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A unity government must replace Assad

The main goal of those involved in the peace process is to build a united, peaceful Syria...

Maria Dubovikova

Published: Updated:

The Syrian peace process is being hampered by disagreements over whether President Bashar al-Assad should be part of the solution. The opposition insists that no new Syria can be build with his participation. This position is backed by the West.

However, Assad and his government are confident about their legitimacy, and are sure that most Syrians support them. This confidence has been strengthened by sustained support from Russia, which is sure that Assad will stay and should be a part of the solution.

Both sides are wrong in their evaluations. Assad cannot be in government in post-war Syria as he undeniably bears responsibility for his country’s bloodshed. It is impossible to imagine that the hundreds thousands of people who have lost their loved ones will forgive him and accept him being in power. However, the current government has strong support in some parts of the country, so completely excluding it from post-war Syria is also wrong.

The main goal of those involved in the peace process is to build a united, peaceful Syria. As such, Assad’s proposal of a unity government is good, but it should be modified to be more relevant to the circumstances.

He should step down, but a unity government - which should be transitional anyway - should include the most honorable, respected and balanced representatives of the old elite. They should be chosen during the Geneva talks by the delegations involved, and should be acceptable to both the current government and the opposition.

Assad cannot be in government in post-war Syria as he undeniably bears responsibility for his country’s bloodshed

Maria Dubovikova

The transitional government should represent the whole Syrian people. Unity is needed, not the victory of one side over the other, which would radicalize the losing side and complicate the crisis.

Cooperation between opponents would set a vital example for a fractured society, that differences can be overcome in the interests of peace and stability. Furthermore, it is vital to include honorable people from the old regime in army command structures.

Illusions

Assad said he wants to enter history as a savior of Syria. He needs to realize that he is not, and that he cannot stay in power. He can save the country only by handing power to a transitional government. He should make concessions. He took the liberation of Palmyra as his own victory, but it is one for the Syrian people, and it was only possible due to strong Russian and Iranian involvement.

The popular saying that Assad’s fate should be decided by the Syrian people is beautiful in form but empty in content. Some 22 percent of the population are refugees, more than 35 percent are internally displaced, and huge swathes of the country are still held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

How can people decide the political fate of the country when their own prospects are gloomy and unclear, their homes are destroyed and they have no jobs? How can democratic institutions be easily implemented in a country where society as a whole does not exist, not to mention civil society?

Only after the conflict is settled and the country revived can Syrians properly decide its fate. Until then, Syria’s future and development will be in the hands of external players. To be rebuilt, the country needs billions of dollars it does not have. Foreign assistance is required to write a new constitution, and to build adequate democratic mechanisms and civil society.
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Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme.

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