Syria’s Regime Change and Its Likely Aftermath

Abstract

The Arab spring has toppled many regimes. The revolution has spread throughout most parts of the Middle East and it continues to cause a lot of uncertainty regarding its real aftermath. Syria is now grappling with the possibility of a regime change but there is very little understanding regarding the aftermath of such an eventuality. This paper suggests that a change in regime is likely to have far-stretching implications on the future economy of Syria, the power balance between the West and the East, the stability of the Middle East, the war on terror and (dismally) the future of other dictatorial regimes around the world. In detail, this study demonstrates that a change of regime in Syria is likely to have a negative impact on the Syrian economy and the stability of the Middle East. A regime change in Syria is also bound to have a positive impact on the war on terror and tilt the power balance between the East and the west in favor of the west.

Introduction

Statement of the Problem

“Will President Bashar al-Asad make it to 2013?”1 This is the question many observers are asking, now that the Syrian crisis has escalated to an armed conflict. Indeed, there is enough speculation about the future of the Assad regime because many political analysts speculate that the regime will fall in a couple of months2. It is such sentiments that have spurred more speculations regarding the aftermath of a regime change in Syria. Such speculations have been informed by the geo-politics of Syria and its impact on the stability of the Middle Eastern region. The position that the Syrian government plays in international politics is also another factor informing the likely impact that a regime change will have (more so) on the international balance of power between the East and the west. Indeed, the Syrian crisis has been a pawn in the power tussle between the East and the West. For example, the support of economic sanctions by western nations (at the U.N Security Council) on Syria was opposed by China and Russia3.

It is such shows of disunity in the international response to the Syrian crisis that have spurred more speculation regarding the likely impact of a regime change in Syria (especially because dominant Eastern powers such as Iran have been reported to support the Assad regime, even in the wake of humanitarian crises). Russia has also supported Syria in the same way and growing sentiments point towards the fact that major dominant powers in the east and the West are playing one another through the Syrian crisis.

The war against terror is also another factor that informs the dynamics of the Syrian crisis because Assad’s regime has been accused of harboring terrorists in Syria and supporting their activities remotely. Such accusations have especially been echoed by Western powers such as the U.S4. Notably, Hezbollah’s activities in the Middle East have been directly linked to Assad’s regime because the Syrian government has been accused of providing training grounds for these terrorists (within its borders). Based on such accusations, it is important to point out that ousting Assad would have a significant impact on the war against terror, mainly because the West would be satisfied that terror cells operating in the Middle East would be affected by the regime change. However, it is important to consider the opposite outcome surrounding the dynamics of what would happen if Assad clings on to power and weathers the crisis. It is through such possibilities that we bother to ask – If Assad holds on to power, is it a blow to the war against terror?

Another dynamic surrounding a Syrian change in regime is the implication that such an eventuality will have on the stability of the Middle East. Syria is part of a wider international conflict that pits Israel against its Arab neighbors5. Due to the religious nature of this conflict, Syria has been a dominant player in the tussle between Israel and the Middle East. Notably, Assad’s contribution to the conflict has far-reaching implications on ongoing peace negotiations between Israel and its neighbors. Assad’s influence in the Middle East is however not only limited to the Israeli conflict because the Syrian regime has had other influences on the wider Middle Eastern region, including its role in Lebanon’s national security (such as the Syrian occupation of Lebanon in 1976) and Iraq’s peace efforts6. Similarly, Syria has had sour relations with Turkey, especially regarding the Iskerendun dispute, where Syrians hold the view that Hatay province was illegally ceded to Syria by the French empire. Turkey holds the view that this land is theirs and Syria has no legitimacy over it. Assad’s regime has played a key role in the security of Turkey (positively or negatively) and therefore, a regime change in Syria may have far-reaching implications to Turkey’s security as well.

Economically, Syria has contributed to the world’s oil production and the export of agricultural products. Oxford Business Group explains that Syria’s economy is mainly founded on oil and agricultural industries which contribute significantly to the country’s Gross domestic product (GDP)7. In the last few years, the Syrian government has acknowledged that its economy is not growing enough to shoulder the growing demand for new jobs because its oil industry has been on the decline and the country has failed to attract enough investments to spur more economic growth.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reports that, because of the poor performance of the Syrian economy, about 30% of its population now lives below the poverty line8. On the international front, Syria has historically distanced itself from international economics. For example, it withdrew from the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT) in 1951 because of its soar relationship with Israel and similarly, it is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO)9. However, the Syrian government recently submitted proposals to be included in the world trade body. Syria has in the past been trading majorly with its Arab neighbors as can be seen from the elimination of tariffs and duties through the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA).

Syria’s contribution to international trade is largely significant to this study because of its oil exports and its large import bill (mainly comprised of raw materials for its local industries). The economic dynamics of Syria add to the understanding of this paper because of Syria’s position in the international map and the contribution of the Assad government to the well-being of its people. Through this analysis, we are also prompted to ask the question regarding what economic impact the fall of the Assad regime will have on the domestic and international market.

The future aftermath of a regime change in Syria is not different from the political intrigues we have observed in other parts of the Middle East. In countries where a regime change has been witnessed, different aftermaths have been reported. Depending on whom you ask a regime change has been beneficial or fallen below the expectations of the citizenry. In Tunisia, a regime change has been touted by many people as a new dispensation for the Tunisian people10. It is difficult to ascertain if the same fate will befall Syria but the socio-political dynamics in Syria posit that there may be different outcomes from its Middle Eastern neighbors. This paper seeks to explore the most likely outcomes of a regime change in Syria.

Purpose of the Study

Understanding the impact of a regime change for any country in the Middle East is an important undertaking considering the significance of the Middle East in international politics. This importance is mainly informed by the growing trend of globalization and the interconnection that different nations have today. Indeed, from the Arab spring, we have learned that people are often affected by the activities of other countries and therefore, no government can operate in isolation11. The implications of this study stretch far beyond the understanding of the Syrian political climate to comprehend the implications that the regime change will have on not only the stability of the Arab world but also the socio-economic impact that such an eventuality may have on international politics, and the implication that this trend has on other dictatorial regimes. For example, does a regime change in Syria mark the end to dictatorial regimes around the world?

There are many questions surrounding the impact that the Arab uprisings have had on the continent and more importantly on international politics. The true impact is yet to be understood because the conflict is still ripe in most parts of the Middle East. However, this paper, tries to give a conceptual insight into this uncertainty by focusing on the ongoing conflict in Syria as a window to the impact that regime changes means to the Middle East and the rest of the world. This analysis will be based on a back-drop of previous conflicts that have happened in the Middle East (notably, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya). Through this understanding, this paper seeks to meet the following research objectives

Research Objectives

  • To evaluate the impact that a regime change in Syria would mean to other dictatorial regimes around the world
  • To find out the economic impact that a fall of the Assad regime has on the domestic and international market
  • To establish the impact that a fall of Assad regime would have on the war against terror
  • To evaluate the impact of a regime change in Syria on the Stability of the Middle East
  • To investigate the Impact that a regime change in Syria would have on the power balance between the East and the West

Assumptions of the Study

Politics changes every day. Historically, different countries have changed their political affiliations, formed new alliances and had changing impacts on its people and the international society12. This paper acknowledges this volatile nature of the political situation and posits that the findings of this study are mainly limited to the prevailing socio-political environment in Syria and the rest of the world. Recent positions and observations of Syria’s relationship with the rest of the world and the ongoing conflicts between Syria and its neighbors (or even the war against terror) inform the findings of this study. Therefore, based on this backdrop (of the changing positions and view of world and state politics), this paper assumes that the political, economic and social circumstances surrounding the publication of this paper remain the same.

