Syria is not what Assad says it is

By: Mounir Abdulnasser

Contrary to President Bashar Assad’s insistence to The Wall Street Journal that Syria “[has] more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in spite of that Syria is stable” and his comment that the regime is “very closely linked to the beliefs of the people,” Syria has not been isolated from the changes taking place in the Arab world.

Like other countries around the region, Syria has been deeply shaken by the earthquakes that followed the storm of change that hit Tunisia last December. Peaceful popular protests against the regime permeated the city of Daraa in the south of Syria after the security authorities arrested and tortured a group of children who wrote anti-regime slogans on walls.

Those kids were influenced by news coming from the Arab world, and growing popular anger led to calls for freedom and dignity; those calls, in turn, began to spread from one city to another and swelled to a massive call for fundamental transformation to a system of parliamentary democracy.

Murders and arrests increased with each demonstration and the death toll has now reached at least 5,000, and tens of thousands of children, women and men have been imprisoned.

Assad has described the protests as a “conspiracy,” hinting at the influence of foreign intervention in his country. The regime plucked the strings of fear of terrorism as he described the demonstrators as vandals and fundamental Islamic “Salafists.” Assad tried to display himself to the world as the only option, the alternative being a Syria governed by extremists.

Assad has not made radical reforms to meet the demands of the demonstrators. Rather, he has stuck to his convictions, as have other Arab dictators. He believes he can achieve what he sees as possible, but this is the wrong time, and he has lost both his legitimacy as president and his respect as a responsible statesman within the international community.

Demonstrators became more determined as the killings and brutality increased and began to call for the regime and Assad to go.

These are not the Syrians of a year ago. The wall of fear has been breached, and it is doubtful whether the regime will be able to turn the clock back. From now on, no one can govern his people through bloodshed.

SYRIAN SOCIETY is divided today between the opposition and those who are pro-regime. A section of the community remained on the fence, not coming down on the side of the regime or the opposition.

Some of these people are from the merchant classes, the businessmen and the middle class who have a lot to gain from the system. In addition, the two major cities, Damascus and Aleppo, have not really played a massive part in the revolution to date because of the strong oppression against the demonstrators.

The recent declaration that the four-decade-old state of emergency had been lifted has not been implemented. The popular, ongoing explosion demonstrates that the regime must go, but at the same time it is essential to protect the essential institutions of the state and structure of society, in order to prevent a slide toward the abyss.

The international response to the situation in Syria has differed from the reaction to revolutions in other Arab countries. There was clear hesitation and confusion in the West, where some leaders described Assad as a reformer, some as a friend, and still others remained silent until eventually there were calls for Assad to step down.

The Syrian case was raised at UN Security Council and was vetoed by Russia and China. They anticipated a repeat of the process that lead to the overthrowing of the regime in Libya, however Russia’s support for Syria is part of its strategy to maintain its own international position.

These approaches took into consideration the Syrian- Iranian alliance, and the relationship with Hezbollah and the Palestinian movements, in addition to the regime’s ability to create crisis and unrest in the Middle East.

Some of the Gulf States, in cooperation with Turkey, promoted the idea of creating a transitional council similar to the one that was formed in Libya.

Turkey welcomed the opposition conferences that lead to the formation of the Syrian National Council, which was dominated behind the scenes by the Muslim Brotherhood and supported by the Justice and Development Party – AKP.

Turkey misses its Ottoman role and is inspired to play a prominent role in dealing with this crisis, having been given the green light by US and Europe. Ankara wants to keep the opposition in its sights to bargain with whether the regime stays or falls, and to impose its strategic agenda to protect its interests in the region. It wants to avoid both a repeat of the mistakes made during the US-British invasion of Iraq and the emergence of a semi-independent Kurdish state like the one currently in place in northern Iraq.

Later on the Turks became very aware of the difficulties of holding this card in the face of the emergence of a Syrian opposition that rejects foreign military intervention. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows that Turkish military intervention under any pretext will later transfer the crisis to the core of Turkey. The continuing existence of the unresolved Kurdish issue and Turkey’s war against the PKK highlights the seriousness of any such a step.

In addition, any military intervention would affect the Turkish Alawite minority, who are supporters of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and Turkey fears the spread of sectarian strife, as is indicated in the city of Homs. There is also the threat of Iran.

Syrians did not just take to the streets for freedom and dignity. They are calling for a democratic system that respects human rights. Assad has not stepped down, nor has the bloodshed stopped. Everyone in Syria is now a hostage to events, and what lies on the horizon will be dependent on finding a solution that meets international interests, but this will be at the expense of the freedom of the people.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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