Middle East in the Grip of Polarization

February 18, 2016

The Middle East, in the grip of polarization, is going through a most violent period. Syria is being torn apart. Iraq is far from peace and stability. Egypt remains unsettled. Tunisia continues to face a multitude of challenges. According to some Libya is already a failed state. Yemen is being devastated. Dislocation, starvation and disease are widespread. Misery reigns everywhere. Behind their façade of stability and affluence Gulf States are nervous. ISIL’s appetite for crime and destruction seems insatiable. Its outreach is continuing to expand. As for Turkey, these are very stressful times to say the least.

Throughout the region, however, the mentality continues to be “winner-take-all”. This is what we witness in Syria where coming to the table to stop the bloodshed is seen as a concession whereas it should be clear to all the parties, at least by now, that there is not going to be a military solution to the conflict. Differences are of course diverse and extreme. They extend from religion, ethnicity, world outlook and politics to culture. Furthermore, they are increasingly characterized by an element of hate. Worst of all, Syrians seem to have lost sense of direction. The silent or silenced majority may regret what they have been going through but those who appear to be in charge see no further than the tip of the gun barrel.

Following the last meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) held in Munich on February 12, Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry held a joint press conference. Both took care not to create any illusions about what they had just agreed upon. Yet they also tried to offer a glimmer of hope regarding the future while holding their ground. More importantly, however, they stated the obvious:

Minister Lavrov: “… The second point that is an important achievement of today’s meeting is the issue of ceasefire and as a first step towards it, that is the cessation of hostilities. This is a complicated task. There are too many stakeholders involved in military activities and it is important to use the unique potential of the International Syria Support Group, which unites almost all countries that have some kind of leverage on those fighting on the ground…”

Secretary Kerry: “... As I’ve said previously, it is my belief and the belief of the majority of the members of this group that there will not be peace in Syria if Assad is determined to stay there and lead the country. That’s our belief. Other people have a different point of view. But we don’t believe he can make peace because we don’t think that certain countries and certain players involved in this will stop fighting until there is a legitimate transition, which is what was decided in 2012…”

The foregoing, particularly the references to “many stakeholders involved in military activities”, “countries that have some kind of leverage” and “certain players” should help the people of Syria to come to their senses and realize that five years into this conflict, they have become pawns in a wider competition; that all these international meetings, peace plans, communiques are as much about the agendas of others as theirs; that the commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity reflected in UNSC resolutions cannot be the ultimate guarantee of Syria’s survival; that they are about to lose their country as they have known it; that they are seen as a people incapable of taking charge of their destiny; that countries are unwilling to receive them as refugees; and that they need to engage in serious talks now and do their best to reduce external meddling in the conflict.

Some Syrians may think it is too late; that they would not be allowed to change course even if they wanted to. Others may still be determined to fight to the bitter end. And sadly, the latter may prove to be right because there is little hope of a “happy end” to this tragedy. Such is the disease of polarization. If it does not kill you, it leaves you maimed.

Polarization is about to finish Syria off. The truth is that all other regional countries are suffering from the same disease, some more acutely than the others. Some are deliberately being polarized. Common sense is lost. Terror is widespread. Words of wisdom have been replaced by bravado. Dialogue is regarded a weakness.

Peoples of the Middle East no longer need to read their fortunes in coffee cups. All they have to do is to take a look at Syria.

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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