Will Syria be governed by cannibals?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Russian president Vladimir Putin has warned world leaders: “You cannot support people who eat human flesh,” in reference to Syrian opposition fighters.

He said this to intimidate the West, which is already afraid of a repeat of Iran, where a bad Shah was replaced with a more aggressive, brutal and bloody regime. The West is also afraid of a scenario similar to that where the evils of al-Qaeda replaced the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Two problems threaten the future of Syria: Some of the rebels inside Syria and the political opposition outside the country. There are armed groups that are not under the control of the Free Syrian Army and the Assad regime succeeded in marketing for them to intimidate the world. The opposition figures failed in proving that they are a better alternative to Bashar al-Assad. What worries both the West and the Arabs is not the “cannibals” but the civilian opposition figures wearing ties in Istanbul and in other countries.

Two problems threaten the future of Syria: Some of the rebels inside Syria and the political opposition outside the country.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Perhaps the West is looking for an excuse for its failure. But there is a real serious problem because there isn’t a wise and united political leadership yet. They are wondering: “Who will rule Syria tomorrow? Brutal rebels and greedy politicians?”

The Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the opposition, whether they are a part of the coalition or outside it, are responsible for failing the country. They are also responsible for the failure of the revolution. There will be no international support without their agreement and unity. And there will be no new Syria without international support even if the Assad regime collapses. This is why we implore them to realize the grave responsibility that falls upon them today.

It should not be condemned that the opposition be diverse and competitive. But the Syrian cause is way too dangerous to be left without an agreement on the principles of governance. The Iraqi opposition which was in exile since the beginning of the 90s and which stayed in exile for ten years was a miserable model as a possible alternative to Saddam Hussein’s regime. It was a mixture of classy and middle-class people and those who hold PhDs, and others who wore turbans. It was a mixture of people from all sects and areas.

Weighing up Syria and Iraq

Such a mixture may seem positive in Iraq but the struggles within the group them has warned of a dark future. The first shock was when Abdelmajid al-Khawni returned from London to Najaf when the regime first collapsed. He was killed in a hideous manner there and wasn’t killed by Saddam’s staggering regime or due to the chaos raging there. He was killed by his competitors. If America hadn’t been the major player in Iraq back then, most of the opposition symbols would have ended up killed by one another.

This is why we ask the question: Is the Syrian opposition better or worse than that Iraqi one?

It resembles it in many aspects. But the Syrians’ responsibility is greater because there’s no superpower ready to feed them, protect them, create a preliminary governance board for them, write their constitution for them and hold a referendum on it, guard their airspace, protect their borders for them from thieves and conspirers, create governance institutions, organize parliamentary elections, defend them at the Security Council, grant them international legitimacy and fight their rivals on their behalf.

None of this will be available for the Syrian opposition. Their responsibility is therefore much greater than that which the Iraqi opposition had. Current indications state that future prospects are tough. The opposition is not capable of establishing a simple coalition that contains everyone and that can be a good practice for the near future when they move to work in Damascus - which is certainly not where the grass is greener.

The government’s and the coalition’s task is not easy, but nothing is impossible. They must accept the principle of representation, participation and electing. He who does not participate in governance today will one day get a chance to do so. They must accept the principle of the peaceful devolution of power. They must also accept a constitution that protects every one and particularly the weakest categories of societies, like the minorities, granting them equal rights and guaranteeing freedoms.

This is how a new Syria can be stable for 100 years to come. But the disputes in Istanbul worry us all because they betray the Syrian people who are sacrificing their sons.

Without everyone’s representation in the coalition - the mini-parliament - and without everyone’s participation in the government in exile, none of these opposition figures will end up finding governance, a parliament or a country. A better behavior by the opposition will make the latter gain the support and respect of all Syrians and the world’s countries. Through this, it’s possible to have a new Syria the minute Assad leaves power.

The Syrians will not forgive them if the blood of their sons goes in vain as a result of their selfishness and rivalry. Some may say that this not the time to preach such while Assad sits in his castle planning to participate in next year’s elections. But the goal is not Syria after Assad but Syria before it as the world’s governments now complain and doubt and as they are now sacred of the power vacuum that toppling the regime will leave behind.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 19, 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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.