Literature Review

Syrian Uprising as Part of a Wider Middle-Eastern Conflict

The Syrian uprising is part of a wider Arab uprising that started in 2010 (in Africa) and which has claimed many regimes in the wider Arab peninsular, including the presidents of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, in that order. In some countries, the uprisings have been fierce but in other countries, only minimal revolts have occurred. Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Sudan are only a few countries which have witnessed intense protests but most of these protests have turned into civil wars as was the case in Libya and now Syria13. Bahrain has also witnessed civil uprisings of the same proportions, but countries such as Mauritania, Lebanon, Oman and Saudi Arabia have only witnessed minimal revolts (which have so far been curbed by the respective regimes).

These revolts have spread farther than anticipated. For example, the recent coup’ de tat in Mali has been described by some observers as a remnant of the Arab spring in Libya, while others have described it as a fallout of the Arab spring in parts of North Africa14. Israel has also witnessed part of the revolts because in 2011, there were a few clashes on the Israeli border with its Middle Eastern neighbors (right after the Arab Spring spread closer to the Israeli border). Iran has also witnessed part of the revolts from minority Muslim populations in Khuzestan who staged different protests in 2011 (in most parts of the oil producing nation). Part of the Syrian conflict has fanned the spread of the uprisings into deeper parts of the Middle East. For example, sectarian revolts in major parts of the Lebanon have been directly linked to the unrests in Syria15.

The Middle East revolts have mainly targeted long-serving regimes which have ruled for decades. Due to the lack of a democratic governance system, many civilians in such countries have resorted to protests and demonstrations to demand for a regime change and better governance policies. Part of the grievances of some protestors has been government dictatorship, authoritarian rule and the lack of respect for human rights. Many governments which have been accused of such atrocities have vowed to change their constitutions to allow for democratic reforms but few have been able to convince their citizens that they are committed to implementing such reforms. Government corruption, unemployment, poor standards of living and poverty are also some of the problems that have motivated protestors to turn against their governments, but the system of absolute monarchies has been the greatest motivation for protestors, right across the Middle East. Such is the case in Syria.

The youthful population in the Arab world has especially been a strong force in the Arab spring which has failed to agree to half-hearted attempts by their governments to implement democratic reforms. Notably, most of the Arab world today has a high population of educated youth who are increasingly becoming more dissatisfied with the status-quo. Amnesty International confirms this fact by demonstrating that, over the years, the human development Index in most Arab countries has significantly improved the desire of the youth to excel, but since government reforms have been slow at embracing this change, these youth have had no other option but to revolt against existing regimes16. Amnesty International attributes the improved human development Index to the rise in the number of educated citizens and the rise in the standards of living which have been occasion by increasing economic opportunities and the expansion of higher education opportunities.

Before the Arab spring, Middle East had accumulated a significant population of internet-savvy youth who increasingly harbored negative sentiments about their governments (since they viewed their regimes as anachronisms)17. These internet savvy youth were able to organize and orchestrate revolts in most parts of the affected nations. Such was the case in Egypt and Tunisia and because these countries lacked significant oil revenues (unlike their Arab counterparts such as Libya); it became very difficult for these regimes to contain the revolts because they could not make peace concessions using their oil wealth18. These internet-savvy youth have staged protests in Iran, way before the Arab spring started in 2010. In fact, some political analysts suggest that the 2009 Iran demonstrations are partly to blame for the start of the Arab spring19. The concentration of wealth in the hands of the minority ruling elite has especially angered protestors in most Arab countries (especially those endowed with oil wealth) because these resources have failed to trickle down to the poor because of the lack of transparency in government operations, dictatorship, corruption and other socio-political ills.

As mentioned in earlier sections of this paper, most of the protests in the Middle East are ongoing (in different proportions). For the countries that have witnessed a regime change, different implications have been witnessed. Based on the similarities of the protestor’s grievances in the Middle East and the similar social, political and economic dynamics of these countries to Syria, it is crucial to analyze what a regime change has meant to these nations so that we can have a better understanding of what to expect in the Syrian context.

Regime Change Aftermaths in Countries that Have Experienced the Revolts

Tunisia

In Tunisia, the road to democracy has been slow and bumpy but there are several democratic gains to write home about. For example, the freedom of speech and freedom of association have been forthcoming in the North African state (currently, its constitution is being overhauled, while democratic elections are slowly starting to gain root). Minky explains that, ousting Ben Ali’s (former Tunisian President) regime has eliminated a glass ceiling of fear which was imposed by his regime and instead, a new sense of belief in the power of the people to demand for social justice and inequality (not only in Tunisia but in the wider Arab peninsular) has been entrenched20.

The success of the Tunisian revolt is perceived to have caused a wider sense of instability in North Africa because soon after its end, similar revolts were witnessed in Egypt and Libya. A popular ideology perpetrated in most media outlets is the new conviction among Arabs that no matter how much a regime is protected by international powers; it is still not immune to the will of the people. The Tunisian revolt was mainly seen as a spring board to introduce new revolts on other parts of the Middle East because it inspired people to stand up against their leaders and demand social justice (failure to which, they would suffer the same fate as the former Tunisian regime). This conviction came to pass in most parts of North Africa.

A regime change is however not touted as an ultimate solution to social and political problems. Landis cautions that even in Tunisia, where there has been a successful regime change, the country may still experience a deceptive leadership cycle where people are made to believe that democracy is entrenching itself in the society but things still continue to remain the same21. This observation strongly resembles a previously held social belief that “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. Landis draws our attention to the democratic change that was advocated in Algeria during the 90s (and which received a lot of international support) but when it became clear that Islamists would win the election in the second round, people quickly retreated their support and demanded for a military crush of the Islamists. This change of heart heralded a civil conflict where more than 150,000 people died22. Nonetheless, the Tunisian revolution set-off a domino effect in the Arab world where other Arab leaders started shaking in their boots. Indeed, the success of this uprising set-off a series of other revolutions in Egypt and Libya where both regimes fell. A lot of instability has been realized in the wider Middle-eastern region since then and from the same trend, different regimes are now on the precipice of change.

Egypt

In a celebration to mark one year after Egypt experienced a regime change, many people are now asking whether a regime change in Egypt lived up to the expectations of the Egyptian people or not. Ayman documents that the answer to this question is very divisive because on one faction, some people believe that the regime change has brought substantial democratic progress while others believe that the regime change is still yet to live up to the true expectations of Egyptians23. The latter group also holds the view that the revolution is not over yet and the bloodshed that was witnessed during the same revolts have not been properly respected, especially by those who took power after Mubarak. Notably, protestors were angry at the slow pace of reforms that the Egyptian army was taking (especially considering there were no major obstacles hindering their journey towards implementing the same reforms).

Almost a year after Mubarak’s regime was ousted; the military held on to power and resisted demands to hand over power to a civilian government. A year after Mubarak was disposed, Ayman says that, perhaps, the biggest mistake that Egyptians made was to entrust the military with the keys to the revolution because they have completely obscured the meaning of a regime change by perpetrating the same ideals that Mubarak practiced24. Indeed, Ayman affirms that

“Last year, the people had coalesced around this one central demand – the fall of the regime (embodied by the departure of the President Hosni Mubarak). The word regime was commonly used but perhaps less understood than it is now. A year later, those critics contend the regime is still very much in place and that the biggest mistake was entrusting the military with the keys to the revolution after it assumed power”25.

