It’s high time Megoracle cast its inquiry further afield and paid closer attention to the plight of Other People. Navel gazing has featured too readily, which can become a little tedious, especially given that navel gazing is not naval gazing – staring lustily at strapping young uniformed men in boats (which is what I thought until fairly recently) – but contemplating one’s tummy button.
Incidentally, when I gaze at my navel (which is never – instead I inspect it with contempt since its general appearance is sort of exhausted post twin pregnancy), here’s what I think:
There is my navel
And there is my mum
Amazing how I
Was inside her tum.
Anyway, enough of it, navel gazing. I want to know what’s happening in Syria. I hear about it all the time but seem to switch off, using the old, “Oh dear, more violence, must find out why one day.” So here I am, finding out, because there are people suffering terribly over there.
Where is Syria?
Right next door to Iraq and Lebanon, below Turkey and above Saudi Arabia. Population 20.82 million people.
A Potted History Please…
It was under Ottoman rule for 400 years until 1918, when the Arab States, backed by the British Empire, captured the capital Damascus. It came under Arab self rule following the fall of the German/Ottoman Empire in WW1.
In 1920 the French took over and remained in control of Syrian/Lebanese armed forces and economy until 1946 when the last French troops left them to independence.
After a bit of civil argy-bargy, Syria – along with Egypt – joined the United Arab Republic (UAR) in 1958. The Egyptian president headed the new state.
In 1963 a group of grumpy Syrian army officers decided that Egypt were too dominant in the UAR and seized Damascus. A Baathist (secular, socialist and Pan-Arab Unionist) cabinet was appointed.
In 1966, an internal coup overthrew the Baath leadership and Hafez al-Assad became defence minister.
In 1967, Israeli forces seized the Golan Heights from Syria and destroyed much of the Syrian air force in the 6 day war with Egypt, Syria and Jordan. This sparked a conflict that will ripple through decades to come.
In 1971, Assad was elected president in a kind of referendum called a plebiscite. In 1973 his army suppressed riots incited by people protesting against Assad’s non-Muslim regime.
Skipping ahead to 2000 when, after years of conflict with Lebanon and Israel, an alliance with Allied Powers was formed. This was partly as a result of the Kuwait conflict. Syria enjoyed some tenuous stability which proved to be largely based on suppression. This year, Assad died and his son Bashar came to power.
Bashar Assad ordered the release of 600 political prisoners and an outlawed Muslim brotherhood resumed political activity. But in 2001, the detention of pro-reform activists and politicians suggested a return to authoritarianism.
During this time, the US claimed Syrian involvement in Terrorism and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction. In 2006, the US embassy in Damascus was attacked by 4 gunmen.
In 2007, the US accused North Korea of helping Syria build a covert nuclear reactor at a site bombed by Israel in 2007. (Eeek, I don’t remember that, sounds all a bit too cold war-ish for my liking).
In Sept 2008, Syria hosted a 4 way summit between Syria, France, Turkey and Qatar in an effort to bring on Middle East peace. Islamist Extremists allegedly killed 17 on the outskirts of Damascus. Diplomatic rift-repair-rifts continue. In 2010, the US renewed sanctions against Syria, citing terrorist involvement and arms deals with Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
IN SHORT THINGS HAVE LONG BEEN A BIT UNSTABLE, UNFATHOMABLE, SUSPICIOUS and DODGY in SYRIA.
What’s the story with the current conflict?
Well in March, 2011, in the midst of the Arab Spring, protests in Syria demanding the release of political prisoners result in a number of protesters dead at the hands of security forces. This triggers a wave of violent civilian anger and a general clamour for improved economic strategy, civil liberties and political freedom. It spreads throughout Syria over subsequent months. Assad, despite accusing the protesters of being Israeli agents and sending tanks into conflict hotspots, grants amnesty to political prisoners in an attempt to assuage the rising anger.
Thenceforth we have seen an intensifying civil war between armed rebels and government forces. The UN estimates that 80,000 people have been killed and 1 million people displaced since the war began.
