Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Al-Assad slams the door

In his recent speech presenting his vision for resolving the crisis in the country, the Syrian president closed the door on any alternative initiative for peace, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

In his first appearance in public in nearly six months, and as the world searches for a solution to the crisis in Syria that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people and safeguards the integrity of the country, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad presented his vision of how to resolve the 22-month crisis.

Al-Assad emphasised that his was the sole solution he would be prepared to accept and rejected any alternatives, suggesting that the world should not waste time looking for alternatives that do not complement his proposal.

Addressing hundreds of Syrian officials, Al-Assad began his speech by accusing unnamed regional and other countries of conspiring against Syria and rejected dialogue with the opposition, describing opposition members as “gangs who take orders from abroad” and “puppets in the hands of the West”.

Al-Assad claimed that he wanted to see a political solution to the crisis in the country, but said there was no partner for dialogue, a step back from his previous addresses.

He outlined three phases of a government-backed peace plan, in which foreign countries would first stop funding and arming opposition fighters. All combat operations would then cease, followed by a ceasefire by the Syrian army, though the army would reserve the right to respond to attacks against it and a mechanism would be created to safeguard the country’s borders.

In a second phase, the government would sponsor a national dialogue conference that would uphold Syria’s sovereignty and reject any interference in its affairs. The conference would conclude in a national charter, and a broad new cabinet would be formed to implement its recommendations.

The last phase would result in a new constitution, the election of a new parliament and a general amnesty. Al-Assad added that meanwhile the regime’s security crackdown would continue to “eradicate terrorism” in Syria.

Al-Assad indicated that his remaining in power was non-negotiable and that the army and security agencies would not be restructured, even though the country’s opposition accuses them of committing massacres that have killed some 60,000 people, arrested hundreds of thousands of others and displaced a further three million.

Al-Assad himself defined who would participate in the national dialogue and who would be excluded from it, the latter including most members of the country’s opposition. He did not identify the bases of the dialogue, or what type of political system was intended.

He ignored any mention of prosecuting those who had killed civilians or anything about his own fate, meaning that the issues that triggered the Syrian uprising were ignored or unresolved.

In his speech, Al-Assad appeared more hardline than in the past, and he escalated the challenge to the opposition and international community. His, he said, was the only solution to the crisis, suggesting that further initiatives should not waste time being developed unless they were compatible with his ideas.

After the speech and as he left the hall, the audience of officials chanted that they were “shabeeha [militias] forever for the sake of Al-Assad.”

Demonstrations took place in Syria protesting against Al-Assad’s speech and demanding his overthrow. The opposition quickly rejected the regime initiative, saying it was meant to spoil diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. Al-Assad, the opposition said, was “detached from reality”.

The opposition National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) argued that Al-Assad was trying to block any political resolution that might be reached during the US-Russian meeting scheduled for the middle of the month with the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

The NCSROF said that the opposition would not accept any political solution in which Al-Assad and his regime did not depart.

Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) described Al-Assad’s initiative as “befitting the leader of militias that kill and destroy” and a proposal by someone “detached from reality”.

The SNC advocated “continuing to liberate Syria from the tyrant’s grip as the only response to this initiative”. The opposition National Coordination Committee (NCC) inside Syria rejected Al-Assad’s initiative because it “did not meet the minimum requirements of the revolution and was a step backwards”.

The popular opposition movement the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) also rejected the proposals, describing them as part of “a bankrupt plan” and saying that Al-Assad was willing to kill even more people even if this ripped Syria apart.

The SRGC said that no solution would succeed without Al-Assad and his regime exiting the political arena.

On the international front, the US rejected Al-Assad’s speech, describing it as “a futile attempt to hold on to power that adds nothing, is detached from reality, and restricts Brahimi’s efforts”.

Washington once again urged Al-Assad to step down, as did the EU, which called for a transfer of power to reach a resolution to the conflict. Turkey stated that Al-Assad “has made many empty promises and no longer has the authority to represent the people of Syria”, and it urged him quickly to hand over power.

The UK said that Al-Assad’s initiative was “more hypocrisy” and held him “responsible for the killings, violence and oppression” in the country. “His false promises fool no one,” a UK spokesman said.

Al-Assad’s proposals were not based on previous Arab or international initiatives, but instead are based on the regime’s desire to remain in place with minor changes imposed by circumstances.

He restated his determination to fight what he described as “terrorism” and set the Syrian crisis back to square one by calling the protesters “terrorist gangs funded from abroad” and part of a conspiracy against Syria.

 “Al-Assad’s initiative is incompatible with a political solution because he is relying on an incorrect and arbitrary interpretation of events,” Haitham Manaa, head of the NCC overseas, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“It contradicts the previous recognition of the popular movement and the legitimacy of its demands. It is a step backwards in comparison to Kofi Annan’s proposal and Brahimi’s suggestions. Just as the regime has taken unilateral steps before in holding elections and drafting a new constitution, now it seems to be believing its own rhetoric and trying to move ahead without caution.”

Loay Safie, a member of the NCSR, said that “Al-Assad’s plan is not at all an initiative towards a political solution, but comes from a tyrant’s mind and his arrogance towards his political enemies. He refuses to admit the facts on the ground and is willing to overturn the truth in order to remain in power.”

“Al-Assad’s hardline position reflects his desire to remain in power at any price, but the genie of revolution is now out of the lamp, and the people of Syria are forging ahead towards freedom.”

Opposition figure Fawaz Al-Tallu said that “Al-Assad is removed from reality and is acting as if the revolution was just beginning, ignoring the blood that has been spilled, the destruction he has caused, and the sectarian rift his policies have created.”

“His initiative was directed to the international community, including his allies and supporters, in a delusional act of muscle-flexing. He did not outline any criteria for dialogue, guaranteeing that this will be void of substance, and he placed himself outside any settlement and ignored issues of accountability.”

“He also threatened to divide Syria along sectarian lines. His initiative eliminated any possibility of a political solution.”

Firas Qasas, a member of the opposition Democratic Secularist Coalition, said that “Al-Assad is trying to conceal the difficulties he and his regime are facing, and he is ignoring the fact that he has lost control over most regions of the country, as well as many border crossings and airports. He seems to have forgotten that there are ongoing battles in and around Damascus and that tens of thousands have defected. He is ignoring the fact that his removal is inevitable, as is evident from the facts on the ground.”

The Syrian opposition and many observers believe that Al-Assad’s initiative has effectively internationalised the Syrian crisis, making its solution a matter for the regime and the international community and major powers.

The opposition says that it will never accept any solution that does not unequivocally guarantee the removal of Al-Assad and his regime, restructure the country’s security and military agencies, and end sectarian control of state administrations.

It adds that it rejects foreign military intervention and emphasises that justice and accountability should be demanded for anyone in the regime charged with committing crimes.

Since Al-Assad’s speech did not mention any of these demands, his initiative for political transition will be unworkable. The only way forward now is to topple the regime by force, though this is a difficult course and it will come at a high price.

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