Syria’s Collapse Would Send Seismic Waves Through Region

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has moved into its fifth month of quelling protests and its future is uncertain. During the month of Ramadan in August, there may be escalating violence as thousands of believers exit the mosques after evening prayers to join the protests.

If the Syrian army continues to pledge loyalty to the Assad regime and the protests carry out unabated, the country may gradually devolve into a slow but frightening civil war between the army and anti-regime factions, Assad loyalists, and opposition members — mainly between the majority Sunni Muslim sect and the governing Alawite Muslim sect. In all cases, instability in Syria would emit waves ominous to long-run regional security. Exhausting the security regime in Syria may permit terrorist organizations and Salafi movements to operate without constraint.

Syria shares a 600-kilometer border with Iraq that allows Al-Qaeda groups to expand their base of operations covering Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, and threaten Turkey as a promoter of moderate political Islam. The Assad regime also holds the keys to movements such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. The fall of the regime may remove the liaison connecting Hezbollah to its supply base in Iran, but would not necessarily cripple the movement altogether.

On the contrary, Hezbollah may seize the opportunity to establish bases and cooperatives in an unstable Syria to ensure a continuous inflow of arms. Lebanon may also be again subject to extreme political polarization as its Syrian-backed government confronts staunch criticism from the Western-backed opposition. Israel might find itself dealing with an array of non-state actors mushrooming within Syria as opposed to tacitly signaling political messages to its Syrian counterpart. Moreover, Iran will seek to play a more proactive role in the affairs of Bahrain as its gateway to gaining a foothold in Gulf affairs, after having lost an ally in Syria. The collapse of the Syrian regime may trigger change in the Kingdom of Jordan, which would in turn threaten other Arab monarchs as well.

But, the solution to Syria’s predicament should involve a promising package of internal reforms as well as harnessing more solid external relations.

The Syrian government should attempt to introduce sweeping reforms culminating in a modern political system based on party-structures, political pluralism, democratic measures, accountability, and transparency. Perpetrators of violations within all echelons of state and society should be given a fair trial and sentenced according to Syrian law. The outdated economic policies should be supplanted with new policies that befit Syrian society and globalization patterns to jump-start Syria into the global economy. The emphasis should be on economic development and rapid ruralization in order to bridge the internal inequality gap. That said, Syria should form a bulwark of regional partners and allies to support its position on the international level.

If the government does not forge sustainable diplomatic relations with states such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, in addition to putting forth an all-encompassing set of reforms, the regime risks losing political clout nationally and internationally. 

Even if the Assad regime manages to restore order to the country, a Syria on the margins of Arab politics is far weaker than one actively engaged in the affairs of the Arab heartland.

Photo Credit: syriana2011

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Joe Helou

Joe Helou is a political researcher and analyst. He holds a BA in economics and an MA in international relations. Some of Helou’s research interests include conflict resolution, global governance of energy, international security risk factors, and public policy as well as topics pertaining to the Middle East and Arab Gulf.

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