So is this – for once – not grounded in religion?
Actually it has a lot to do with religion, of course. The Assad family (and therefore the Government) is Alawite (a minority Muslim group whose persecution goes back many, many bitter years) while the rest of the country is mostly Sunni (one of the main Muslim groups), and the whole shit fight is grounded in sectarian violence (violence between sects).
Who are the rebels?
They are made up of many groups, the main one being the Free Syrian Army, which is a collective of civilian volunteers and some military defectors. There is some doubt about the unity and cohesion of all the rebel groups.
Who is Winning?
The rebels are strong in number and have proven their ability to attack the regime. But the Government militia is better armed, better organised and has a scary presence in the air. But both sides are horribly ruthless – they have, amongst other things, filmed themselves beating people to death and eating human hearts for all the world to see. Are there any winners in all this horror?
What is being done to help?
Well there’s the Western imposed sanctions, which to me seems pretty pathetic against such an existential struggle. It doesn’t seem as though anyone’s thinking about the economy anymore. Humanitarian efforts are hampered by violence and UN diplomatic efforts abandoned due to the danger.
Sunni-led countries in the Middle East appear to be sending arms to the rebels, while Iran is supporting the regime.
Why should we care?
For a start, this is a humanitarian crisis on a grand scale. The Syrian regime are reportedly combating the rebels with increasing ruthlessness – committing horrific atrocities like burning tiny babies and ripping foetuses from women’s wombs. I don’t like upsetting people on Megoracle and I’m already sickened by the images I have found, but it’s important to know these things. It’s important to remember that every person fighting on both sides is a human being with family and dreams and loves.
This from the New York Times:
Images of the killings in and around Baniyas have transfixed Syrians. In one video that residents say shows victims in Ras al-Nabeh, the bodies of at least seven children and several adults lie tangled and bloody on a rain-soaked street. A baby girl, naked from the waist down, stares skyward, tiny hands balled into fists. Her round face is unblemished, but her belly is darkened and her legs and feet are charred into black cinders.
And add to this the fact that tens of thousands of people are now without a home, or displaced from their home. We should care about them too.
And we should care that Syria and it’s conflict is deep at the heart of the whole Middle East clusterfuck. It reflects tensions between the US and Iran, between Iran and Sunni Muslims everywhere and between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims everywhere. It will – due to Syria’s alliance with Palestine – impact the Israel Palestine problem, and it has the potential to inflame everything to the extent of the war in Iraq.
Is there a solution?
Well if the world knew that then they’d be trying to implement it wouldn’t they? Okay, don’t get shirty and answer a question with a question. What I mean is, heck, what the bejesus is going to happen?
Yes, it looks impossible. What form do negotiations take under these hideous, highly volatile conditions?
As Syrian blogger Ahmad Abu al-Khair states, “How can we reach a point of national forgiveness?” He is from the town of Bayda, where 800 people are missing. Crikey, don’t let me whinge about a bushfire that claimed no-one ever again.
It’s all certainly taken my mind off my navel.
Please note – this is a very complicated and multi-faceted issue, with many different groups holding stakes in the conflict. I have just brushed on it here. Also, reports coming out of Syria possibly tainted by bias, sensationalism and outright bunkum. The senior members of the rebel movement – the ones able to communicate effectively – have essentially been wiped out, leaving less experienced leaders whose primary focus is arming themselves. The situation over there is very dangerous for journalists, the Government will report what suits them and as a result, it is difficult to ascertain precisely what is happening.
Tags: alawite, Arab Spring, Assad, atrocities, civil war, Damascus, humanitarian crisis, Lebanon, Middle East, Middle East conflict, Muslim, navel gazing, Sunni, syria, syrian conflict, War, war crimes
Oh crumbs, what a godawful mess. I have been feeling naggingly disturbed about how little I know about what is going on in Syria for ages. And now that I know a bit I still feel disturbed, and despondent, and very sad. But the need to know this stuff outweighs the need to avoid sadness I reckon. So thank you!