Syria: The Purgatory of the 'Arab Spring'

JURIST Guest Columnist Enver Hasani of the University of Prishtina in Kosovo, argues that regime change in Syria will represent a profound geopolitical shift...

In the past two years we have grown accustomed to the violence in Syria. However, the latest reaction of the Western world towards the massive poisoning of Syrian citizens, hors de combat, seems to have awakened the dead of Dante's Purgatory. It remains to be seen if this reaction will merely be a Prayer for the Dead, a recollection, as it were, of the temporary innocence called Syrian Purgatory.

It was obvious since the beginning of the violence in Syria that this fierce and permanent conflict could not continue the way it started, and that it will become more brutal and primitive. Few believed, however, that in such a short time the world would witness the heinous scene of Syrian civilians dying of asphyxiation caused by the chemical weapons of the current regime in Damask. Others who have carefully observed the conflict recognize that this Purgatory of "Arab Spring," will also be one for Western conscience itself, whereby global leaders will wait in line, as in Dante's "Divine Comedy," to be purified of the sins of past years' erroneous policy towards Syria.

The current situation in Syria reflects realpolitik considerations, because the regime change in Syria will represent a profound geopolitical shift. This shift could, more than any other event since the end of the Cold War, finally stabilize the current, broken geopolitical parameters, both regional and worldwide.

As for Europe, the fall of the dictatorial regime in Syria would imply more security and less Wahhabi oxygen in the Middle East. In fact, the end of Bashar al-Assad would mark, in effect, the coronation of the "Arab Spring," measurable along parameters used for the wars for human dignity waged in Europe and worldwide.

After the conflict in Syria started beside serious regime tremors in Egypt, most people thought the conflict was about regime change or a change in the style of governance, easily achievable according to the tested models in other Arab-Islamic countries. Others thought, at worst, there would be a repetition of the Libyan scenario. It turned out that all views were wrong, as the entire "Arab Spring" seemed homogeneous, uniform and lacking in internal structural change. The differences within the countries covered by the "Arab Spring" were in fact very exceptional and structural, conditioned at the same time by the identity factors of the population of these countries as well as geostrategic and political factors.

Identity factors

In the "Arab Spring" context, the identity factor implicates key lines which shape primary identities of the people and countries involved in it. As such, the lines do not essentially change under the influence of other geostrategic and political factors. In line with this, there are two delineation lines of the identities of the countries and nations involved in the "Arab Spring": the Sunni and the Shiia line of the basic identity. These identity lines were suppressed during the Cold War period, appearing as if they did not exist at all. In fact, the new balance of powers is being redefined in this part of the world, bringing back the domination of the majority Sunni in this region. This is because during the Cold War, the Arab-Islamic world countries have functioned according to the ideological recipes created not by former colonial masters but from the ex-Soviet Union.

The model of an Arab-Islamic state has been a mixture of the extreme left with the (ideological) teachings of Qur'an. The latter, that is the interpretation of Qur'an from the Soviet ideological point of view, along with the Palestinian issue, has served most of the time as an argument to maintain the anti-Semitic and the anti-Western agenda in the regional and global scale. Forging of this model of state by the Soviets resulted in basic identities being "frozen" putting in the forefront ideological side of the Arab-Islamic regimes instead.

After the collapse of the Soviet empire, delineation of serious and profound differences of these societies gradually became more lucid along the Sunni and Shiia lines, which have outlived any ideological or other dissimilarity created by the past. This fundamental identity distinction makes the "Arab Spring" very hard to understand and to shape it in accordance with other similar "springs" which took place elsewhere in Europe. The process of democratization in Europe, however, or in Egypt and Tunisia for that matter, profoundly differs from that in Syria, Iraq, etc. In the latter cases the conflict is based on entirely opposed identities, like in the case of Yugoslavia, with an attribute of war for territory.

