10 December 2012 | Reading 4 mins.

Redefining West Asia

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Stuart Reigeluth
Founder of REVOLVE

Stuart Reigeluth, Founder of REVOLVE

The positive changes in the Arab world herald a new era for millions of people. At the start of this new era, we need to discard the terms “Middle East” and “Near East” which
are seen by many as Eurocentric and that perpetuate colonial perceptions of the region. To be more correct geographically as well, from now on let’s use: West Asia.

The United Nations already does; so does Canada. Other organizations also have adopted this more balanced definition, such as the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) forum: WANA instead of MENA. With time, using West Asia could help unify the nearly 20 countries and over 300 million people of this largely semi-arid region with a common identity and more integrated economic unit.

The “Arab Spring” or “Awakening” is another misnomer that needs to be addressed. The Arab protests that turned into revolts are more reminiscent of The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) by Gabriel García Márquez: the South American parable of a leader being overthrown is analogous to the domino effect of falling Arab dictators being overwhelmed by popular discontent.

Each Arab dictator is going his own way. The Tunisian fled to Saudi Arabia; the Egyptian stayed in his country as the military took over; the Libyan fought to the bitter end against other tribes; the Yemeni fights on against his people; and the specter of the Syrian stretches far and wide across the deaths of over an estimated 5.000 citizens in 2011.

Bashar al-Assad never wanted to rule Syria. He spent a stint in the UK studying ophthalmology. His older brother Basil was being groomed by their father, Hafez. But Basil died in a car accident in 1994 and Bashar was called to duty. More soft-spoken than his brother, Bashar and his entourage are unwilling to relinquish the power his father monopolized through and with the military. The Assad leadership is of Alawi origin – a Shia off-shoot – ruling over a predominantly Sunni majority.

Syria is the strategic epicenter of West Asia. What occurs in Damascus will have more drastic repercussions across the region than Qaddafi’s demise in Libya. Some say sectarian warfare is already underway; others claim that these are scattered skirmishes resembling the Tahrir Square theater, isolated in the center of Cairo. One thing is certain: civil war in Syria would most definitely spill over.

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