x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

States are fragile and sectarianism knows no borders

The Middle East and North Africa are already in a regional civil war, an editor warns gloomily. Other opinion pieces deal with Iraq's crisis and Bashar Al Assad's endurance.

Weakening of states across the region reveals fragility of sectarian and ethnic coexistence

The Middle East is indeed a complicated place. A formula for coexistence among Muslims, Christians and Jews is needed, and that is not easy. A way to guarantee mutual tolerance among Turks, Persians, Kurds, Arabs and others ethnicities is also required, and that is no easy feat either, said Ghassan Charbel, editor of the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, in yesterday's paper.

"Long-lasting truces are a sham. They claim that age-old conflicts have been relegated to history books. But it isn't true as experience reveals that old vendettas are awakened and rivers of blood flow again at any sudden turn," he noted. "Nations that were born following the First World War stifled these conflicts or put another spin on them, but old demons have a way of resurfacing as soon as the oppressive regimes that keep them at bay disintegrate," he added.

A horrible Middle East looms on the horizon rather than the much-hyped "New Middle East". It threatens to be a region where the coexistence experiment among various components has miserably failed, in a way that threatens to tear apart countries and re-draw maps.

This is far more alarming than the fall of the Berlin Wall and far more serious than the disintegration of Yugoslavia. This is sheer calamity, the writer reckoned.

"Don't be quick to accuse me of pessimism, dear readers," he pleaded.

"The events I base my forecast on are in the news along with a river of dead bodies and fiery statements that promise long-lasting wars," he said.

In Iraq for instance a suicide bomber attacks a Husseiniya (Shiite house of worship) in Karkouk; Shiites retaliate by raiding Sunni mosques in Baghdad. Prime minister Nouri Al Maliki accuses remnants of Al Baath, the former ruling party. His opponents respond by accusing him of "sectarian hatred". And violence is on the rise.

In Syria, where clashes have reached unprecedented levels of violence, and despite the conflicting parties' best efforts to portray their respective quests as non-sectarian, it seems quite hard to explain why a Chechen mujahid is engaged in battle in Edleb, why a Libyan Islamic fighter has come to support the Sunnis or why a young man from Basra in Iraq was killed defending a Shiite shrine in Syria.

It is indeed difficult to try to explain why Alawaites flee their towns as soon as they sense the rebels approaching, or why Sunni villagers escape from their homes before government forces and their allies.

"What we are experiencing is the failure of the coexistence experiment," he wrote.

"Our nations, our communities and our armies are disintegrating. International borders are no longer immune and we are in the throes of a regional civil war," Charbel said.

Lack of political will perpetuates Iraq crisis

No one wants to see a sectarian war break out in Iraq, but good intentions and wishful thinking alone won't change anything, said columnist Abdulwahab Badrakhan in the Abu Dhabi-based daily Al Ittihad.

Despite vows by various religious leaders to avoid sectarian incitement, the conflict continues to escalate because the real players have a vested interest in taking the crisis as far as possible.

"But there is no glory in ending a crisis like this one with victory for one party over another. Coexistence is driven by mutual agreement and not by coercion," the writer noted.

But the new Iraqi regime has yet to convince the people that it is there to serve them all equally. The country's new rulers continue to cling to a reservoir of historical hostilities. They use their newfound power as a tool to avenge old injuries.

"It seems that Nouri Al Maliki's regime has chosen to model itself on Bashar Al Assad's regime in Syria," he observed.

The Syrian president insists on dealing with pro-democracy rebels as terrorists and insurgents who must be killed. But Iraq's case is different.

Despite security threats and Al Qaeda's active presence in the country, the revolt against Mr Al Maliki is popular. It is a legitimate, wide-ranging protest and not an isolated case of insurgency, the columnist concluded.

Assad to stay in power until further notice

In an interview with an Argentine newspaper last week, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad sent out a series of messages that call for careful scrutiny, observed Egyptian columnist Emadeddin Adeeb in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

When asked if he would consider stepping aside, Mr Al Assad responded: "To resign would be to flee." He went on to confirm that he intends to stand in the presidential elections in 2014.

"Based on that, we find ourselves before a ruler who is adamant on hanging on to power. We are before a president who sees that the crisis in Syria is under control and he is confident about his situation and his position. He even deems that the crisis is winding down," said the writer.

Mr Al Assad is probably wagering that the sheer volume of destruction and killing will eventually rid Syria of anti-regime violence.

He is banking on world powers' fears that the alternative to his regime would be an radical, Al Qaeda-affiliated regime that would eventually jeopardise security in the entire region.

Meanwhile, he continues to benefit from the uninterrupted support offered by his allies and from the festering differences among the various factions of the opposition.


* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem