The Syrian war is not only a proxy war. There is a strong internal dimension to the war in Syria but it has been obscured by various layers and dimensions of outside intervention and agendas. The Syrian regime wants to stay in power at any cost while there was certainly a civil popular opposition in Syria when the uprising first began. There are thousands of reasons for the Syrian people to protest against a family dictatorship that has controlled much of their lives since 1970 but the civil protest movement did not erupt by itself, the Western media narrative notwithstanding. Concurrent with the protest movement that erupted in 2011, Turkey and Gulf regimes had already set up armed rebel groups to help bring down a regime.
The internal dimension of the war in Syria, however, is now probably marginal to the global and regional war raging in the country today. There are several proxy wars in Syria today and they can be summarized as follows:
1. The internal Wahhabi war: There is no war within Islam in Syria, as Thomas Friedman and his ilk keep asserting. There has been a moderate and progressive strand of Islam in Syria and many of its elements have aligned themselves with the regime. And contrary to early claims made by the hired external opposition and its advocates in the West, there was never a moderate and progressive version of Islam among the rebel groups. How could that be the case when the sponsors of Syrian rebel Islam are Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia? Mufti Hassun (although he is an ally and perhaps a tool of the regime, and even the slain Sheikh al-Buti) is far more progressive than any of his adversaries on the other side, including Mu`adh al-Khatib who has railed in the past about the ills of social media, masturbation and Jews, and who praised al-Nusrah Front early on his tenure as leader of the Syrian National Council. The internal Wahhabi war is pitting the various Wahhabi parties in the region against each other. The Saudi regime, Qatari regime, al-Qa`idah (Nusrah Front) and ISIS: all four are Wahhabi and each is trying to dominate the field of the Wahhabi movement.
2. The Iranian-Saudi war: The two sides are engaged in struggles in different parts of the region, from Yemen to Lebanon and Syria. The conflict over political dominance and hegemony.
3. The Sunni-Shia war: This is a rather contrived war that was instigated by the Saudi regime — at the behest of US and Israel — to undermine the basis of Arab support for Hizbullah and Iran in the region.
4. The Russian-American war: This war is reminiscent of the Cold War. The conflict between the Russian government and the American government has never reached this level since the demise of the Soviet Union. The conflict over Ukraine and Syria, among other places, has pushed both sides to resort to the tricks and methods of the Cold War, including proxy wars.
5. Qatari and Saudi conflict: The two Wahhabi regimes are fighting over many issues but they both wish to speak on behalf of political Islam. Qatar banks on the Muslim Brotherhood and some elements of Jihadi Islam, while the Saudi regime banks on the Salafis and some elements of Jihadi Islam. This conflict may explain the conflict between the Nusrah Front and ISIS.
6. The Hezbollah versus the Future Movement: Both of those Lebanese movements have been fighting in Syria. The Future Movement is a broad and loose movement which comprises various stands, including Salafis.
7. Clash of Islamic identities: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran are all hoping to leave their national imprint on the political Islamist movement in the region.
8. The regional conflict between the global organization of the Muslim Brotherhood on one hand and the regional Salafis on the other.
These proxy conflicts now determine the course of events in Syria and the Syrian people themselves, on either sides of the conflict, have very little control over them. The slogans that are being raised by both sides of the conflict merely serve to rationalize the policies and decisions of external patrons.
Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a Professor of Political Science at the University of California, a lecturer, author of several books, and creator of the blog The Angry Arab News Service. This post first appeared on Al Alkhbar English.