Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition


We offer twenty two February 1st country reports: five ‘Arab Awakening’ nations: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, plus mid-eastern giants, Turkey and Iran; South Asians: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. North Korea fortunately perhaps, is one of a kind. Plus two Balkan FYR’s Serbia, Bosnia; five former communists: Russia, Ukraine, Romania; remote Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan; and ASEAN members: Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam.

In the name of Religion

Followers of the Syria story will recognise that the sponsors of the continuing revolt are Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both of them are paying wages to the deserters from the Syrian army and other rebel fighters, who comprise the ‘Free Syrian Army’, as well as equipping them with arms and money. Like all the Arabian Gulf states, their ruling families are stalwarts of the Sunni - the largest branch of the Islamic faith, whilst the ruling family of Syria are Alawites, non-conformists whom the Sunni regard as heretics, as they do the larger Shia sect. It is probable that this civil war would never have happened, or would never have lasted so long, without the outside involvement of these two rich Arab countries with a religious mission.

A new Syrian organisation ‘National Movement for the Salvation of Syria’ (NMSS) has been formed, objecting to their country being over-run with foreigners, both on the ground, pointing to the involvement of Al Qaeda and foreign jihadists alongside the western-recognised rebel grouping; and the close foreign involvement of Saudi, Qatar, Turkey and the Gulf states, as well on the various sidelines, Iran and the US; UK; France, et al.

NMSS seek a ‘Syrian solution’ and who can blame them?

With that in mind readers may find in our Iraq report in this issue, disturbing echoes of that same ugly story. Iraq of course, has like Syria, a predominately ‘Shia’ government - remarkably as a result of the US invasion. (Sunni rule was overthrown with Saddam Hussein). On political grounds, Syria AND Iraq are more than friendly with Shia Iran, the arch-enemy of Saudi and Qatar and on religious grounds between Shia and Sunni, there is a complete disjunction.

The 1400 years long theological differences between the mainstream Sunni and the Shia denominations of Islam, are not easily understood by westerners, unless for parallels one harks back five centuries to the ‘Religious Wars’ between the established Catholics, and the various Protestant Christian sects. Those wars set Europe ablaze for many years over such arcane differences as: ‘trans-substantiation;’ the supremacy of the pope over all patriarchs, bishops, etc; and more. So the west has itself been through sectarian agonies in what is now happily, a distant memory. Both sides damaged and exhausted, eventually opted for the tolerance Christianity now shares, a stage which Islam, some 600 years younger than Christianity, has not yet reached.

The horror of the fighting in Syria is not about democracy, but the ancient fight between Sunni and Shia. The irony is that Syria is apparently the only Arab state tolerant enough to have freedom of worship built into it’s constitution! An important segment of the population, about 1/3d, being different sects of Christian, as well as members of other forms of Islam like the Druse, the Sufi, the Ismaili, the Shia and of course many Alawites- all heretics to the Sunni! There are even some Jews which is rare, to say the least, in any Arab state. There will undoubtedly be some home-grown Syrian fighters against the Syrian government, who are genuinely hoping to have a democracy, but with sponsors like the Saudis and Qataris who haven’t a shadow of democracy in their own nations, there is we believe, no chance. Look at Egypt, free, democratic? On the US payroll, yet still the religion ‘takes all’.

It gets worse. The Sunni terror squads of al Qaeda and other similar jihadist organisations were quick to get involved. They have their own extreme agenda and financing, and with all the chaos have been able to send their now numerous international squads into Syria. Fortunately the west has not put troops on the ground, but we believe that Mrs Clinton’s stance from the sidelines, backed up by the likes of William Hague and a few other Europeans in taking sides in a religious war, as they did, was gravely misplaced, notwithstanding that they wanted by any means to damage Iran, the top Shia nation.

Of course it was and is right to try to stop the fighting, but that was never going to be achieved by just telling the government side to stand down –this was never a ‘dictator Qaddafi’ situation. Syria, just like Saudi and Qatar and the Gulf States all have ruling families, from whom their leader, be he prince, soldier, politician (or even opthamologist), is chosen. None of the ‘Arab League’ states even approach basic standards of democracy. World Audit’s new democracy report places the ‘best’ Arab League performer, UAE at a lowly 75th, out of those 150 nations with a million plus population.

It’s Spreading……..
It seems worth repeating these points because the signs now are that Iraq could soon drift into a similar situation, for something like the same reasons. That, on top of Syria, would surely carry a much bigger risk of involving Iran and a regional hot war breaking out, probably if Saudi is involved, sucking in it’s committed long-term ally, the US, and thence some other western powers. Iraq it must be understood, is no less politically and religiously problematic than Syria, and has a greater abundance of oilfields, plus a major ethnic problem (with the large Kurdish minority in the north of the country).

As well as Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, this issue carries new Updates on the momentous events in Libya and Egypt. As ever, Iran and Turkey are there, in both cases with much more to consider than the fighting in Syria, important though it is to them both.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, all important reports as 2013 opens, interwoven as they habitually are. Bangladesh, big, corrupt and mightily poor is again on offer.

The former communist world is well represented by: the Balkan FYR’s Serbia, Bosnia; then Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, plus remaining communists: Vietnam and seldom out of the news North Korea, where once again the talk is of missiles and nukes!

ASEAN members: like Obama we pivot to an important area that we try to regularly cover, included in this issue: Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

                                                                                                                                     Clive Lindley - Publisher


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