We already know what happened in Syria, we’ve been following the incessant killing reports since March 2011. It began with the tide of uprisings in the region (the Arab Spring) and quickly descended into a national conflict between ‘rebels’ and government forces. The first protests in Damascus and Deera demanded the liberation of political prisoners. Protesters were shot dead and the violence escalated over the next few months into a civil war.

But it has been four years – cities are completely destroyed, UNHCR has estimated 2.5 million refugees in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, and the fighting persists. It is easy to argue that the toll has also been taken on the international media. Entering the country is hard, but it’s proved to be an even harder job to keep up with the events of the conflict. Most probably the conflict has lost its place as breaking news because it became too hard to explain to the public. However, the extended coup d’etat is still taking place, and the international community must not let it escape their sight.

We can easily call upon the responsibility to protect (R2P) adopted by the UN in 2009 – not to mention the responsibility of the news media to report on the conflict in order to bring awareness to the subject and to even help shape opinion. However, the devil’s advocate could argue that the R2P can be easily used only in situations that are deemed interesting to the UN – the representative of the international community in cases of conflict. Similarly, we can also argue that the world media is plagued by attention deficit disorder, failing to give important news their undivided attention. That is the topic of another article – let’s stick to the background story of the Syrian conflict that has led to a tangle of people from various walks of life to fight for the ‘same’ cause and/or against each other. I’ll explain.

Many questions come to my mind when I try to understand the Syrian conflict and I must admit it is quite mind-boggling, but I’m probably not the only one. How did this happen? Why did it escalate so quickly and so much? Was it Assad’s reluctance to give up power? Are the Alawites really so strong that they have managed to stay in power even when the country is in massive upheaval? Certainly not – powerful countries such as Iran, Russia and China back Assad. And truth be told, the lack of interest from the Western leaders and consequently the lack of interest from the international media has opened the way for a bloody conflict between disunited rebels and Assad and his loyal friends. The former Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal, described Syria as a ‘festering wound that collects the worst bacteria in the world’. I wouldn’t go as far as that to describe the Syrian situation as a bacterial infection, because those are usually very hard to fight. I’d call it a chronic disease where the researchers have given up on finding a cure (hint: the researchers are us).

I’ve chosen four key events that led to today’s mess: a nation hosting deep wounds committed by no one but itself.

1 – The use of chemical weapons in the beginning of 2013. The Syrian government had already shown its true colours when the first insurgence happened in 2011. They weren’t afraid to use force against their own people. Reports of the use of chemical weapon against civilians shocked the world. Had the conflict really escalated to that point? The answer is yes. The use of chemical weapons against civilians was a warning to the Syrian population and to the world leaders: Assad wasn’t stepping down and he would stop at nothing to stay in power.

2 – The failure of the international community to act upon it. The UN sent officials to Syria to investigate the reports of the use of chemical weapons on civilians. Obviously, the Syrian government didn’t make it easy for the officials to carry out their job. It was only in May 2013, after two years of conflict that the European arms embargo was lifted in the hope that European leaders would help arm the rebels.

3 – The rebels have either joined Islamic extremist groups or remained part of the Syrian National Coalition, formerly recognized as ‘the legitimate representative of the Syrian people’. This has caused the disintegration of the rebels’ united front. Many of these extremist groups in Syria have accused the National Coalition of being a conspiracy, abandoning the last ounce of unity that would be essential to achieving their objectives. With the recent wave of violence in Iraq, attention has been diverted towards Isis, a militant jihadist group that calls for the creation of an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria. The rebels in Syria now have to fight against Isis as well, and as CNN has reported, they have been successful in driving them away in the north of the country.

4 – The failure of the international community to act upon it. Russia and China have been actively using their powers in the UN to stop the condemnation of Syria since the beginning of the conflict. In March 2012 they agreed to a tougher, revised non-binding peace plan drafted by the former UN envoy Kofi Annan. Providing arms for the rebels isn’t enough since Islamist fighters have started fighting against the Free Syrian Army. Economic and political sanctions have proved to be insufficient in stopping this disorganized bloodshed that resembles the fragility of a house of cards crumbling down, or a row of dominoes being knocked down: both are unstoppable.

These four key events don’t represent the full scope of action taking place in the last four years. However, they represent the inability of the international community to shed its differences and act upon our responsibility to protect those in danger. The uprisings in Syria were part of the Arab Spring, however its path was very different from that of Egypt and Tunisia. When the conflict ends (I chose when instead of if as a way of holding on to the dim sight of hope that’s left), the Syrian people will have to tackle the painful job of rebuilding the cities and reintegrating refugees.

 

Sources:

http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2014/07/02/anthony-loyd-syria/?hpt=hp_c1

http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2014/07/01/syria-a-festering-wound-that-fostered-isis-says-former-saudi-intelligence-chief/?hpt=hp_bn9

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14703995

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28116846

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47495#.U7aRC5SwIXg

http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml