As Russia, Iran and Turkey prepare to guide Syria towards a political settlement, much has been discussed regarding Russia coming to accept and embrace the fact that Damascus has chosen Arabism rather than federalism or accompanying sectarianism, as a fundamental guide for a future peace settlement. The Turkish position which has become one of gradual pragmatism based on concessions to the realities on the ground in return for continued healthy and growing relations with Iran and Russia, has also been widely discussed.
However, Iran’s position in terms of a constitutional settlement has been largely ignored by media outlets outside of Iran. Iran is of course a steadfast ally of Damascus and Iranian military advisers were aiding Syria in her war against Takfiri terrorism, even before Russia got directly involved and long before Turkey’s schism with her former western partners.
It is one of the ironies of life that while war helpes to unite allies, the subsequent peace process can often expose disagreements. However, I personally remain confident that Syria, Iran and Russia have the ability to come together for the sake of peace without allowing disagreements over the nature of that peace to become problematic.
While for Russia, the choice is between favouring a revitalised Syrian Arab Republic versus an increasingly discredited federal model, for Iran, the choice is putting its weight behind the historic Arabism of Syria or attempting to provide an alternative model.
Some Iranian scholars have proposed a model for Syria that is something of a hybrid between the existing Arab nationalist status quo and the Islamic democracy model pioneered in Revolutionary Iran.
In reality, a country like Syria must retain the status quo of Arabism as defined by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party for the following reasons.
1. The best way to fight sectarianism in a country like Syria is through Arabism
In a recent speech which I believe to be the most important of his career, President Bashar al-Assad spoke of the need to revitalise Arabism for the 21st century. His major points included restating that modern Arabism is not ethno-nationalism, but instead is a unifying principle based on a shared language, shared geographical space and shared history. In a country whose primary enemies have been those fighting with the wretched armaments of sectarianism, Arabist unity is, as the Syrian President said, the key for Syria’s survival.
2. Syria is not ready for, nor does it want Iranian style democracy
Contrary to western and Zionist propaganda, Iran is not only a democracy, but a thriving one. Iran is home to the kind of robust debates and multi-party/diverse candidate democracy that Syria simply cannot afford to experiment with at this time.
With Israel continuing to occupy the Golan Heights, terrorist sleeper cells fomenting in the aftermath of the defeat of militarised Takfiri terrorist groups and the looming threat of a Kurdish insurgency, Syria, even after a peace settlement is established, will continue to be in a state of war, even if it is largely a cold war.
Until terrorism is totally eradicated, even at the level of sleeper cells and more importantly, until the Zionist entity withdraws from the occupied Golan Heights in full, Syria’s future depends on stability and unity far more than on the kind of democracy which flourishes under far more stable circumstances in Iran.
Furthermore, with Syria and Iran facing so many of the same enemies, now is not the time to waste energy on internal debates between partners, that are unnecessary in the first-place.
3. Arabism has not failed in Syria–it has saved Syria
The old adage “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it”, can readily be applied to Syria. The reason Syria was able to survive politically and not just militarily is because the majority of Syrians thought of themselves as Syrians first and other considerations (confession, ethnicity, regional affiliation) second, if at all. No country’s government could have survived such a devastating war if it did not have popular support. If anything, the conflict has only increased popular support for the Ba’athist government.
If the Syrian government and Arab Socialist Ba’ath party could survive such a devastating war, surely it can survive the forthcoming peace. To deny this would be to acknowledge the blatantly false Saudi/Zionist/western narrative that the conflict in Syria was a civil war rather than a foreign authored, funded and armed proxy conflict.
How does Arabism in Syria benefit Iran?
Iran’s support for the governments in both Baghdad and Damascus have strengthened Iranian prestige in much of the Arab world, to levels not seen in the late-modern period. As the Middle East is now divided between a northern and southern bloc with the north being comprised of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, much of Lebanon and Syria (an ally to all in the bloc except Turkey and certain factions in Lebanon), it has become clear that such a development would be impossible if not for good will towards Iran among large Arab populations.
At the same time, a Saudi led southern bloc of the Middle East which includes most of the Gulf Cooperation Council (apart from Qatar), Egypt, Jordan to some degree and Israel to a large degree, is dead-set on proffering a dangerous anti-Iranian agenda.
The southern bloc seeks to exploit sectarianism in the northern bloc in order to weaken Iran’s influence and crown Saudi Arabia as the leading state of all Arab countries, something which Syrians, Iraqis and most Lebanese find totally unacceptable. Incidentally, the fact that many Egyptians feel that they are still the de-facto leaders of the southern bloc may ultimately cause friction between a beleaguered Cairo and a surging though manic Riyadh.
That being said, even excluding the anti-Iranian fanatics in Saudi Arabia, latent scepticism about Iran does linger in Arab circles, even in the generally pro-Iranian northern bloc of Middle Eastern states. The best way to combat the lingering residue of thought which sees Iranians as exploiters rather than partners of the Arabs, would be for the Islamic Republic of Iran to fully embrace a post-conflict Syria that not only retains but redoubles its Arab characteristics. In many ways, the value of Arabism in Iraq has been realised in the form of a pan-Iraqi move to quash Kurdish ethno-nationalism. Far more than in the fight against Takfiri terrorism, the short but successful fight against Kurdish ethno-nationalism in Iraq has helped to unite many Arabs, including Sunnis behind the largely Shi’a government in Baghdad.
In supporting the continuation of a Syrian Arab Republic, Iran would send a message to the entire Arab world that progressive Arabism can and should co-exist with an Iranian alliance. Just as President Assad eloquently explained how Arabism strengthens the indigenous Islam and Christianity of the region, so too does Arabism strengthen Iran’s position in Arab lands and likewise, Iran’s friendship to Arab countries will help progressive Arabs to fight the extremist, sectarianism form of distorted Islam which Saudi Arabia and her allies attempt to export through the force of terrorism and bribery.
The concept of Arabism living in a harmonious partnership with the Islamic Republic of Iran represents a clear “win-win” model for the northern bloc of the Middle East. Turkey and Iran, in spite of historical differences and completely different ideological models (both in respect of Kemalism and Erdoganism), have become ever closer without sacrificing their unique characteristics. Likewise, Arabist states like Syria can continue to be closely partnered with Iran in a spirit of respect and friendship. This model helped Syria survive the war and Iran increase her regional prestige. If applied in peacetime, it can only be more successful for all parties involved.