Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Crises of conspiracies

Is international reluctance to put an end to the conflict in Syria the result of a conspiracy against the revolution, as the opposition claims, or is it due to conflicts of interest

Al-Ahram Weekly

While the armed opposition to the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has been unable permanently to win military confrontations, the country’s political opposition remains fractured, and Arab countries and the international community have been unable to come up with a convincing formula for a political solution that guarantees regime change.

Overall, conditions now seem to favour the Syrian regime more than the revolution, with the popular uprising against the regime turning into a war between a regime that possesses advanced weapons and a population suffering from a painful humanitarian crisis and the absence of a stable state, reports Bassel Oudat.

Over the past two years since the uprising began, some 65,000 civilians have been killed, with the international community being unable to stop the regime’s military machine being used against the Syrian population or to stop it from using heavy artillery and air attacks to destroy cities and kill civilians.

The regime has succeeded in militarising the revolution, and it has plunged its security and military forces into a war that from the outside may appear to be to protect the state, but in reality is aimed at maintaining the regime’s grip on power and keeping the country as a kind of private fiefdom for those high up in it.

The Arab countries have been unable to convince the regime of the need to adopt a brotherly initiative to end the crisis, while Russia has taken advantage of it to restore its stature as a world power at the expense of the Syrian people.

Iran, meanwhile, has viewed events in Syria as an opportunity to prove its capabilities as a key player in the country’s affairs, and the international community has hesitated to intervene, fatally disappointing the Syrian people.

At times, it has been claimed that the regime is about to collapse, and at others it has been said that advanced weapons will be sent to change the balance of forces on the ground. However, none of this has materialised, and the Syrian people have stood alone in one of the world’s bloodiest revolutions.

The regime has claimed it is the target of a “conspiracy” against it, and it has whipped up fears of jihadist groups taking over the revolution, warning against “terrorists and armed groups” at a time when protesters were marching in the streets in peaceful demonstrations.

The international community has helped the regime by focusing on the extremist Al-Nusra Front, as if this was the only group operating in Syria or it was at the forefront of the revolution.

Meanwhile, regional countries have focused on the opposition, dividing it and preventing it from coordinating against the regime. As the months have gone by, it has sometimes seemed that the world has been “conspiring” against the Syrian people and not the regime, with international actors procrastinating in finding a solution to a conflict that has displaced millions of people.

More recently, some Arab and international leaders seem to have despaired of ever finding a solution. “There is no progress on the horizon regarding the situation in Syria,” declared Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al-Arabi recently, who has nevertheless pressed the UN Security Council to take immediate steps.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said that he doubts a solution can be reached in the light of the divisions within the Security Council, noting that he “feels pained whenever he thinks of the number of people who will be killed in the meantime”.

Last week’s meeting between US Vice President Joe Biden and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, attended by UN special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, resulted in very little. The two men did not agree to hold a “Geneva 2” meeting as had been expected, and both sides admitted nothing new had emerged from the meeting.

As for the meetings between the head of the opposition coalition Moez Al-Khatib and the Russian and Iranian foreign ministers, these were little more than farcical and caused more fractures among opposition ranks.

Brahimi wants a solution to end the violence in Syria, but he has admitted that without agreement between Moscow and Washington, his hands are tied. “It is difficult to accept that the Security Council will continue to be paralysed on such a serious international crisis. The US and Russia must overcome their differences, and the Security Council must take responsibility,” he said.

French President François Hollande has announced that the EU has refused to lift the arms ban on the Syrian opposition, although there had been an earlier promise to lift this ban. “The EU will not lift the ban on sending weapons to the Syrian opposition as long as there is a possibility of political dialogue settling the crisis,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Syrian regime continues to receive generous weapons shipments from Russia and Iran, as was mentioned by the US secretary of state who said that “we are evaluating the situation. We are thinking of taking steps, especially diplomatic ones that could decrease the violence and deal with the situation.”

Everyone is talking about a political solution in Syria, but ideas remain far apart with very little in common. The country’s opposition, supported by the West and several Arab countries, wants to see an overhaul of the regime, whereas the regime, supported by Russia and Iran, wants to carry out reforms that would guarantee its remaining in power and maintaining its fundamental structure.

In the light of this contradictory scene, observers are looking forward optimistically to a meeting between US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the hope that the two men will agree on a way forward in solving the Syrian crisis.

This would then be translated into a draft resolution for the transitional phase issued according to Chapter VI of the UN and including the deployment of international peacekeeping forces.

However, the question remains of whether the US will be able impose its views on the Russia-Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis, or whether the latter will refuse to entertain the US initiative. Will Washington, supported by the West and most Arab states, surrender to this axis, implicitly burying the Syrian revolution and allowing the regime to remain in power in order to avoid further clashes?

The absence of a single Syrian political opposition has also been strongly felt, as the various opposition groups have been unable to coordinate amongst themselves even as the armed opposition has been growing in numbers and weapons.

Although the latter has been assisted by some Arab states, without advanced weaponry it has been unable to overturn the balance of power on the ground.

Turkey has been assisting the opposition, but there have been limits to its assistance, given its NATO membership and the fact that the West is worried about Ankara playing a larger role. Meanwhile, Russia and Iran have been acting as partners to the Syrian regime, and they have not hesitated to supply it with assistance.

Some Syrian opposition circles are now speculating that the US may hand the Syrian issue to Russia and Iran as a trade-off in discussions over the Iranian nuclear programme and in exchange for keeping the Syrian regime in place.

Such a surrender could not possibly resolve the crisis, since the Syrian people will continue to battle against the regime. It would therefore be better if Russia and the US focussed on preventing the dismantling of the Syrian state and the collapse of the country’s army, which would ignite sectarian wars with unthinkable repercussions.

The West’s position implies a political solution that may not give the revolution even half a victory, while Israel seems more influential than in the past, it wanting the war to continue and to wreak more destruction in order to see a greatly weakened Syria.

The situation is saturated with blood and destruction, and procrastinating further will no doubt result in a catastrophic outcome, at a minimum turning Syria into a failed state.

There is still a wide chasm between the regime and the opposition, with the former insisting on staying in power and the latter wanting to see root-and-branch changes that would include the presidency and security forces and would see the formation of a transitional government with a full mandate and the writing of a new constitution.

The consequences of the world’s dragging its feet over the Syrian crisis will be more bloodshed, with Syria’s opposition insisting that the revolution must succeed no matter how long it takes.

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