Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Syria – reasons for failure

There have been almost a dozen separate initiatives aiming to resolve the Syrian crisis, but all of them have ended in failure, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Just months after the start of the Syrian Revolution in 2011, the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s insistence on military suppression and growing regional and international concerns led to initiatives aiming to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. 

However, these were rejected by the regime, and demands grew for fundamental political change in Syria and the transformation of the totalitarian regime that has ruled the country for five decades into a plural and democratic system.

There have been some ten major proposals to end the Syrian tragedy thus far, not all of them confrontational with the regime. But none of them have succeeded in resolving the crisis, for the most part because of conflicting interests and the intransigence of the Syrian regime.

In November 2011, eight months after the start of the revolution when more than 10,000 people had been killed, the Arab League presented an initiative calling for an immediate halt to the violence, the withdrawal of the military from urban areas, the release of detainees and the agreement on principles for democratic reform.

The initiative also included provisions for dialogue between the regime and the opposition under the auspices of the league and the formation of a national unity government paving the way for parliamentary and presidential elections.

The initiative was rejected by the Al-Assad regime, which then slammed the door on a further Arab initiative proposing that Al-Assad step down from power before early presidential and parliamentary elections.

In March 2012, then UN special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan put forward a plan to end the conflict in Syria that did not include asking Al-Assad to step down. The six clauses included the launch of a comprehensive political process led by Syrians, an end to the violence, a daily ceasefire to allow the delivery of aid, the release of detainees, freedom of the press and of civil society institutions, and the right to peaceful protest. When this plan failed, Annan resigned.

In June 2012, the international working group on Syria that included the permanent members of the UN Security Council and regional countries called for the conflict to be resolved through peaceful dialogue at the Geneva II Conference on Syria. This initiative also failed and UN special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi resigned.

In February 2014, UN Security Council Resolution 2139 called on all sides in the conflict to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria and respect the neutrality of medical teams.

In April 2014, UN Security Council Resolution 2042 called on the Al-Assad regime to withdraw its forces from urban areas in Syria and made provisions for UN observers to monitor the ceasefire. UN Security Council Resolution 2043 then supplemented the previous resolutions, but like them it too failed.

In January 2015, Syrian opposition figures and regime representatives held a conference on the conflict under Russian patronage in Moscow that resulted in the Moscow Principles.

These included the maintenance of Syria’s sovereignty and unity, provisions to combat terrorism, a resolution to resolve the crisis through political means, the rejection of foreign intervention, and guarantees on state institutions and the rule of law in Syria.

The Moscow Principles were rejected by the political and military opposition but agreed by the regime.

In August 2015, the UN Security Council supported a new peace plan for Syria drafted by UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura that called for the formation of working groups on security, combatting terrorism, political issues and reconstruction in the country. A transitional leadership body would also be created under the plan holding full powers. The regime rejected the plan.

In October 2015, representatives of the US, Russia, China, the EU, France, Germany, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Iran, Jordan and the UAE met in Vienna and agreed on a new plan that would guarantee Syria’s unity, integrity and secular character and would accelerate diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, give safe passage to humanitarian aid and foster continuing talks between the opposition and the regime.

The same group met again one month later to draft a timeline for forming a transitional government in Syria within six months and holding elections within 18 months. But quarrels continued about Al-Assad’s fate and talks between the opposition and the regime.

Two months later, the UN Security Council agreed on the plan as a road map to peace in Syria, but little happened on the ground. The violence continued, the transitional government was not formed and there was no possibility of holding elections.

None of these proposals achieved tangible results and if anything only increased domestic, regional and international disputes and the scale of the violence on the ground. They failed because they ignored fundamental issues, treating the regime with a respect it did not deserve and marginalising the armed opposition.

They lacked implementation mechanisms and detailed timelines and included ambiguous clauses that were open to interpretation. No sanctions were included if the proposals were not implemented, leaving their provisions open to whim. They ignored the question of transitional justice, leaving the door open to long-term reprisals.

All betrayed the absence of a united international will to solve the Syrian conflict, as well as clear and gaping divisions between the countries involved. Arab, regional and international countries were shown to be unable to overcome their divisions, and the fragmentation and lack of political vision of the Syrian opposition helped to frustrate any unified vision of the country’s future.

The insistence of the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies on continuing the conflict, foiling initiatives, muddling priorities, and feeding sectarian, ideological and ethnic tensions, also helped scupper the peace initiatives.

In the absence of clear international guarantees and possible UN intervention under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Syrian people will have to wait longer for a viable solution to the conflict in the country.

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