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The situation in Syria is still alarming

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Syria
Photo credit: James Gordon


President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has been re-elected with a landslide victory, giving him a third seven-year term in office, despite the atrocious civil war that rages on within his country. Assad won almost 90% of the vote, and although voting only took place in around half of the territory his government forces are currently in control of, he sees this victory as a source of legitimacy and leverage for the regime.

The results were quickly denounced by the opposition's allies including the US and EU, but an international delegation led by supporters of the regime declared the elections as 'democratic and transparent'.

Not only has the regime and its allies been bolstered by this election victory, the state in which the regime's forces are able to operate and function is now vastly different from the internal conflict and division faced by the rebels. The regime has benefited from a continuous flow of foreign support (mainly from Iran and Russia), and over the past nine months or so been able to advance progressively on the ground, mostly thanks to Hezbollah, the Shi'a militant organisation.

Instead for the rebels, their Western backers have felt uneasy about the presence of extreme Islamist groups and where military aid might end up, and have stifled the flow of support.

More importantly, over the past six months the rebels have been deterred by having to defend territory and fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) group. These battle lines opened up within the opposition having shattered the capability of the rebels in being able to advance against the regime.

It now seems possible that the rebels are even in danger of losing Aleppo, the important northern city that has been fought over by the regime and rebels for the past two years.

Recently though, Western governments have started to expand their support to more moderate opposition groups they view as 'worthy of support'. This has meant that some groups previously on the brink of extinction, such as the Syrian Revolutionary Front, or other groups that did not even previously exist, have been strengthened and revived. Western governments are keen to support the suppression of ISIS due to a fear for what ISIS could be capable of within Syria and elsewhere - and this fear of ISIS has been proved correct by the capturing of Mosul, an important town in northern Iraq, by ISIS.

Some reputable commentators have said this recent advancement could prove to be a turning point in the 21st century history of the Middle East.

Lakhdar Brahimi, who was previously the UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, has given an alarming message about the potential destabilisation that ISIS could cause across the region, that there is a "serious risk that the entire region will blow up ... [that] the conflict is not going to stay inside Syria and will spill over into the region". He compares Syria today to Afghanistan in 1999, saying, "Syria is so much worse! The ISIS, they don't believe in just staying there ... your countries are scared that the few Europeans that are there may come back and create all sorts of problems. So just imagine what the feelings are next door".

Syria's conflict will continue to consume and tear apart its own country and at the same time has the potential for even more haunting developments across the region.

Whilst these elections give the regime more reason to clasp onto power, it is the violence on the ground, the influence and growth of ISIS and lack of ability to shift the national balance of power by the rebels that should be most alarming to Westerners and those in the region.

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