Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Regional Countries See Opportunities in Syria

By Ali Rizk The stances taken by regional powers towards the events in Syria reveal that these powers see that the Syrian developments are a chance for them to spread, and in some cases regain their influence in the region.

Let's start with Saudi Arabia.
Throughout the developments that have swept the Arab world never did we hear one word from Saudi King Abdullah.(in fact his only remarks came when the kingdom itself was witnessing protests). Most of the Saudi stances actually sided with the rulers whom the people were protesting against.(look at Bahrain where the Saudi's sent troops to support the regime in addition to the Saudi stances in support of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, not to mention that former Tunisian president Zein Alabideen Bin Ali was given political amnesty in Saudi Arabia.)
So why is it that in Syria's case the Saudi King decides to say he supports the people and is against the bloodshed.(by this he means that the Syrian forces are shedding the blood of their people, while many factors point out to the presence of outlaws and gangs that are responsible for killing both the people and the Syrian army and security forces).Why is it that this person who rarely ever speaks, came out with a statement supposedly in support of the Syrian people (a major portion of which I must add actually backs the Syrian president.)

There are two main factors that are intertwined. First of all, out of all the regional countries that have witnessed protests, Syria is the only one where Sunni's do not rule. Western experts on Saudi Arabia like David Long say that this is how the thinking goes in Saudi Arabia's official policy making.) Long and other experts in this field like Gregory Gause from the University of Vermont point out that the Saudi royal family has ruled with an alliance with the Wahhabi's who carry a Sunni fundamentalist ideology and are hostile to all those who do not share their beliefs, including other Sunni's and particularly Shiite's.

They also add that the Saudi TV station Alsafa has given a podium to Sheikh Al-Arour, a Sunni fundamentalist from Deraa who has gone out of his way to recruit people in Syria by using sectarian language to stand against the regime which is led by an allawite( a sect considered very close to the Shiite sect).Hence these experts conclude that Saudi Arabia which labels itself as the Sunni powerhouse in the region, views that the situation in Syria presents an opportunity to change the situation in a country where non-Sunni's have ruled for decades and at the same time spread some of the Saudi brand Sunni ideology.

The second factor which is probably the most noteworthy is that Saudi Arabia views the situation in Syria as a golden opportunity to counter what it believes to be its arch rival: Iran. Saudi Arabia has long complained about what it says is Iran's' penetration throughout the region and its expanding influence. The Saudi's believe that the governments in countries like Lebanon and Iraq are a result of this Iranian influence. What they also believe (whether correctly or incorrectly) is that the Syrian leadership has facilitated this Iranian role (it is worth mentioning here that Iran's growing regional role stems from its support for just causes including the central cause of the Muslim world: Palestine).

Thus Riyadh is pursuing its efforts to the maximum in order to replace or at least weaken the Syrian regime and maybe even divide Syria! Saudi Arabia hopes this will bring it back a regional foothold and bring their allies to power in other regional countries ( Iraq and Lebanon were mentioned above both of whom share borders with Syria)What makes this even more vital for the Saudis is that they have lately lost (or are in the process of losing) allies they could entirely depend on like Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
The other country who views the events in Syria as a window of opportunity is Turkey. Ever since it became clear to the Turks that joining the EU was out of the question, Turkey's focus turned to the Middle East under a policy that is steered by foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. At the beginning it appeared that Turkey, like Iran was also supporting the "just causes". But the crisis in Syria showed without any doubt that Turkey is the main partner of the US in the region. The Turkish foreign minister even received his instructions from Hilary Clinton just before his visit to Damascus where he will apparently deliver "stern messages". So the equation is clear: Turkey wants more regional influence and the US wants someone to counter Iran.(Saudi Arabia for many reasons including the fundamentalist ideology and the near dictatorship rule, couldn't do this).
Taking all this into consideration Damascus will face many future challenges but in the end it is the Syrian people who will decide. As mentioned above Bashar Assad does have considerable support amongst the Syrian people and his delivery of reforms recently is the right way to go about satisfying the legitimate demands of SOME of the protesters.(I say some because others are just protesting for sectarian reasons or because they are wanted for crimes ).The parliamentary elections which Syrian foreign minister Walid Moullem said will be held before next year are also a very important step and they will signal the end of the Syrian crisis as the people will have made their say.
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