As Henry Kissinger said in an IHT article enquiring
why the US State Dept. was involved:
“…this struggle reflects, in
large part, the millennium- old conflict between Shia
and Sunni and is an attempt to reclaim Sunni dominance
from a Shi’ite minority.”
That has been NewNations understanding from the
beginning. We have reported SYRIA monthly for nearly
ten years –well over 100 consecutive reports before
this one. We knew that the sponsoring Gulf State
nations and Saudi have no interest in democracy- they
work hard to stop such an infection reaching their own
shores. Regime change for them, as Kissinger observes,
is about Sunni dominance.
The US and European NATO powers have taken sides
because they are playing the geopolitical game of
isolating IRAN through weakening its allies.
Of course SYRIA is no democracy any more than it’s
neighbours, or any member of the Arab League, but it
did enjoy stability and had the great and unusual
virtue of religious tolerance, appropriate given the
millennia of being at one of the world’s crossroads.
Instead of having a Sunni ruling family, it is
regionally a rarity in having a non-Sunni family at
the top and by including secularism, freedom of
worship, in its constitution.
It was before the uprising more at ease with itself,
than its Arab neighbours, more western even, not being
a society dominated by the mosque. It’s sin in the
eyes of the revolutionaries, is that it is an
heretical government, rather than a politically
absolutist government – the latter being standard
throughout the region. Osama bin Laden, a Sunni
fanatic, was so intense about this, that in one
broadcast during a particularly chaotic period in
Iraq, he said that the Shia were worse than the
‘American invaders’ in Moslem countries.
Hillary Clinton and William Hague have earned
themselves no brownie points by having overruled the
expert advice available to them, from the Arabists in
their ministries, that this was not a struggle for
democracy. Neither of the two main sponsors of the
rebels, Saudi Arabia and Qatar entertain any notions
of democracy in their own countries. Like all the Gulf
States, they have absolutist Sunni governments. This
is unlike IRAQ which emerged from the long US
occupation with a Shiite-dominated government, which
then and now inspires their substantial Sunni
population into various degrees of antagonism.
This is exemplified by the revivified Al Qaida
jihadists who on one day in late July carried out a
demonstration of their presence in Iraq with 37
vicious attacks - bombing and other assaults, directed
against the Shi-ite government and population in a
third of the 18 Iraqi provinces.
The Al Qaida islamists’ first concern, said their
leader in Iraq, Abu Bakir al Baghdadi, “ is to
eliminate the Shia heretics and “to dominate
territories we used to dominate – and more.”
For western countries to get involved in Islamic
sectarianism on one side or the other, is as though
Arab states long ago were becoming involved in the
centuries-long European struggle between Catholics and
Protestants. Then as now, issues being intractable
religious differences, interference by taking sides is
a no-win situation for everyone involved.
Whether in Iraq or Syria, to Sunni Arabs the Shi-ites
are simply heretics, who, if allowed to live at all in
Sunni countries are a sub-species - ‘untermenschen’.
Witness Saudi Arabia’s minority Shi-ite population (as
we report that country).
Syria is different again to most Arab states in having
been for millennia at one of the crossroads of
civilisations and as a result has a wide spread of
non-Sunni citizens. Minorities include some five
different and ancient species of Christian predating
the Prophet, as well as a variety of Moslems :- Druse,
Sufi, Ismailis, Alawite, Shia, as well as ethnic
Kurds, who have all been ‘included in’ the power
structure by the Alawites, the largest of the
minorities which together account for some 30 -35% of
the total population.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States talk in terms of the
Jordanian King’s notion of a ‘Shi’ite crescent’ on the
map, anchored on Iran including Lebanon, Syria and
Iraq. This has let loose the idea in Foggy Bottom, the
Foreign Office and Quai d’Orsay, that what’s in it for
them, is to pull Shi’ite props away from under the
awkward squad in IRAN. Al Qaida are now well
established in Syria, happy enough to have stirred up
their fellow Sunni and to be on the same military
side, supported by what they must now regard as
‘useful idiots,’ viz. Clinton and Hague.
Newnations is committed to encouraging democracy in
the countries on which we report. The administration
of the al Assads in Syria has historically been cruel
to its opponents. It is also obvious from the neutral
reporters in country, that the rebels are no less
brutal when given the opportunity.
