Syria is of course the birth place of the Baathe Party, it's breakaway sect in the early 1960's going on to raise Saddam Hussein into power in Iraq. The group then was split into Marxist (Civilian) and Militarist wings. The Military power which held say in Syria exists as the main power to this very day and its current President Bashar Assad the son of Party founder Hafez Assad rules in name only. I met Bashir in Syria in 2002 and found the most unassuming leader I had ever had the fortune of meeting. He certainly wasn't raised for the role, that honour was reserved for his brother Bassell, whose coronation never arrived due to his playboy tendencies which led to his death in a high speed car crash in 1994. And so it was that a young Bashar, an ophthalmic surgeon at St Marys teaching Hospital in London suddenly became next in line to the top job back in Damascus. Bashar and his British born wife to be Amas Ahkras found their lives completely reordered.
The Military might of Syria however was not about to lose its grip on power and despite many attempts at modernisation by the new president they continued to run Syria with an iron fist rather than take advantage of the new presidents ability to change Syria for the good. And so when the Arab spring finally made its way on the road to Damascus it met with stiff resistance from within the regime. Whether or not the determined reformer I first met fresh in office had long since given up trying to control his military chiefs I do not know, but he seems to be powerless and at times caught like a rabbit in the headlights when challenged on the alleged crimes of his state.
And then to make things even more complicated and far more dangerous the military themselves are losing grip on their own regional regiments as long held tribal differences come to the fore. The recent atrocities of course at first attributed to the Syrian Government were it seems actually carried out by a militia group loyal to the Baathe party called the "Shabia" others blame the FSA (Free Syrian Army) for similar atrocities carried out in villages loyal to the regime. In other words despite the wish of the BBC and the British government to explain away these atrocities as a simple government v the people struggle those on the ground talk of sectarian unrest and almost open civil war between opposing terrorist groups and government supporting militia in the North, and this violence is now spreading across the border into Lebanon.
But despite who is leading who and who is really calling the shots one thing is for sure and that is that the Baath Party of Bashar Assad and his father, Hafiz Assad, are still in absolute control of Syria, and any wish from the west that they are to be toppled as quickly as over regimes in the region is ill advised
This conflict will go on for a long time. There are a lot of supporters of the Baath Party regime. Not just members of the Shiite Alawite community and the Christians and the Druze, but others too, particularly among the Syrian bourgeoisie, the middle classes who support the regime. It will also be bloody. So what happened to the UK governments resolve as expressed over Libya to protect civilians on the ground? Where is the cry for military intervention? Or is Britain's resolve limited to our economic interest and the size of the government army we face?
Or perhaps the advisers in the foreign office are reminding British ministers of what happened in Algeria in the 1990's when the rise of Islamist groups was kept in check by a pro government alliance of tribal groups. In Algerian both sides, the military and the Islamist's, militias, started massacring very large numbers of civilians in terrible ways. The obvious fear is that the same kind of thing could happen in Syria now because we know very little about the rebel forces and the rebel militias that are now emerging across the country.
Robert Fisk, for me the most gifted, open and learned journalist in the Middle East recently told reporters that
"Well it already is happening in Syria. I went to a suburb of Algiers called Bentalha where there was an Islamist attack on villagers who were themselves "Islamist's". Hundreds of people were killed, including babies who had their throats cut.
I was in the village where this happened and saw the corpses of these babies and I saw the parents. And from the roof of their home, I saw the Algerian flag flying from the nearest Algerian Army barracks. From which, apparently, the Algerian Army could not come to the rescue of the villagers.
Of course they could, but they didn't. This is the sort of situation we're now seeing in places like Houla and Hama and I suppose perhaps, horribly speaking, in Aleppo too. We're seeing the same sort of pattern emerge, unfortunately."
The simple fact though is that the Syrian opposition, the armed opposition to Bashar Assad is so divided that it cannot be regarded as a serious threat to the regime. And Britain and the West have no idea who is leading that opposition on a day to day basis
And if we don't know who the opposition is, then the lazy thing to do is to simply blame Bashar Assad and the Syrian Government. But the West in this case cannot be seen to even give support to the opposition, as they undoubtedly contain elements and fighters from Al Qaeda, whose members may indeed perhaps be involved in massacres similar to the Houla massacre aimed at different tribal groups. And of course even if we had a side to back then the UK's economic interest is limited in this case so don't hold your breathe waiting for UK military involvement
Syria, and it's people need a new start, but it will not get that from a prolonged and bloody civil war. Bashar needs to lead a new drive for a democratic nation that actually represents all the people of Syria - the Sunni, the Shiites, which means of course the Alawites of the presidency, Bashar Assad and also the Christians and Druz. It's current bloodletting offers no such vision, just a continence of sectarianism and continued religious indifference.
Bashar, the eye doctor from London would do well to look for help from the young leaders of Lebanon, as well as from the UN. He should look to develop a new state that rejects a society based on sectarian values and tribal difference. A country proud of its secular ideals rather than one driven into Islamic dominance I don't find Bashar Hassad not guilty of involvement in Syrias painful daily trials and tribulations, in fact it is his weakness at times that has acted as a recruitment centre for the more dangerous elements amongst his regime and following to take matters into their own hands and arm the militia's currently carrying atrocities in a tit for tat fashion with the rebels. But the West will do itself no favours by simply blaming the regime for all Syrias ills and saying how awful these massacres are whist wringing their hands and refusing to take any any part in seeking a solution.
Diplomacy and dialogue with Bashar and with others in the region including leaders in Lebanon is in my view the only way that further disaster can be avoided and all out civil war can be averted, if of course it is not already too late. My hope above in writing this piece is to educate and illustrate, to offer an alternative to the over simplistic view churned out by the mass media at a British and world audience angry at what is in front of them on their TV screens but feeling powerless to do anything about it and wondering why their own government lack the balls to intervene.