It is still not clear what role the military played in facilitating the Egyptian revolution but observers suggest that the Egyptian military is now advancing the belief that it safeguarded the revolution and it should be entrusted to be the custodian of Egypt’s regime change process. In this regard, the military has been perceived to wade off the democratic demands of other stakeholders in the Egyptian revolution such as the Islamist youth, foreign powers, and even the business elite. Some of the anti-government sentiments in Egypt coalesce around uncertainties of the ruling Supreme Military Council to deliver social justice to the people.

For example, concern was raised about the slow pace that the Egyptian army initiated the Mubarak trials while thousands of ordinary civilians were quickly tried in military courts. This selective application of justice has been used as a basis to doubt the commitment of the military in delivering social justice to the Egyptian people – a key area where Mubarak had failed. Furthermore, the entire ruling Supreme Military Council was appointed by Mubarak and the nation’s key prosecutor is also part of the “old guard” that failed to resign. Such institutional failures have fuelled more criticisms for Egypt’s current governance system.

However, in the post-Mubarak Egypt, it is also fair to highlight the positive impact that a regime change in Egypt has had on its people. A sizeable majority of Islamist politicians and Egypt’s middle-class feel that a regime change has brought good tidings to the Egyptian people because there is more democracy and freedom of speech than ever before26. Democracy is also slowly entrenching itself in the Egyptian political system especially with a new parliament being setup and a proliferation of different political parties dominating the political map. The most significant difference that the regime change in Egypt has brought to its people is the new relationship that the state and the citizenry now have. In the past, the state was alienated from its subjects but with the regime change, people are now demanding more accountability from their leaders (thereby improving the relationship between the state and the government). Like Tunisia, Ayman points out that Egypt had a psychological barrier that the previous regime used to impose fear on its people by specifying punishments for those that opposed the government of the day. This barrier has since crumbled.

Nonetheless, perhaps, the most significant impact of the Egyptian regime change is the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ultraconservative Salfanist movements in mainstream Egyptian politics because recent political debates have been widely characterized by the contribution of these two groups. It is worthwhile to report that the Muslim brotherhood and the Ultraconservative Salfinist movements sponsored many parliamentarians to the new political dispensation. The big question that many people are asking is if the people’s willingness to support these political parties is an indirect disapproval of the role of the military in birthing a new political system in Egypt27. Comparatively, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Untraconservative Salfanist movement appreciate the role of the military in heralding a new political system because it has accentuated their rise to power. Because of the deep appreciation of the role of the media by the Muslim brotherhood, many Egyptians now fear that there could probably be an underhand deal that has been cut by both factions in the power transition.

The main interest surrounding the role of the Muslim Brotherhood Party in the Egyptian regime change is its potential impact on the ideals, values and perception of Egypt in a post-Mubarak society. These concerns are informed by criticisms leveled against the Muslim brotherhood by Washington concerning its support for violence and possible support for terrorism. For example, Saudi Arabia has accused the association for having links with radical Islamic groups such as the Hamas28. Such assertions clearly demonstrate that the ascension of the Muslim brotherhood to power may have a significant impact on the war against terror.

Previously, this association has been linked with assassinations and the commitment of the Muslim Brotherhood to impose strict Sharia laws in Egypt. Comparatively, there have been accusations surrounding the operations of the Muslim brotherhood which border the belief that the association is a western puppet which has been infiltrated by French, British and American intelligence systems (which may use it to their advantage or destroy it altogether)29. This relationship is perceived by many as a platform for the future infringement of social justice in Egypt because the association of the Muslim brotherhood and western powers may brew corruption and bad governance. Ayman affirms this observation by explaining that fanaticism and corruption often complement one another (such is the case with the association of the Muslim brotherhood with western powers)30.

The influence of the Muslim brotherhood on the stability of the wider Middle Eastern region is also profound because the entity is not only regarded as a local organization but also a global entity. Saudi Arabia’s internal security minister once declared that the Muslim brotherhood had contributed to the instability of his country and is the reason part of the Arab world is now unstable. This accusation was made because the interior minister believed that the Muslim brotherhood had turned against the Saudi kingdom which had harbored them when they were being sought in their countries. Since Muslim brotherhood enjoys widespread support not only in Egypt but all over the Arab world, its ascension to power has a lot of impact on the stability of the Middle East and the future course that the war against terror is going to take. The aftermath of the regime change is yet to be fully conceptualized but noteworthy is the fact that a lot of development is yet to be reported from the regime change.

Libya

Like Egypt and Tunisia, the consequences of a regime change in Libya have been treated with mixed reaction. Indeed, there are some sections of the Libyan population who believe that there is not much difference between the transition government and the Gaddafi regime. For example, sections of Libya such as Misrata have tended to disassociate themselves with the central government (citing accusations that it is secretive and dictatorial)31. This division is part of a wider division that plagues the Libyan people because different communities living in Libya have not been necessarily integrated. The Gaddafi regime had been able to ensure national unity throughout Libya but with its ousting, there are ripe fears that Libya may face an internal struggle to remain united in a post-Gaddafi world.

Libya’s unity represents only one understanding of the fear surrounding the change in regime because some people have painted very bleak scenarios as possible aftermaths to the regime change in Libya. For example, there is a lot of concern (not only in Libya) that the commanders who spear-headed the Libyan revolts may plunge the country into further conflict because they are not conditioned to respect the rule of law. The emergence of rebel groups in Libya is therefore a likely scenario but the transition government has so far been able to polish the credibility of opposition figures. The worst case scenario painted by observers is the realization of a rebel-led country where there is little respect for the rule of law. Comparisons have been drawn to Somalia, where the country was taken over by rebel groups after its dictatorial leader, Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted from power. However, based on recent events, such an outcome is highly unlikely because there have been significant democratic reforms which have seen Libyans enjoy new freedoms which they never experienced before. Like Egypt and Tunisia, Libya is only starting to embrace democracy through national elections.

North Atlantic treaty Organization’s (NATO) role in the Libyan conflict is however feared by many to be a potential cause for conflict in the post-Gaddafi era because Falk (a middle East political analyst) fears that NATO may demand more than a “thank you” note by hawking over Libya’s oil resources32. Notably, he identifies the no-fly-zone policy that was adopted in Libya during the uprising as a basis to advance the argument that the west was not particularly keen to ensure the protection of Libyan citizens but rather, to see a regime change in Libya. Such intentions fan the idea that there may be more to come regarding the regime change in Libya.

Theoretical Understanding

The change of regime in different parts of the world has been studied by many researchers. These researchers have pointed out different experiences and outcomes surrounding such regime changes and consequently, related theories have been developed. One such theory is the hegemonic stability theory

Hegemonic Stability Theory

The concepts of the hegemonic stability theory have been borrowed from different disciplines, including economics, political science and history. This theory explains that the stability of international politics mainly depends on the ability (or a willingness of a dominant state) to exercise power on the region33. This dominant nation-state is often known to be the hegemony. The power of the hegemony is normally exercised single-handedly and it affects the rules of governance in the international political system. There are many applications of the hegemonic stability theory. One such example is the explanation of the causes of the First World War and the Second World War. These two wars have been demonstrated by proponents of the hegemonic stability theory to have resulted from a failure of the hegemony to exercise its power on world politics. Albeit the hegemonic stability theory can be understood from the premise of power exercise, many people often ask what constitutes a hegemony.

