The unspeakable violence and brutality that left Syria with over 6.6 m people displaced, 320,000 people dead and about 1.5m people either wounded or permanently disabled is one of the greatest devastation to hit the world in recent times. One can only ask how did Syria become this vile?
Syrian crisis is triggered by many factors: from internal uprising caused by waves of Arab spring to onslaught from abroad, down to the insensitivity of the Syrian government to handle the internal disturbances of the divided state. However, another underlying factor that remains notable is the neglect of Syria by her allies just about the beginning of the turmoil.
Syria is one of the Middle East states that lie at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. A country with rich historic past. It has witnessed the presence of the French, British, Arabs and the Ottoman Turks. Syria is bounded by Lebanon and Israel on the West, turkey on the North, Iraq on the East, and Jordan on the South. The governments of Syria from 1970 have carefully sought after different diplomatic treaties with her neighbors to increase her regional influence since her independence in 1946. In the days of President Hafez al-Assad, Syria’s strongest allies were Iran and Russia. From 1970 to the end of his reign in 2000, Hafez ensured he established unwavering relations with the two countries. Succeeding him was his son Bashar al-Assad, a liberal president who, unlike his father, sought a more robust diplomatic relations with the outside world. He strengthened relations with Turkey, Qatar, Saudi and rest of her neighbors. He also tried as possible to improve diplomatic circle with the West.
Whilst there are numerous reasons for geopolitical relations- economic, easy migration, border security, and social and cultural exchange- state security remains cornerstone in the heart of state actors in negotiation. More often, states enter treaties to further protect their territorial sovereignty either by depending on her neighbor for protection against invasion or to take action of support in difficult times. But, unfortunately, Syria relations with the World were just a sheer countenance. The diplomatic ties never really moved beyond exchange of pleasantries, visits, talks and paper signing. When it comes to war Syria suffered alone. Most of Syria neighbors and allies were fair weather friends who turned their back on her for one reason or the other.
Qatar and Saudi were two close friends of Syria under President Bashar al-Assad. King Abdullah of Saudi received visits from Bashar al-Assad at least three times in 2010, and in return he made trip to Damascus. Up until mid-2011 when relations turned sour, Bashar reverenced King Abdullah to the point that he granted almost all his requests including helping to restore stability to Lebanon which was King Saudi’s foremost concern. The Emir of Qatar also had a great relationship with Bashar until the start of the conflict. Despite the close ties between the two States and Syria, Syria received no help during the civil war. In fact, Qatar surprisingly helped to fuel the crisis using its news agency, Al Jazeera. The news agency painted a picture that blows the crisis out of proportion and consequently brought disdain upon the government of Syria in the eyes of other Middle East states and the world. Saudi, in reality, was never a friend. Saudi is a close ally of United States and Syria of Russia. While the U.S blamed Syria for the assassination of Rafic Hariri, Lebanon Prime minister, Saudi also followed to express her dissatisfaction over the continued presence of Syria in Lebanon and called for immediate expulsion of Syrian forces. When the civil war came Saudi immediately turned its back.
Lebanon; Iraq; Jordan and Egypt’s relations with Syria were all on a wrong footing. Iraq did not have a good rapport with Syria from onset. Iran fruitlessly tried to strengthen Damascus-Baghdad relations but the Shia government in Iraq did not yield. Instead, arms and terrorists flow into Syria from Iraq in the days of its unrest. Jordan was dependent on foreign aid and did not have much to contribute only to join the Gulf States to sanction Syria. On the other hand, Egypt and Syria had a century long conflict that, by the time it ended, created a feeling of resentment in the heart of the Egyptians. More so, the waves of Arab spring had engulfed Egypt by that time, and Egypt itself was battling the crisis that followed the overthrown of Hosni Mubarak. Likewise, Lebanon had taken offences against Syria: first by taking siege if her country, secondly by indulging in the assassination of her prime minister, Rafic Hariri. Even as diplomatic ties had been renewed after the incident, thanks to King Saudi, the memories still linger in the heart of the Lebanese.
Another strong relation Syria invested in which could have profited her was Damascus-Ankara relationship unfortunately it was too egoistic than beneficial. Erdogan, the then Turkeys’ prime minister, had had regional ambition unknown to Bashar and by the time the conflict started, he had succeeded in signing up to fifty agreements and memoranda of understanding to either formalize borders or share the waterways to his advantage. Erdogan had taken Bashar’s love for granted to the extent that he supported the Muslim Brotherhood and demanded their release.
On the flipside, Syria and West were frienemies. United State, United Kingdom and France closeness to Syria was not really about Syria but of Israel security concern. United State in particular was more or less interested in getting information helpful enough to nab al-Qaeda terrorists regarding 9/11. In the backdrop, Syria was a thorn in the flesh to the West. Syria is anti-West, anti-Israel, pro-Palestine and pro-Russia. Most of her policies had been abhorred by US, UK and France especially its forceful possession of Lebanon, nuclear programmes, and its transfer of missiles to Hezbollah to fight Israel. The West had repeatedly challenged the Syrian government of the assassination of Rafic Hariri, and it’s behind the scene support to al-Qaeda rebels to fight US in Iraq though, turned out to be that the rebels took advantage of Syria’s porous border. Eventually, the cracks became obvious and the West not only tried to unseat Bashar government but also backed and armed Bashar’s rebellious opposition. The steadfast friends of Syria were Russia, Iran and China. Even has China had its reservations about religious extremism it still defended Syria at the International level. It supported Syrian government at United Nations Security Council Resolution hence prevented her from sanction. Russia and Iran are age-long friends and the main source of technology, development finance and defense equipment to Syria.
In lieu of the above, it is evident that Syria had few friends, and even the few ones turned out to be fair weather friends. It is no illusion that the state of Syria could have been saved from the catastrophic civil war that throws the state into absolute anarchy had it been her allies and neighbors had stood by her side.
While negotiation for political solution is ongoing, it should be noted that half the population is displaced; nearly one-fifth are refugees abroad; an estimated 1 per cent of Syrians have died; and over half the population desperately requires humanitarian assistance. Hence, there is an urgent need to find a way to stop the violence.
Haran, V. (March 2016). Roots Of The Syrian Crisis. New Delhi, India: Institute Of Peace And Conflict Studies.
Vision, W. (2015). Syria Refugee Crisis FAQ: How The War Is Affecting Children. Federal Way, Washington: World Vision.