Despite the fact that the stability the government
have engendered over many years has enabled a Sunni
middle class to do well, we could not possibly support
the status quo if there were any prospect of real
democracy as the outcome of this violence and horror.
Even in Iraq the occupying western powers did leave an
elected government in place. In Syria, were the rebels
to win which is far from certain, there is no prospect
of a democratic outcome, nor any foreign power to
impose it. However, the dominant Moslem Brotherhood in
Syria has a long revenge list stretching back far into
the past. If the rebels succeed there is every
prospect of a minorities witch-hunt - a blood-bath.
The rebels even now chant: “Christians to Beirut,
Alawites to their graves,” a nice distinction for the
A non-interventionist west with its appalled public
opinion, could then reflect on whether all this
fanning the flames by Clinton and Hague was justified
by the desire to marginally damage IRAN.
Turkey and Iran have many crises, events and problems
on which we report, quite apart from their involvement
with Syria. On Libya: we report the interesting
realities on the ground, given their not opting for
the Islamist road. Egypt’s election is scrutinised and
the Moslem Brothers with their tearaway electoral
victories are ‘found democratically wanting,’
suggesting trouble to come.
Reports: Syria, Iraq, Egypt,
Turkey, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran.
RUSSIA & THE FSU
Russia is grouped here with other FSU republics which
still unsurprisingly, interact. Politically,
economically, militarily in one way or another, Russia
still dominates and intends to keep it that way. Only
the three Baltic republics out of fifteen post-soviet
all-union republics have achieved democracy. Belarus
has been subject to the same dictator almost since the
old Soviet Union broke up. Sadly, Ukraine is fast
becoming ‘Putinised’- in Freedom House’s apt
expression. Now former PM Julia Tymoshenko, already
jailed on spurious charges, is being charged with
The Central Asians, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are
large significant nations, the first because it is
well populated, with sizeable armed forces; the second
because it is seriously mineral rich. Both have
absolutist regimes still under the control of the same
men, ‘presidents for life,’ who were their rulers
under communism. Both are going to be more in the news
as they are undoubtedly targeted by the Islamists, who
expect to move in on them when Afghanistan’s conflict
is settled and the jihadists can move north.
Reports: Russia, Ukraine,
Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan
We look at two troubled Balkan countries: Serbia,
ominously showing strong signs of a reversion to the
nationalism that caused such chaos in the break-up of
the former Yugoslavia. Bosnia: a major victim of that
terrible time is struggling, and although the Bosnian
Serbs are now taking part at a federal level, little
progress is being made.
Reports: Serbia & Bosnia
SOUTH, S.E. & EAST ASIA
For Afghanistan, the Tokyo conference of Donors,
keenly watched by Kabul was a key part of the post-war
arrangements, which are more and more occupying the
foreign powers involved in country. There is
understandably a muted mood in Afghanistan, certainly
not much optimism about the future after the foreign
powers remove their troops.
In Pakistan, notwithstanding foreign investment
continuing to free-fall, there is a prevalent belief
that a turn- around in their fortunes is due, with a
substantial investment in energy for next year. But
how much is due just to optimism is hard to gauge.
Government bonds are downgraded and the nation’s
politics are far from settled.
We note that India which has just elected a new
president, is responding in its own way to the Chinese
naval behaviour in the troubled waters of the ‘South
China’, ‘West Philippines’, ‘East Vietnam’ sea - the
same sea of course, named differently by those whose
shores it laps.
Vietnam is one of those on which we report here. We
also report on the Philippines, whose main event was
the extremely encouraging ‘State of the Nation’
address. It shows the great progress made by President
Aquino, who has clearly lived up to his election
promises and is bringing his country closer to
becoming a genuine democracy.
North Korea has seen two newsworthy events, the
disclosure that the new Kim is married, after much
speculation about his female companion, and the
changes at the top of the army, always important in
this militaristic nation.
In Bangladesh, the government, in a fury at having a
large World Bank loan withdrawn on grounds of
corruption (no stranger to this country), has tried to
partially blame for that decision, Bangladesh’s most
distinguished citizen, the Nobel Laureate, Professor
Yunis Khan, founder of the Grameen Bank.
Taiwan has been celebrating its anniversary as a
democracy, which sadly fails to impress, with its
previous president incarcerated after a farcical trial
which would have been impossible in any truly
Afghanistan, Pakistan, India,
Vietnam, North Korea, Bangladesh, Philippines, Taiwan