Establishing a state that suits Assad

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura’s recent statement blaming the Syrian regime (I can't find any such statement) for obstructing negotiations was not as strong as it should have been, considering the murder and displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

His statements will also not ease shock over attempts to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power until his term ends in the spring of 2018. Keeping Assad in power negates the need for negotiations. He should be tried for war crimes, not rewarded by keeping him in power under a U.N. flag.

In 2013, the Syrian people were told to wait a year until Assad finished his presidential term, in order to achieve change constitutionally and for him to save face. When the time came, he forged elections to become president again, and resumed his policy of murder and displacement. Now, the plan is to keep him in power until the spring of 2018.

Russia and Iran are trying to establish a state whose ethnic components suit the capabilities of Assad, who belongs to a sect that only constitutes 10 percent of the population.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The Syrian opposition was asked to accept maintaining the regime in order to avoid state collapse and not repeat the American mistake in Iraq. The opposition said it was willing to participate in a unity government but without Assad. Then it was told to communicate and negotiate with the Russians to end the crisis. The opposition went to Moscow but heard only threats. One of the participants commented: “What is left in Syria for us to fear?”

When Washington announced its plan to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it set the opposition’s help as a condition for political and military support. The opposition accepted, but Washington did not oppose Russian or Iranian military intervention against moderate rebels. The two alliances’ only concern is how to organize military operations in order to prevent accidents between them.

The only thing Syrians gained from military operations against ISIS were Russian attacks on civilian areas, and an increase in Western aid in the form of blankets and food supplies to refugees. This series of false promises will worsen the humanitarian tragedy and facilitate the spread of terrorism.

Roots of conflict

The Syrian crisis stands on its own, and is not part of the Arab-Iranian, Sunni-Shiite or Russian-American struggles. This is not to deny that Syria has become an arena for multiple conflicts, but the roots of the crisis are local.

The Assad regime is a product of the Cold War, and was affiliated with the Soviets. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it could neither change nor develop. Its situation became more difficult after the regime’s founder Hafez al-Assad died in 2000.

His son Bashar took over, failed to manage the state, and in 2011 confronted a popular uprising. The Arab-Iranian and sectarian struggles are direct repercussions of the regime’s collapse, not the reason for revolting against it.

In order to keep Assad in power, Russia and Iran have killed more than 300,000 people, displaced 12 million and destroyed dozens of cities. They are now trying to establish a state whose ethnic components suit the capabilities of Assad, who belongs to a sect that only constitutes 10 percent of the population. What madness is that? How can the region’s governments accept to remain silent over this farce and dangerous tragedy?

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 11, 2016.


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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