Monday, July 23, 2012

from latakia with love.

the revolution is at a tipping point with the fight raging for damascus and aleppo, syria's largest and second largest cities. the regime is hitting back, and my best guess is the regime will be repulsed in aleppo but largely successful in damascus, where the shabiha are being led by assad's brother.

of course with the free syrian army fighting a protracted guerilla campaign, as they should, success for the regime takes on a slightly complicated definition. the regime can certainly shell and retake neighborhoods at will, but if the rebels melt away only to return later, establishing legitimacy and lasting control will be difficult. i expect a protracted game of cat and mouse in the capital for awhile to come.

"The Free Syrian Army is moving quickly and well," said Moaz Shami, a leading activist in the capital. "But the road ahead is still long, and what the rebels did surpassed their abilities. I can't say that they will liberate Damascus."

many observers think we may actually be passed the tipping point, with july 18th's bombing of the national security headquarters marking the beginning of the end for assad. if that's true, (and i hope it is,) then what comes after? there seems to be two possible outcomes.

in my ideal scenario, the regime collapses in damascus, and the free syrian army deftly steers the discourse away from sectarian conflict.

"We are putting together a unit to protect the national museum, the central bank and especially Alawite districts against revenge attacks," says a rebel in Damascus. "There is still no shortage of volunteers even for that, thank God."

in this ideal scenario, the regime's stubbornness works against them. if assad refuses to leave damascus, a rebel victory in the capital could spell complete sovereignty over all of syria for the syrian national council, including the ethnically alawite areas.

in the unfavorable scenario, a shrewd assad steers syria into a sectarian civil war and retreats to an alawite refuge, as some rumors suggest he already has, to deny the rebels a complete victory. a lot of signs point to evidence that the planning for this, including ethnic cleansing, may already be underway.

this post was inspired by a post from anusar farooqui's policy tensor, which detailed the imperative for the rebels should they seek to craft a viable state in this scenario, namely maintaining access to a port. in weighing out the possibilities, i found a post from the syria comment the most compelling justification for why this unfavorable scenario won't happen.

to break it down very simply:
1. alawite urbanization.
2. alawite integration.
3. lack of infrastructure.
4. lack of diplomatic recognition.
5. strategic indefensibility.

of these, i totally disagree with 4. russia would rapidly recognize an alawite state, as well as continue to trade and arm the alawites in exchange for continued naval basing rights in tartus.

but i find myself agreeing pretty heavily with 5. i scoured the internet for 2004 syrian census data to examine the ethnic makeup of latakia and tartus, but so far, no dice since all the government websites are incommunicado. (surprise surprise.) still, from the post: "All the coastal cities remain majority Sunni to this day." while i don't take that quote as gospel, i would be very surprised if the large sunni minority, possibly the majority in some crucial urban centers, couldn't function as an effectively crippling fifth column within any potential alawite state.

that said, i suppose we shall have to wait and sea.

long live the free syrian army.

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