Collapse or Decentralization for Syria?
Amid the many scenarios for Syria are two widely discussed possibilities: that President Bashar Assad will respond to his imminent collapse by retreating with his Alawite compatriots to an Alawite mini-state in the northwestern coastal area of Syria; and that Syria will fragment into a series of smaller entities based on ethnicity and religion - Kurdish, Druze, Alawite, Sunni, Christian and so on.
I suspect that both of these dire expectations are wrong, though each carries within it a hint of what is possible, not only for Syria but also for much of the Arab world. In between the centralized police and welfare state and a collapse into fragmented ethnic statelets may be a more feasible and appropriate third way, one that is based on strong decentralization of regional power and identity within a looser national superstructure.
This might be an appropriate governance model for much of the Arab world, whose own citizens have never had the opportunity to shape their countries’ borders, values or policies. I am assuming that many of the Arab world’s troubles reflect a critical lack of legitimacy and natural cohesion, which has allowed so many states to fall into the hands of individuals and families that passed on rule, or intended to do so, as a personal inheritance, regardless of the will of the citizenry (Hafez Assad, Saddam Hussein, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Moammar Gadhafi, Omar Hassan Bashir, a dozen or so Lebanese families, not to mention the hereditary principle in a handful of monarchies).