Leiden Safety and Security Blog

Syria: Assad or opposition?

Syria: Assad or opposition?

Western reluctance to become militarily involved keeps the Syrian secular opposition powerless, leaving Syria one alternative for the Assad-regime: Radical Sunni opposition groups. If these seize power, Syria as a multi-ethnic nation-state will cease to exist. That is the overall conclusion of the symposium The Syrian Civil War: Regional Impacts and Perspectives, organized by the Kurdish Institute of Paris.

In absence of strong secular Syrian opposition groups, radical Sunni Muslim rebels supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar dominate the fight against the Iran supported Assad-regime. The plan for an autonomous Kurdish region within northern Syria reflects concerns among the country’s minorities regarding a post-Assad Syria. The Sunni opposition does not reach out to Syria’s Alawite, Christian, or Kurdish minorities. Slogans among opposition fighters, such as ‘Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the grave’ reinforce fear of retribution or repression and estrange minorities from the opposition. So far within the civil war, the Alawites therefore support the regime, while Christians try to remain neutral. If the opposition gains the upper hand in the conflict, the remainder of the regime might establish a secured Alawite  area, causing a further de facto Balkanization of Syria . Such a split up is not new. Recognizing its complex sectarian structures, French rulers divide Syria in three regions during the mandate era (1922-1939): A Sunni central/northern region, an Alawite coastal region and a Druze southern region. A post-Assad Syria – or what is left of it – might resemble such a model.

Whether the Balkanization of Syria is desirable is a valid question, especially  with this scenario in mind. The answer depends on the chosen perspective and is too complex to answer here. Suffice to note that the Middle East is already a volatile region with a relatively stable Syria  that accepts the regional status quo. Several smaller entities replacing the Syrian state create  an even more uncertain future for the region. The regional balance is already different from just before the start of the civil war: Arch rivals such as Iran and Israel now share an interest in keeping Assad in power.

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