Syria: the myth of partition

In past few days, Hollywood-style narratives have been widely disseminated about the current Syrian situation. After some rather selective narratives of modern Syrian history, western commentators are now spreading rumours about sectarian divisions in a future Syria that has freed itself from the grip of authoritarianism. Also, after the focus on the militant struggle which wholly ignored a parallel peaceful movement, it seems that some western experts who are searching for excitement, are now leaning towards discussing possibility of “Alawite” state being set up on the Syrian coast, based on “advanced agriculture, modern infrastructure, and ports”, claiming that the Syrian regime has developed these sectors in anticipation of such a scenario. It seems that knowledge of ‘scholars’ about the situation has its limits. The data used are not accurate due to the neglect of statistics as a science in Syria for decades. It is well known, however, that Syrian coast is not homogenous with regards to sect, in spite of attempts to change its demographic composition. The cities of the coast are not dominated by any one sect, but contain a diverse mixture. The cities of Latakia and Jabaleh comprise a specific sect, and in Tartus, percentage of Alawites has reached 60%, with 30% Sunnis, 10% Christians. As for the mountains and countryside, there is a majority of Alawites residing in these areas, but they also include Christians, Sunnis and Ismailis. Therefore, any scenario of the kind imagined by these ‘experts’ will require a process of Serbian-style ‘ethnic cleansing’, today this is purely fictional prospect, given current domestic, regional, international postures. As for the economic situation of the coastal area, there are no factories or infrastructure, except for the ports, that are well developed. The only two real economic projects are Tartus cement factory and thermal station in Banias. Both projects have produced high levels of pollution and ruined huge tracts of olive grove, pushing thousands of young farmers into low-income manual labour markets in cities. That is not to mention that there are villages in Latakia and Tartus provinces that lack primary services like sewage, drinking water. This intentional neglect has led many to seek habitation in Damascene slums, while some migrants were deployed to service military and security machinery, far away from societal, familial structures, which were destroyed to unify loyalty among position holders, while removing that loyalty from traditional representatives of civil society. However, what is most important is that the leaders of the intellectual/revolutionary opposition on the street belong to all segments of the Syrian population, without excluding the Alawites, who have been exploited by the ‘regime sect’ and not by the sect of the regime. In the 1920’s, Alawite ancestors under the leadership of Saleh Al-Ali opposed and revolted against the French project of creating an Alawite state. This project will likewise be refused by their descendants who instead will participate in building a united Syrian future, in spite of wild imaginings of those who search for excitement and political thrills in fiction. (source: Salam Al-Kawakibi – Open Democracy – 25/08/2012)

Arab Reform Initiative:


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One Response to Syria: the myth of partition

  1. “…We are seeing the end of what was created 90 years ago. The consequences will be very, very, grave unless they are managed properly.” Walid Jumblatt, 15/8/2012

    (…..) If we backtrack in history, we have the Syrian revolutionary events, part of the larger Arab Revolutions that began in early January 2011 in Tunisia. We should also include the events in Lebanon, as the two are heavily interconnected – the Civil War of 1958 and the Civil War of 1975-1990. We have the Assad regime, instituted by Bashar’s father Hafez, who came to power in the late 1960s in Syria. We have the Syrian state itself, granted full independence from France in 1946. Before that, it was part of the Ottoman Empire – now we’re getting closer to the time period Jumblatt was referencing. The Ottoman Empire was divided up by Britain and France at the end of WWI, along the lines established in the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. This was when the borders of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and others were all drawn up. Okay, at this point – full disclosure – I admit that I have omitted part of Jumblatt’s quote.

    He also said ‘…this is the unravelling of the Sykes-Picot agreement.’ Jumblatt’s direct statement cuts to the heart of the matter.

    (…..) We should not be so shortsighted as to think that these clashes in Syria and Lebanon represent some atavistic and timeless propensity for sectarian violence. There has never been a complete break from colonialism, especially considering the continued influence of foreign money and troops inside Lebanon – which came to a head in the Syrian occupation that started in 1976 and the Israeli Invasion of 1982 that soon followed. I do not see it as a stretch to argue that this was a newer form of colonialism – one which played a huge part in spawning the now-powerful group Hezbollah, which has come to reshape the power relations on a local and regional level. Jumblatt was quite perspicacious and wise to say what he did publicly – someone had to – and we must take his vision of the history of his country seriously. He is not throwing the blame or passing the buck – colonialism left Lebanon weak and divided and sectarian in a way that it hadn’t been before. In this way, Lebanon and Syria are going through a pernicious colonial hangover, one that unfortunately shows no signs of abating.

    If indeed Jumblatt is right and things get very bad, it would be the equivalent of a building with a flawed foundation finally coming down.

    This would certainly be a traumatic and destructive result. Unfortunately, the continued balance of power doesn’t offer respite from the problems and seems bound to perpetuate the sectarian processes and violence. We should also remember that just as this sectarianism was stimulated, similar forces in the future could stimulate a different kind of basis for identification. Given the expansion of neo-liberalism and its pernicious effects, a return to class-based identities could certainly be a possibility. Whatever the future brings, one can only hope that soon Lebanon and Syria will be able to move forward of their own volition, freed from the influences of all those outside who try to make Syria and Lebanon part of their empire. That will not solve all the problems, but it will get Syria and Lebanon on the path to sovereignty from a legacy of colonialism that still haunts them.


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