Book reviews - Conflict Resolution: Wider Middle East.
       

The Syria Dilemma
(Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013)

What should and should not do the international community in response to the current Syrian crisis? What is our responsibility in nongovernmental organizations and international grassroots movements? Would “humanitarian intervention” be helpful to Syrians? These are some of the questions that Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel try to answer in a book of articles written by individuals of various political backgrounds and views. This book marks the second collaboration of Hashemi and Postel. The first was People Reloaded ,published shortly after the creation of the Green Movement in Iran.

There is general agreement that the Syrian movement began in March 2011 in a non-violent manner with a demand for democracy, especially by youth with the hope of “a Syrian republic based on equality in citizenship, democratic rule of law and respect for human rights and for religious and political pluralism.” The Syrian movement was part of a broader Middle East awakening. I purposely decline to call it “the Arab Spring” or “Arab Awakening” since within the Middle East and active in social movements there are others besides Arabs, particularly Kurds, Turks, Persians and others. These first demonstrations were met by excessive repression from the army and the security forces. Some authors see the repression as a deliberate policy to inject more violence as a way to unify support for the regime. Others see it as a habitual response of Syrian security forces. Thus, relatively quickly, armed groups within Syria highjacked the non-violent protests. Some armed groups are opposed to the government; some armed groups are armed by the government itself; the Kurds are working for local autonomy. In addition, armed individuals flowed in from outside the country, some, no doubt, encouraged by governments, in other cases, individuals are motivated by ideological/religious views.

It did not take long before external governments became involved, driven by their own agendas and geopolitical ambitions, adding complexity to the Syrian situation. Authors deal with the role of regional powers: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and to some degree Israel. The United States and Russia are deeply involved in different ways, and at some distance China, France and England. The authors map out the connections, agendas and desires of these major regional and international players, although the Syrians who started the non-violent movement with a totally different agenda in mind are largely lost in “the fog of war”.

The authors, as will the readers, share frustrations, anticipations, outrages, disappointments, and hope to see an end to the Syrian suffering. On the way ahead, the authors are divided. Some hold out for armed intervention with a “regime change” in mind on the model of Iraq and Libya. Others see a more limited humanitarian intervention to impose ceasefires and create safe zones. Others hope that there can be successful diplomatic negotiations with all parties at the negotiation table.

The Syria Dilemma articulates the intricacy of the situation and possible options. Nevertheless, the book is clear and is helpful to those with less familiarity with Middle East affairs. The situation in Syria is in constant motion, and The Syria Dilemma provides some of the necessary background for setting policies within peace and conflict-resolution organizations

LZ