The asymmetrical proxy conflict currently being fought in Syria has many interested state parties and Qatar has taken a prominent, multi-track approach to influence the outcome. The Qataris have met with Assad, armed rebels, provided facilities for the US to train militants, paid defectors and–employing a novel methodology– used the trappings of civil society in the form of a ‘report’ on torture and the coverage provided by a ‘free press’. Qatar’s participation raises some interesting questions: What is the goal of this geopolitical manoeuvring? Are they using a civil society façade to achieve state goals?
In the aftermath of the 2009 Han–Uyghur riots in Urumqi, the Chinese government made a number of changes to its policies in Xinjiang, including transferring out the region’s unpopular party chief. Since the arrival of President Xi Jinping, monitoring of Uyghurs in Xinjiang has intensified too.
But while a number of violent incidents were reported in Xinjiang in 2013, it is almost impossible to tell whether Uyghur-related violence is increasing in China. It is unclear whether the reporting of more incidents than in the past is due to actual increases in violence or simply new government media directives. The reports themselves are often uninformative. However, recent events, including the knife attack at Kunming, suggest that the Chinese government’s policies to counter Uyghur unrest are having unforeseen consequences well outside of Xinjiang. And the government is likely increasingly concerned that its post-2009 measures have been unsuccessful, given reported changes in policy toward Xinjiang.
The Syrian civil war, which has seen a stalemate for nearly three years, shows no signs of a negotiated political solution. The Geneva II peace talks, that opened on 22 January, are highly unlikely to result in a breakthrough, absent a miracle. There is irreconcilable tension between the oppositional Syrian National Coalitions’s (SNC) demand for a future Syria without President Bashar Al-Assad and Al-Assad government’s policy priority to secure international support to fight what it calls rebellious terrorists. That may well leave a military victory, either by the government or the opposition rebels, as the final option to break out of the deadlock.
If this were to happen, three recent developments seem to favor a possible win by Bashar Al-Assad. First, in recent weeks, government troops have recorded some notable military successes by reversing rebel territorial gains in the south and eastern parts of Syria and by stamping them out from areas adjacent to Damascus. Secondly, the continued infightings between rebel groups, particularly between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other moderate Islamist groups are damagingly reducing their fighting capacities against government troops. Thirdly, international support for the rebels is gradually drying out. The SNC agreed to join Geneva II peace negotiations after the US and Britain had threatened to withdraw support for them. A win by President Bashar Al-Assad would, however, inevitably affect the interests and strategic matrices of the regional powers deeply involved in the Syrian civil war – Iran, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This point is explained below by highlighting what drove each of the parties to take sides in the civil war and what they stand to win or lose in Syria if Bashar Al-Assad stays in power.
There is a feeling of trepidation in the Gaza Strip these days, and since the Muslim Brotherhood—Hamas’ fellow journeyers—were ousted from power in Egypt in early July, living conditions have deteriorated dramatically. The new rulers of Egypt have launched a much-vaunted campaign against armed groups in the Sinai Peninsula and against the tunnels that connect that territory with Gaza. The latter has brought life in this tiny strip of land where 1.6 million Palestinians live—most of them in refugee camps—to almost a standstill.
Since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, the Gaza Strip has been under a strict siege. Until last month’s military intervention in Egypt, the Islamic Resistance Movement—branded a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Israel—was able to undermine this blockade by smuggling a myriad of products, including food, medicine, weapons, and even people, into the Gaza Strip. The two most important benefits of the tunnels were the flow of cheap fuel and other goods, and the taxes that Hamas raised from this.
Iran-Qatar relations face unprecedented uncertainty. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cancelled a planned trip to Doha in November 2011, and anti-Qatari Iranian rhetoric is at an all-time high. From Tehran’s perspective, Qatar has dangerously raised the stakes by spearheading Arab efforts to remove the Iranian-backed regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus. Still, while Iran strongly resents Qatar’s so-called adventurism in Syria, Tehran’s hands are somewhat tied as it ponders a possible alternative approach towards Doha. The simple fact is that Iran badly wants to maintain whatever entente it still has among Arab countries in an era of Arab-Iranian tension—and the undeniable rise in tensions between Iran and Qatar have to be viewed in this context.