Before the explosion at the national security building, which killed a number of prominent security and military leaders in the Syrian regime, a Russian message arrived confirming acceptance of the so-called “Yemeni solution”, i.e. Bashar al-Assad stepping down and a consensus government being declared. However, the Russia’s approval came with a note saying that the solution would be in form only, to satisfy the opposition, while the al-Assad regime would remain in key governance positions. The Arab mediator rejected the proposal.
Then came the shock of the national security building explosion, and the revolutionaries arrived in Damascus, swiftly and surprisingly capturing border points. Suddenly, the al-Assad regime and its allies began to reiterate their acceptance of the Yemeni solution, but we do not know how serious they are this time. Perhaps the regime is ready to pack its bags and leave, and perhaps it has no other option to stop the advance of the rebels in the conflict areas, including Damascus.
If it is indeed ready to step down, should we negotiate with the regime now or has that offer expired, and hence we should expect the fighters to seize the presidential palace, as in Libya?
Clearly the Syrians are divided over this issue. One side wants to negotiate and accept the transitional phase. This has been expressed by Syrian National Council member George Sabra, who explicitly said two days ago: “We would agree to the departure of Assad and the transfer of his powers to a regime figure, who would lead a transitional period like what happened in Yemen.”
The features of such a proposal appeared with the emergence of dissident Brigadier General Manaf Tlass in Jeddah. This sentiment has also been expressed by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, who said on the sidelines of the recent Arab ministerial meeting in Doha: “There is an Arab consensus that Syrian President Bashar al Assad should step aside quickly in return for safe exit”. For the first time, Arab countries will ask the Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to form a transitional government.
However, there is also a Syrian side that wants to fight until the end, because the time for negotiation, in their view, has expired, and as the opposition marches towards the palace it is only a matter of time until the regime falls.
A third group is as yet undecided, hamstrung by disagreements over which figures could be entrusted with the formation of the next government.
Although emotions are more inclined to the second side, which calls for the continuation of the fighting, rationality and experience warn against drifting behind this thought process. The fall of the regime has become almost certain with the significant combat successes achieved by the rebels in recent weeks, but the situation remains difficult because of the regime’s military capabilities, using aircraft, tanks and guns, and its ability to commit more massacres whilst being protected by Russia’s veto. In the end, al-Assad will travel to either Iran or Russia, but fighting until then does not ensure any form of agreement.
Fighting until the end may cause the complete collapse of the military and security institutions, which consist of more than half a million elements who could be transformed into armed gangs. Is it in the national interest to destroy the state and drag liberated Syria into internal strife and wars fuelled by parties such as Russia, Iran and Hezbollah?! Is it not completely wrong to think that the end of Bashar will automatically bring about the end of his unjust state? In reality, Bashar’s power came to an end last year when Syria as a whole began to peacefully demonstrate against his regime. We all know that his reign has come to an end, but we are afraid that he will leave the country in ruins, having cultivated strife and transformed Syria into scorched earth for years to come. He may even succeed in dividing the country.
These are genuine concerns. Maintaining the state is more important than enacting revenge against Bashar, for he will have to take responsibility for his crimes no matter where he tries to escape. If it is possible to maintain the state through a power handover, as happened in Yemen, and to maintain the institutions of the state, this will cut off the path for Iran and its affiliates. This will enable the Syrian people to build the regime that they want, and build a better future for their children in a united and stable country.
The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on July 26, 2012