Syria and Lebanon
The conflict in Syria has continued to take numerous ugly turns, and will probably continue to do so. The regime has proved difficult to topple, and its foes even harder to eradicate. As those in the region and further afield speculate about the coming fall of the regime -- the initial post-Assad stages carry enormous risks, not only for Syria's people but for the region at large. Just getting through the winter will be hard, as growing numbers of Syrians are displaced, entire neighborhoods are leveled, state institutions further erode, and international aid falls short.
President Bashar al-Assad's approach in dealing with those opposed to his rule tore Syrian society apart. The opposition's gradual radicalization in response has fuelled a self-reinforcing cycle in which both sides have increasingly relied on military solutions over political ones. As Syria's religious and ethnic communities have polarized, regime supporters have dug in their heels -- committing atrocities spurred on by their perception of facing a "kill or be killed" situation, and their fears of large-scale retribution when Assad falls.
The violence devouring Syria has also made it fertile ground for hardline Sunni Islamists, who have managed to rally around them those disenchanted with the West -- not least thanks to their access to Gulf Arab funding and jihadi military knowhow acquired elsewhere. To reverse this dangerous trend, the opposition needs to articulate a more credible, less nihilistic vision for the future, members of the international community need to coordinate their policies, and a perilous military struggle needs to move towards a political solution.
Inevitably, and especially due to the sectarian undertone this conflict has acquired, Syria's war is leaking over its border into Lebanon. History bodes ill: Beirut seldom has been immune to the influence of Damascus. It is crucial that Lebanon's leaders address the fundamental shortfalls of their governing structure, which exacerbate factionalism and leave the country vulnerable to the chaos next door.
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