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K.S. Abu Jaber: The Syria Crisis

Speech at the UPF Interfaith Consultation on the Crisis in Syria
Amman, Jordan, October 11-13, 2013

Published in Dialogue & Alliance, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2013

It is in these gatherings of concerned and distinguished individuals that one should speak freely. We are talking about Syria, not only one of the most important countries of the Arab world but, until this day, called by Arab nationalities Um al-’Urubah, mother of Arabism.

In many ways and from earliest times, Syria, housed in the Ghuta, the depression, with Damascus, the oldest city in human history in continuous habitation at its center, has been the heart of the Fertile Crescent.

That what happens in Syria quickly reflects itself on the surrounding lands is a fact well understood by the ancients as well as the most recent of empires.

Is what is happening in Syria a natural sequel to its internal situation, its mosaic culture having been woven together following World War I into the Sunni, Shi’a, Alawite, Druze, Christian tapestry that, had there been no outside interference, might have remained intact, albeit controlled by a highly centralized autocratic and despotic state that, at least since the 1960s, wrapped itself in the cloak of the Ba’th party with its appealing slogan: “Freedom, Unity, Socialism”? Or is it, as professed by many, the result of outside interference and manipulation?

Posing this question is in no way a defense of the regime but merely put forward to remind people of the price that Syria and the Arabs are paying under the slogan of “getting rid of the Assad regime.” And will ridding Syria of Assad rid it of Assadism, since it is obvious that Tunis is not rid of Zainism, Libya of Qaddafism, Yemen of Salihismn, or Egypt of Mubarakism?

These are difficult, indeed almost impossible, questions that need to be pondered, especially as the so-called Arab Spring or, rather, Cold Winter, with its “creative chaos” does not seem to have brought democracy, stability or prosperity.

To my mind, one of the most important things brought to light by the so-called Arab Spring is the fragility of the Arab regimes which so easily collapsed, like a house of cards. Previous to their collapse, they struck terror in the hearts of the average citizen and were regarded as leviathan monoliths with several layers of secret police spying on each other for the benefit of the rulers. The current belief at that time was that a fly could not cross the border of the country or move within it without the authorities being alerted and aware; the walls not only had ears to hear but eyes to see as well.

How and from whence did the thousands of “free” fighters, well trained and armed to the teeth with sophisticated, advanced lethal weaponry, spring and, ultimately, who benefits from this uncontrollable, creative chaos? Is any regime in the Arab or, indeed, the entire world now safe from these ubiquitous, invisible fighters who seem to be everywhere?

Syria was created following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the division of its spoils of war between the victorious Britain and France in the twin imperial policies of the Balfour declaration and the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which allowed for the creation of Israel and the division of the Fertile Crescent into Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.

Although Arab nationalists vilified and decried the dismemberment of the Arab State which should have, according to promises and agreements, been under the Hashemite rule of Sherif Hussein Bin Ali, a sense of nationalist, patriotic attachment did develop to these new creations sometimes called artificial by Arab intellectuals. Over the decades since then, an Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese and Jordanian patriotism emerged.

Israel’s speedy victory in the 1967 Six-Day War had some terrible consequences for the region. Some of these were obvious: the occupation of the West Bank of Jordan, Sinai and the Golan Heights. One of the most important and hitherto unacknowledged consequences is what it did to the political psychology of Israel and its international Zionist and Zionized supporters. Heretofore, it had been Israel that was suing for peace, or appeared to be doing so, while the Arabs demurred. After 1967, and as is obvious from the failure of every peace initiative since then, it has been Israel that is not only demurring but refusing to enter into any serious negotiations that might lead to a just conclusion. Since then, the Israelis have become very adept at deflecting any peaceful resolution whatsoever.

One of the yet-unrealized consequences of the Syria crisis, and for which Israel can take full credit due to its unstinting efforts, may be the redrawing of the map of the region for the second time since the Balfour-Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Frankly speaking, for the Arab States surrounding Israel to be divided or weakened will not only guarantee its security but maintain its military hegemony over the entire region as well. Furthermore, with Syria divided into several mini states, there will be no Syria to demand the return of the Golan Heights, occupied since 1967.

What is happening in Syria and Egypt, or what took place in Iraq or indeed in Tunis, the Sudan or Libya, cannot be explained merely as a natural, historical sequence of events but must be considered as part of the struggle for the heart of the Middle East region, its resources and indeed its soul.

H.E. Prof Abu Jaber is director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies in Jordan. He was president of the Higher Council for Information, president of the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy, senator in the Jordan Upper House of Parliament, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of the Economy He earned a doctorate degree in political science at Syracuse University and did post-doctoral research in Oriental studies at Princeton University. He was professor political science, dean of the faculty of economics and commerce, and director of the Strategic Studies Center at the University of Jordan. He has written numerous books and articles on Jordan, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and the Middle East. He led the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991.