Everyone I’ve met has tried to find an excuse for Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, head of the Syrian National Coalition, since he attempted to swim against the current in the eyes of the opposition by calling for negotiating with the regime, under facilitated conditions. The regime has been manipulating him and his initiative like it was expected.
Excuses varied on this. Some said he wanted to satisfy countries which insist to resort to a peaceful solution while others said, Khatib wanted to embarrass the regime. Some think that Khatib, as a newly-assigned chief, wanted to present a new different image about the opposition that does not settle with images of murder and fighting and that it has many options. Others said that Khatib may have launched his initiative to satisfy some funding countries that were pressured themselves as they did not criticize his initiative at first and that if former coalition head Abdel Baset Sida presented this same initiative, everyone would have turned against him.
What’s wrong with taking a political path and engaging in peaceful negotiation? This is possible but it must be based on either of these situations. The first is that the rebels are convinced that the scheme for change has failed and that the revolution has reached a dead end so they want to gain anything in exchange of surrendering their weapons … but this is not true. Although it’s been a long time and although the regime is still standing, the opposition fighters are successfully proceeding.
The second situation is that fighters have reached a very progressive phase in the process of overthrowing the regime and they think that bloodshed can end so the regime is ready to leave power under reasonable conditions. This is also not true because the regime is still fighting, and it still controls important areas.
What Khatib and those defending him said was aimed at embarrassing the regime by presenting a political suggestion they know Assad will turn down. They also wanted to particularly embarrass the Russians who have been calling for dialogue for a year. Of course, this is a maneuver and not a frank proposal. It is a maneuver against a regime which mastered such maneuvers for 40 years. We must also not forget that Iran, the regime’s main ally, has confused the West with negotiations on its nuclear program by procrastinating and making empty promises. Assad manipulated the Lebanese for years and betrayed almost all countries in the region. So what experience does the opposition have to enter this wrestling ring?
Look how Assad responded! He waited for the deadline that Khatib specified to pass and then made his proposal a day later. Now how do you say “no” to an initiative just because it was made late a day later? This is how Assad’s familiar maneuvering began. He wanted to turn the table on the opposition so he presented a proposal that was better in form.
One of the most deceitful regime’s representatives made a statement challenging the opposition. The information minister addressed the opposition saying: “return to Damascus and your safety will be guaranteed. Negotiate with us anyway you like and if you dislike our proposals and what we are negotiating on, you have the right to leave whenever you want and you will be safe.” If Sheikh Moaz fears for the life of the negotiators, it’s certain that Assad can provide guarantees from Russia and therefore he can embarrass Khatib and the opposition in front of the world. Assad can even do more to embarrass them. For example, he can release thousands of detainees in exchange for nothing just to show he has good intents or he can issue passports for some opposition figures. What will Sheikh Moaz do then? Will he go to negotiate? If he does, he will divide the opposition and break the rebels’ zeal. The rebels will immediately think that the coalition has abandoned them and that countries supporting them have sold them. If Khatib rejects to negotiate, he will look like an amateur bluffer in front of superpowers.
Since questions are more than answers, let’s ask: Is there either factors in the opposition field or the battlefield present implying that Assad is really ready to go through a peaceful solution that ends his rule in any manner?
It is not reasonable that anyone would believe there is. Therefore, everyone must realize that the time for a peaceful solution has not come yet. The revolution is not defeated and the regime will not fall within days. So there is only one solution. The opposition has to double its work to support rebels on the ground and it has to unite its leaderships. It must also insist on a military solution because despite its bloodiness, it is the only means that limit bloodshed and decrease further suffering. Whatever Sheikh Moaz and his friends think, it is no longer possible for the regime to stay due to the millions of Syrians’ feeling deep hatred towards it.
This article first appeared in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 24, 2013
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.