Arabs, and Persians, and Turks.
That’s the key to understanding what’s going on in Syria. The country has 22 million residents has been ruled by the Assad family for over 40 years. From the rise of Islam in the 7th century until the World War 1, the country has been ruled by the Arab, Persian, and Turkish empires, successively, with brief periods under Crusaders and Mongols.
But now these powers are vying for control of Syria again. The Arabs of Saudi Arabia, the Persians of Iran, and Turkey are all interested in what happens to Syria, both because of its modest oil production and because of its strategic position near Israel. The capital city of Damascus, with 1.7 million residents, is also a holy city in Islam.
Since shortly after the Arab Spring, Syria has been in a civil war, with perhaps 50 people thousand killed and up 350 thousand refugees. The larger world powers have left the stage: Europe is broke and has no desire for empire; Russia can’t project its former Soviet-era strength; China is too risk-averse to get involved; and the US is out of the picture.
So with the global policemen abandoning the beat, the neighborhood has been left to the strongest families to determine who’s in charge. And the three Islamic peoples representing three different modes of governance are deeply interested in how the civil war is resolved: Saudi Arabia a Sunni Arab monarchy; Iran and Shiite Persian theocracy; and Turkey a secular Islamic state with an independent military. All three had been empires in their own right, and all three have allies in Syria.
So don’t expect this to end quickly or easily. Even if Assad falls, the rebels are likely to fight bitterly among themselves.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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