A hegemony is normally defined by its military powers and its geo-political influence over other nations. Usually hegemonies have been characterized by islands or isolated countries which can exert a lot of military muscle over other states. In modern society, America could be defined as a hegemon because it has become almost like a virtual military and geo-political entity. Its superiority can be attributed to its two seaboards and the reliability of its neighbors to provide strong military support whenever it is faced with pressing military challenges. The formation of NATO is one such example of a hegemony because NATO members are part of a global military force that is largely influenced by American interests. Its role in the Libyan regime change is one such example that demonstrates the reliability of American military allies whenever there is a conflict.

In the understanding of hegemonies, it is crucial to highlight that hegemonies normally demand power to the extent that their will can prevail the will of other people in the society. From this explanation, many people have used the hegemonic stability theory to evaluate whether the U.S is still a hegemony34. This question has been posed from the observation that there are many emerging world powers such as China and Russia which have not only demonstrated to the world that they are worth their salt but also that their wishes are very dominant in world politics. For example, from the analysis of the Syrian conflict, we have seen that China and Russia vetoed the US-led decision to impose sanctions on Syria to force its existing regime out of office.

From the above understanding, the answer to knowing whether the U.S is still a hegemon lies in its ability to exercise dominant power in international politics35. Some experts perceive the power of a hegemon to be directly tied to its resources. From this understanding, researchers such as Schubert perceive the U.S to have lost its hegemonic power because its Gross Domestic product (GDP) is now lower than other countries36. Nonetheless, there is a counter-argument stating that the U.S still holds much structural power over other nations of the world (as can be seen from its ability to single-handedly persuade other countries to adopt free-market systems). This persuasion has especially been fostered through the influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on other countries.

The importance of the hegemonic stability theory to the understanding of this paper stems from its ability to explain the aftermath of the Syrian crisis because it demonstrates that the ability of the world’s hegemony to exercise dominant control over the Syrian crisis explains its aftermath. Notably, the roles of the U.S, China, Iran and Russia have a huge role to play in charting the future of Syria because their contribution explains whether Syria will experience a regime change or not. The influence of NATO forces in the Libyan crisis demonstrates the importance of the hegemonic stability theory because NATO was able to influence the outcome of the Libyan crisis and to date; it still plays a dominant role in the Libyan political sphere. The same theory should therefore be used to explain the Syrian crisis because dominant world powers (hegemonies) have a huge influence on the outcome of the Syrian crisis and more importantly, the future stability of Syria and its neighbors.

Long Cycle Theory

In a book titled, Long Cycles in World Politics, George Modelski explained that world politics was mainly defined by a long-cycle which was characterized by an exchange of power from one regime to another37. Historically, the long-cycle theory has been used to explain the existence of dominant world powers such as Britain and the U.S. For example, by narrowing on these two countries alone, the long cycle theory explains that the U.S and Britain have been able to successfully exchange power in successive centuries. The long cycle theory therefore perceives global politics as a cyclic pattern of power exchanges. A lot of disciplines characterize the operations of the long cycle theory, including pre-modern works like Thucydides and Polybius of Greek City States38. The main objective of the long cycle theory is to analyze observable patterns of regime changes in world politics and present them as an observable pattern which can be explained through scientific paradigm.

Researchers such as Nikolai Kondratieff and Amold Toynbee have analyzed the long cycle theory and affirmed its importance by explaining that, in almost every five decades there has been some form of war or revolution that has titled the balance of power in world politics39. According to the two theorists, these wars bring a new leader who is likely to preside over the new system for ten decades (or so). The new world leaders are expected to prevail over the new system for as long as there will be no new challenger or revolution that is going to oust him/her from power.

Through this explanation, the long cycle theory has been complementarily used with the hegemonic stability theory to explain the existence of hegemonies. Before the successive amassing of power between Britain and the U.S, the long cycle theory explains that Portugal had been the dominant hegemony in the 16 century and Netherlands in the 17th century. In detail, the long cycle theory explains that there have been about five long cycles which have tilted the power balance in world politics. The first long war occurred between 1494 and 1580 and it heralded a new era where Portugal was the dominant world power40. Later, another global crisis occurred between 1580 and 1688 when Netherlands emerged as the dominant world power and soon after, Britain emerged as the dominant world power after the 1688 – 1792 war broke out. Britain held its dominance in world politics through another war that started in 1792 to 1914. Now, America holds the mantle as the dominant world power after power transitioned from Britain between 1914 to (about) 197341.

There have been many reasons advanced for the initiation of the cycles but economic and technical reasons stand at the top of all reasons advanced. The technical reason is of more importance to this study because the current Arab uprisings have been largely attributed to the growth, penetration and development of technology in the past few decades. Indeed, as mentioned in earlier sections of this paper, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were notably attributed to social media mobilizations, and as would be expected, other Arab nations have also experienced the power of technological mobilization. Therefore, the Syrian uprising is subject to the role of technology in initiating a revolution that now threatens to oust the existing regime from power.

The importance of the long cycle theory hails from its demonstration of power transfer and regime change from not only dominant world powers but also local regimes in different countries. The long cycle theory posits that wars are only part of regime changes, and their relevance in domestic or international politics are part of a wider global system of social order. Implicitly, when we analyze this explanation to the ongoing Syrian conflict, we see that the Syrian conflict is only a process that forms part of a wider social order that has resulted in regime changes across the globe. Indeed, the Syrian revolution is part of a wider Arab uprising that seeks to eliminate authoritarian regimes and impose democratic systems. Such revolutions have also been witnessed in Europe and other parts of the world.

Theatre Theory

To evaluate the aftermath of a regime change in Syria, we have to engage the ideas of the theatre theory if we are to get a conceptual understanding of the impact of a regime change on the fight against terrorism. The theatre theory stipulates that countries which share the same similarities as countries which are victimized will always support the victimized countries42. This theory has been widely used in the understanding of global terrorism because it has been used to explain the motivation behind the support of terrorist activities by countries that would not be considered protagonists in the war against terror.

In detail, the theater theory stipulates that Arab countries may support other Arab countries if there is an Arab-western war so that they impress other Muslim nations and gain power as a result. This theory has also been used to understand the power that Osama Bin laden wielded over the war against terror because he was perceived to be the stronger horse against western interests. When we practically apply the theater theory on Middle Eastern politics, we can draw several examples where the theory applies. Lebanon’s attack of Israel could easily be explained by the Theatre theory because Lebanon fought Israel (mainly) to please other Muslim nations and gain power43.

The theater theory is directly applicable to the Syrian conflict because it explains what to expect from the Syrian uprising, especially concerning the stability of the Arab region. The Syrian crisis has largely taken an “east vs. west” dimension and albeit some Arab nations (led by the Arab league) are demanding a peaceful solution to the conflict, there is a high possibility that other Muslim nations may hold stronger resentments towards the west for aiding a regime change in Syria (even though they do not have the right to do so).

