More Questions than Answers in Syria

The civil war in Syria has lasted for more than two years and is not showing any sign of being resolved in the near future. What many believed would be a short revolution like that seen in other countries during the Arab Spring in 2011 has turned into a conflict with no end in sight and with dire humanitarian consequences. However, that the neighbouring countries play, and will play, an important role in solving the crisis in Syria is indisputable.

On Friday 25th October Senior Research Fellow at NUPI, Sverre Lodgaard, placed the conflict in a regional perspective at a lunch seminar at the Oslo Center.

A fragmented opposition

The conflict in Syria is a complex myriad of different actors fighting for a number of reasons with different goals in sight. On the one hand we find the military force, consisting of different minority groups, loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. On the other hand we find a fragmented opposition struggling to find a common platform from which they will launch their fight against the Assad family’s decade-long dictatorship.

Lodgaard also points to the problem that the opposition is becoming increasingly radicalised. Groups with ties to al-Qaeda have now joined the conflict, fighting against the Assad regime, albeit with their own agenda at hand. The consequences of this reach far beyond the problem of establishing a stable opposition, it also affects the support the opposition gets from countries in and around the Middle East.

Regional reactions

Syria’s neighbouring countries are significantly divided in their opinion and views on the situation in Syria. Iran has shown its support to Assad, mainly because Assad is considered a strong supporter of Iran’s fight against Israel. Israel fears a Syria in complete dissolution. Despite the strained relationship these two countries have, Israel believe they will still benefit from having a stable neighbouring country led by Assad.

Saudi Arabia has shown its support to the opposition both financially and by sending weapons. Egypt has more than enough challenges on its own, and Jordan has long been a close ally to the United States and thus acts accordingly.

Turkey and Syria have longstanding relations, however after the outbreak of the civil war this relationship has become increasingly strained. Turkey is experiencing a large wave of refugees coming from Syria, and politically there is a concern that the conflict in Syria can strengthen the Kurdish separatist movement PKK.

What these countries have in common is the wish to keep the al-Qaeda affiliated groups out of any possible peace negotiations.  However, there  is little evidence that suggests that these groups actually want to join such negotiations.

The road ahead

There are few who are able to give an affirmative answer as to what the road ahead could and should like. The international community seems to have come to a deadlock in terms of finding a political solution. Nonetheless, is it quite clear that countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran will all play key roles in finding a sustainable political solution for Syria.

It is also possible that the conflict will have to phase out on its own. In other words the different parties will come to a “mutually hurting stalemate”. Considering the willingness to continue fighting on the side of the opposition, it unfortunately looks like it will take a while until we get there.

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