high rates of unemployment.
Rich Syrians won’t join the exodus home. They would probably stay in the host countries and serve as bridges to the new-Syria.
Would Syria’s return to the Arab fold and the opening of its doors to its neighbors breathe new life into the “Greater Syria” concept?
Most probably it won’t.
States and borders won’t change. There would be no place today for al-Sham al-Kabir or a Greater Lebanon. That’s all part of history now.
What we would see is Syria returning to its natural geographic and political environment and to a market economy where Syrians shine.
We would also see Syria reopening its borders with its neighbors.
Aleppo and northern Syria could become an extension of the Turkish economy.
Mutual Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese interests would conjoin with Saudi Arabia’s.
Post-Assad, borders between Jordan and Syria will melt away completely, if only for humanitarian reasons. But Jordan would have to tread carefully. There are loads of arms around in Syria, including chemical weapons.
Saudi Arabia would need to keep a watchful eye on Lebanon.
Lebanese Sunnites would be celebrating Assad’s exit passionately. That would upset a component of the Maronite community and rekindle apprehensions of the Greater Syria idea. But the negative reaction would be chiefly vocal.
The fear, however, is of Hezbollah’s response. Hezbollah is agitated already. As a wounded tiger, it would want to prove to the Sunnite “victors” that the party is still strong despite losing Syria.
So better let Hezbollah swallow the bitter pill gradually. At the end of the day, the party would acknowledge the magnitude of its loss and change course accordingly.
Nevertheless, this would require Saudi Arabia to keep Sunnites on a leash, preventing them from provoking Hezbollah, and to remind the party calmly that the kingdom is the next powerbroker in Lebanon.
Trounced in Syria, Iran would want to ward off a Sunnite and contagious Arab Spring by consolidating its hold on Iraq.
Tehran’s tactless support of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government is liable to offend Iraq’s Sunnites who would eagerly team up with their Syrian counterparts.
Iraq’s Sunnites would be rejoicing at first and then planning to regain their clout.
Here again, a power struggle is looming – one that could perhaps enable Saudi Arabia to shut out Iran from Iraq. But will the United States help the kingdom do that?
Iraq’s Kurds would join such endeavor. They would also have found a new (Kurdish) expanse for them in Syria.
Syria’s Kurds won greater rights and full citizenship rights in the campaign to push out Assad. They look forward to the kind of prosperity enjoyed by their kinfolk in Iraq. Economic benefits could draw Iraq’s Kurds closer to a new Sunnite regional order based on public freedoms and a market economy.  Such benefits could entice them to break with fundamentalist Shiite parties and help build a new, democratic Iraq.
It is still too early to envisage the Muslim Brothers winning national elections, forming a government and hammering out a new constitution in the new-Syria as in Egypt. But they will have a bee in their bonnet, which could embolden their Jordanian opposite numbers and thus pose a challenge for Amman.