Already, the Syrian president has expressed concern that the west is supporting Syrian rebels to fight his government. Such sentiments go a long way in affirming previously held beliefs that the west always meddles in Middle Eastern politics for its own selfish interest. The theater theory would hereby stipulate that Arab countries could rally behind Syria in the quest for political dominance in Middle East. Certain Muslim states like Iran have already thrown their weight behind the Assad regime and more developments are yet to come. This explanation has a significant bearing on the future stability of the Middle-East because if the Assad regime is ousted, Muslim nations that supported the ousted regime may not share very cordial relations with the incoming regime. This situation may cause a lot of political unsettlement in the region.

Hypotheses

According to the research questions guiding this paper and the preliminary review of existing literature review, the following hypotheses are viable

  • A regime change in Syria would mark the start to an end of other dictatorial regimes around the world.
  • A regime change in Syria would have no meaningful impact on the economic wellbeing on Syria’s domestic market or even the international market.
  • A regime change in Syria would have a positive impact on the war against terror.
  • A change in the Syrian regime would have a negative impact on the stability of the Middle East.
  • A regime change in Syria would tilt the power balance between the East and the west in favor of western powers.

A detailed explanation of the hypotheses described above will be contained in the results, discussion and analysis sections of this paper.

Methodology

Research Design

The selection of the research design will be guided by the importance of accommodating an expansive scope of the research problem. Based on this understanding, this paper adopts the qualitative research as the main research design. The qualitative research design is especially preferred because during the onset of the research process, the scope and nature of the research problem was ambiguous. Chapman explains that the qualitative research design is best used when the scope and nature of the research problem is ambiguous44. The importance of the qualitative research design is crucial to this research process because it acts as the launch-pad for future research designs which may seek to investigate further an outcome of this research process. In detail, the qualitative research design will provide initial insight into the research topic and later, other research designs (such as the quantitative research design) can be used to investigate further a specific dynamic of the research problem.

Since this paper explores the use of case study information, the qualitative research design will provide a proper framework for integrating such information. Affirmatively, Chapman explains that case studies are crucial in gaining initial insight into the research problem45. The use of case study information is especially beneficial to this study because this paper employs the outcome of many cases (like regime changes in other parts of the Arab world) by analyzing their outcomes. These case studies are crucial to guiding the research into a deeper and practical understanding of the aftermath of a regime change in Syria.

The importance of including the qualitative research design is also encompassed by its ability to include unforeseen dynamics of a research process. Indeed, during the initial launch of this research, there were several research dynamics that surfaced only after the research process was underway. The qualitative research design was able to accommodate these dynamics and present a more factual understanding of the research outcomes. The subjective nature of the research process was also beneficial to the credibility of this research process because it minimized possibilities of bias in the research process. Chapman affirms that the qualitative research design is the most appropriate research design for research processes that contain interpretive events because it effectively allows the researchers to include subjective views into the analysis of the research findings with very minimal bias46. Nonetheless, as explained in earlier sections of this chapter, the main motivation for pursuing the qualitative research design is to explore all bases of the research problem. Based on the above complementary features of the qualitative research design, it is important to point out that the qualitative research design was the most appropriate research design for this paper.

Data Collection

The data collection process was guided by the concept of having a comprehensive understanding of the research problem. From this understanding, this paper proposes the use of a two-faced strategy for data collection which will be based on the collection of secondary data and the collection of primary data. Secondary data will be collected through the inclusion of published data. Secondary data will be preferably used in this study because of its easy accessibility and relative cheapness. Chapman explains that secondary data is relatively cheap to obtain and easy to access when compared to other data collection sources which may require a lot of time (in preparation) and equally demand a lot of resources in collection47.

Secondary data sources are also important to use whenever there is insufficient primary data available to meet the objectives of the study. For purposes of this study, the secondary data information collected will be used to complement the primary information by acting as a mirror or comparative ground for other sources of information. Indeed, Chapman explains that secondary data makes primary data more specific by identifying the specific gaps in research and providing crucial guidelines on how to fill these deficiencies48. Furthermore, the secondary research data will also be beneficial to the understanding of this paper because it improves the understanding of the research problem by making it simpler (through highlighting important areas of knowledge).

The main disadvantage associated with secondary research data is its limitation to the objectives and wishes of the researchers who formulated them. From this understanding, it may be difficult to correctly identify the right framework to fit a previously formulated research design to a new and unrelated research framework. Another disadvantage of the secondary research information is its high probability to contain out-dated information which may not be directly related to the context of the current research. This weakness is especially relevant to this paper because the nature and accuracy of our research topic relies on the accuracy and ‘up-to-date’ nature of the research sources.

More so, the research topic centers on an ongoing conflict and the research sources need to reflect the current nature of the research topic. Secondary research data may fail to provide the correct research sources in this regard. However, this paper recognizes this weakness and incorporates online research sources as a form of published text to supplement the input of books and journals as other sources of secondary research data. However, emphasis will be made to include only credible online research data (such as government publications and the likes). Nonetheless, books and journals will be the main sources of secondary data because they have a high credibility.

The primary research will be collected using online questionnaires. The online questionnaires will be included in this research because of their relative ease in administration. They will be mainly administered as a survey to explore varying dynamics of the research problem. As observed in appendix one, the design of the questionnaires will be strictly guided by the research objectives. In other words, the research objectives will inform the sets of questions posed to the respondents so that the findings of the study stay confined to the goal of answering the research objectives. Unlike non-virtual questionnaires, online questionnaires are easily administered and availed to the respondents without any physical presence of the researcher. Indeed, once a researcher designs and provides the questionnaire to the respondents, his/her work is almost completely done. Apart from this relative ease in administration, the online questionnaire was desirable for this paper because it could collect a large sample of information from the respondents.

Its relatively high accuracy (when compared to non-virtual questionnaires) was also another motivation for adopting the online questionnaire because online questionnaires tend to accept only valid information. In detail, online questionnaires are presented in a virtual platform where programs analyze the authenticity of the information keyed-in. This advantage prevents the possibility of including out-of-range responses from the respondents and similarly, it makes it easier for the researcher to analyze the information obtained. Comprehensively, it is important to highlight that the primary and secondary research data methods were strategically adopted to provide a self-check mechanism where information obtained from each data source would be correctly compared against the other. Significant disparities between both data collection methods can easily be detected in this manner and a subsequent analysis made to investigate such disparities. Nonetheless, this strategic comparison of both data collection methodologies works towards improving the credibility of the data analysis process and subsequently, the credibility of the overall outcomes of the study.

Sample Population

The sample population was comprised of knowledgeable experts and professionals in political science. However, there was a bias in experts and professionals who were versed with Middle Eastern politics because of the nature of the research topic. The sample population comprised of 12 respondents who were sourced from two consultancy firms. Six respondents were sourced from each consultancy firm. Both groups of respondents had experience and about the politics of Syria and its neighbors. The emphasis on knowledge and experience was intentionally considered to be part of the evaluation criterion because the findings of the study are expected to be well-informed, dynamic and comprehensive. It was therefore assumed that the respondents would provide such quality information.

Data Analysis and Validity

Based on the quality of the respondents and the measures taken to ensure that all secondary information was valid, it is important to highlight that the first step to ensuring that the findings of this study is valid was achieved. In detail, the quality of the secondary research sourced was guaranteed from the quality of sources obtained (books, journals and credible online sources). Some of the journals obtained were peer-reviewed while all the books used were subjected to a through publishing process. Comprehensively, the information contained from books and journals was assumed to be error-free and reliable. Moreover, Chapman affirms that peer-review journals contain dynamic pieces of information and unbiased data which may be developed from including pre-conceived ideas in the research process49. The quality of the primary data obtained was also guaranteed by the credibility of the respondents obtained (the respondents had significant experiences in Middle Eastern politics and had acquired sufficient experience studying the same).

