Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Syrian Vision: Harnessing Regional Potential

In al Hayat newspaper interview on Oct. 27th, Syria's Bashar al Asad indentified the region as a strategic hub, connecting the five seas (Red, Mediterranian, Black, Caspian, Persian Gulf) through Oil, Gas and communication lines. This vision has passed the rhetoric stage and phased implemetation has been underway.

What is striking, yet not surprising, is that Syria is reinforcing its regional role over and beyond what might be described by "Syria as a key player" in any Arab-Israeli Peace deal.

The expansion of the geopolitical focus of Syrian foreign policy, is transcending its mediation role in the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, and mediation roles in Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, political management of Lebanon, to include a creative look at how power centers are allocated in the Middle East.

First, from the Syrian perspective there has been a strategic breakthrough in the region. Arab states are not encircled by the Shah of Iran, a hostile Turkey and Ethiopia in the south anymore. Thereby, the contemporary promoting of Turkey and Iran as power centers to the benefit of Arab revival and prosperity of the region is vital for Syria.

Second, from the Syrian perspective, Arab identity (as a cultural reference) needs to be reinforced in the face of ethnic and religous factionalism, like the prevailing political systems in Lebanon and Iraq.

Third, the traditional delineation of the Middle East: Arab states in addition to Israel, Turkey and Iran is too limiting and does not live up to the potential of the region. Recent Syrian talks in Bulgaria, Romania and Azerbaijan are necessary precursors to the natural definitional expansion of what a viabale Middle East could be.

Hariri's visits to Syria and current visit to Iran, is not news anymore. Fatah and Hamas holding talks in Damascus is not news anymore. Ordogan's warm welcome in any Arab state he visits, is not news anymore. Arab states not buying the argument of Iran being the altmimate threat to the region, is not news anymore.

The ME is ripe for a regionally produced plan, and Syria is making use of the podium.

** Warm wishes to King Abdullah of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a quick recovery.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Christians in Iraq: Mercy Lost

Just when one thought it could not get any worse on the social and political scene in Iraq, given that seven months have past since the election and still no government. The church massacre in Baghdad reminded us that chaos, perpetrated by mercyless killers, has always room to grow in Iraq. Again today, more than seventy people died in bombings across Baghdad. Maliki sure likes holding on to power more than holding Iraq together.

The vulnerability of the security situation in Iraq is not a surprise, what is a surprise however is that Iraqi politicians seem to believe that they are entitled to "play" the political game of trying to outlast and outsmart their political opponents. As if Iraq is not going through an extraordinary period of its history, no government, no security, armed groups roaming free, Islamized militias with an uncomprimizing agenda of eliminating the "other". The other being : moderate Muslims, Christians, Jews, Yazidies,.. plenty of what could be considered "other" from ones own standpoint in the Middle East.

Factionalism seems to be too obvious, too ugly, too scary in countries that are "democratic" in the Middle East, like Lebanon and Iraq, Both countries seem always on the edge of civil war, which continously invites the "broker" role of neighboring countries, the US or Europe to intervine and mediate between the different factions. Factionalism is clearly stated and incorporated in the constitution of both countries, a democratic model that has only inflamed differences.

Those two countries might not be the envy of other Arab countries in the Middle East at this moment.

I have to commened NGOs in Syria and Jordan. Civil society in both countries have made conscience efforts over many years to gloss over religious and ethnic differences, make a point of minimizing the role of such preferences in the community, and by celebrating diversity in their organizational makeup. Granting economic and political rights have a central role in pushing ethnic and religious differences to the backburner, I believe on that front there is always more to do. Minimizing the reference to ethnicities and religious differences, might not be a bad lesson to learn from these two countries. Civil society and government support for such activism in these countries is not sufficient to eliminate the possibility of descending into chaos, that is why gradual reform, economic and political, is key.

Referencing ethnicities and religious differences in politics "factionalism" must be shamed and looked upon with disgust.

Mercy lost on that Sunday in Baghdad, Mercy lost on many days in Baghdad.