Mittwoch, 3. September 2008

The Syrian Bid

The Middle East is changing. It did not change as rapidly as expected when U.S.-President George W. Bush first introduced the Greater Middle East Initiative, but it does change. Today it appears as if President Bush initiated a chain-reaction by removing Saddam Hussein in Iraq and calling for democracy in the region. Slowly this strategy begins to pay off: Saudi-Arabia introduced democratic reforms on a regional level, Iraq is stabilised and embarks on a path of sustainable democratic development, and Lebanon is struggling to assert democratic reform. The most important change, however, takes place in Syria, where president Bashar al-Assad introduced a couple of painstaking reforms that are certainly difficult to accept for the Syrian establishment, but could break the cycle of violence in the Middle East. Apparently, Bashar al-Assad forced Hamas chief Chalid Meschal to leave his asylum in Damascus and allegedly urged him to re-locate to the Sudan. This is another major step in Assad's bid to change Syrian foreign policy. Bashar al-Assad serves as president of Syria since 2000, when his father died. Ever since Syrian foreign policy has not exactly been coherent; observers were wondering where the country is headed. In 2003 politicians in the United States considered Syria as the second military target after Bagdad. But now, Syria is engaging in peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and calling for direct talks with Tel Aviv. It established formal relations with Lebanon and is now cutting ties to Hamas. Bashar al-Assad is, after all, a pragmatic autocrat who's interests are not being served by close ties with Teheran. Gradually, Assad seems to make a significant turn-around. In historic perspective it might be one of the windfalls of the Greater Middle East Initiative.

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