Governance of Diversity in Syria

The Mediterranean region, a major part of which is the area known as the Greater Syria region, has always attracted and served as a passageway for different peoples and civilisations. According to historians, more than thirty-eight different civilisations have passed through it at different times, some of which were mere passersby while others settled down, formed a national minority and left their imprint on the local culture. Not only was the region a refuge for people fleeing the ravages of history; as the birthplace of the three monotheistic religions, it was the arena of major civil and intra-religious warfare.
Today, as yesterday, the region is still an arena of outstanding conflicts and of others that are looming on the horizon; the religious intertwines with the national in these conflicts, which threaten with an explosion whose repercussions could spread well beyond the region, to more remote parts of the world. Given its current political boundaries, inherited from the political games of the world’s powers in the region, Syria is a microcosm of the astonishing mixture of populations living side by side in the region. This has been a source of pride and anxiety for the local cultural and political elites, because diversity is a blessing when it is well managed, and a curse when it is not.

During the past few decades, the predominant image one had of Syria was of a country where citizens enjoyed their diversity within the framework of an all-inclusive national unity that other countries in the region could only dream of. However, tensions did surface from time to time to remind us that there were still some embers burning under the ashes, embers, which if exposed to the open air, were likely ignite and cause a huge conflagration. Today, one year after the outbreak of the revolution, the Syrian crisis is a clear example of this latent danger.
The main cause of the deepening cracks among the societal components is not diversity itself, but rather the bad management of this diversity, which has exerted its security pressure in order the keep a bright outer image of coexistence, regardless of the hatred and repulsions that this approach may create.
Regardless of the outcome, however, the current crisis in Syria is a historic opportunity to put an end to the mismanagement of diversity, and convene a national dialogue that would eventually lead to a new social compact. Not only would this compact entrench the legal, constitutional and social values of true citizenship, but it would also help avoid turning the blessing of diversity into a blind civil war with disastrous consequences.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.