“Once upon a time in the Middle East”. What is going to happen in Syria?

What is going to happen in Syria? About this topic, it has been long discussed on December 11, 2015, during the seminar “Once Upon a Time the Middle East”. Cosa ne sarà della Siria? organized by Mediterranean Affairs, the Department of Political Science, Communication and International Relations of the University of Macerata, with the Interdepartmental Centre of Research on Africa (Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerca sull’Africa). I had the pleasure to participate together with Giacomo Morabito, Director of Mediterranean Affairs, and Giuseppe Acconcia, journalist at “Il Manifesto” and academic researcher.


Syria, a little neuralgic State made up in the 1916 with the Sykes–Picot Agreement and, as many other countries in the area, victim of the iniquitous post-colonial politics of the great European powers. There was and now – as prophetically quoted the title of the meeting – there is no more. Among the ruins of the longed-for cities and the marvelous traces of a past, that nowadays is brutally annihilated, one can sense only war, disruption and death.

Almost five years have passed since he young Syrians have gone on the streets, in Daraa and many other cities in the country asking for democracy, reforms and above all al-Assad’s resignation, last symbol of a dynastic dictatorship, that have ruled – and in some ways still rules – a country that has anachronistically proclaimed itself ‘presidential republic’. These facts have been called, back then, ‘Syrian Arab Spring’, almost as if those uprisings could bring a real change also in Syria, but the following days, months and then years have been marked only by blood. And since then nothing have been the same. The clashes between the rebellious factions, more and more a nebula in which it is difficult to distinguish the good from evil, and the loyalist militias are more frequent, so it came the civil war. Through the instable borders of the Syrian chaos members of al-Qaeda and other jihadists groups got in the country and in 2013 arrived also Daesh, which proclaimed al-Raqqah its own capital. Everybody fought against everybody, refugees and deads’ numbers increased and still increase constantly. The massacre went on among the total indifference of the international community, at least until last September, when Russian President, Vladimir Putin, decided unilaterally for the military intervention in Syria. The spotlight were lighted up once again in Syria and the world is now aware of a conflict too long put aside. So we arrive to the last act of a drama, that we could ‘technically’ call of the ‘internationalization of the conflict’, label maybe even too gentle to mean the inclusion in the situation – only officially sometimes – of new international and local players. The United States strengthen their anti-Daesh coalition, putting together actors already officially involved in the area and sometimes definitely ambiguous like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar; Russia, more and more near to Iran, watches the maybe irremediable breaking of its relationships with Turkey and the Sunnis. And the little tormented Syria becomes the setting of the proxy war of other international actors.

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So, what is going to happen in Syria? Better, what is going to happen to ‘this’ Syria? We tried to answer to this ambitious and difficult question, in front of a large public of young people, all curious to know the reasons of so much hate and grudge. And in front of such hate and grudge, preconditions of the evident actual difficulties for a real and shared solution to the Syrian crisis, we could not avoid underlining the fault of the international community that keeps putting the national interest before the search of a common path, today as yesterday. Despite of it, we all shared the hope that the first attempts to the dialog ‘on and for’ the peace in Syria, shown in the latest international summits, could bear their fruit, bringing to a democratic transition respectful of the needs of the Syrian people.

I hope, as Professor of Contemporary History of the Mediterranean Countries, but mostly as member of Mediterranean Affairs, that there will be new moments of sharing, above all with the youngest, in order to discuss Syrian situation, but this time speaking for the present and not for the past, and watching ahead to the future.

Michela Mercuri

Professor of Contemporary History of the Mediterranean Countries at the University of Macerata

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