Geostrategic and political factors

Among the political factors which have shaped the current conflicts of the "Arab Spring," it is worth mentioning the modeling of these countries after the State of Commissars of the Soviet era. In this context, the name of the Ba'ath Party in addition to other Soviet satellite parties of the region come to mind. These party-states have dominated the political life of these countries for decades. This political model, imposed in these countries, has been a result of the geostrategic factors of that time: during the process of decolonization after the World War II, the Soviet Union took the leadership in filling the vacuum created after the withdrawal of the ex-colonial masters of the West. The latter, compromised as a result of the colonial politics, remained in defensive and incapable to replenish the vacuum that they left behind. This political cover up was ruined along with the Soviet empire after the year 1990, leaving totally exposed the pro-Soviet Arab-Islamic regimes. This remained so at least until the mid 1990s, that is, throughout a time in which Russia were not able to recuperate from the trauma caused by the fall of the Soviet empire. After this period, Russia started her gradual approach to its former satellite states in the Arab-Islamic world. This return of Russia implied the return to old policies of the balance of powers and their weighing, as opposed to the old rivals of the West.

Countries of this region, Syria and Libya above all, approached Russia too. They opposed politics of the West in the former Yugoslavia, China, Middle East and elsewhere in order to show loyalty towards their ex-master, consolidating at the same time repressive leftist regimes (with exception of Egypt and Yemen). Afraid of intimidation by the return of Russia in regional and worldwide politics, even some pro-Western countries of the Arab-Islamic world aligned themselves with Russian policies, mainly in silence. The result was seen in their foreign policy: regionally they strove for dominance, endangering the vital American and Western interests in the region..

This behavior towards the world as well as the continuation of the excessive repression against their citizens forged the preconditions for the outbreak of the civil discontent and unrest in these countries. The manner in which this discontent was expressed differed widely depending on the identity fabric in these countries: as it was expected, the bloodiest expression occurred there where the minority ruled the majority.

While in other countries the "Arab Spring" was achieved through ideological clashes and profound ideological transformation, in the case of Syria something like that was not imaginable. This was so mainly because the ideologically charged minority in Syria holds the grip on power so that every concession would have a deep geostrategic influence in the region as whole. Ousting the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad does not represent an ideological change in the regime. It does represent a change of power over a territory and final loss of authority of the illegitimate leaders in the region for quite the time to come. As strange as it may sound, after the overthrow of the Syrian regime, Iran will experience a true "Arab Spring", on a more civilized scale than seen elsewhere until present, due to the fact that it is change in Syria, not Iran, that is key to solving the crisis in this part of the world. Hezbollah was founded in Iran but its growth and feeding was perpetuated Syria.

Present within Syria are intertwined age-long identity conflicts, deeply molded by Russian politics which aim to restore Russian influence in the region. The Syrian regime holds on its shoulders all these contradictions, which explains its reaction with chemical weapons against its citizens and deranged reaction to use every means at its disposal to remain in power. The Syrian regime has destroyed everyone who dares to get in its way, because compared to Gaddafi and Milosevic, Bashar al-Assad does not have a place where he can find shelter from criminal justice as he represents the epitome of the rule of minority over majority.

The war in Syria is not a war for regime change but for the total change of the geopolitics in the region. The "Road to Damascus" is not a road "for more light," as in the Caravaggio's painting which reflects the biblical tale on Saint Paul. This is not a road for good but a Purgatory of the "Arab Spring": the guilt of the Western countries and their allies until today might be temporary only if now, just right now, the regime in Damascus is overthrown. If this is not done, then the road to Damascus will be a real hell of the "Arab Spring" for a simple reason that the human misery which is being created in Syria will be filled for sure by the Wahhabi political Islam.

Intervention against the regime in Damascus now, and only now, would bring stability to the region for many years to come, since it would generate a new geopolitical map and would give meaning to the "Arab Spring" by making it equal to other "post-Communist springs" undertaken elsewhere. Only the intervention at this moment, now and not later, would consolidate positions of the Syrian rebels, who are more open-minded towards the values of the Western liberal democracies. Above all, overthrowing of the Assad's regime would permanently close the doors to creating a political regime simulated according to the Wahhabi Islam.

What will be the format of intervention, alone or with other allies, it matters the least. It would be good if together and with as much allies as possible, but even without them it does not matter very much, since after all the opponents of the military intervention against the actual Syrian regime aside from the harsh words and critics have no other option or a political alternative.

Enver Hasani is President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Kosovo and a Professor of International Law and International Relations at the University of Prishtina.

Suggested citation: Enver Hasani, Syria: the Purgatory of the 'Arab Spring', JURIST - Forum, Sept. 13, 2013, http://jurist.org/forum/2013/09/enver-hasani-syria-purgatory.php.


This article was prepared for publication by a member of JURIST's Academic Commentary service. Please direct any questions or comments to them at academiccommentary@jurist.org

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