Strategic Crisis in Syria, Critical Discourse in MENA, and the Way Ahead

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

Since the beginning of the third millennium, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions have been prone to the emergence of such discourses as justice, soft resistance, support and emancipation. One of the most important emerging discourses in the MENA, both in the public opinion and among politicians of MENA countries, is the critical discourse. The beginning of Russia’s airstrikes in Syria from October has given rise to critical actions and dominance of the critical discourse in management of the strategic crisis in Syria.

The emergence, rise, expansion and dominance of the critical discourse about the performance of internal and external actors in the MENA during developments related to management of the strategic crisis in Syria can be discussed from various viewpoints. As a result, performances of the Arab-Western and Turkish front, the Russian front, the Syrian government front, the front of Iran and its allies, and the front consisting of ethnic and racial minorities in the region are all open to criticism.

The first criticism of the approach taken by the Arab-Western and Turkish front to management of the crisis in Syria is about this front’s proclaimed approaches and actions it has taken to blindly support the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology as well as the emphasis put on the need for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, which was evident in remarks and positions taken by major officials in the US, the UK, France as well as Arab and Turkish officials from day one of the crisis along, which was accompanied  with the expulsion of Syria from the Arab League. The effort made to give weapons to anti-Assad armed opposition in Syria immediately following developments in 2011, especially likening developments in Syria to those in Egypt and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria without having a clear future outlook for arming these groups, cooperation in intelligence gathering with Assad’s opposition by Western-Arab and Turkish intelligence bodies, and entering into proxy wars are other critical points raised about this front.

Inability to create coalition and forge global consensus as well as inability to get the United Nations Security Council’s authorization for military intervention and instrumental use of the NATO can be added to the above list. Other issues that have raised criticism of this front include convening conferences under the general title of friends of Syria; official recognition of Syria’s transitional government outside the country’s borders instead of negotiation and consultation with the Syrian government and its regional allies like Russia and Iran through Paris, Geneva 1 and Geneva 2 conferences; unquestioning military, intelligence, security and political cooperation with regional countries that are opposed to Syria’s political system such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar; as well as ignoring the risk of terrorism which could have followed the power void in Syria and Iraq.

Other issues that have increased criticism of the aforesaid front include Saudi Arabia’s support for jihadist and Wahhabi fatwas issued by Syrian ulema living in Saudi Arabia, including the fatwa issued by al-Aroor; taking advantage of such important media outlets as Aljazeera and al-Arabiya, as well as satellite channels and the cyber space to implement the idea of jihad as purported by the Syrian clerics in view of the Sunni majority in the Syrian society; equating political opposition and militant groups with Assad’s government and not differentiating between terrorist groups and other political groups opposed to Assad like what is currently called moderate opposition groups; direct and indirect emphasis on religious conflicts and Shia-Sunni divide; as well as military intervention aimed at paving the way for ethnicism, secessionism, sectarianism and belated democratic decivilized behavior for the realization of the idea of clash of civilizations.

As for Russia, major criticism of Moscow’s behavior in Syria include passive and belated reactions to developments in Syria, which now after about five years of the beginning of the crisis has gotten suddenly involved in Syria’s developments; Russia’s vetoing of draft resolutions offered by the Western states at the UN Security Council without presenting a clear model as well as substitute, constructive and nonmilitary proposals; and choosing for a military solution to Syria’s problems without due attention to its negative security and strategic consequences for Syria. Other critical points about the approach taken by the Russian front include insisting on a unilateral Eurasianist approach in the face of terrorism with emphasis on militaristic tools without cooperation with other countries taking part in anti-Daesh coalition; ignoring the role of Russia’s allies when the West was making mistakes; extreme inattention to the so-called Arab Spring developments and allowing its main allies along the Mediterranean to fall.

As for the Syrian government itself, effective inattention to political and civil renovation; inability to predict use of riot police in the face of possible civil protests; inability to manage the crisis in an optimal manner; as well as making tactical, operational and strategic mistakes by parts of the Syrian armed forces and Bashar Assad’s army are among the most important critical points raised about Syrian government’s behavioral approach to the strategic crisis in Syria.

Inability to correctly explain potential and active diplomatic and mediatory capacities of Iran and its allies such as the Lebanese Hezbollah as well as media weakness of this front and inability to reflect its activities in a transparent and powerful manner in mainstream media are major critical points related to this front. Not making optimal use of the liberated potential of this front by the Western and Eastern fronts in the light of the Iran Deal is another criticism targeted at actors in this front with regard to management of the crisis in Syria as a result of which this front has been mostly represented as a military and paramilitary front.

Kurds, especially the Izadi Kurds, have been among the most important victims of Syria crisis. Major criticism of this front is not taking the Daesh threat seriously when it was still in the offing; acting in an emotional and sensational manner throughout the crisis; and seriously following up on pan-Kurdish ideas in early stages of the crisis while ignoring relations among big powers as well as emerging equations.

The emergence and rise of the critical discourse with regard to management of the strategic crisis in Syria is continuation of the equations and emerging discourses in the political, strategic and intellectual chess in the MENA. There is also strong criticism of the performance of such actors like Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey as well as such international bodies as the NATO, the European Union, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC], the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the United Nations and the Arab League in this regard. Violation of human rights and international humanitarian law; violation of the norms of international community; violation of the contents of the four Geneva Conventions; violation of the rule of jus cogens; massacre of children and civilians; undermining the civil society and promoting sectarianism are other issues over which criticism has been raised with regard to management of the crisis in Syria.

As the criticism of various fronts that have been involved in management of the strategic crisis in Syria continues to rise, differences as well as separatist and sectarian tendencies will develop for many years in the MENA, while any kind of pacifist ideas will be denounced and rejected in the MENA.

Key Words: Syria, Strategic Crisis, Critical Discourse, Middle East, North Africa, Internal and External Actors, Fronts, Arabs, Western, Turkey, Russia, Syrian Government, Iran, Allies, Ethnic and Racial Minorities, Criticism, Khoshandam

More By Behzad Khoshandam:

*Why West and East Are to Blame for Syria’s Strategic Crisis?: 

*Russia, US and China Playing with Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran Cards:

*Daesh Making, Daesh-ism, and Daesh-phobia in Iran’s Peripheral Regions:

*Photo Credit: FAO.Org