A man wearing a gas mask and a boy run away from a combat zone in Aleppo, Syria (photo: Getty Images/AFP)
Essay by the Syrian Writer Fawwaz Haddad

Children of a Divided Nation

In his essay, the renowned Syrian writer and novelist Fawwaz Haddad criticises the cynical attitude of the international community toward the Syrian conflict and the dramatic decline of his homeland

Syria has played an important and influential role in the region during the past four decades, whether in the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian question, or in the termination of the Lebanese civil war with all its painful consequences.

One need only think as well of the clear stand Syria took on the Gulf wars, where it partially breached the intra-Arab consensus – quite rightly so in the opinion of many observers. If there is an achievement the regime can still cite today in its defence, it would be the weight Syria carries in the region and its prominent role there, thanks to which it has become a permanent fixture in regional, and even international, power games.

Fawwaz Hadad (photo: Banipal Magazine)
Illusion of peace and freedom: "Syria has abandoned its dreams and has sunk to the lowest depths of ugly and painful reality, burying its dead day after day," writes Haddad.

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Despite its waning clout in the region, the regime has nonetheless benefitted during the last two years from its standing. Its alliances with Iran and Russia as well as its long-standing central role in the Middle East have spared it for the most part from any regional or international pressure, even though the world unanimously condemns the brutal repression of the uprisings.

A divided Arab world

The fact is that the regime has always been regarded by its neighbours as a predictable factor, so that a country like Jordan has hitherto avoided becoming mired in the so-called "Syrian swamp". Two camps have emerged within the Arab countries: one comes down on the side of the revolution, while the other ignores it. Some of those in the latter camp have indeed secretly supported the regime, under a cloak of silence.

What's more, the initial support some countries displayed for the revolution has flagged significantly. Demands for Assad's resignation have all died away without effect, as have the threats coming from Turkey, the USA and Europe and the corresponding economic sanctions, which are in the meantime so elaborate and carefully targeted that no sector of the economy is spared.

This has led to an economic decline marked by tremendous inflation and the devaluation of the Syrian lira against the dollar. Queues hundreds of metres long form daily outside bakeries, petrol stations and shops selling gas cylinders.

Given this scenario of a shattered state, it almost seems like the regime possesses magical powers. It already succeeded once before in the magic act of propagating a simulacrum of Syria as an oasis of peace and security. Today, the government presents itself as a stronghold of secularism and the protection of minorities, as well as a spearhead in the fight against terrorism.

Disenchanted regime

But the regime has in fact lost its magical aura, proving itself to be but a small cog in the Russian and Iranian machines. Russia is out to regain its role in the world, and Iran is at pains to shore up its regional power – both ultimately at the expense of the Syrians. The Syrian regime has hence become a mere pawn in the hands of other states seeking to secure their place in the heart of the region and the world.

Destroyed buildings in northern Aleppo (photo: picture-alliance/AP)
The world community stands by idly: more than 70,000 people have been killed since civil war broke out two years ago. Numerous towns and villages have been destroyed, and there are now more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees, according to UNHCR data. Pictured: shelled houses in the city of Aleppo

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But we must be careful not to make the country's demise seem worse than it is. Even prior to the current crisis, Syria was not really in control of its resources and its fortunes. The truth is that the interests of the regime had sometimes overlapped with those of the USA, and at other times with those of France, Turkey, the Gulf States or others.

Its only active role was to draw profit from these overlaps and to offer the other powers its services, even if that meant betraying Syria's own economic and political interests. The preservation of the regime was the main thing.

The fate of our Arab countries is forged abroad, in the backrooms of global politics. What is decided there does nothing for our people except to cement dictatorships that are amenable to the influence of foreign powers – if necessary, through destruction, the imprisonment of opponents, or through their gradual or rapid elimination.

But with the Arab Spring the international community felt the fierce winds of an Arab uprising: the populace's efforts to breach the fate imposed on them by international politics in the hope of one day taking their country's destiny in their own hands instead of entrusting it to the outside world.

Broken dreams

If we say that the world is making common cause with the Syrian regime, this not a particularly scandalous statement, because that's just the way the interests happen to be entangled in this opportunistic world. All that counts for them is the naked reality, and the same goes for the regime. The people have their dreams, though, even if these are obviously unrealistic.

Reality, by contrast, brings blood, missiles and fighter-bombers in its tow. Turning dreams into reality exacts a high price, sometimes even higher than what people are able to pay.

Syria is already long past this phase. It has abandoned its dreams and has sunk to the lowest depths of ugly and painful reality, burying its dead day after day – and it makes no difference anymore whether someone is for or against the regime, whether they have joined the rebels or the government militias, whether they call themselves secularists or Salafists. All of them are children of a divided Syria.

Fawwaz Haddad

© Qantara.de 2013

The Syrian writer Fawwaz Haddad, born in 1947 in Damascus, is one of the most highly acclaimed authors in the Arab-speaking world. Of his nine novels, two were nominated for the Arabic Booker Prize. He has been living temporarily in Doha for the past several weeks.

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de

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