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Will Syria Remain Fragmented For Years?

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A friend flew into Aleppo’s airport a few days ago from Germany where he had been on business. On his drive into the city, he was shocked to run into a FSA roadblock. The militiamen who greeted him were polite. After asking him where he had been and where he was going, they sent him on his way. A kilometer down the road, he passed through a government check point run by Air-force Intelligence.

Such reports remind me of Lebanon, where I lived for a few years during the civil war. A simple trip could send one through a series of roadblocks run by competing forces. As an American in Lebanon before the Israeli invasion of 1982, I was not a person of interest to any of the warring factions and thus could pass through them unmolested. My Lebanon memories make me wonder whether the expectation of an imminent victory in Syria by one side is realistic.

Syria
Syria

Militias may well impose control in their areas but find themselves unable to dislodge or overcome competing militias. Some may simply find it more convenient to make deals with rivals than to fight them. Syria could well become a “deeply penetrated society,” as political scientists named Lebanon: a society in which competing factions are largely dependent on external support.

We are all so accustomed to thinking of Syria as DAMASCUS. The capital has been favored by successive governments since independence that it is natural for Syrians to expect the capital to be the axis about which all Syria revolves. That expectation may be misleading. Whomever owns Damascus may no longer own Syria.  I have told many journalists that once Damascus falls to rebels, the Assad regime will be effectively dead. That may be true, but the remaining body of the Syrian Army, which is rapidly turning into an Alawite militia, could live on for some time. Various regions of Syria are re-establishing a degree of autonomy and self governance now that Syria is being overrun by militias of many different stripes.

Assad and his men will work for a fragmented Syria. It may be their only path to survival. If the Free Syrian Army can conquer all of Syria, most regime principals will be executed.

I don’t expect Syria to break up as some do, but it may be a long while before one militia or a unified political organization is able to impose its control over the country. Road-blocks were a common feature of Lebanon’s political landscape for fifteen long years.

Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.

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