The United States, Britain, France, and others, have just recognized a rebel coalition as being Syria's legitimate representatives. However, serious questions are being raised about the coalition, including by Canada, which is refusing to recognize it until it rejects extremism and pledges to protect minorities -- something it is unwilling to do.
One person watching the situation very closely is Prof. M D Nalapat, UNESCO Peace Chair, and Director of the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University. Prof. Nalapat has an unusually spot-on record in predicting trends in the region. He was in New York City on September 11, 2001, having just warned that the U.S. was likely to be targeted. At the start of the Arab Spring, he was already predicting a 'Wahabbi Winter'. And he foresaw the current catastrophic situation in Libya from the early days of the conflict. This is what he has to say about Syria.
Who are the people who have just been recognized by the U.S.?
Nalapat: The U.S. and the EU are essentially recognizing people whose influence disappears outside the borders of NATO member states. On the ground, the groups that President Obama has recognized as the "legitimate representatives of the Syrian people" have no say whatsoever, and not even a pretense of having, the allegiance of any segment of the Syrian public, nor any influence among any of the groups now battling the Assad regime.
Does the U.S. realize this?
Nalapat: Clearly the U.S., as with other NATO powers, has equipment and a few personnel which enable them to understand the situation. However, they are misreading the dynamic in Syria, and believe that formal recognition will somehow enable these ruthless groups to establish influence, if not control, over key elements of the groups militarily fighting Assad. The reality is that the core ideology of almost all these groups is anti-Western, so such a recognition will only distance the so-called Syrian Opposition Coalition from the fighters on the field, who would see them -- correctly -- as agents of the West.
One problem facing the NATO powers is their reliance on the intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other allied Arab states. Many of these have become infested with Wahabbis, who are expert at conveying a distorted version of ground realities upward to their superiors. In particular, these Wahabbi nests within the Saudi, Qatari and other NATO-allied intelligence services sponsor individuals whom they know to be hostile to the core security interests of the West, but for whom they seek backing. Just as in Afghanistan and Libya, the West is funding elements that will very soon work against them.
Unfortunately, the Saudi, and especially the Qatari royal families, are assisting their own destruction by helping Wahabbi groups within their societies, and outside, to gain traction. Ultimately, such groups will seek to do away with the ruling families and at best - from the point of view of the West - establish a Muslim Brotherhood-style soft-authoritarian religious state within Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In such a task -- now that the Brotherhood has succeeded in taking over the reigns of office in Egypt -- the Wahabbi elements of the Egyptian diaspora within the GCC countries are working overtime to convince local populations to eventually follow the same route to state power through street protests.
What does this mean for the future of Syria and for U.S. security?
Nalapat: Syria represents a battle between the Shia and the Sunni. The opposition to Bashar Assad is grounded in hatred for his Alawite faith. Wahabbis believe the Alawites to be apostates, just as they regard all Shia to be non-Muslim, and indeed apostate. The punishment for apostasy in Islam is death. Hence the current targeting of Alawites in Syria by so-called "freedom fighters", who may be expected to launch a full-scale bloodbath once they assume power in Damascus. Already, in locations now controlled by the "freedom fighters", Alawite, Christian and Druze women are being captured as trophies of war, without any coverage in the Western media.
It is extraordinary that the West is so viscerally against the Alawites. They are the group in Syrian society that is the most Western in their attire and lifestyles. Women within the Alawite community seldom resort to the veil, while other aspects of the lifestyle too are much closer to those followed by Europeans than to those followed by observers of Wahabbi doctrine. It's hard to understand why a Nicolas Sarkozy would ban the veil in France and yet support those who insist on the veil in the Middle East. Civilizationally, possibly because of the close links between the GCC monarchies and the West, the West has taken the side of the Sunni against the Shia. They are targeting Shia groups in Lebanon. And they are ignoring oppression against Shia in Saudi Arabia, as well as the suppression of the Shia majority in Bahrain.
The U.S. insisted that the new Iraqi government devolve a substantial proportion of oil revenue on the Sunni regions of Iraq, although these form a minority within the country. The silence of the U.S. and the EU on the equally justified need to ensure that the Shia regions of Saudi Arabia, and the Shia in particular, get a significant share of Saudi oil revenue indicates, to local minds, a bias.
In 1980-82, Israel committed a strategic blunder by backing the Gemayal-led Maronite Christian groups in Lebanon in their assault on the Shia. The consequence is that Israel is the only country in the world facing Shia terrorism -- in contrast to the wide swathes of the globe confronting Wahabbi terror. Should the West continue to assist the Wahabbi project of marginalizing the Shia throughout the Middle East, the danger is that the whole of the West will become the target of a new breed of Shia terrorist. The West should be neutral in the current sectarian Wahabbi-Shia conflict sweeping across the Arab world. At present it is clearly on the side of the Wahabbis. Getting involved will make no friends in the long run but will create immediate enemies.