Can Syrians begin a transitional phase alone?
Many questions remain unanswered due to the blurriness of the Syrian situation
While we await during this week and perhaps the next one, the success or failure of Geneva 2, let us think about who might rule Syria in the transitional phase that will lead to a new, free democratic and undivided nation, living in peace with its neighbors.
This is the minimum required by the opposition, and most of the fighting factions, as well as all the countries of the region. No-one wants Syria to be governed by one community that cancels all the others, or even governed by the army.
No one wants Syria to be divided. Even the leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front has said that they are just a faction among others, and will not impose their opinion in determining the future of their country.
The only stumbling block is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, (ISIS) that has already been rejected by all the other opposing factions. The battles between ISIS and all the other factions have not been resolved yet; ISIS neither believes in a Syrian state, nor democracy and pluralism.
It believes in a pure Islamic state and finds nothing wrong in the Caliphate. Therefore, ISIS will remain a thorn in the side of the new Syrian Republic and its transitional phase, regardless of who will be leading it; in fact ISIS will also be a thorn in the side of most Arab and Islamic countries.
If Russia and Damascus work hard in Geneva and convince their Syrian ally about the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers over the army, police and security forces, and if Russia chimed in with the U.S. as stated in the content of the Geneva 2 call, it will certainly mean the departure of Bashar al-Assad from the Syrian scene.
Many questions remain unanswered due to the blurriness of the Syrian situation, but one thing is sure: the transitional government will not be able to rebuild a new Syria aloneJamal Khashoggi
If the Assad regime collapses, this could lead to chaos. Rebels could storm government premises, presidential and personal palaces, cases of retaliation would run rife, and internal battles between the factions would be widespread, especially with the presence of ISIS.
Before heading to the Geneva 2 conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “some are insisting on the idea of overthrowing the Syrian regime, and this does not bode well.” Some interpreted this statement saying that it is a clear Russian position holding on to Assad, while others said that Russia is holding on to the regime and not the Syrian president, arguing that an earlier statement confirmed that Russia is not holding on to Assad in person. Indeed, if we wanted to understand these positions amid such political uncertainties, we have to read between the lines of the Syrian scene.
Russia, which insisted on the Geneva 1 communique that urged the formation of “transitional government with full executive powers,” knows well that such a government will be impossible with the presence of Assad, even in Syria as a citizen - after the formation of the government - if they ever wanted to end the war and establish peace.
Assad is not an elected leader so he would retire and help the victims of the war that he caused. He is dictator stating “I am the regime and the regime is me.” He believes that if he leaves, the security system will collapse, and thus the regime will collapse if there were no “authority” that is able to handle it.
Anyone who believes that the Syrian opposition, people and fighting organizations will accept the army to remain as it is in Syria will be naïve. With more tens of security apparatuses formed under the pretext of “protecting the regime and the Syrian state from collapse,” the army will never be a national army having the people’s consensus, such as the Egyptian or Tunisian army, and the intelligence services will never be protecting the homeland and the people from external threats.
The army and intelligence services have always been the regime and minority’s apparatuses to suppress the majority by killing, oppressing and intimidating the people. It symbolizes the era in which the Syrian people revolted; it is similar to the era of Umayyah ibn Khalaf known as the master of Bilal ibn Ribah, a slave he tortured for converting to Islam.
The leaders of these apparatuses will neither take into consideration regime Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem’s assertions about reaching an agreement to form a transitional government, nor guarantees from Moscow.
They will wait for Bashar al-Assad; if he says that he refuses what was announced in Geneva and that he will remain with them as the legitimate president of the country, they will then accept to take the risks: some will give up and others will keep on supporting their leader. If he disappears and vanishes from the Syrian scene, they will not rush to the airport awaiting the “transitional government,” and let bygones be bygones.
Iraq and Lebanon
Each will save himself and his family, and flee to Iraq or Lebanon, or to his town or village while waiting for another confrontation that will be one of the most complex issues of the transitional government, which can comfort the Alawite minority, and revive the perspective of the Syrian state.
Who can do all that? Can a transitional government including the opposition and some of the remnants of the regime with clean hands (in case there were any) lead the transitional phase alone? I think that the Syrian people will surely need Arab peacekeeping troops that will intervene to support the government, along with Turkish troops that will play a major role in the north of Syria.
Will the Syrian people accept to put their country under the tutelage of Jordan for example, for a specific period of time, in conformity with the U.N. decision? Many questions remain unanswered due to the blurriness of the Syrian situation, but one thing is sure: the transitional government will not be able to rebuild a new Syria alone. There must be an external power that will help this transitional government - a brother in need is a brother indeed.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on Jan. 26, 2014.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.
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