The near toppling of the Egyptian state by popular protest and the spread of the Arab Spring in 2011 precipitated one of the quickest counter-revolutions in modern history. By the end of 2012, civilian rebellions facing the Gulf monarchs in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia had been put down, while civil war raged throughout the Arab republics of Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
The role of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates in retarding the Arab rebellions cannot be overstated.
One common thread linking the regions various upheavals is the rivalry between the regions monarchies and republican states, with the leaders of the former seeing an opportunity to dislodge the leaders of latter through the revolts.
By facilitating the militarization of the rebellions, the Gulf monarchies reversed the revolution in Egypt and manufactured the destruction of the Libyan state.
By late 2011, Syria too looked as if it was destined to experience a similar fate. However, it was the city of Aleppo, Syria’s economic capital, which provided the Assad regime with enough support to incubate itself in the short-term. From the beginning of the rebellion, Aleppo’s importance lay in the fact that the regimes legitimacy was drawn from the city’s business and financial class. Their loyalty to the government wavered little because they lacked access to international markets, the result of years of American and European economic sanctions against Syria. Simply put, the business and financial class had no choice but to rely completely upon the regime to keep secure what wealth they had. Thus, while the city quickly degenerated into an epicenter for all belligerents, the western portion became a refuge for loyalists and pro-regime capitalists.
The eastern side of the divided city, however, became the converging point for every major anti-regime group operating within Syria. Knowing the city served a vital role to the regime, these forces focused entirely on wresting it from government control to permanently sever the lines of economic support required to maintain a paid civil service and professional military. This is why the Gulf monarchs and their century-old British and American sponsors turned a blind eye to the tens of thousands of jihadists crossing into Syria through its expansive border with Turkey (and to a lesser extent from Jordan and Iraq) from not only the Middle East, South Asia, the Baltics and Caucuses but also Western nations such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States.
From the beginning of the conflict, Syria was flooded with heavily armed jihadist militias acting as death squads. Their emergence as leaders of the forces fighting the Syrian regime was a result of an unprecedented degree of military, political and social support from western world to the monarchs of the Gulf who, in turn, sponsored psychopathic personalities.
The use of death squads to destabilize countries is not a new strategy. History of the civil wars in the Korean peninsula in the 1950’s, Southeast Asia in the 1960’s and 1970’s and Latin America in the 1970’s and 1980’s show the systematic use of extrajudicial killings. However, the Syrian experience is unique because civil wars do not usually have access to foreign-based death squads.
For the civilian population, this meant making the untenable choice of living under the bombs from the government’s air force or violent lawlessness. This became the catalyst for a displacement not seen since the Second World War.
Russian military intervention in the Fall of 2015 permanently altered the war of attrition and tipped the balance of power towards Syria’s armed forces and their Iranian backed reinforcements. But, while there is no denying that foreign elements played a role in the Syrian civil war, pro-regime immigrant fighters were always a secondary feature of the conflict – especially when compared to the other side.
By all accounts Aleppo has now been reunified. The battle for the city will likely bee seen as the end of a half-decade long civil war resulting in an incomprehensible loss of life and history. Unfortunately, it is unlikely the violence will diminish soon. Civil wars produce large numbers of trained fighters and without stable economic conditions and job creation militants are likely to find other battles. Blowback in those countries who facilitated logistical support for the jihadist militias fighting the Syrian government would not be surprising. For these reasons, effort to help Syrian society to reassemble should be encouraged and supported.
As these events play out, readers will be wise to pay attention to the news through the lens of the rivalry between the regions monarchies and republican states. It will perhaps be the clearest way to make sense of the motivations guiding the region.