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Syrian conflict has defined the region and beyond

Syrian conflict has defined the region and beyond
Syria has defined the Middle East and beyond, and has contributed to the reshaping of the world order. (AFP)
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Updated 25 May 2020

Syrian conflict has defined the region and beyond

Syrian conflict has defined the region and beyond

The ongoing war of almost a decade blew the Middle East’s faultlines wide open 

Summary

The Syrian conflict blew wide open the sectarian and political faultlines that had to an extent been papered over by the region’s near-unanimous opposition to this century’s two previous watershed events in the Middle East: Israel’s increased oppression of the Palestinians, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The Iraq folly cast a shadow over the Syrian conflict, with Iran able to fulfil its goal of becoming a regional hegemon, and the international community deeply reticent about foreign involvement in other countries, even when a government is butchering its own people.

That has enabled Syrian President Bashar Assad to carry out what the UN has described as crimes against humanity amounting to “extermination” of the civilian population. Meanwhile, American fatigue in Iraq and Afghanistan allowed a resurgent Russia to fill the US void in the Middle East. Moscow’s direct intervention in the Syrian conflict turned the tide in Assad’s favor.

LONDON: As Arab News looks at back at 45 “moments of change” that the newspaper has covered during its history, including Syria on the list is a no-brainer. But to say the ongoing conflict there has changed the region is an understatement — Syria has defined the Middle East and beyond, and has contributed to the reshaping of the world order.

Sectarian and political faultlines had to an extent been papered over by the region’s near-unanimous opposition to this century’s two previous watershed events in the Middle East: Israel’s increased oppression of the Palestinians, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Syria blew those faultlines wide open.

The longevity and scale of the horrors that the Syrian people have faced for the last nine years can be attributed in large part to the consequences of the Iraq folly. The US-led invasion and occupation unleashed an Iran determined to be a regional hegemon, and the Syrian uprising presented Tehran with the opportunity to flex its newfound muscle to that end.

Furthermore, the calamitous US-led intervention in Iraq understandably made the international community deeply reticent about foreign involvement in other countries. But this reticence did not address what to do when a government is butchering its own people. 

As such, the Iraq experience has provided an insurance policy for dictators and autocrats worldwide — as long as their brutality is kept within their own borders, they can enjoy immunity. That has enabled Syrian President Bashar Assad to carry out what the UN has described as crimes against humanity amounting to “extermination” of the civilian population, without any real fear of being held to account.

America’s fatigue with its seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan allowed a resurgent Russia to fill the US void in the Middle East. Having positioned itself during the 1990s and 2000s as a leading opponent of American interventionism, Moscow is now doing all the things it had been criticizing the US for (and which it had done with equal vigor during the Cold War). 

Without Russia’s direct intervention in the Syrian conflict, Assad would have been finished years ago. Meanwhile, his patron in Moscow has repeatedly shielded him from censure in the UN Security Council, as the US has done for Israel.

Key Dates


  • 1

    Security forces in the city of Deraa shoot dead protesters demanding the release of political prisoners, triggering nationwide demonstrations.

    Timeline Image March 15, 2011


  • 2

    Daesh declares a “caliphate” in territory spanning Syria and Iraq.

    Timeline Image June 29, 2014


  • 3

    Russian direct military intervention begins, turning the tide of the conflict in favor of the Syrian regime.

    Timeline Image Sept. 30, 2015


  • 4

    American troops withdraw from northern Syria, prompting Turkey to attack US Kurdish allies in the area.

    Timeline Image Oct. 2019


  • 5

    Direct conflict begins between Turkish and Syrian regime forces following the regime’s offensive in Idlib province and the killing of Turkish troops.

    Timeline Image Feb. 3, 2020

The many injustices facing the Arab world over the decades — some imposed from outside, others fostered from within — led to vibrant and determined movements that campaigned for self-determination, human rights, justice, equality and international law. Those movements provided hope to counterbalance despair and disillusionment. The Syrian conflict snuffed out that hope. 

Activists who had joined those movements out of principle realized that many of their peers were motivated instead by agenda. Many activists, journalists, parties and governments that cheered the removal of pro-Western dictators at the outset of the Arab Spring suddenly found all manner of excuses to support the one in Damascus. To them, Syrians are less deserving of basic human rights because they do not fit into a certain worldview.

“Human rights activists and witnesses said Syrian security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters in Deraa, killing 25 and wounding hundreds.”

Wire story on Arab News front page, March 16, 2011

Worse, their popular struggle to secure those rights has been met with contempt and deception. Assad and his supporters are using the Israeli propaganda playbook. Meanwhile, the global political left, which had historically positioned itself as a champion of human rights and an opponent of imperialism, is full of people for whom rights are selective, and for whom only the West is capable of imperialism.

The invasion of Iraq was opposed worldwide, but there was no illusion of Saddam Hussein as being a benevolent or misunderstood leader. Yet Assad, who is no less brutal, is the subject of hero worship.

The “war on terror” narrative nurtured by him and his supporters — and copied from Israel and the US — has led to suspicion and demonization of millions of Syrian refugees fleeing to neighboring countries, Europe and further afield. The current rise of populism in Europe and elsewhere can be attributed in considerable measure to this anti-refugee sentiment. 

Like the rest of the media, Arab News had to cover the conflict from beyond the actual warzone due to the inherent physical danger and because of access restrictions. Here too, the Assad regime took a leaf out of Israel’s and America’s book of war strategy: Deny access to a warzone, then dismiss all accounts, footage and citizen journalism from there as propaganda because it is unverified.




