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Policy Analysis 20 October, 2013

The Syrian Crisis: An Analysis of Neighboring Countries’ Stances

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Nerouz Satik | Khaled Walid Mahmoud

Khaled Walid Mahmoud is is a Assistant Researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. Having worked as an editor and a news desk manager at Yahoo!, his research interests are focused on political activism through social and digital media. He has been a researcher with the Civitas program, monitoring public opinion amongst diaspora Palestinians and a Research Associate with Professor Nathan Brown, examining the political participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. His articles have appeared in a number of print and on-line media, as well as in peer-reviewed journals. He is the author of two Arabic books, Social Media and the Dynamics of Change in the Arab World (2011); and The Present and Future Realities of Israeli Security (2007). He holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in International Relations, both from the University of Jordan.
Nerouz Satik is a Research Assistant at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. Satik’s research is focused on the Arab world in international relations, specifically the role of Syria. Previously, he worked as an Executive Researcher at the Orient Center for International Studies, focusing on Russian affairs. He holds a BA in Political Science from Damascus University where he is currently undertaking an MA in International Relations.

Introduction

The Arab Levant region has significant geopolitical importance in the global political map, particularly because of its diverse ethnic and religious identities and the complexity of its social and political structures. This diversity makes the region a suitable arena for the interplay of numerous competing regional and international interests, which has deeply influenced how politics in the Levant have been shaped over time. Political changes in the region tend to go beyond the borders of the state in which they occur, affecting society and politics in surrounding states. The Syrian revolution is no exception to this pattern. Syria’s neighboring countries have been affected by the ongoing political and security fluctuations, and these, in turn, have influenced the events in Syria, by pushing for policies that serve the internal and external determinants of their respective stances on Syria.[1]


The Lebanese Position toward the Syrian Revolution

Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005, Syria was isolated internationally and regionally among Arab states, which intensified following a number of regional shifts—most notably President Ahmadinejad’s assumption of power in Iran in 2005, the Israeli aggression against Lebanon in July 2006, and the subsequent alliance that was struck between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The country’s isolation was apparent in the US, European, and Saudi negative stances toward Syria and its policies in Lebanon. Following the outcome of the Israeli aggression on Lebanon in 2006, and the internal conflicts among Lebanese parties regarding Hezbollah’s use of weapons and controversial communications network, Hezbollah besieged many of its political opponents’ positions and imposed a fait accompli through military force. This led to a Turkish-Qatari-Iranian intervention that resulted in the Doha Accord, enabling Lebanon to hold presidential elections, after a consensus was built around President Michel Suleiman, as well as parliamentary elections, which the March 14 Coalition won in June 2009. In addition to the March 8 and March 14 parties, the Doha Accord allowed the formation of a “national unity” cabinet on November 9, 2009,[2] headed by the leader of Lebanon’s Future Party, Saad al-Hariri.[3] This development led to the rejuvenation of a modicum of Saudi-Syrian understanding and coordination, often referred to as “the S-S deal” in Lebanon, which resulted, in turn, in the near-normalization of relations between the Future Party in Lebanon, Walid Jumblatt, and the Syrian regime. An improvement in relations was confirmed when the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri visited Damascus on December 19, 2009, followed in September 2010 with Hariri’s implicit apology for “past mistakes” and declaration of Syria’s innocence in Rafiq al-Hariri’s assassination.[4] Walid Jumblatt’s successive visits to Damascus, which continued until August 2011, further affirmed this improvement.

Conversely, in order to form a sustainable consociational government in Lebanon, the dissolution of Saad al-Hariri’s cabinet on January 12, 2011 represented a breach of the Syrian-Saudi understanding and the balances it put in place. During that time, the March 8 coalition decided to pre-emptively withdraw its ministers from the cabinet before issuing the international tribunal’s indictment, which would have accused members of Hezbollah of the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.[5] The president appointed Najib Mikati to form a new cabinet after Walid Jumblatt and his parliamentary block voted in favor of Mikati to replace Hariri, in line with the March 8 coalition. The new cabinet, which did not include any ministers from the March 14 party, was formed on June 13, 2011.[6]


* This paper was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version can be found here.

 

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[1] This study examines the Lebanese, Iraqi, and Jordanian stances toward the Syrian revolution prior to the use of chemical weapons on August 21 and the repercussions of the incident; we would like to acknowledge researchers Raghid al-Sulh and Yahya al-Kabeesi for the help that they provided.

[2] Syria exited its international isolation following the four-party meeting in early September 2008, which joined Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Qatar’s Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Press Conference for Summit Attended by Presidents Assad and Sarkozy, the Emir of Qatar, and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” Sana (Syria), September 4, 2008, http://sana.sy/ara/3/2008/09/04/pr-191739.htm.

[3] The Lebanese Army, “Formation of New Cabinet”.

[4] “President Assad and the Servant of the Holy Shrines and President Suleiman during the Beirut Summit: to confront the conspiracies and plans that are being hatched for the region in order to destabilize it with sectarian and religious seditions,” al-Thawra Daily (Syria), July 31, 2010,

http://thawra.alwehda.gov.sy/archive.asp?FileName=27920162420100731012918.

Saudi Arabia’s king visited Damascus from July 29-30, 2010; he then accompanied President Assad to Beirut, where they held a tripartite summit with the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. Also, on September 6, 2010, in an interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat, Hariri said that the Lebanese “have committed mistakes in some areas” regarding Syria, and that “the political accusation” directed at Syria for the assassination of his father Rafiq al-Hariri was over. See: “Saad al-Hariri: Accusations over My Father’s Assassination Are Over,” al-Arabiya Net, September 6, 2010, http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2010/09/06/118606.html.

[5] Policy Analysis Unit, “The New Cabinet Appointment,” April 28, 2013.

[6] Associated Press, “Lebanese Minister Resigns from Newly Formed Cabinet,” France 24, June 13, 2011, http://www.france24.com/en/20110613-middle-east-lebanon-hezbollah-and-allies-are-majority-in-new-cabinet