The analysis techniques incorporated in the data review process also strengthened the validity of the data obtained because two credible research analysis techniques were used (coding and member-check techniques). As an interpretive tool, the coding technique was used to sort and evaluate the expansive information obtained from the secondary data analysis process. Indeed, the secondary data obtained included divergent information regarding the research topic but the coding technique aided in sorting out this information and categorizing them into easily-understandable data. The coding technique works by assigning different codes to related pieces of information50. Since the secondary information obtained was diverse, the coding technique helped to assign codes to related information so that it was easier for the researcher to analyze related literature as opposed to confusing and dynamic information sources (which were difficult to comprehend). The coding technique was beneficial in providing a structured impression of the overall findings.

The member-check technique provided a complementary role to the coding technique by evaluating the credibility, transferability and accuracy of the information analyzed from the coding technique. In detail, after the coding technique helped categorize the sourced data into related subjects (and a code assigned); the member-check technique ensured that the information sourced was factual. The member check technique works by evaluating any areas of disparities between the outcomes of the data analysis process and the initial sources of information. This data analysis technique was used to evaluate both primary and secondary data sources. Regarding the analysis of the primary research information, the member check technique ensured that the findings of the data analysis process reflected the opinions, ideas, context and attitudes of the respondents. The same process was used to evaluate the secondary research data because the member check technique ensured that there were no significant disparities between the sources of the data and the overall outcome of the data analysis process.

Limitations of the Research

The limitations of this paper were mainly confined to the nature of the methodology and the scope of the research topic. The use of the secondary research data limited the scope of this research paper to the objectives of the authentic (first) researcher. Some of the objectives of the initial researcher may not have properly coagulated with the objectives of this paper. In addition, apart from the nature of the research sources (books, journals and reputable online publications), there was no other way to guarantee the accuracy of the information obtained. Lastly, the number of respondents sampled in this paper limits this study to the views of only a few professionals in the field. A larger population sample would have represented the views of a larger population but this was not the case. This limitation also highlights the inability of the findings of this paper to be generalized across the wider Middle Eastern region or the aftermath of other regime changes which may occur after Syria. Therefore, the outcomes of this study are only limited to the Syrian context and not any other Middle Eastern nation.

Findings and Analysis

Findings

Based on a comprehensive analysis of the secondary and primary research data, this paper provides a comprehensive set of findings that resonated with the research objectives. Critically, this paper highlights that the responses obtained from the sampled population expressed almost similar observations regarding the questions posed. Overall, the set of respondents demonstrated that a regime change in Syria is likely to have a resounding impact not only in the Arab world but also in the wider global society. The findings of the study also demonstrated the Syrian conflict is part of a wider global phenomenon which is entrenched on imposing democratic regimes in the world’s political systems and eliminating authoritarian regimes that have ruled some parts of the world for centuries. The impact of the Syrian crisis therefore contributes to a wider global system of democratic change which will be further explained in subsequent sections of this study.

A key finding of this study also portrays the fact that much of the dynamics of the Syrian crisis plays out within the confines of traditional Middle-Eastern politics but also, more importantly, on the relationship that the Middle East has with western powers. There was little disagreement about the dynamics of a regime change in Syria when compared to the dynamics of a regime change on the war against terror and the power balance in international politics. The Syrian crisis was therefore represented as part of a wider conflict pitting old conflicts between western powers and communist states such as Russia and China but at the same time, demonstrating the escalation of ideological differences between the U.S and Iran. The respondents sampled affirmed this fact and explained that Iran’s support for the Syrian regime is part of Iran’s strategy to fight western interests that have imposed sanctions on it and accused Iran of supporting terrorism.

When the respondents were asked to explain their stance on the impact that a change in Syrian regime would have on other dictatorial regimes around the world, the respondents said that a change in regime would have a ‘very strong’ impact on existing authoritarian regimes around the world. The popular perception among the respondents was that a regime change in Syria would mark the start to an end of other dictatorial regimes around the world. The argument here was that, the trend is already playing out in most Arab states, including the Iraqi war which saw the ousting of the former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. The previous ousting of former regimes in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia were also cited as other examples of the trend in the wider Arab community.

When the respondents were asked whether they thought a regime change in Syria would have a meaningful impact on the Syrian economy and the international oil market, half of the respondents said that there would be no meaningful impact on the Syrian economy or even on the international market. The other half of the respondents was not sure whether a regime change would be consequential to the Syrian economy and the wider oil market. The same division in responses was also observed when the respondents were asked whether a change in the Syrian regime would have a meaningful impact on the war against terror. Seven of the respondents sampled said that the deposition of the Syrian regime would be a gain in the war against terror but the other respondents said they were not sure about such an eventuality.

When the respondents were asked to state their position on whether they believe that a change in regime would have a significant impact on the stability of the Middle East, all the respondents said that such an eventuality would have a very strong impact on the stability of the Middle East. Finally, when the respondents were asked to explain whether they thought a regime change in Syria would have a significant impact on the power balance between Eastern and Western Powers, all the respondents claimed that such an eventuality would have a significant impact on this power balance because the west would gain from the fall of Assad.

Analysis

From the findings of this study, it was evident that the respondents were guided by ongoing political events pitting the Syrian regime and its neighbors. The views of the respondents also seemed to be heavily informed by the ongoing Arab uprising as opposed to the specific events in Syria. Considering the Syrian crisis developed as a result of the Arab uprising, the cross-reference of the Syrian conflict to other Arab conflicts came as no surprise. Clearly, the respondents view a possible change in the Syrian regime as part of an ongoing trend that has not only swept through the Arab world but also through other parts of the world such as Europe and Africa.

The international reaction to the Syrian crisis was also believed by many of the respondents to have a meaningful impact on the outcome of the Syrian conflict. In fact, one respondent claimed that international intervention (through diplomacy, military interventions or otherwise) would ultimately define the future direction that the Syrian crisis will follow. Notably, the actions of Russia, U.S, China and Iran were identified to be the main forces shaping the Syrian conflict. However, the renewed spirit among Syrian demonstrators was also cited by some respondents as a defining force in the Syrian crisis. This force is expected to play a pivotal role in the aftermath of a post-Assad regime because it is clearer now that the citizenry is willing to go to any lengths to ensure that their wishes prevail. Already, hundreds of people have died in the Syrian conflict and despite the constant bombardment of government forces on the Syrian population; their drive to fight for change has not declined. Nonetheless, it is believed that the intervention of international world powers in the Syrian crisis is the main basis which the Syrian crisis is going to affect the power balance between the East and the West.

The impact of the Syrian crisis on the peace of the Middle East was not widely disputed by most of the respondents. The impact of the Syrian crisis on the Middle East was mainly explained through its relation with Israel and its interaction with Turkey, Iraq and other neighboring states. Geo-politics seemed to have mainly informed the position held by the respondents because all the countries referred to (in this regard) were identified to affect the politics of the Middle East through their geographic proximity to Syria. History also played a big role in explaining the views of the respondents because many of those sampled referred to historical differences and interactions between Syria and its Middle Eastern neighbors as the main influencer of their decisions. All the respondents were convinced that a change in Syrian regime would therefore have a significant impact on the stability of Middle East.

