The Arab Spring: Its Geostrategic Significance by Mohammed Ayoob, ISPU Adjunct Scholar

Policy Report Summary

The Syrian Civil War includes Iran and Turkey, which have widened the conflict’s reach. Turkey supports the Sunni-dominated opposition against the Asad regime, as does Saudi Arabia, which has sectarian and ethnic differences with Iran. Iran supports Asad because his government supplies the Lebanese Hezbollah with financial and military aid. Saudis supply the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups with weapons.

As the opposition’s cause is accepted as justified by the international community, and Asad’s Defense Minister and brother-in-law have been killed, Ayoob believes that the Asad regime is coming to an end. Further complications arise with the inclusion of Russia and China, who tolerate Asad’s regime and have vetoed UN Security Council resolutions against Syria

Russia is averse to a Libyan-style military intervention that would damage its role in Syria, its only ally in the Arab Mediterranean. The US, however, which considers Iran its political and ideological foe, sees Asad as a danger also because his support for Hezbollah would cause attacks against American and Israeli targets as retaliation for attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. Still, the US doesn’t have any plans for a post-Asad Syria and is afraid of creating another Iraq if it invades to intervene. While covertly supporting the disunited opposition groups in Syria, the US has refrained from a military intervention that might cause total anarchy.

Bahrain, which houses the Fifth Fleet, the American naval base in the Middle East, can be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The pro-Iranian Shia population in Bahrain complicates issues further; considering a democratic overthrow of the Sunni-led monarchy, it could create another natural ally for Shia Iran. Saudi Arabia, like the US, has been a massive support to Bahrain’s monarchy against Iran and is keeping Iran preoccupied with Syria so that it doesn’t gain an advantage in the Persian Gulf and Bahrain. Still, it is vulnerable as it’s led by octogenarians, lacks genuine political institutions and has to rely simply on cash to influence events.

Egypt, which has been the only Middle Eastern ally to Israel for 30 years, might now change its policy due to democratic change that sees Israel as a threat, which makes Israel nervous. Israel’s gain from the fall of Asad’s regime (Iran’s ally) may vanish quickly if it’s replaced with a pro-Palestinian Islamist government- like in Egypt – which would also cause tensions in the Israeli-Syrian border. The US-Israeli relationship would also suffer as the US has unequivocal support for Asad’s removal.

Egypt will stay fixated on the domestic struggle for power at the expense of expanding its regional role. Iraq has been significantly weakened after the 2003 US-led invasion and war, which leaves it unable to influence the region or the world politically.

Israel’s political position in the region is likely to weaken further given the US’s disengagement from the Middle East after the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most people in the Middle East see Israel as a “pariah” state with no legitimacy in regional politics.

Turkey is seen as a role model for a Middle Eastern democracy and is supportive of the Arab Spring. Iran is also supportive, although for a different reason. Khamenei sees the Arab revolutions as empowering militant groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and other Shia extremists, but is primarily concerned with empowering Shia populations against Sunnis. Both countries would rather avid the creation of a Kurdish state, which could result from a disintegration of Iraq.


Christina Abraham meets with South African leaders to urge support for Syria

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CAIR-Chicago’s Civil Rights director, Christina Abraham, traveled to South Africa last week in order to persuade the government to condemn president Bashar al-Assad’s military assault on Syrian anti-government protesters. Abraham, a Syrian-American, went in her personal capacity as a part of a delegation of pro-Syrian human rights activists including human rights lawyer Yaser Tabbara and civil rights activist Iyas Maleh. Members of the delegation met with the African National Congress (ANC) and South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-Operation, Ebrahim Ebrahim.

While South Africans are sympathetic toward the Syrian citizens who are suffering human rights abuses, the South African government is hesitant to take action against Assad’s regime for political reasons. According to Minister Ebrahim, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is reluctant to support Syrian protesters, given the country’s disapproval of NATO’s actions in Libya. The Syrian delegation clarified the difference between the two countries’ uprisings with evidence that the rallies in Syria are wholly non-violent and peaceful. Syrian citizens have not asked for military support, instead choosing civil disobedience. Abraham contends that Syrian civilians should not be made to pay the price of political differences between UNSC and South Africa.

“What is occurring in Syria unequivocally constitutes crimes against humanity and international pressure is paramount at this critical time. We live in an increasingly integrated world, and the immediate actions of non-western powers could save the lives of countless innocent civilians,” Abraham stated.

Al-Assad’s brutal regime has targeted political dissidents, killing 1,300, and injuring and detaining thousands. Human rights abuses such as torture, systematic rape, and kidnapping have also been used against Syrian civilians as a means to quell resistance. About 12,000 Syrians have fled the country as refugees. Protesters are demanding basic civil liberties such as constitutional protection for Syrian citizens which would provide food, jobs, housing, and education to the poor.