A page from the Arab News archive showing the news on March 16, 2011.

As an Arab proud of my heritage and privileged with freedoms that are denied to so many of my ethnic kin, my main motivation for becoming a journalist was to give a voice to Arabs silenced either by their own governments or by media bias and misrepresentation in the West. 

Over the decades, there has been much cause for despair, but for me — as an Arab, a journalist and a proponent of universal human rights — what has happened in Syria has elevated that despair to a whole new level. 

That country — historically known for its civilization, culture, hospitality, tolerance and diversity — is where the words “never again” have gone to die, buried under the rubble of a hospital or hanging from a regime torture cell as the rest of the world has either looked away or cheered on.

  • Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and commentator on Arab affairs.


Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm
Updated 43 min 15 sec ago

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm
  • Turkey’s Karadeniz supplies electricity to Lebanon from power barges

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Karadeniz, which supplies electricity to Lebanon from power barges, told Beirut to halt action by the Lebanese prosecutor to seize its vessels and said it must draw up a plan to settle arrears to avoid a cut in supplies, a spokesperson said.
The spokesperson for Karpowership, a unit of Karadeniz that operates floating power plants, was speaking on Tuesday after Lebanon’s Finance Ministry cited a lawmaker saying the country had been threatened with a cut to its supplies.
A Lebanese prosecutor issued a decision last week to seize the barges and fine the firm after TV channel Al-Jadeed reported corruption allegations tied to the power contract. The firm denies the charges and says it has not been paid for 18 months.


Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday
Updated 58 min 18 sec ago

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday
  • Sweden of 10 million inhabitants registered 44 new deaths, taking the total to 14,217
  • The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks

STOCKHOLM: Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has registered 13,812 new coronavirus cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed on Tuesday.
The figure compared with 14,950 cases during the corresponding period last week.
The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 44 new deaths, taking the total to 14,217.
The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.
Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbors’ but lower than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.


Suez Canal boss reveals expansion plans as revenues jump on trade rebound

Suez Canal boss reveals expansion plans as revenues jump on trade rebound
Updated 11 May 2021

Suez Canal boss reveals expansion plans as revenues jump on trade rebound

Suez Canal boss reveals expansion plans as revenues jump on trade rebound
  • Revenues rose almost 16 percent in April to $551million

RIYADH: Suez Canal revenues rose almost 16 percent in April to $551 million compared to a year earlier, Asharq Business reported, citing Suez Canal Authority Chairman Osama Rabie.
Rabie also discussed plans to expand and deepen the southern sector of the canal in which the container ship Ever Given was stuck in March, creating chaos across the global supply chain.
That incident which brought a large proportion of seaborne trade to a near halt for a week, highlighted the need to ensure the  smooth operation of the key trade artery.
Rabie also revealed plans for dredging works for the maintenance of the navigational channel of the canal.
A plan is being implemented to restructure the authority’s companies, he said.
This year witnessed a slight increase in the number of ships passing through the waterway to 1,840 in April 2021 from 1,731 in April 2020, Al Arabiya reported.


Renowned US authors Tayari Jones, Brent Weeks join Abu Dhabi Book Fair lineup

US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)
US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)
Updated 11 May 2021

Renowned US authors Tayari Jones, Brent Weeks join Abu Dhabi Book Fair lineup

US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: Renowned US fantasy author Brent Weeks, US author Tayari Jones, Emirati writer Eman Alyousuf and Kuwaiti writer Taleb Alrefai are all set to participate at the upcoming Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Organised by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre at the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, the 30th edition of ADIBF will see the participation of more than 800 exhibitors from 46 countries around the world, and will comprise more than 104 virtual and physical sessions.

Dr. Ali bin Tamim, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, said: “Despite the challenges we have faced in the wake of the pandemic, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is committed to ramping up its efforts to support the publishing industry and to promote cross-cultural dialogue. We are proud to host this event which reinforces our position as one of the most prominent intellectual and literary forums in region, and gives us the opportunity to highlight Arab literary output while simultaneously celebrating the pioneers of arts and culture from across the world.”

As part of its cultural programme, the fair will feature the artistic and literary works of authors and artists from multiple fields. Among those will be American author Tayari Jones, considered one of the most important writers of her generation, who will hold a session to discuss her latest work. In another session, the fantasy great Weeks will talk about the importance of science fiction novels in transporting readers away from the monotony of their daily lives. Providing a regional perspective, Kuwait’s Alrefai will participate in a dialogue with Emirati writer Alyousuf, to discuss how the pandemic has encouraged reading.

British television presenter and historian Bettany Hughes will join a conversation about the impact of plagues and pandemics on civilisations, while Emirati writer Sultan Al-Amimi will speak about with the importance of short stories and their role in enhancing literary diversity. .


Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave
Updated 54 min 33 sec ago

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave
  • The size of the workforce was estimated at 29,284 million, compared to 29,965 million during the previous quarter

RIYADH: Egypt’s unemployment rate reached 7.4 percent of the total labor force in the first quarter of 2021 — up from 7.2 percent in the previous quarter.
The new data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), reflects the impact of the second wave of the pandemic.
The size of the workforce was estimated at 29,284 million, compared to 29,965 million during the previous quarter, representing a decrease of 2.3 percent, Al Arabiya reported.
The labor force in urban areas reached 13,034 million, with 16,250 million living in rural areas.
Gehan Saleh, economic affairs adviser to Egypt’s prime minister said in April that the second stage of the country’s economic reform program would be launched soon.
She said the plan aims to improve the quality of life of citizens and tackle unemployment through job-creating investments.