The second anniversary of the Syrian revolution celebrates the country’s transformation into the world’s largest and most global conflict. But the fight does not belong to Syria alone. It has involved Iranians, Iraqis, Russians, Hezbollah, Jabhat Al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham, followers of Al-Qaeda, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, not to mention the Free Syrian Army in its entirety. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and, increasingly, Britain and France, are also by no means detached from the situation. The war in Syria is indeed an international one.
While its beginnings—two years ago this week—lay with protesting the heavy-handed suppression of Syria’s children, the desire to leave behind a life of humiliation and repression that accompany the police state soon spread. Protests calling to topple “the last Arab dictator” shocked the country. Since then, a price that has proven to be unparalleled in the Arab Spring has been paid: one hundred thousand dead, one million fleeing the country, and millions more internally displaced. Urban residents sought refuge in the countryside, replacing those who had fled to even more rural areas such as caves and farms. And, as minorities retreat to their sanctuaries, the war wages on. But despite the tragic events of Syria’s recent history, the majority of Syrians will not return to a life under Bashar Al-Assad. Whatever the price, he will fall; this is now the mentality of most Syrians, even though their future is as nightmarish as their past.
With armed opposition groups reaching areas of traditional governmental support, even Russia is realizing that Al-Assad’s demise is inevitable. In light of this, Moscow is seeking a political solution that will secure its own interests by ensuring that its allies in the current regime have a place in the new Syria. At this point in time, however, such an achievement is no longer possible.
Hezbollah, which mobilizes itself at Tehran’s behest, is fighting the biggest war in its history and is one of the largest factions involved in the Syrian conflict. With fifty thousand fighters, a force greater than that which it has deployed against Israel over the last 30 years, Hezbollah is fighting the Syrian revolution. Its involvement in the conflict threatens to exacerbate the possibility of spillover into Lebanon. Northern and western regions of Iraq are also threatened with dissociation, owing to Prime Minister Nour Al-Maliki’s alignment with the Syrian regime.
Numerous conflicts are taking place in Syria. Iranian officials were not exaggerating when they publicly warned that the fall of Assad would be no less damaging than that of Tehran.
The conflict in Syria has grown from a revolution into a regional and international conflict, and the recent declarations from France and Britain regarding their preparation to arm the opposition, regardless of the self-imposed European Union arms embargo have added another dimension to the war.
But what is there for us to do, besides providing humanitarian relief for millions of displaced and homeless Syrian civilians? With the passing of the conflict’s second anniversary, there is no doubt that the revolutionaries are capable of overcoming Assad and his troops; their advance is slow but steady, and they will succeed in their goals despite their enemies allying against them.
The essential aspect of Syria’s upheaval, in my opinion, is that its’ people collect themselves in a system that permits political self-determination and choice of leadership. Arab nations must help develop an environment in which the opposition takes responsibility, and encourage the inclusion of all forces on the ground—civil and military—from all regions and sects. In most countries affected by war, foreign intervention and international guardianship brings regional or international legitimacy. An alternative political system is installed in order to avoid division and civil war. Such was the case with Kuwait at the beginning of the 1990s, when Saddam Hussein occupied the country and attempted to eliminate any sense of national sovereignty.
Likewise, after the fall of Saddam, various different factions and powers tried to garner unanimity regarding the preservation and independence of Iraq. There were crises that the international community failed to deal with.
Internal strife in Yugoslavia led to its dismantlement by the UN. Following the end of World War Two, Yugoslavia consisted of seven separate statelets, however this union of separate nationalities disintegrated in the 1990s leading to the creation of five independent states, of which only Serbia and Montenegro remain united. Even though Syria is a historically united country, it could likewise disintegrate if the opposition fails to adopt a unifying project.
The challenge facing Syria is no longer the toppling of Assad, but maintaining a stable and united country, and avoiding a descent into civil war, as Assad and his allies have warned.