Syria… new moves on the chessboard

The Egyptian president has responded to the US escalation with a speech in Cairo Stadium.


Nader Bakkar
25 June 2013

The stand of the United States towards the Syrian revolution has changed from condemnation into direct action to bring Bashar down. Washington is still hesitant and studying the possible reactions of the Russian-Iranian axis, so this is just a change of tactics. Maybe this escalation is an attempt to diminish Bashar’s military progress in response to Russian missile support to Bashar or the rise of the Shiite Hezbollah beyond their usual zone of influence. Both scenarios are a threat to the balance of power in the region according to the vision of the United States.      

Iran is exaggerating the sectarian aspect of the conflict by pushing Hezbollah into the battle. At the same time, Hezbollah has been holding huge provocative celebrations in Lebanon after the Al Qusayr battle. Iran has also mobilized some Iraqi Shiite groups, as well as encouraging the Houthis in Yemen to join the battle in Syria. According to western formulae, this will broaden the conflict in a way that makes it harder to control it or its consequences. The west aims to keep the conflict going as long as is possible without having a victorious side, till the post-Bashar scenario is sewn up. This must preserve western interests in the region, and Israel on top.      

What is also critical for the United States is the escalating role of the radical Islamist groups that include militants from various nationalities. This is a totally different evolution of the Arab Spring from western aspirations that wanted it to be like the Egyptian and Tunisian models. The situation in Syria has ended up being closer to the period of Islamic Jihad during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. If the Islamists – who form the great majority of the rebels – win the battle militarily, bringing Bashar’s regime down or forcing it into a small isolated Alawite state, it will be harder for the west to control the new state to preserves its own interests. 

Cairo, ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, realizes that it should play a more significant role. Over the past year, the Egyptian president seemed only to make hesitant statements about the Syrian conflict. However, Cairo has made a gesture to the effect that it prefers a political settlement to reaching a dead end with Bashar’s regime. There is a hidden message there, as Syria, in addition to Hamas, is one of the international pressure points that helped the Egyptian regime to stabilize their rule. Morsi’s Cairo Stadium speech on June 21 was an attempt made by the Egyptian regime to respond to the recent shift in the bellicosity of the United States, at the same time as keeping its understanding intact with Moscow and Tehran.       

It was fine in the Cairo Stadium to stress Islamist and patriotic sentiments by condemning Hezbollah, as a way to release some of the popular rage. It is even fine for the Iranians themselves if the Egyptian regime hosts such events with prominent Islamist figures calling for support for the Syrian people. This releases some of the pent-up anger before June 30, when the opposition is planning widespread demonstrations calling for new elections, and reduces Salafi criticism of the government. Still, the reality is that the Egyptian regime can’t take a stand against Iran if it wants to stabilize its rule: Tehran is one of its biggest supporters.  

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