Thursday 11 Aug 2022 | 05:43 | SYDNEY
Thursday 11 Aug 2022 | 05:43 | SYDNEY

Who likes Damascus?


Rodger Shanahan


6 December 2011 10:19

With the sanctions noose closing ever more tightly around the neck of the Assad regime, it is remarkable that Damascus can count on any support from its fellow Arab states. But even when the Arab League voted last week to impose sanctions on Syria, it was not unanimous. Two of Syria's three Arab neighbours abstained and will not abide by the League's decision.

Lebanon and Iraq both have reasons for backing the status quo in Damascus. Baghdad has close economic relations with Damascus, good relations with Syria's main backer Iran and a Shi'a-led government which finds comfort in an Alawite government that is equally dedicated to resisting Sunni political primacy. If the Assad regime were to fall, Iraq would be nervous about the succour that Syria's radical Sunni Islamists could provide across the long and porous border to their co-religionists in Iraq, still smarting from being usurped from power eight years ago.

A similar fear of change hangs in the air in Lebanon. Of course, Lebanon is such a patchwork of sectarian interests that the fear is not universal. The Christian nationalists, under leaders such as Samir Gaegae, welcome the fall of Assad, as does the Sunni bloc of Sa'ad Hariri. But the Shi'a, led by Hizbullah and Amal and the Christian bloc of Michel Aoun are firmly in Assad's corner. 

Hizbullah's political primacy would likely continue if Assad were to fall, but its logistic chain would be more difficult to sustain. Regardless of sectarian political considerations though, just like Iraq, there is a significant economic disincentive for Beirut to abide by the Arab League's decision. Most of Lebanon's exports transit through Syria, so any retaliatory action by Damascus against Beirut would be devastating for the Lebanese economy.

Lebanon has long been the country in which Middle Eastern regional and international rivalries have been played out, but Syria is increasingly assuming that mantle. The Assad regime is certainly under siege from many quarters, but so long as it can count on support from Iran and two of its neighbouring Arab countries, as well as the tacit support of Russia and China, it believes that it can survive. While there are many who wish to see the end of Alawite rule in Damascus, there are others in Syria and the region who fear the consequences.

Photo by Flickr user zoonabar.