Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Can the regime survive?

Despite ambiguities in UN Resolution 2254 on the Syrian conflict, passed unanimously in December, new diplomatic efforts may spell the end of the Al-Assad regime, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

Despite the recent flurry of diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, it is still unclear what kind of outcome may be expected.

Pessimists say that the Syrian regime with its Russian backing may go on procrastinating in the manner seen over the past four years, while optimists say the transition to democracy and pluralism in Syria will spell the end of President Bashar Al-Assad’s rule.

Some weeks ago, the Syrian opposition met in the Saudi capital Riyadh to sort out its disputes and come up with a unified position, a task that was completed with a remarkable measure of success.

On 18 December, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2254, endorsing a roadmap for peace in Syria and setting out a timetable for talks in an agreement that may help to end the most difficult crisis in the region in recent memory.

The 16-article Resolution affirms the UN “commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity” of Syria. It voices a resolve to end the “continued suffering of the Syrian people” and notes the “destabilising effect of the crisis on the region and beyond”.

However, many in the Syrian opposition are concerned about the loose phrasing of the Resolution, saying that its ambiguity opens the door to conflicting interpretations that may impede its outcome.

It contains positive points, such as the emphasis on Syria’s territorial integrity and the need for a ceasefire, as well as the commitment to the principles stated in the Geneva and Vienna Declarations.

In its preamble, it calls on all parties to “take all appropriate steps to protect civilians, including members of ethnic, religious, and confessional communities,” while noting that the “primary responsibility to protect the population lies with the Syrian authorities”.

It also urges “the establishment of an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers, which shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent while ensuring continuity of governmental institutions.”

But several ambiguities can be pointed to, among them that the Resolution endorses the Geneva and Vienna Declarations, despite the contradictions between the two, that it offers no definition of the “full executive powers” that the transitional governing body will have, and that it lacks details concerning the future functions of the legislative, judicial, and constitutional branches of government, or those of Al-Assad.

The Resolution’s “mutual consent” may offer the regime the chance to throw a spanner in the works, and it is not clear whether the proposed governing body will be fully “secular” or only “non-sectarian.”

It is also not clear how “a nationwide ceasefire in Syria” will materialise “as soon as the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition have begun initial steps towards a political transition.” The wording does not make it clear if a ceasefire is a condition for the talks, an outcome, or neither.

The first sign of trouble came when Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem said the regime would be prepared to discuss “forming a government of national unity” to oversee the rewriting of the constitution and the holding of parliamentary elections “in 18 months”.

Reading between the lines, it seems that the regime believes that its only commitment is to bring in a few opposition members to the government and hold parliamentary elections. Does this mean that Al-Assad intends to stay in power until the end of his six-year term and that the country’s army and security apparatus will remain unchanged?

To complicate things further, Russian planes have bombed positions of the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), killing Zahran Allush, commander of the Army of Islam, a moderate faction of the FSA.

Actions such as this suggest that Moscow’s real intention in Syria is to shore up the current regime, not to set the stage for a democratic and pluralistic country.

Salem Al-Musallat, a spokesman for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF), is sceptical of the regime’s intentions. “The regime is only interested in evading UN resolutions and obstructing the political process before it even begins,” he said.

Another opposition member, Sayed Moqbil, said the regime would try to scuttle the UN Resolution in the same way it had scuttled the Geneva Declaration in the past. “The regime doesn’t want a political solution, and it still hopes for a military solution with Russian backing,” he added.

According to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, the first round of talks between the regime and the opposition will open in Geneva on 25 January. But Fawaz Tallo, another opposition member, is worried that the bloodshed will continue even as negotiators try to find a solution.

“De Mistura, the Russians, and the Americans are creating a situation in which the negotiations may proceed while the Russians, the Iranians, and Al-Assad continue to kill civilians,” Tallo said.

But not everyone is pessimistic. Some opposition members believe that the negotiations will lead to the replacement of the Al-Assad regime. The current regime, they say, is too fragile to withstand the creation of a democratic government.

Moreover, the international community has grown so keenly aware of the perils of the Syrian conflict that it cannot allow the regime to scuttle the current bid for peace.

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