Analysis: The lessons of Aleppo’s long, pointless siege

People walk as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 14 December 2016

Analysis: The lessons of Aleppo’s long, pointless siege

In its 7,000 years of existence, Aleppo has been fought over by Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. The modern battle for the ancient Syrian city, however, may yet be as significant for the future of the Middle East as those fought by the kingdoms and empires of the past.
The four-year battle for Aleppo now seems to be reaching its final stages. More than any other place, the city — one of the oldest continually inhabited places in the world — has been the epicenter of the Syria conflict.
In time, Syria may be seen to define the early 21st century the way the Spanish Civil War did the 1930s, a perfect storm of all the worst trends in global politics and conflict. If it is, then Aleppo will be its Guernica, the Spanish town carpet bombed by Nazi aircraft in 1937 in a savage precursor to the horrors of the coming WW II.
As long as it held out, Aleppo made a mockery of President Bashar Assad’s ambition to once again be seen as ruler of everywhere important in Syria. Even now with Russian support, the Syrian government’s attempts to seize it back have been largely unsuccessful. And in diverting its forces to the most recent Aleppo assault, Damascus left Palmyra too lightly defended and vulnerable to Daesh, which recaptured the ancient city on Sunday.
Aleppo might always have been doomed. The victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, however, appears to have settled the matter. Had Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton prevailed, those fighting to protect the last handful of opposition enclaves in the city might finally have seen Washington drawn into the fight, if only through enforcing a no-fly zone against Syrian and Russian aircraft.
That might have been dangerous for the rest of the world. But it would have offered at least a limited salvation for those still fighting in Aleppo.
Trump has signaled that he intends to take a very different approach, pledging to work with Moscow and prioritize the fight against Daesh. European nations still want some kind of political transition deal to remove the Syrian leader, something Washington now seems much less likely to support.
The battle is not quite over. The failure of Assad’s forces to take the sprawling city suggests they lack the combat power to do so. Russian and Syrian bombing may kill hundreds if not thousands of civilians, but the attacks will not in themselves bring victory to Damascus.
The end of the siege will be in some ways a humanitarian blessing, whoever might win.The darker side of the fighting’s end, however, is already also becoming clear, with reports of perhaps hundreds of fighting age men “disappeared” or killed after surrender.
If the Assad regime regains control over the rebel city, it will likely use brutal measures to reduce any prospect of further insurrection, especially if it feels neither the United States nor other major powers will take any action.
Any harsh response by Assad shouldn’t be surprising. What has and will happen in Aleppo is little different to that in thousands of other sieges throughout history. But as it appears to be ending, it’s worth examining why it took so long to reach this point.
The West’s half-hearted approach to Syria’s civil war — giving support to opposition forces, but never enough to beat the government or its Russian allies — has been an unmitigated failure. Perhaps the United States, the United Kingdom and others should share the guilt for the horror that has come with it. The Syria conflict has always had many moving pieces. Even now, formulating policy is complicated by the myriad rival interests — Kurds, Arabs, Alawites, the competing concerns of half a dozen nations.
In the process, the wider political landscape of the Middle East has been redrawn. In the early days of the uprising, the Assad government was heavily reliant on Iran as its main ally, the opposition on rival Arab states. In the last two years, however, Russia has been calling the shots.
If Aleppo is to fall shortly, then much of the credit — if that is the right word — must go to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia has established a potential new role for itself, a source of military power for autocratic regimes the West might rather see gone. What we don’t know is whether that will be a sign of things to come.
In some ways, that was inevitable. After the disasters of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the feeling in Washington and Europe was that there was little to gain and much to lose. With the migrant crisis, Europe in particular found itself paying a much higher price for the bloodshed in Syria than it ever anticipated, but that in itself did not appear to justify any intervention.
If the battle of Aleppo is seen as some kind of regional historic turning point, historians may well be arguing over it for generations. As it draws to a close, however, only one thing is truly apparent — that a city that started the century as a relatively cosmopolitan metropolis and destination for Western tourists has been reduced to rubble.
And that all the fighting and international handwringing may ultimately have made little difference to who actually runs Syria.

•Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist. The opinions expressed here are his own.


Archaeologist Zahi Hawass: ‘There isn’t a country that doesn’t love Egyptian archaeology’

Updated 17 October 2019

Archaeologist Zahi Hawass: ‘There isn’t a country that doesn’t love Egyptian archaeology’

  • With only 30 percent of Egyptian monuments discovered, there is no rush to pursue the remaining 70 percent which remain hidden underground, says Hawass

 CAIRO: World-renowned Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass has affirmed the importance of Egyptian archaeology around the globe.

“There isn’t a country that does not love Egyptian archaeology,” Hawass, who was minister of state for antiquities affairs, told Arab News.

With only 30 percent of Egyptian monuments discovered, Hawass said there was no rush to pursue the remaining 70 percent which remain hidden underground.

“We don’t want to discover everything. We want to start by preserving and preparing the historical monuments which we have discovered, then start thinking about what is still undiscovered,” Hawass said.

So, restoration and preservation are the main goals for now.

With the new Grand Egyptian Museum still in the works, it seems likely that archaeology will be put in the spotlight once again, with more room for Egyptian artifacts to be showcased and appreciated rather than hidden, as in the old Tahrir museum.

“No one in the world doesn’t know Egypt. Egyptian archaeology is in the hearts of all people all across the world,” Hawass said.

This explains the immense popularity the new museum is expecting, located as it is, minutes away from the Pyramids of Giza.

Another reason behind its expected popularity is the attention ancient Egyptian figures have received across the years.

“Among the most famous ancient Egyptian figures, even for those who are not interested in monuments, we have King Kufu, who built the greatest pyramid, because that pyramid is something everyone talks about,” Hawass said.

He added that King Tutankhamun was popular because his coffin was restored whole, as was King Ramses II, the most famous of Egyptian kings, and Queen Cleopatra. Each of these figures gained fame due to popular tales and monuments attached to them.

Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass. (AFP)

Hawass plays a crucial role in drawing awareness about Egyptian archaeology around the world as well as focusing on the current situation in Egypt.

“I lecture everywhere (about archaeology)” he said. “Two to three thousand people attend each of my lectures. So I take advantage of to tell people everywhere that Egypt is safe and that Egypt is run by a president whom we have chosen. I am trying to change the perception about Egypt.”

As part of his efforts to promote Egypt and Egyptian culture, Hawass recently visited Japan.

“They (the Japanese) love archaeology. I would never have expected to be famous in Japan, but as a result of their love of Egyptian archaeology, they know me,” Hawass explained.

This is but a speck in the eventful career Hawass has led — which all started by accident.

“As a child I wanted to become a lawyer, so I enrolled in law school at 16 but realized that it wasn’t something I could do. So I left law and decided to study literature. There they told me about a new section called archaeology,” Hawass said.

After graduating Hawass went to work for the government, which he dreaded, until his first project came along. Workers came across a statue hidden inside a coffin which he had to clean. During the process he found his passion for archaeology. He went on to pursue his graduate studies on the subject.

“I went from failure to success thanks to one thing: Passion. When a person is passionate about something, he excels in it.”

Hawass did not point out his most successful or most preferred moment in his career, so full his life has been of memorable events.

“You cannot prefer one of your children over another. They’re all in my heart, all of the discoveries I have made.”