Syria – the key to understanding the Middle East


The crisis in Syria has been raging for more than 16 months, and it is still a toss up about how this will end. The problem that I have with the Syrian situation is that I have not fully understood the motivations of all of the players. Once again, I need to start looking at the history of the country before I can fully comprehend what is taking place, and why Syria is virtually a satellite of Russia, China and Iran.

I have been writing about the Syrian situation on one of my other blogs, and in doing so, I have been questioning the origins of those who are in opposition to Bashar al-Assad. However, my questioning is based upon my own ignorance of the socio-political situation in Syria. Once again, I point out that Libya has always been the different case, because prior to Gadhafi Libya had stronger ties to the West than did Egypt and Syria. I am also pleading ignorance about the socio-political history of Tunisia.

Amazingly, the one thing that I have missed in my own analysis is influence of the Ba’ath Party. This is an angle that I have failed to explore in my own analysis regarding Syria in particular. As such I need to do a lot more in the way of research on the founding of the Ba’ath Party in Egypt, Syria, Iran and Iraq in particular. At the same time I need to do further research into the ideology of the Ba’ath Party, because I do fear that many people who think that someone like Bashar al-Assad is somehow ok, are in fact like me, and ignorant about the origins of that particular party.

The news article that got my interest in the subject going concerns the defection of the first politician from the Syrian Parliament, a woman – mother of 6 children – who crossed into Turkey announcing that she was upset by what is taking place. It is as a result of that article, that I suddenly realized that I had been overlooking something quite important – the Ba’ath Party and its origins. Did you know that the founders of the Ba’ath Party were admirers of Adolf Hitler? I did not know that until now, but it is true. This is something that I will explore in greater detail, but for now it is just an interesting fact.

The origins of the Ba’ath Party go back to at least the 1950s. There is a link between Egypt and Syria in the 1950s, when Nasser was leader in Egypt. It is significant to note that Nasser was pro-Communist and that he was backed by Russia. However, the leaders of the Ba’ath Party in Syria did a split from Egypt because of Nasser’s dictatorial ways.

There is a common thread in these countries that have been run by the Ba’ath Party. One of the most significant points about the Ba’ath Party is that it seems to be the party of the Sunni Muslims. On the other hand the Muslim Brotherhood tend to be Shia. The hardliners tend to be Salafist and of Sunni origin. What we find with the Ba’ath Party is that they tend to be secular, hence the opposition to the Ba’athists tend to be those who are Salafist or religiously minded. The problem in Syria though, is that Bashar al-Assad is not a Sunni but an Alawite which is an offshoot of the Shia sect within Islam.

At the very heart of the conflict in Syria is the Sunni vs. Shia. This is the same kind of conflict that we saw when Iran and Iraq went to war with each other. It is also the same conflict that has caused destabilization in Iraq. We need to keep in mind that in Iraq the Sunni tribes are the minority and that they had held power over the majority Shia through Saddam Hussein after he had seized control of the Parliament in the 1960s.

Even though there is a religious element in this conflict, I think that it is simplistic to only consider the religious aspects of such conflicts. I think that it is essential to discover the ideology of the various players, and how that ideology leads back to the Soviet Union.  Also, I think that it is necessary to learn more about the period of the 1950s when the Middle East was undergoing turmoil which had been the seed for the so-called Arab Spring. In reality the Arab Spring probably happened in the 1950s, and what we have been witnessing has been more like an Arab winter.  The key to the conflicts within the Middle East seems to be the fascination with the socialist ideology.

One cannot possibly understand the politics in the Middle East without at least understanding the role of socialism in these countries, as well as the desire of the population to overthrow that same kind of ideology.

The overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya has been the tentative first step of a Middle-Eastern country to try and shrug off the imposed socialism of a dictator. Few people outside of Libya seem to understand that one reason that there was resentment towards Saddam Hussein was due to his attempt to create a Socialist Republic. Libyans are a deeply religious people and they did not like the socialism, yet that is just one reason why Libyans managed to join together to overthrow a most hated dictator. Libya is only now beginning to form a new government. It will take time for this new government to form. There is no guarantee what it will be like, but the people who were in charge of the NTC during the conflict were individuals who were pro-West and who understand democracy.  At some point I will visit this subject in greater detail. For the moment it is only necessary to mention Libya in the context of Moammar Gadhafi’s Socialism and the impact that had on why Libyans were willing to take up arms against their government. Always keep in mind that Gadhafi seized power in a bloodless coup.

When considering that the Ba’ath Party has been quite strong in Syria, it should not be surprising that many Syrians crossed the border into Iraq and were taking up arms against the military occupiers. We have been expressing this in terms of “Al Qaeda” and it would appear that “Al Qaeda” has been active, especially amongst the Sunni Salafists. However, I now think that we have to look beyond “Al Qaeda” to learn more about those behind the various conflicts. In other words, these are people that border hop in the name of jihad. As Syrians they have returned to fight for freedom from Assad, but what happens once he is defeated?

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About Aussie

Married with children. Bachelor of Economics and Commerce, Melb 1975
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