No to partitioning Syria

Calling for the partitioning of Syria is short-sighted and reckless.

Smoke rises after an airstrike in the rebel-held town of Dael, in Deraa Governorate, Syria [REUTERS]
Smoke rises after an air strike in the rebel-held town of Dael, in Deraa Governorate, Syria [Reuters]

It’s terribly annoying – not to say revolting – to read Western “experts” as they present a division of Syria as the “best”, “most logical”, or even “the only” solution to the civil war there.

I remember a few years ago when an academic drew a straight line through the map of Syria on CNN and, along with the host, agreed to partition the country. OK, so the guy had actually been to Syria – perhaps he felt somehow entitled to an opinion on the matter.

But what about those who’ve never even been to Syria and yet are so eager to prescribe partition of the country? No longer along one straight line but more along the lines of a Swiss cheese carving.

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The problem with their thesis is not that partition in principle is blasphemous, unthinkable or improbable. It’s rather how they’re so blase about the unity or division of other nations, and who is best served by such analysis.

You may or may not have noticed, but the pomposity about Syria’s future comes primarily from present or past seats of empire, whether it’s Washington, New York, London, Paris or Moscow. Even non-Westerners get to feel imperial as soon as they teach, write or even reside in Western capitals, alas.

You just don’t hear the same type of bombast about the casual partitioning of other states coming from Jakarta, Delhi or Brasilia.

A hundred years have passed since the original sin of partitioning the Middle East was imposed from outside the region, and there’s no relief in sight. It seems the solution to bad partition is another partition. If partition doesn’t work, more partition will.

Dividing Syria along ethnic and religious lines will create more - not less - conflict and violence.


I have some news for those analysts: Syria is not the Balkans; and the Middle East is not Europe. That’s not to say that the partition of the former Yugoslavia is ideal. Without the European Union, time will prove it’s anything but.

That’s why dividing Syria along ethnic and religious lines will create more – not less – conflict and violence. 

Treating Syria or Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other troubled Arab nations like the former Yugoslavia (which was divided into seven states) will produce dozens more fragile conflicting mini-states. 

But even that isn’t really my main point.

Of grave importance here is the fact that it’s the Syrian regime (and ISIL) that’s busy reshaping and dividing the country through bloodshed and ethnic cleaning along sectarian or/and defensible lines.

In fact, it’s been going on for at least two to three years with the help of Iran and Hezbollah, and it will continue to go on for several more years if the Assad regime has its way. Even the last few ceasefire agreements have led to a degree of ethnic cleansing in places where the regime agreed to cease hostility.

In other words, what these brilliant experts are doing is rationalising through words what Bashar al-Assad and ISIL are doing through violence; hardly the role of an academic or a journalist.

The alternative to the failed imperial policies in Syria cannot and should not be its division. The larger coalition of Syrian opposition groups remain united and committed to a united Syria, as it must.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. Follow him on Facebook.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.