Middle East

Syria: It’s Not Too Late for a Historic Reconciliation

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It is worth going back over the Arab press archive of the past six months. Not to compare what everyone has been saying. But to illustrate that the political and media narrative on Syria has been controlled by three groups.

The first group despises all things Syrian – people, government, and institutions. From the day the protests broke out, its members began talking of the “rolling revolution,” the “long-awaited spring,” and the “death-throes of the regime.” They stressed it was all purely peaceful and in the spirit of national unity. Accounts of armed attacks, or of sectarian discrimination and abuses, were dismissed as fabrications.

This group will forever be writing about Syria being sick – not until the country is cured, but until their own dying days. These are the cheerleaders for foreign intervention. They are uninterested in any solution through dialogue. They don’t want anyone to talk to anyone else. They want chaos, blood, bullets, and fire, and spare no thought for the consequences. These characters are either low-level operatives, receiving pay and perks from intelligence agencies in Europe and America, or work as intellectual rent-a-pen for various sheikhs from the oil monarchies. They do not recognize any Syrian opposition group or figure that does not enjoy the sponsorship of France, the approval of the White House, or the blessing of the House of Saud. They only confer legitimacy on those who declare their willingness to see Syria destroyed to put an end to the regime.

For the second group, all is pure darkness. They refuse to admit that there is any problem with the Syrian regime, or accept that it has any genuine opponents. For them, the protests were merely the product of conspiracies hatched during the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. The poor of Deraa, Idlib, and the Hama countryside, and the local activists of Damascus, Homs, Latakia, Riqqa, and Deir al-Zour, were simply misled youth who didn’t know what was good for the country and had no right to do what they were doing. No right to object to the presidency staying in the same family for 40 years; or the corruption rife in every public and private institution; or security men who live by humiliating and blackmailing people; or the relentless suppression of anyone who speaks out or differs.

This group argued that the regime wants reform, and therefore deserves support. But it never questioned the regime about how, with whom, and when this reform could be brought about. In practice, this group did not oppose the repression unleashed against protesters and citizens. It made no distinction between them and gangsters in the pay of foreign powers intent on destroying the country.

But there is also a third group that can see the difference. They understand that a legitimate struggle has been underway, which compels the regime to begin a transition to an inclusive order (one governed by law rather than connections); which puts on trial those who have spewed corruption for decades; kicks doors and windows open to let out the stifling stench of suppression; closes down the political penitentiaries; enables the people to participate effectively in rebuilding state and society; and stops illegal fortunes being accumulated through fraud, embezzlement and influence-peddling.

Nobody but those engaged in such a struggle can grant or deny it legitimacy. The people in the street can tell who is genuine, just as they can tell who is a crook, opportunist, or foreign agent. Similarly, they can differentiate between the sincere people in the state who want true reform, and the spooks, contortionists, and chameleons.

From day one, this group noted that Syria is unlike any other country, and that Bashar Assad resembles neither Hosni Mubarak, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and Muammar Gaddafi, nor the kings of Bahrain and the House of Saud, the emirs of Qatar or Kuwait, or the sons of Zayed. This group said Syria was different, not only because of its internal dynamics and sectarian, ethnic, and political diversity, but also because of what it represents. For decades, Syria has been the linchpin of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

For the past decade, it has been the hub of the struggle against the new Western colonization of our countries. Since the June 2006 war, it has been the decisive player in an ongoing confrontation with Israel which is approaching a critical phase, whether Israel’s allies want that or not. Most importantly, Syria today is key to the changes anticipated after the unravelling of American plans in the region – with the US forced to withdraw its troops from Iraq, reorganize its entire military presence in the Gulf, and prepare to beat a safe retreat from Afghanistan too. This is a moment when regional rulers allied to the US can sense the approach of payback-time – to their peoples, this time, and not just the American colonizer. And Israel, most of all, can appreciate the implications of a strong and cohesive axis stretching from Iran, via Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, to Palestine.

From day one, this group cautioned the regime and its opponents not to be arrogant, and that all-out confrontation on the streets would mean heading toward civil war. This warning was sounded many times. But the regime’s enemies have taken to trumpeting it, now that it has turned into a threat by the West – which seeks civil war as an alternative to a foreign war on the regime in Damascus.

From day one, this group appealed for ways to be found to bring about a historic reconciliation, which would allow the honest opposition – and a big section of the public throughout the country – to say that the protests have begun producing results. These would include alterations to the structure of the regime, leading to free elections that set in motion a real and determined process of change, unstoppable by either security or corruption. Such a reconciliation would enable the regime to help itself by ditching the problematic part of the legacy with which it was burdened. It could thus preserve the components of strength that Syria has developed over the years, while ushering in a new era of political, economic, and cultural development, thus laying solid foundations for Syria to chart its course, unmoved by American threats or Israeli wars.

Syria’s Arab and Western detractors have suffered a significant setback of late. By marching the Syrian opposition through a minefield, scattering and dismembering it, they have prevented it from developing into a national opposition. They have been hijacked by the West. They can no longer proclaim their commitment to independence. Their conferences, activities and statements are now funded by external parties that seek to forcibly colonize them. This section of the opposition does not go in much for reflection or self-criticism about its role in the 1980s. Rather, they think the time has come for revenge. And they see bloodshed as the only route to achieving their objective – exclusive power, to be attained by wiping out the other.

An attempt is currently being made to plunge Syria into a roving civil war. The chosen means are to inflame sectarian, confessional, and political tensions (while accusing the regime of seeking to raise them); to prohibit any contact, dialogue, or national reconciliation; and to ensure continued bloodshed by all available methods. The aim is to exhaust Syria, to make it easy prey should any external predator opt to move in for the kill.

This endeavour is being led by a collection of governments, states, and groups that have no other goal than getting rid of the regime. They will stop at nothing, whether disabling the state and starving the people, setting every corner of the entire country ablaze, attempting to assassinate the regime’s people, or stoking sectarian and confessional strife by whatever infernal means.

On the other side, the Syrian regime needs to build walls around its country, rather than itself. A historic government initiative is long overdue at this difficult and complicated juncture, to make it possible for the well-intentioned people to be called off the streets, to confound Syria’s external foes, and to isolate their clients inside and outside the country. The fact that the world has come to appreciate the scale of the conspiracy against Syria does not prevent if from seeing the internal problem that exists. The regime should be thinking full-time about how best to launch such an initiative. It will never be too late.


First Published at English Al-Akhbar.

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