After Bashar al-Assad, the Deluge?

(Foreign Policy) Robert D. Kaplan - The current unrest in Syria is far more important than unrest we have seen anywhere in the Middle East. "Syria" was the 19th-century Ottoman-era term for a region that includes present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, western Iraq, and southern Turkey. At the end of World War I, Greater Syria was carved into a half-dozen states, while the rump French mandate of "Syria" that came into existence contained every warring sect and regional and tribal interest. Syria's self-styled "steadfast" hatred of Israel was a way for Syrians to escape their own internal contradictions - with Sunni Arabs, Shiite-trending Alawites, Druze, Kurds, Christian Arabs, Armenians, and Circassians. Between 1947 and 1954, Syria held three national elections that all broke down more or less according to sectarian lines. After 21 changes of government in 24 years and a failed attempt to unify with Egypt, the Alawite air force officer Hafez al-Assad took power in a 1970 coup. By ruling with utter ruthlessness, he kept the peace in Syria for three decades. The writer is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

2011-04-22 00:00:00

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