Discussions and Conclusion

Economic Impact of a Change in Regime

After weighing the findings of this study, clearly, a regime change in Syria is bound to have reverberating repercussions not only in the Arab region but also throughout the international community. The economy of Syria especially comes into sharp focus because it is the main motivation for the protestors in the first place. Indeed, some of the reasons advanced by the protestors for demanding a regime change were the high unemployment levels, rising poverty and increasing standards of living51. The findings of this paper show that there is a probability that a change in regime would have a substantial impact on the Syrian economy. When the respondents were asked to state their position on this issue, half of the respondents claimed that a regime change in Syria would have no meaningful impact on the Syrian economy while the other half claimed that they were not sure whether a regime change would have a significant impact on the Syrian economy.

This assertion is informed by the fact that the Assad regime has a strong influence on the business elite of the country because they helped “make” them52. So far, the Syrian crisis has taken a deep toll on the economy. Experts claim that the crisis has shrunk the size of the economy nearly by half. To add to the Syrian crisis, traders and merchants in the streets of Damascus have claimed that there is about a 40% to 50% fall in business since the crisis began because consumers are not willing to spend money. They are only spending money on essential goods and items while hoarding the rest. The Syrian pound has lost its value tremendously because it slipped from about 42 pounds to the US dollar to 72 pounds53. Trade with other countries has also significantly declined (courtesy of Europe and US trade embargoes which have seen Syria lose close to $400 million every month in revenue). It is unclear how quick the economic crisis will lead to the fall of the Assad regime but there is no doubt that such an eventuality will have a ripple effect on the Syrian economy.

During the 1950s and 1960s, like other Arab states, the Syrian government used socio-economic measures to entrench its rule by providing state jobs and employment opportunities to people who gave them political quiescence. This strategy heightened the level of authoritarian rule in Syria but it accounted for a large percentage of the country’s employment opportunities. These employment opportunities guaranteed stable employment for most Syrians but there was little economic growth to absorb a rising population. This development meant that the Syrian government’s employment plan was unsustainable. However, because there was an emerging trend to liberalize the economy, the Syrian regime embarked on ambitious plan to give economic opportunities to friends and relatives who would later own Syria’s largest companies (based on political associations). This strategy led to the liberalization of the Syrian economy but it somewhat led to the emergence of crony capitalism. XYZ explains that

“To avoid the emergence of a capitalist class that would be largely Sunni and not beholden to the regime, Assad turned to his cousin, Rami Makhlouf, who became – Mr. Ten Percent of the Syrian economy. He assumed a majority stake in many major enterprises and holding companies and ensured that the Assad family maintained control over the economy”54.

It is from the above assertion that a fall in the Assad regime is likely to lead to an economic collapse of Syria because most of Syria’s economy is under the influence of the Assad family. This control may not be direct but when the Assad regime is ousted from power, there is a high likelihood that the companies they own or control will collapse eventually. This will lead to a serious economic crisis.

Stability of Syria and the Wider Arab Region

The stability of Syria and the wider Arab region after a change of regime in Syria is likely to be critical to the overall security of the Arab region because there are flaring interests in the Syrian crisis at present. This paper identifies that many analysts doubt the probability of a military intervention in Syria because of the geo-political interests surrounding the conflict. For example, the U.S is unlikely to send its troops into Syria because Obama ran on a platform of withdrawing American troops from the Middle East, and on an election year, he is probably not going to go against his words and send more troops to the Middle East. The U.S secretary of State, Hilary Clinton has also strongly disputed speculations that the U.S may send its troops into Syria. However, she has done a good job at isolating Syria from western powers and its Arab neighbors (through the Arab league). There is also more doubt that some Arab nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia will support a military intervention in Syria because they would not want to strain their relationship with Iran. Furthermore, despite the tough talk advanced by Turkey for a democratic change in Syria, there is little that Turkey can gain from supporting a military invasion of Syria55.

The above factors indicate that there is a low likelihood of a military intervention in Syria but a change of regime in Syria is likely to change all the political positions supported by the protagonists. For example, Iran’s position in the Syrian conflict is largely informed by its support for the Assad regime and if the regime is ousted from power, there is no guarantee that it will still support Syria. Iran’s position also influences the position of Qatar and Saudi Arabia because the latter is keen on avoiding confrontations with Iran (based on the Syrian crisis). A fall of the Syrian regime is likely to change Iran’s position with its Arab neighbors and especially those that supported the change of regime. The influence of Iran in the Middle East should not be understated because emerging cronies like Iraq are naturally going to be dragged into the division (led by Iran on one hand and the Arab league on another). So far, the Arab league is demanding that the Assad regime should step down. In addition, in Iraq, there are growing fears that the region is becoming increasingly unstable and if Syria falls into political chaos after Assad (while Iraq is still unstable), the region is going to experience a huge mess.

The probability of Syria falling into political chaos is not a far-fetched idea. Indeed, Landis explains that part of the reason why the Assad regime has clung on to power for so long is the absence of a stable opposition56. In this regard, he claims that Syrians are unlikely to support (fully) a change in regime if there is no clear transition of power. Currently, the opposition is too weak to convince the Syrian people (and even the international community) that there will be no political chaos after the Assad regime is ousted from power. This unclear transition of power from the Assad regime is also advanced as part of the reason why the international community has not militarily intervened in Syria because it is irresponsible to oust a regime while there is no clear plan of how power will be transferred and to whom?

Unlike Libya, Syria proves to be a difficult ball-game because its dynamics are more complicated than Libya, Tunisia or even Egypt. In Egypt, power was peacefully transferred to the military while in Libya; power was transferred to an organized rebel force (which has so far convinced the international community that it can offer a peaceful transition of power into civilian rule). In Syria, such organized power figures are absent. With the absence of such power figures, the likelihood that there may be more instability in the country after Assad is ousted from office is high. This situation may lead to a civil war or at the very best, political instability, which will further undermine the stability of the Middle East.

The Power Balance between the East and the West

When we analyze the Syrian conflict in the context of the power balance between the East and the West, the role of the US in the Middle Eastern conflict comes into sharp focus. More importantly, the conflict between the U.S and Iran brews more attention because the Syrian conflict is a pawn in the power tussle between U.S and Iran. As mentioned in earlier sections of this paper, Iran has consistently supported the Assad regime even in the wake of western sanctions, thereby undermining U.S’s stand in the conflict.

Iran’s support for the Syrian regime reinforces the ideas of the theatre theory which stipulate that countries are likely to coalesce around one another if they are faced with the same level of victimization from a common opponent. Iran and Syria have both perceived the U.S and other western nations to be behind their woes. Both nations have therefore found comfort in one another. In fact, unconfirmed reports show that Iran will continue to support the Assad regime (financially and otherwise) so long as it can withstand western sanctions57. Israel is also another concern for the U.S because Syria has been a thorn in the flesh for Israel and its western allies especially because Assad has consistently undermined Israeli peace efforts by supporting an Islamic-led invasion of Israel.

The instability in Syria greatly plays out in favor of the U.S and Israel because it stands to gain from a loss of Iran’s key ally in the Middle East if it the Assad regime falls from power. If such an eventuality is witnessed, Iran’s regional posture in the Middle East will equally be undermined. This possibility is a great enticement for the U.S to hasten the fall of the Assad regime but because the dynamics surrounding a military intervention in Syria are complex, the U.S will not directly play a role in the ousting of Assad from power.

