What’s next in Syria?

What’s next in Syria?

The writing is on the wall for [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad and his family. The deadly bombing of the national security building in Damascus clearly points in this direction. The general belief is that the perpetrators could not have infiltrated a high-security area to carry out this attack without some inside help.

Given the turmoil in the country, the facts behind this attack, which has dealt a serious blow to the al-Assad administration, may never be known. It is clear, however, that there must be members of the Baathist regime who feel things cannot go on like this.

Recent high-level defections show that there is growing disquiet among the ruling elite. One must therefore not discount the possibility of some kind of “palace coup” in the coming days or weeks. That could in fact be the best outcome for Syria, which is hurtling headlong toward all-out civil war along sectarian lines. An arrangement that gets rid of Assad but retains the existing state structure could facilitate a transition to a new and stable administration, in order to avert total chaos in that country. Whether such a coup will, or indeed can, take place remains to be seen. The alternatives are dire, however, especially now that it has become clear that there will be no outside intervention to stop the bloodbath.

It is not hard to imagine that Alevis and Sunnis are arming themselves at the moment, in a replay of the situation in the former Yugoslavia two decades ago. Should the regime crumble like a house of cards, it is clear that Syria will be up for grabs as different groups vie for power.

Given that this will be a bloody civil war based on sectarian lines it is bound to spill over to other countries in the region, with Lebanon topping the list. Then there is the global dimension, with the West and Russia backing different groups in what will turn into their proxy war.

Turkey will also be hit hard and face not only major security challenges, but also social problems, given the large number of Alevis in this country, who will clearly sympathize with their co-religionists in Syria. The overt sympathy the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has displayed towards Sunnis in the region will further complicate matters for Turkey if the government doesn’t change its tack.

Erdoğan said in Moscow after meeting President Putin on Wednesday that there should be no outside interference in Syria, where the will of the people should be respected. The “will of the people,” however, means different things for different countries at this stage. Seen from the perspective of Moscow, and no doubt quite a few Western capitals, this means the rule of the majority Sunnis, and an administration with a strong Islamic bent that is also vindictive.

The problem for the Justice and Development Party (AKP), therefore, is that unless a regime emerges in Damascus that respects the will of the people in a manner that protects the minority Alevis and Christians, as well as secular elements, stability will evade that country. This is why it looks like there will have to be “outside interference” eventually in the making of the new Syria, despite Erdoğan’s opposition to this.

Put another way, if a new and stable Syria is to emerge, this will have to be the product of some kind of international cooperation. It is unlikely that the Syrians themselves will achieve this, given the bloody events in the country. The problem for the AKP is that it has tried to conduct its foreign policy in the Middle East in a manner that suits its own ideological grand vision for the region. It should be clear by now, however, that the world has a habit of undermining such plans with unexpected developments.

Turkey must now pull itself to the middle ground and follow a foreign policy that does not reveal sectarian preferences, but aims at achieving stability by cooperating with all beliefs, creeds and ethnicities. Otherwise it will continue to land in situations that are untenable in the long run.