Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

No victor, you said?

The peace initiative recently announced by the UN special envoy to Syria has angered many in the opposition camp,reports Bassel Oudat from Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

Forget Geneva 3 and forget Geneva 1 and 2 as well. Everything the Geneva Declaration said about the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad standing down in favour of a fully empowered governing body will have to be let go of too.

In essence, this is what Staffan de Mistura, diplomat extraordinaire, man of mystery, tireless negotiator, and the man the UN has put in charge of Syria’s future peace process has told the Syrian opposition.

Think about fighting terror. Think about the regime and the opposition acting as one. Think about defeating Islamic State (IS) and other like-minded groups. Then committees can meet to find a way to bring back peace and acceptable governance to a war-torn country.

This was basically de Mistura’s advice to his interlocutors. Some of them liked it, but many of them didn’t.

The regime must have been particularly thrilled with de Mistura’s adage that when the guns fall silent, there should be no vanquished and no victor. But the opposition collectively gasped.

No vanquished? What about the half a million or so people who have lost their lives in what may be documented as war crimes by the Syrian regime? What about the 12 million refugees, some of whom are still dying as they sail in unseaworthy boats to unwelcoming European shores?

If the regime is allowed to emerge from the conflict intact, then everyone else is a loser, many opposition members said on hearing the details of de Mistura’s plans.

According to these plans, details of which started coming out only a few days ago, de Mistura intends to form four working groups to thrash out a future peace in Syria. They will include members of the government, the opposition and civil society and will propose ideas about security and reconstruction.

The UN envoy envisions a three-phase solution to the conflict in Syria. He doesn’t have a timetable yet, and it doesn’t seem that he is eager to have one in the near future, if at all. All that is known is that the first phase, described as temporary, involves ending hostilities between the government and the opposition.

The second phase, also called interim, involves forming a transitional government enjoying specific executive powers but not “ceremonial” ones. This means that Al-Assad would remain in office as the country’s president, but only in a ceremonial capacity.

During this phase, de Mistura said, the government and opposition would have sorted out their differences sufficiently to fight side by side against IS and like-minded groups. A joint military council formed of the regime and the opposition would take charge of the war effort.

The third phase involves the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of general and presidential elections. By this time, matters such as reforming the security apparatus, allowing humanitarian relief to go through and releasing political detainees would have been worked out.

In putting together his plans, de Mistura talked to hundreds of Syrian opposition, civil society, army and militia members. Most of those he interviewed did not want to go to another peace conference abroad, such as the one often referred to as Geneva 3, he said.

However, opposition members speaking to the Weekly in Damascus this week were mostly livid at de Mistura’s plans, which were against all international laws, including UN norms and regulations, they said.

Having plans with no specific timetable is a recipe for disaster, they added, saying that de Mistura’s suggestion that the plans could be amended at any time in the future is also disastrous.

The governing body supposed to run the country in the interim phase under the plans would have greatly diminished powers compared to those originally stated in the Geneva Declaration released in June 2012, they said.

However, what has shocked the opposition most is the offer of ceremonial powers to the incumbent president. How can a man who has so much blood on his hands be allowed to stay in office, even on a “ceremonial” basis, they asked.

Fayez Sara, a media and political adviser to the president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF), lashed out at the plans.

“The de Mistura plan may be based on the Geneva Declaration, but it has taken it in an altogether different direction,” he said. “It allows Iran in as a player, although Tehran was excluded from the Geneva 2 Conference. And it gives Russia a key role, although it only had a minor role in the past.

“The plan also changes the Syrian players. It used to be the NCSROF versus the regime, but now the talks are going to be a three-way affair, with civil society included,” he noted.

Mohamed Sabra, a former NCSROF adviser and leader of the opposition Syrian Republic Party, was stunned by de Mistura’s view of Al-Assad being part of Syria’s future.

“The plan turns Bashar Al-Assad from being a war criminal ... into a partner in the war on terror. The right place for Al-Assad is in the seat of a ceremonial president, but one firmly in the dock of the International Criminal Court,” he said.

“The plan goes against the UN Charter, all the UN resolutions, and all humanitarian principles,” Sabra said.

Eqab Yehya, leader of the Syrian Democratic Bloc, also questioned the regime’s intentions in cooperating with de Mistura.

“The regime is not going to agree to giving the interim governing body full powers, nor will it allow a reform of the security apparatus or permit the formation of a national army. It has no intention of releasing the detainees either,” Yehya said.

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