However, a change of regime in Syria will easily have a significant impact on the power balance between the East and the west (more importantly because of Russia and China’s veto of US-led sanctions on Syria). Notably, if the Assad regime is ousted from power, western powers will have an edge over its eastern rivals more importantly because Iran will have lost a key ally in the Middle East and Russia and China’s influence would have been undermined despite their attempts to equally undermine western influences in the conflict. Clearly, the diplomatic battle between western and eastern powers in the U.N would have played out outside the diplomatic table to the ground.

Terrorism

Ousting Assad from power is going to have a significant impact on the war against terror because of the perception that the Assad regime is hosting or supporting terror organizations. The role of Hezbollah in terrorist activities especially comes into sharp focus because this is the main terror organization that Syria has been accused of supporting58. However, the Assad regime has also been accused of supporting other terror organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian terror organizations. These accusations have been made because of continued accusations that Syria is hosting the leaders of terror organizations such as Ramadan Shalah of Islamic Jihad and Imad al-Alami who is affiliated with the Hamas terror group59. All these accusations have been part of a wider pool of accusations which have advanced the idea that Syria is engaged in state-sponsored terrorism.

The accusations that the Syrian regime is supporting terror activities have existed since the 70s (to date). In 1986, there were accusations that the Syrian regime funded a terror cell which tried to bomb a flight from London (flight El Al). A change of regime in Syria is therefore bound to have a significant impact on the war against terror but more explicitly, the fall of the Assad regime is bound to dent a blow to terror cells which have in the past received support from Syria.

The Impact of a fall in the Syrian Regime on Other Dictatorial Regimes

Largely, the Syrian crisis has been portrayed as a part of a wider quest to eliminate authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. This observation has been affirmed by most respondents and authors sampled in this paper but a key dynamic that has eluded most of such analysts is the underbelly of such observations. In other words, a change in regime is not only informed by the mere structures of power but rather, by the contribution of such power structures to the well-being of its people. Currently, there are many regimes around the world which have not embraced democratic governance but still succeed in their own light. China and Saudi Arabia are just a few examples. These countries have been able to expand their economies and provide many job opportunities for their people. For example, China is becoming a major international power center, yet its governance structures are not democratic.

However, examples of failed dictatorial regimes are many. In my opinion, when we try to comprehend the impact of a fall in the Syrian regime on other dictatorial regimes around the world, we should stretch our understanding past the nature of governance structure to comprehend how such regimes have improved the lives of their people (or not). Indeed, certain regimes which would be perceived to be authoritarian have experienced minimal or no revolts at all despite their similarities with the governance structures of regimes which have experienced severe protests (such as Syria). The most compelling difference between these regimes is the effort they have made to improve the livelihood of their people. Saudi Arabia for example has been able to diversify its economy from a predominantly oil-led economy to a tourism-centered economy. Consequently, it has been able to improve the standards of living for its people. The same situation cannot be said for Syria which has not been able to expand its economy (significantly). In fact, poverty levels have been slowly increasing. Latest estimates project that the percentage of Syrians living below the poverty line has increased from 30% to 33%60. Comprehensively, it is correct to say that a fall of the Assad regime should be a wakeup call to other authoritarian regimes around the world which continue to ignore their people (and not to authoritarian regimes which have improved the lives of their people).

Conclusion

A regime change in Syria is a viable possibility considering the ongoing developments in the conflict. So far, the Syrian government is becoming weaker and the pressure for the Assad regime to step down increases by the day. The human death toll that has occurred from the conflict is also at an all-time high. Rebel forces currently control some parts of the country while government forces strive to maintain control over other parts. The possibility of a regime change in Syria is very high but as Landis points out, it is possible for the Assad regime to hold on to power to 201361. However, what befits Syria after a change of regime spurns the interest of this study.

Throughout the analysis of this paper, the interests of western and eastern powers come into focus because both power centers have varied interests in the conflict. Iran proves to greatly influence the position of some Arab states in the conflict, but at the same time, it is a target for western interests. Israel is also depicted as a beneficiary to the fall of the Assad regime because Syria has played a facilitative role in supporting Islamic interests in the Israel-Arab conflict. However, when we analyze the stability of the Middle East in a post- Assad regime, we cannot forget to mention the alliance that Iran has drawn around it and the significant support it enjoys from some Arab states such as Iraq.

This paper affirms that the absence of a strong opposition in Syria is among the main reasons that may fuel instability in Syria after Assad is ousted from power. Such an eventuality will also undermine the overall stability of Iraq and other Arab nations. Overall, this paper shows that a change in regime is likely to have far-stretching implications on the future economy of Syria, the power balance between the west and the East, the stability of the Middle East, the war on terror and dismally, other dictatorial regimes around the world. To answer the research questions, this paper demonstrates that a change of regime in Syria is likely to have a negative impact on the Syrian economy, and the stability of the Middle East. However, the same eventuality is bound to have a positive impact on the war on terror (reduction of support for terror groups). The power balance between the East and the west is also going to be affected by the change in regime but most notably, a fall in the Assad regime is likely to tilt the balance of power in favor of the west.

Appendix

Questionnaire

I am a student of ******University carrying out an academic research on the topic “The Likely Aftermath of a Regime Change in Syria”. You have been selected to participate in the study and are therefore kindly requested to provide an appropriate answer by either ticking the best option or give an explanation where applicable. The answers provided will only be used for academic purposes and will be treated with utmost confidentiality.

NB: do not write your name anywhere on this paper.

    1. Dictatorship

Do you believe a regime change in Syria would be a threat to other dictatorial regimes around the world?

  • Strongly Agree
  • Agree
  • Not Sure
  • Disagree
  • Strongly Disagree

Why.………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    1. Economy

Do you believe a regime change in Syria would have a strong impact on the Syrian Economy?

  • Strongly Agree
  • Agree
  • Not Sure
  • Disagree
  • Strongly Disagree

Why?……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

  1. Terrorism

What Impact do you believe a change of regime in Syria would have on the war against terror?

  • Very Strong
  • Strong
  • Not Sure
  • Weak
  • Very weak

Please elaborate…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. Regional Stability

Do you agree that a regime in Syria will destabilize Middle East?

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Neutral
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

Why?…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. Power Balance

What Impact do you believe a regime change will have on the power balance between the East and the West?……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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Footnotes

  1. Joshua Landis, “Syrian Uprising of 2011: Why the Asad Regime Is Likely to Survive to 2013,”. Web.
  2. Joshua Landis, “Syrian Uprising of 2011: Why the Asad Regime Is Likely to Survive to 2013,”. Web.
  3. Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, “Syria: Current Conflicts,”.
  4. Ian Bickerton, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History (London: Reaktion Books, 2009), 33.
  5. Ian Bickerton, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History (London: Reaktion Books, 2009), 33.
  6. Council on Foreign Relations. The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What It Means, and What Comes Next (London: Council on Foreign Relations, 2011).
  7. Oxford Business Group. Syria, 2010 (Oxford: Oxford Business Group, 2010).
  8. Oxford Business Group. Syria, 2010 (Oxford: Oxford Business Group, 2010).
  9. Oxford Business Group. Syria, 2010 (Oxford: Oxford Business Group, 2010).
  10. Minky Worden. The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights (London: Seven Stories Press, 2012).
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