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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

‘UAE model’ praised by US professor

Joshua Landis, associate professor and director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, speaks at NYUAD about the region.

ABU DHABI // The UAE’s model of pluralism, cultural acceptance and religious tolerance must prevail over the region’s extremist ideology, said an American professor and commentator specialising in Syria.

“The Middle East is in the midst of an enlightenment struggle and many people are turning against this kind of sectarianism because they are seeing how it is tearing their world apart,” said Joshua Landis, associate professor and director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, on Monday during his first visit to Abu Dhabi.

Dr Landis was in the capital as a guest speaker at a Lunchtime Lecture Series talk organised by New York University Abu Dhabi’s Arab Crossroads Programme.

Regional scholars are invited to talk about their work in an informal setting during the series.

Despite being titled “Syria, What’s Next?”, Dr Landis’s talk provided little insight into what the future held for a complex conflict in the Arab republic.

Dr Landis, who was in Syria during the 1982 Hama Islamic uprising, when the Syrian army quelled a Muslim Brotherhood revolt in the city, said the conflict had prepared the Bashar Al Assad regime for the latest rebellion.

“Hama was just a dress rehearsal for what happened in 2011, and when it happened the regime did not hesitate and did not compromise,” Dr Landis said.

The Syrian president still remains in power more than four years later because he has been successful in controlling the four major cities – Damascus, Hama, Homs and Aleppo that house the richer urbanites.

“For him that is Syria, these four cities. The others have nothing because they are located in the poor countryside.”

Dr Landis said that Iran and Russia cared only about the regions surrounding these cities, but for different reasons.

He said Iran would use the region to resupply Hizbollah, threaten Israel and resupply the Shias while Russia was looking for recognition and influence on the world stage.

“Russia wants a beachhead off the Arab-Israeli conflict because they want to be at the centre of any conflict in the Middle East.

“Syria has put the Russian president Vladimir Putin on the map,” he said.

The guest speaker said that because Europe was mainly interested in stopping the influx of Syrian refugees, they would be better served by not escalating the conflict.

“You don’t stop refugees coming by introducing more heavy weapons. You let the Russians win.”

Despite the US’s initial rhetoric of wanting Mr Al Assad out, Dr Landis said the Barack Obama administration had resisted getting entrenched in Syria.

“Their attempts to support the moderates have failed, and the fear is whenever you get rid of a dictator or army, like they did in Afghanistan and Iraq, the moderates don’t win.”

tsubaihi@thenational.ae