Probably few people could imagine the consequences of a tragic incident in mid-December 2010 in a small provincial town in Tunisia, where brought to despair young man set fire to himself. Only after two months the wrath and the claim of squares led to the resignation of the Presidents of Tunisia and Egypt and the Libyan crisis entered in its decisive phase.
The definition, which the events received from here onwards – “Arab spring,” was contested by counter-definition – “Islamic autumn.” The problem is not in the finished completeness of definitions, but in the circuit of national and global implications of this deep political change. Because it is evident; what countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Syria inherited from 1960s and 1970s in its political structure, has proved to be vulnerable in the beginning of the second decade of the next century. Vulnerable to varying degrees were the highly centralized, militarized, authoritarian, but secular regimes in the Maghreb and in the Mediterranean countries.
The Arab spring awoke up and regenerated a whole world of historic, ethnic and confessional potential conflicts, which further complicates any analysis and makes any forecast vulnerable. But even at this intermediate stage in the evolution of the Syrian crisis, some preliminary analytical notes are possible.
What distinguishes the Syrian from the Libyan crisis?
The family Al-Assad have gained and retained power almost simultaneously with Gaddafi, but historical tradition in both states had unprecedented power. The Syrian leaders Hafez al-Assad (1970-2000) and his son Bashar al-Assad in many respects were logical inheritors of the Arab imperial culture in all its diversity.
Hafez al-Assad had incomparably greater political experience in comparison to Muammar Gaddafi; he was an active participant in several conspiracies, coups and counter-coups from the second half of the 1960s. Moreover, his ideology was clearer and better organized. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party had a strong structure, influence and international contacts. Al-Assad had clearly formulated national program after the war of 1973; this was the restoration of the Golan Heights in the borders of the Syrian State. His dream was to get one day in the demolished and deserted Golan’s capital Quneitra and to eradicate the consequences of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
The beginning of the Syrian crisis of March-April 2011 was a local conflict with violence and subsequent human victims in Deraa – a region, marked by conflicts for more than 30 years. For the Libyan crisis all were informed in advance and the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi was a clearly formulated objective by powerful countries.
The regime of Gaddafi has proven to be highly corrupt and very fast: its most prominent representatives — ministers, commanders of military units, and diplomats requested protection from the newly formed opposition.
In Syria desertion from military outfits is a fact, but as a whole army and officers’ corps retained loyalty to Bashar al-Assad. At this stage the Syrian opposition is positioned in the border areas with Turkey, and the only person who was displayed before the cameras is the Brigadier-General Mustafa Ahmad Al-Sheikh.
The attempts to unite the forces of the Syrian Liberation Army, Syrian National Council, groups of patriotic and left wing organizations, despite all the efforts of European and American Syrian diaspora, has failed.
In opposition to al-Assad regime are the organizations of kurdish minority in Syria: over 1,5 million people, who in recent months has united in two political blocks-Kurdish National Council and the Kurdish Union of Democratic Forces. At this stage, the messages from the Syrian kurds contain heterogeneous signals – from clearly stated desire for putting end to the regime of al-Assad to programmatic request for federalization of Syria like Iraq and formation of Kurdish autonomy.
These requests only confirm the thesis that Syrian kurds remember well the collisions with the National Guard in 2004 in Southwest Kurdistan and distrust the President and his entourage; at the same time they do not wish to flow in organizations like the Syrian National Council, unifying radical Islamists and extreme nationalists, and they discourage any foreign military invasion.
In the Syrian crisis there is a sharp confessional problem- the presence of alavit minority headed by the al-Assads clan with dominant positions in country government in the last 40 years. The confessional conflicts are extremely long, since they are evolving on values, and not at the political level.
Muammar Gaddafi regime was condemned because only a month after the first clashes in Benghazi it was already clear that it does not have the minimum international support and there are almost no chances to withstand the military-political and media pressure of the coalition of European and Arabic countries.
Bashar al-Assad regime is a strategic ally of Russia for the entire period since 1973, of Iran in the last 25 years, and of China in the last decade. Russia and China have exercised veto of two Security Council Resolutions in October 2011 and in February 2012, which in many ways had to legitimize the military campaign of the United States-EU- Arab League Coalition.
Moreover, during the most active anti-Syria media campaign, the external Minister of Russia and the head of the Russian Intelligence visited Damascus to seek a new line in the negotiations on the outcome of the civil war. The Syrian crisis highly affects the national security of Israel also, which adds one additional chain of interrelated circumstances.
At the same tome many characteristics of Lybian scenarios were transferred to Syrian ground.
In the first place – veterans of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya were transferred. It is difficult to believe that the peaceful population of some Syrian cities would maintain the attacks of the Syrian special units for weeks – the Fourth Armoured Unit and the National Guard.
Second, the individual terrorist attacks by cars with bombs, which have a heavy effect on the population, clearly suggest the methodology of veterans of the Iraqi al-Qaeda.
Third – the continuing attempts to set up a territory under the control of the Syrian Liberation Army, which like in Benghazi will become a place for concentration of rebel forces, at this stage appears unachievable.
Unlike the Libyan crisis, in the civil war in Syria the Islamic radicals have announced publicly their position. On 12 February, 2012, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri expressed the organizations support to overthrow Assad’s regime.