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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 21,517 21,900  19,500 67
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,160 1,130     1,040 130
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Syria


Update No: 110 - (26/04/13)

Summary: In Syria the chances that the rebel forces as they are organized now may take power, have become slimmer. Last autumn, the rebels gained significant ground, especially in Aleppo, but they have not managed to capitalize on tactical victories and marginal territorial gains. A wary NATO has still refused to enforce a ‘no-fly zone’ (which in Libya found them in practice becoming the rebel airforce), and there has not been any official dispensation to arm the rebels, other than infantry weapons at second-hand. Western diplomats, no doubt gleefully prompted by the thought of pressuring Iran, seem to have misread the situation from Day 0ne. Mrs Clinton echoed by British Foreign minister Hague, made a series of rather stupid statements that did not reflect the situation of the civil war, which this so quickly had become. She of course has gone, but he continues declaiming ill-considered nonsense in his sepulchral tones, as a parody of the19thcentury statesman Lord Palmerston, who really could ‘send battleships’.

The two sides have reached a stalemate in the fighting, but Asad still has the political upper hand. The Boston bombings and their Chechen connection has likely served to cool any American plans to offer the rebels political or military leverage, strengthening President Putin’s hand in Moscow as well. Russia can use the Boston bombing to highlight the need to pursue Islamist terrorism in Dagestan and Chechnya – in view of the Sochi Olympics in 2014 – while adding to its credibility, when it claims that al-Qaida and al-Nusra its ‘lookalike,’ are a major force behind the Syrian rebellion, as has now become apparent. In more institutional terms, US Secretary of State Kerry has been discussing ways to refresh last June’s peace plan drafted in Geneva with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Now that is really important!

The peace plan establishes a way for Bashar al-Asad to leave office in a smooth transition marked by presidential elections and possibly even a government of national unity. In addition, if Asad has not fallen yet, after more than two years of brutal fighting, it suggests that he and the Baath leadership can still command significant loyalty from many thousands from the higher to the lower ranks of the armed forces! The increasing frequency of al Qaida-type ‘trademark’ bombings in Damascus has done no service to the rebels’ cause either, while the continued violence in neighboring (and friendly) Iraq has continued to act as a deterrent against the population urging regime change: Since the rebels with their Saudi and Qatari paymasters are not fighting for anything recognisable as democracy, Asad then and still now, represents the lesser evil in Syria.

The turnout of events of the "Arab Awakening" in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have perhaps influenced casual and inattentive observers of the Middle East to believe that such revolutions will always lead to the formation of new regimes. The new regimes in the aforementioned States have failed to bring about any sustainable and positive change; it may even be said that they have promoted the rise of regressive societal forces, which are hampering personal freedoms, despite the wide misuse of the term ‘democratic’ to describe their systems. Syria, evidently, has not fallen into that pattern and the war has reached a stalemate that will benefit the regime more than the rebels. Indeed, President al-Asad, even if he will have to leave office at some point, may have already won the war. The United States, Russia and the NATO allies have approved the Geneva Plan which leaves him in charge, even if his rule would be balanced by the presence of competent opposition members in key roles.

The presidential elections under the Geneva peace plan provide for presidential elections in May 2014. He could even come out as the winner of those elections, given the poor performance of the politically fragmented opposition and its failure to re-assure the Syrian Sunni elite and the many minorities, that feel safer in the solid and proven secular framework, guaranteed by the Baath. The opposition, in the face of the military stalemate and the strong role played by Islamist militias, is likely to remain, or grow even more fragmented. The Western powers for all their rhetoric, appear to have settled on the notion that ‘government change’, through the ballot box, will be a better guarantor of stability in Syria than regime change. A change could come only with the vote for parliament, in which the opposition may gain strategic positions. The instability in Iraq, even as it heads toward new elections, has been the ‘mother’ of all examples highlighting the proposition that: forced change, particularly from the outside, leads only to permanent instability and partial legitimacy. US, Europe, China and Russia seem now to agree that premature change in Syria would affect the geopolitical framework of security in the region, which has already reached a dangerously rickety yet volatile stage.

Russia and China have continued to openly back al-Asad, supplying weapons and erecting a wall against any international intervention under the umbrella of the United Nations Security Council. The North Korean crisis has also in a sense, come to Asad’s aid, requiring intense diplomatic cooperation and coordination between Washington, Beijing and Moscow – the latter two being among Pyongyang’s few ‘allies’. Vladimir Putin, who seems to have read this right, explained that in Syria only a negotiated settlement can end the civil war, warning that efforts to depose al-Assad could slide the country into a spiral of violence to rival Iraq. If that were the case, it would be very difficult to rein-in next door Lebanon from the inevitable intensification of factionalism and ethnic rivalry. Syrian Christians have become ever more the targets of sectarian clashes. Ansar al-Hamah, one of the various self-styled rebel factions, has threatened inhabitants of Christian towns, if they failed to expel loyalist forces.

Syrian Christians make up about 10% of the population and are scattered throughout the territory, even in the Sunni strongholds of Homs and Aleppo. A power vacuum, resulting from a NATO backed military action, would probably force Christians to join the other ‘heretics’ Alawite, Druze, Sufi, Ismailis and Kurds to fight against the Sunni radicals. There are factions within the factions and, nobody should forget the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s’. Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt exhorted his community to fight against Asad, while other Druze leaders asked them to back the regime. Syrian Kurds, meanwhile, have already engaged in clashes with jihadist groups for control of the North-East and effectively contributed to the failure of rebel forces to defeat the government in Aleppo last November. The economic crisis in the European Union and political uncertainties owing to Cyprus’ possible departure from the Euro and the push for an anti-austerity axis from the French and the new Italian government- which will be compelled to adopt some Keynesian policies after the months of fiscal tightening – have compelled the West to become more introvert and less interventionist.

The results of aiding and abetting the collapse of Qadhafi in Libya, in which Mali and the rise of militant groups that have now drawn France into its latest African war, will offer sufficient reason for the West’s refusal to intervene. It is clear to all that Libya was not ready to be ‘liberated’ and that it was unwise to interfere militarily. Libya today is less prosperous and secure than it was under the rule of Qadhafi – even if there is a little bit more freedom of the press. It seems that the West, blinded by the pent-up feelings after decades of excessive Qadhafi flamboyance, was unable to resist pulling the plug on his rule. Qadhafi, meanwhile, seemed sure the West would not intervene, as he thought it was clear to all that Benghazi, where the revolt began, was also a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. In that situation, NATO failed to establish who could act as the viable alternative to Qadhafi, one who would gradually lead the North African country toward greater freedoms.

Today, Libya is being touted as a new Somalia, or a new Afghanistan, whilst North Africa and the Sahel are manifestly less stable. Egypt is no better and the Muslim Brotherhood’s power grab has served as a warning sign, if any were needed, that the Syrian branch of the Brotherhood, linked to Egypt, would repeat itself in Damascus if the West were to intervene.

The West, therefore, should be looking for opportunities to step back from the Syrian quagmire.

The return of apparently Islamist-inspired terrorism on US soil, moreover will help Washington gradually take a less adamant anti-Asad role. Ultimately, the best solution for all would be for the world to cease supplying arms to the rebels and rather to help Syria identify a viable secular leader who can be part of the transitional peace plan first devised in Geneva – possibly a figure far removed from the Muslim Brotherhood. The removal from the scene of al-Asad, therefore, would require an agreement with certain members of the current regime and sectors of the armed forces aiming to preserve the existing institutions and protect the interests of the various groups (and of the many Sunnis as well), who continue with good cause to distrust the opposition.

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