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Syria: Its Neighbours & ISIS

The ‘monstering’ of President Assad in the early days of the 4 year insurrection was a fairly obvious tactic – it had recently been done against Saddam Hussein in neighbouring Iraq, but really it would be justified only if the world takes the same attitude to all authoritarian states. There are regrettably few democracies in the middle-east except Israel (the state not the associated territory – which has authoritarian problems of another kind). But whilst some such run-of-the-mill governments are truly evil, as Iraq had become under Saddam, Syria did not fit into that category. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States alike all control their dreaded ‘mukhabarat’ security police. As in Syria they are ruthless and cruel beyond (western) measure, they are there, as in all of the others, ultimately to safeguard the rulers of the state.

Probably a third of all the nations on earth outside ‘the rule of law,’ operate their ‘security police’ that way. ‘World Audit’ our companion annual report on ‘democracy in the world’, ranks the top (by population) 150 countries, via human rights, political rights, public corruption and media freedom. It is no surprise to see so many Arab states not doing well by these criteria. But Syria – no better, no worse, than its Arab neighbours – and so many other members of the UN - does have one major redeeming feature. It is unique amongst Arab states for its religious toleration, including many species of Christian and even Jews (although there not many left), and it is this which is at the root of its 4 year old civil war.  [

Syria: The Power & the Politics

As the struggle in Syria persists, the Levant has become more unstable with consequences being felt throughout the Mediterranean, the waves of refugees hitting Greek and Italian shores serving as reminders that Syria is the greatest humanitarian crisis of this decade. But, too often this conflict has been presented in an overly simplistic way: the rebels against Assad, at the beginning, which then turned to Sunnis against Shiites, culminating in ISIS, or Islamic State (IS). In fact this is a mere caricature of the reality. The issues are more complex. ISIS found its affirmation on the world stage just over a year ago. Unquestionably, the group has undermined the entire geopolitical balance of the region, inspiring others in North Africa to adopt its banner and methods. Therefore, any analysis or discussion of IS cannot be confined to Iraq and Syria while the situation in these two countries, while complicated, remain different when it comes to the nature of the group’s ambitions and interactions. In Syria, IS has established the capital of its prototype Islamic State or Caliphate, at Raqqa, after the group spilled over a featureless, desert frontier from northwestern Iraq, becoming, pro tem at least, more of a Syrian problem.  [continues...]

Syria: The Refugee Crisis

The refugee crisis Europe is currently witnessing, is widely considered to be the worst since the five years of the Second World War, at the end of which there were more than 40 million displaced people. Since the start of this year, 170,000 refugees have entered the EU. According to UNHCR figures, more than 442,440 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe so far this year and 2,921 have known to have died attempting the voyage. It is this latter fact that has drawn so much attention to the crisis, which has seen almost weekly reports of overcrowded ships sinking and rubber boats capsizing. Images of desperate families fighting to swim across the Mediterranean or some part of it, have shocked and disturbed the public. Scenes of chaos in train stations, at border crossings, on coastlines where people have landed in states of despair have awoken memories of darker periods in Europe's history.

But there can be no gainsaying that this is exactly one of those darker periods within Europe. How bad it will get we just don’t know, but the various measures so far announced, confirm the deep divisions within the EU’s 28 member states, all of them democracies, but only a handful being inclined to generosity, towards people who through no fault of their own are using up their final options, in what in their grim circumstances, to do for their families.

Much concern remains about the status of the people trying to enter Europe as they are a diverse group, comprising Syrians fleeing the war and perhaps more who had done that and are now walking out of the existing camps along the Turkish Syria frontiers [

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