Syria, What About the People?

Syria has been going through much turmoil in the last few months. The current uprising that sparked around March 2011 has been fought between the loyal forces of President Bashar al-Assad and the rebel forces. The conflict is escalating in terms of intensity and causalities. An abundance of information has been circulating in the mainstream media about the geopolitics of the conflict.

Much can be said about its relation to the Arab spring, the current tension between Iran and the west, and the fall of Lybia. However, what about the people? What about those that are not part of the rebels but yet are not loyal to al-Assad?

According to the UN Syria regional response plan, around 283,234 Syrian refugees fled the country to Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. The UN has set a response plan to try to cope with the massive inflow of refugees that are expected to increase in the upcoming months.

Jordan needs special attention. According to the response plan, up to September 23, there were 94,059 refugees, although the Jordanian government estimates that there are around 200,000 Syrians in its territory. Jordan is one of the countries that are hosting the most refugees not only from Syria but from other countries such as Iraq and Palestine. It has traditionally been a country with open borders. The government supports the newly arrived people and many stay to make a living. However, refugees are not intended to live in the camps for a prolonged amount of time.

People are leaving the country carrying only elemental belongings and in most cases through conflict hit areas. The current clash between the rebels and the presidential forces cannot be seen as a traditional clash between armies. The government is trying to crush the rebellion with the help of heavy artillery while the rebels hide around the city and fight a guerrilla style urban warfare with limited means. It all points out for a government victory but in any case nothing would be the same. There would be no victory for either side. Civilian population has been scattered and people are leaving the country for their own security.

In light of this, should anyone intervene? The issues around intervention are contested and controversial, since it is almost impossible to predict the consequences of an external intervention. Is anyone entitled to intervene? If so, who should intervene? All of these questions have unlimited ramifications, however, what consequences would an intervention bring to the civilian population? In any case, one could compare Syria with Libya. However, the comparison is not an easy one to make. They are both different countries in different contexts and their situations are very different. Both are influenced by the Arab spring, nonetheless its influence varies depending on the context of the country.

The UN Security Council has seen Russian vetoing any possible intervention. Some would argue that Russia has vested interests in Syria since one of its most strategic military bases is on Syrian territory. If the West intervenes and a full-scale intervention is agreed upon, then the rebel forces may have a chance, but at what price? Others have argued that an Arab intervention is necessary, however, the extent to which this could happen is still an open debate. Arab countries have varied opinions and socio-economic contexts. Would it be a military intervention? Which countries would participate? Who would coordinate the action? These are open-ended questions. It is practically impossible to predict the outcome of an intervention. However, it is fair to argue that it would substantially increase the number of civilian causalities.

What do Trent students think about the conflict and the possibility of an intervention? Faris Khoury, a fourth year Politics major from Jordan, agrees that his country has been one of the most refugees accepting in history. He is originally Palestinian and has a very well-rounded understanding of the refugee situation. He estimates that a million people came to Jordan during the Iraq war. He states that a military intervention would not be beneficial for neither the people, nor the region. He expresses that Arab countries should intervene but through dialogue, not through a military attack. He thinks Arab countries could provide the framework for the Syrian people to choose if President Bashar al-Assad should stay in power or not, although he recognizes that this would be a very difficult task. Finally, he expresses concern about the mainstream media since it provides inaccurate portrayals of the conflict.

On the other hand, Nadine Suliman, a fourth year Biology and Environment Science major and Business minor from Egypt, states that the conflict has to be analyzed in terms of its context. Nadine expresses concern for the Syrian people and agrees that an Arab intervention could be beneficial. She would like to see democracy in Syria and the rest of the Arab world but she states that poverty and illiteracy is an important problem since people are in many cases manipulated into supporting a certain side. Also, she states that “corruption is now an infestation in all the Arab countries due to the accumulation of exploitative leaders over the years, which left the people in a disgraceful state, with no hopes beyond fulfilling their basic needs.” She links Syria to the Arab Spring and the events in Egypt and Lybia but she acknowledges that each case should be looked from a different perspective since the socio- economic contexts are highly different. Finally, she does not subscribe to the possibility of a western intervention.

To conclude, it is highly difficult to predict the outcome that an external intervention could have in Syria. However, it is fair to state that any military intervention would not bring positive consequences for the mainstream people. It is likely that a refugee crisis will arise at the borders as the number of Syrians leaving the country escalates. Hopefully, an intervention seeking dialogue would bring together both sides for negotiation and stop the bloodshed.