THE conflict in Syria has reached a tipping point, but not one that promises a quick end to the fighting. With or without Bashar al-Assad as its leader, Syria now has all the makings of a grim and drawn-out civil war: evenly matched protagonists who are not ready for a cease-fire, and outside powers preoccupied with their own agendas and unable to find common ground.
Over the past sixteen months of bloody conflict in Syria, observers have been waiting for one key development: top-level defections from within President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle. Suddenly, it seems a pressure valve has gone off. Pilots, ambassadors, and even one general have defected. What does it mean?
Analysis: Bound by conflict, the Syrian-Lebanon crisis | IRIN News
For more than a generation, the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli has been a divided city, home to most of Lebanon’s Shia Alawi community, but also a stronghold of Sunni conservatism.
The two sects, in their respective neighbourhoods of Jebel Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, have been at odds since the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, with hundreds dying in the worst bloodshed in 1986. The road separating the two entrenched factions - appropriately called Syria Street - is the only demarcation line that still exists in Lebanon 22 years after the war ended.
In recent months, the outbreak of conflict in Syria and the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees into Lebanon has renewed and increased those tensions between Shia Alawis generally supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Sunni sympathizers of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the opposition.
More than 30 Lebanese from both sides have been killed in fighting between the two communities since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. While a fragile ceasefire in Tripoli - agreed in early June - seems to be generally holding, sporadic clashes happen on a daily basis and it is common to see civilians carrying weapons.
While there are clear risks of Lebanon being caught up in the Syrian conflict, the reverse is also true: Syrian antagonists are equally in danger of being dragged into age-old Lebanese sectarianism.
The Syrian conflict has already killed at least 10,000, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and displaced as many as 500,000 people inside the country, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and another 86,000 are registered refugees in neighbouring countries. Basic services are not running properly, and the economy has been hard hit, not only by the conflict, but by far-reaching economic sanctions, pushing up unemployment and the price of food. Lebanon, which has already suffered decades of war, is rife with poverty and political instability. Both countries have much to lose.
Was the Libya mission a model for an Obama doctrine on the use of force or was it just a one-off pick-up game? It appears it may have been both.
After Qaddafi’s fall, the White House was keen to tout the Libya operation as a perfect exemplar of how the Obama administration could wield U.S. power more effectively than previous administrations, something an advisor subsequently branded as a “lead from behind” approach. Even though Libya is still an unfinished project, if you talk to enough Obamaphiles as I do, sooner or later the Libya model will be touted again, especially the dramatic comparison of how low cost Libya was compared to Iraq.
It was low cost, at least for the United States, but as for a model, it may be a precedent for doing nothing in the future — at least that is the impression one gets from the latest reporting on Syria. Apparently, the White House has told Syrian rebels that they are on their own, that the United States will not be assisting them further, and so Assad may be on track to accomplish what Qaddafi could not: kill enough of his own citizens fast enough to defeat the rebellion before outsiders can intervene to tip the balance in favor of the “right side of history.”
In this, the Obama administration may be following the Libyan precedent to the letter. The problem with “leading from behind” is that it really means “following another leader.” In the Libyan case, the real leaders were the Europeans, especially the French and British. They led, Obama followed, and Qaddafi fell.
On Syria, no one is leading, not yet anyway. Perhaps the cross-border violence will finally prod Turkey into leading and, if so, perhaps the “Libyan model” will lead the Obama administration into acting. But until then, the Libyan lesson may simply be this: When no one leads, no one follows, and when no one follows, the international community does not act.
“The Arab/Muslim awakening phase is over. Now we are deep into the counter-revolutionary phase, as the dead hands of the past try to strangle the future. I am ready to consider any ideas of how we in the West can help the forces of democracy and decency win. But, ultimately, this is their fight. They have to own it, and I just hope it doesn’t end — as it often does in the land of dragons — with extremists going all the way and the moderates just going away.”
while the world’s attention is focused on recent developments in syria, two interesting events took place next door in lebanon on monday and tuesday, both on national television. these events provide valuable insight to where the next weeks and months could take the lebanese people, their government, and their country.
the first event was strictly political. two distinguished lebanese individuals got physical during a debate over syria’s role in lebanese politics. while the debate did not seem unusual to begin with, as both commentators were arguing the familiar topic of syrian influence in lebanese politics, the situation changed when the “pro-western” future movement official called bashar al-assad, the president of syria, a liar. let me first say that criticizing syrian’s president on national television is an advancement in itself, signifying that there is a change occurring in the lebanese population and that once stifled discontent is finally coming to the surface in the country. but what followed is more significant: a mini-brawl between the two debaters involving pens, paper, glass and chairs and ending in a commercial break before returning to “our regularly scheduled programming.” as tensions mount in syria and the effects of the uprisings on lebanon’s border spills over into the closely tied country of lebanon, this seems to be one path the lebanese people will take in debating the consequences of the uprisings and future of their country. this is especially true if the assad regime continues to face opposition and eventually collapses in the coming weeks or months. i do believe the regime is on a downward spiral, and it is now only a matter of when the syrian regime will fall.
the following day, on tuesday, lebanon “surprisingly” beat south korea in a world cup soccer qualifying match for asia. this stunning victory for the lebanese soccer team is important for several reasons. for the first time, lebanon has a chance to advance to the world cup, taking place in qatar in 2014. is “football (soccer) diplomacy” really significant? i’m sure the impact of sports in politics can be debated, but i can picture the lebanese people setting aside political and sectarian divisions to hold up the lebanese flag for their soccer team in the upcoming qualifying matches in hopes of their first-ever appearance in the world cup. if this does happen, the soccer matches would provide an amazing contrast between the “unsportsmanlike” brawl which took place between the two lebanese officials.
which path will the country take? will the events of syria provide violent division between opposing groups within lebanon represented by the brawling officials, or could the country find another way to unite and advance their nation’s politics, possibly through soccer? in the end, these two examples — a brawl and a soccer match — occurring only a day apart and both on national television, could be coupled to show a way forward for lebanon, a nation where syrian influence in politics has hindered the country’s progress and stifled the real discontent of some of the population. soccer, instead of potentially violent uprisings, could serve as the outlet for this anger and opposition to be channeled, uniting the nation’s two divisive possible paths (continued syrian influence or an independent, progressive lebanon) under one team, and one flag.
Syria’s friends are dropping fast. In an interview with the BBC, Jordan’s King Abdullah publicly urged President Bashar al-Assad to step down and put an end to his nation’s bloody crackdown on dissent. Abdullah became the first Arab leader to publicly call for Assad’s ouster—just a few days after the Arab League voted to suspend Syria. Syrian regime supporters reacted to the ouster with violence, storming regional embassies. Meanwhile, the U.N. estimates that 3,500 civilians have died since the beginning of the crackdown. This past weekend, an activist was reportedly shot dead in front of his 9-year-old son.
CAIRO — In one of Cairo’s most crowded quarters, where streets are so filled with trash that bulldozers scoop it up, the Muslim Brotherhood has opened not one but two offices. Its most conservative counterpart has followed suit. An Islamist do-gooder with forearms as broad as the Nile has vowed to win a seat in Parliament.