The Fares Center Forum on U.S. — Middle East Diplomacy
Academic Year 2011-2012
Syria and its Neighbors after
the "Arab Spring"
October 24, 2011, 12:30 PM
Fares Center Conference Room (Mugar 129), Tufts
Speakers: Yerevan Saeed (MALD '13), Sybil Ottenstein
(MALD '13), Firas Said (Tufts '12), Malek Nehlawi (Tufts
'12), and Bader N. Abu-Eid (Tufts '13)
Chaired by: Ambassador William A. Rugh, Fares
Center Visiting Scholar
On October 24, 2011, Ambassador William Rugh chaired a roundtable about the Syrian
uprising and the subsequent reactions from Syria's neighbors.
Members of the Tufts community examined the spectrum of views from
different neighboring countries.
Fletcher professor Ibrahim Warde began the roundtable by presenting the range of
reactions within Syria. He explained
that the future of Bashar al-Assad's regime is difficult to predict, as the
minority Alawites (the Shi'a sect to which Assad belongs) and other Syrian
minorities view the current regime as their protector and hope to see it survive
the crisis. Sunni Syrians paint a
very different portrait of the regime and of the recent violence, and comprise
the majority in the regions that have been the target of violence in the past
months. Warde explained that the US
government has typically viewed the regime as problematic, but also as a
provider of stability. Obviously,
stability has waned.
Cecilia Sibony, a first year Fletcher student, provided the Israeli reaction to the
Syrian unrest. She contended that
Israel, until recently, viewed Syria as a "reliable foe" that maintained a
stable Syrian-Israeli border. Within
Israel, there is a wide range of opinions: some hope to "stick with the devil
they know," while others, on humanitarian grounds, would like to see Assad's
ouster. However, the Israeli
government fears that Syrian elections would favor the Muslim Brotherhood, which
they argue could end a hope for peace between Israel and Syria.
There is also debate in Israel as to whether the death of Assad's regime
would increase or diminish Iranian influence on Israel's borders.
Yerevan Saeed, another Fletcher student, represented Iraq's reaction to the uprisings.
He explained that Iraq and Syria have been rivals in the past, especially
since Hafez al-Assad supported Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.
Syria and Iraq still have not normalized relations, and the Iraqi
government has accused Syria of supporting Baathist insurgents in Iraq.
Within Iraq, many Sunnis, including the Speaker of Parliament, have
called on Assad to step down and to allow for elections.
Others, including Prime Minister Maliki and President Talibani (a Sunni),
have accused Israel of fostering the demonstrations in an effort to destabilize
the Syrian government.
Tufts student Firas Said outlined Lebanon's complicated and intertwined history with
Syria, and broke down the reactions of different Lebanese political movements to
recent events. The March 14
alliance, opposed to Syrian intervention in Lebanon since PM Hariri's
assassination in 2005, hopes the regime will fall.
Political parties Hezbollah and Amal receive support from Syria (and
Hezbollah receives arms through Syria) and hope the regime will remain in power.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese government has remained very neutral because it
will have to work with whatever regime is in power, and wants to maintain
stability regardless of Syrian internal politics.
Lucas Koerner, president of Tufts' Students for Justice in Palestine, explained that
close to 400,000 Palestinian refugees live in Syria.
Although their rights have been limited there, the transplants are more
comfortable in Syria than in Lebanon and Jordan.
Many Palestinians in Syria believe that an elected government would allow
them to integrate and would produce a government more willing to pressure Israel
to make concessions to Palestinians.
Lastly, Tufts Professor Osman Gunduz highlighted reactions within Turkey.
He explained that relations between Turkey and Syria have been tenuous,
but improving consistently since 1998.
Gunduz asserted that the Arab Spring caught Turkey off guard.
Many Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, and the national response to
them reveals Turkey's neutral posturing. Similar to Lebanon, Turkey knows that
it will have to work with whatever regime is in power.
However, the Turkish PM declared that he
will no longer broker negotiations with Assad, as he seems unwilling to reform.
The greater Turkish (majority Sunni) population is extremely angry about
Assad's targeted killing of Sunnis, especially during Ramadan, and many hope to
see him deposed.
Gunduz predicted that Turkey will position itself as a conduit between Syria and the
west moving forward, but agreed with the other panelists that the future of
Assad's regime is very difficult to predict and will have large implications for
the region at large.
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