There’s been a lot of talk about a country called Syria this week. For anyone that may be wondering what all the hubbub is about, there follows my simple explanation of the players in this increasingly large game of geopolitical chess. Here are the players:
THE SYRIAN GOVERNMENT
Who? Mostly a chap called Bashr Al Assad. He’s not really into the whole democracy thing, to the extent that since 2011 (just like almost every other country nearby), his country has been in turmoil. His government mostly consist of Alawite Shia Muslims, who are a tiny minority in the predominantly Sunni country (Muslims have Sunni and Shia the way Christians have Catholics and Protestants, kinda). In recent weeks he’s been accused of using chemical weapons on the rebels, which has of course led to lots of unfortunate dead people in the region. Whether the accusations are true or not it virtually impossible to determine, but that hasn’t stopped the internet from exploding with footage of the attacks. What’s certainly true is that he has ruled with an iron fist in recent months, with thousands missing or dead in the civil war that has raged between his forces and the rebels.
Motives? At first it was just continued power. Now, it’s pretty clear that ex-presidents of Arab dictatorships don’t do well with retirement (see also: Gaddaffi’s corpse being dragged through the streets).
THE SYRIAN REBELS
Who? At first, the everyday people on the ground in Syria, tired of a long-standing ruler with little or no democratic mandate, protesting peacefully. That, however, was quite some time ago. Now they comprise a group of militarised, organised fighters in one half of the civil war.
Motives? Complex. Originally it was just to remove Assad, but agin, in all that’s happened since it’s not clear whether they want true democracy or just an Islamic state like some of the neighbours. Somehow it’s unlikely they’re for equal rights for women, and they’re certainly harder-line on the country’s christian minority than Assad.
Who? An international group of “terrorists” or “freedom fighters”, depending on your outlook of course. They’re currently the party in power in Palestine (EDIT – no they’re not. That’s Hamas. Silly blumpkine). and are most known for launching rocket attacks on Israel. They enjoy huge support in Lebanon, and are probably making up the vast majority of Assad’s outside support.
Motives? Mostly fucking Israel over. They already control Palestine, and control of a weakened Syrian government would allow them to fuck Israel from both sides at once.
Who? Seriously?? Yes, it’s those 9/11 guys. They enjoy massive support in nearby Saudi Arabia, probably but not definitely including support from the Saudi royal family. Their Syrian and Iraqi chapters have merged and are fighting for the rebels.
Motives? The same as they are everywhere : rule as many countries as possible and put them under the monstrous Sharia law, as their friends the Taliban did in Afghanistan. Make no mistake, these guys are not interested in democracy, they just don’t like the current dictator and would prefer him replaced with one of their own.
Who? Oil-rich, American-backed local power to the East. Since Egypt went to merry hell, they’re America’s strongest major ally in the region. They’re Sunni Muslims themselves, which of course means they’re not too fond of Assad’s Shia government.
Motives? Saudi Arabia has been jockeying for top Arabian dog position with Iran for quite some time now, and has enjoyed plenty of support (financial and military) from the US. An awful lot of the incredibly complex local politics comes down to a rivalry between the Saudis and the Persians for diplomatic, economic and military dominance on the Arabian peninsula and the surrounding area, with both sides being backed by a bigger puppetmaster (see below)
Who? By far the largest country in the Middle East. An economic power in their own right, Iran is another oil-rich state but in this case backed by Russia instead of the USA….at least, now they are. In the past they’ve swapped sides (or had them swapped) a few times. They’re no longer under the threat of the fucking nutball Hussein in Iraq, so now they want to be top dog in the region
Motives? Same as Saudi – leadership of the Middle East. They’re not directly involved apart from some support of Assad, but they still have some skin in the game. Still, the new man in charge seems a bit less vitriolic than the last guy, and they’ve chiled out a bit over their nukes lately so they’re likely to play a background role in any potential conflict.
Who? Once the most powerful military force in the world, Russia is no longer the expansionist giant it used to be. That being said, they still keep their friends – few as they are, these days – close
Motives? Depends who you ask. In military terms, their only remaining mediterranean naval base (with which they can still be a force in Europe if they REALLY need to be) is in Syria, so they prefer to have Assad on top. Putin also has a healthy dose of FuckAmericaItis, so that’s surely driving him somewhat too.
Who? Just….just stop it. You know who.
Motives? Oil? Water? Continued dominance of the planet? Spreading freedom? Supporting the uprising? Fuck Russia? Fuck Islam? Who knows at this point. In fairness they have the unenviable position of being the one everyone wants to intervene when a dictator gets too violent AND the one everyone hates for sending in the troops. Obama said that the use of chemical weapons would be enough to send in the eagles months ago, which of course forces the question: how did they know the chemical weapons were there? Do they still have the receipt? The states will be invading Syria this month, almost definitely, with or without the UN’s approval. Which, they hope, will be won by….
Who? Formerly the world champions of overseas flag planting, the UK is now an American missile base just off the east coast of Ireland. It’s been said that the sun never set on the British empire because god wouldn’t trust the bastards in the dark, however they remain a pillar of the EU (albeit reluctantly) and mostly the biggest diplomatic network in the world. Really. The Brits have people EVERYWHERE, and mostly working towards keeping peace and pointing lost tourists home.
Motives? Sadly, just like the last time, their motive is to be head cheerleader for the US. Dave and his gang are currently petitioning the UN to pat Barry on the head and tell him to go ahead and send in the marines. When it goes down, like the US, the UK will be going in with or without international or even domestic support.
So on the one side, it’s Assad’s government in the spotlight with Hezbollah on the ground, supported by Russia and Iran. On the other, Syrian rebels fighting alongside Al Qaeda support by the USA (no, REALLY), the UK, and Saudi Arabia. Probably some logistical help from Turkey and Jordan, and possibly Israel if the thing spreads.
THE SYRIAN PEOPLE
Who? The 21 million unfortunate bastards that have been shot at, shelled, gassed and tortured for the last two years. Looking at Iraq for the past two decades, that may turn out to be the good times pretty soon.
Motives? It doesn’t matter anymore, really, does it? They’re just another population swept up in the grand global game. I imagine that like most people they just want to carry on living their lives, maybe make a better life for their kids, and live their days in peace. Then again, it’s hard to hear them over the sound of all the foreigners deciding their fates.
Finally , and most importantly, Miley Cyrus.