A plan without Assad or ISIS

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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Although the forthcoming Geneva III conference on Syria is marked by many obstacles, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura insists that it will begin next month. On May 4, consultations were launched in Switzerland that will last for six weeks. Meetings with Syrian representatives and parties will be held behind closed doors. No statements will be issued, and no interviews or statements will be provided to journalists. These consultations are supposed to help the U.N. envoy arrange the conference.

Despite that, there are more cynics than optimists regarding the talks. The conference may not even be held due to the major differences among Syrian parties and foreign governments. Unfortunately, moderate voices are few and largely unheard, although there is a real need for reasonable, pragmatic solutions.

The only hope for Syria is to have a reasonable middle-ground solution with an electoral system in which everyone can participate after eliminating Assad and ISIS.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The most recent suggestion is that of Mohammed Salman, head of the National Democratic Initiative and a former Syrian minister who is banned from travel. In a recent statement, he suggested a two-year transitional phase under U.N. supervision that includes both the regime and the opposition, including the armed one.

He does not name President Bashar al-Assad, nor organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as part of the plan. The proposal harmonizes with the Geneva I conference, and may therefore be accepted by Arab countries that support the Syrian opposition, including the Gulf states.

'No one will win militarily'

The aim is to establish a U.N.-supervised democratic regime, expel all non-Syrian forces, fight terrorist groups, prepare for a constituent assembly that lays down a constitution, and plan legislative elections.

The last four years of conflict have taught everyone that no one will win militarily, and that a possible solution will have to grant each party something and not everything. They have also taught us that there are impossible solutions, such as keeping Assad in power or including ISIS in governance.

Assad has failed in his security and military plans, and his allies have been unable to rescue him. The Syrian opposition has realized that extremist groups such as ISIS and Al-Nusra Front have hijacked the revolution and therefore cannot be accepted. The only hope for Syria is to have a reasonable middle-ground solution with an electoral system in which everyone can participate after excluding Assad and ISIS.

Others share this desire for a peaceful solution in which various parties take part. There is a project called “The Day After,” by a Syrian organization based in Istanbul that says it “works for the sake of supporting a peaceful, secure and democratic transition.”

Can such positive ideas grow in the burnt Syrian soil, and despite the domination of extremist parties on both sides? It is not easy, but the United Nations must push moderate figures and ideas to the forefront if it wants Geneva III to succeed.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 14, 2015.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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.

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