Syria and the Arab affliction of family rule

o13-iconRami G Khouri writes: Perplexity and despair seem to be the two sentiments that most often define people’s attitudes to the mayhem in Syria.

The fighting by an expanding range of Syrians, backed by a regional and global web of supporters, has reached barbaric proportions in some cases, with civilians largely paying the price.

Refugee and displaced persons flows continue to grow and now account for some 6 million people. While efforts to find a diplomatic breakthrough continue and most interventions by outside forces are focused on providing humanitarian aid to the millions of Syrians in need, a wider web of Arab, Middle Eastern and global actors pump in money and guns to keep the Syrian war going.

Nobody knows what to do and more and more voices are calling for external military intervention to protect civilians or even to topple Bashar Assad’s regime. The impact of the war on neighboring countries is reaching unsustainable levels, especially Jordan and Lebanon. To their credit, the neighbors have kept their borders open to fleeing Syrians, even though these host countries are finding it more and more difficult to absorb any more refugees due to the pressure on their own social infrastructure, such as housing, water, education, and medical care. The host countries have received financial assistance either directly or through the United Nations and other international organizations, but it is well below what is needed.

Perhaps one reason why Arab host countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq keep their borders open is that these countries have all experienced the pain of conflicts that sent many of their own citizens fleeing for shelter in neighboring lands. So we should keep in mind that what is happening in Syria, terrible as it is, should not be seen as an aberration in modern Arab history, but rather represents perhaps the culminating chaos of that history. Syria once referred to itself as “the throbbing heart of Arabism.” That might be an appropriate description in retrospect, because the country’s destruction and implosion today very much mirror those deviant tendencies that have defined the configuration and behavior of so many Arab countries.

Some time in the 1970s, the majority of Arab states left behind their nationalist development aspirations and instead settled into a pattern of conduct that has culminated in the ghastly situation in Syria. The single most debilitating reality of modern Arab history has been the tendency of Arab countries to be ruled by single families that rely on vast security networks to maintain their rule. Single family rule is bad enough; military-security-police states are equally bad. Put them together and you get the core weakness of the modern Arab state system that has seen country after country suffer the scourge of internal war, mass suffering and significant refugee flows. [Continue reading…]

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