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Riyad Hijab: We do not want another Saleh

Even in times of war, there is always hope for a political settlement even in Syria

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Even in times of war, there is always hope for a political settlement even in Syria. The Syrian political opposition held a meeting in London this week, represented by its negotiations committee, and it announced its program. This coincided with the negotiations held at the G20 summit in China.

I do not want to refer to uncertain information and say that the parties have agreed, and the only remaining step is negotiating where President Bashar al-Assad will be sent to live in exile. The negotiations focused on the start of new talks within an ambiguous vision.

The most important point is what Riyad Hijab, the coordinator and leader of the opposition, said. He said he is also trying to simplify the complex labels and divisions within the opposition. Hijab clearly said that al-Assad should not be part of any solution and cited the examples of Yemen and Iraq. He reminded everyone that a weak solution, which leaves space for an excluded president, leads to more destruction later on.

While signing the agreement to end the crisis in Yemen, the opposition parties agreed on the mediators’ condition, which states that the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh only has a role in the party and not in the government. The result was that Saleh took advantage and worked with the Houthi opposition to intervene and created political sabotage.

Saleh forged relations with the Houthi militias through his armed forces and they staged a coup together. As a result, Yemen plummeted into a deeper crisis with more people losing their lives and institutions damaged. Now, the solution has become even more difficult because Saleh is still in Sanaa.

Majority of the Syrian forces accepts a regime that, according to them ensures coexistence, protects the rights of the minorities, and the principle of the ballot box

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The Iraq example

Hijab’s second example was Nouri al-Maliki, the former Iraqi prime minister. He obstructed the government’s operations for almost two years in order to dominate over it, and refused to leave when the time for that came. He made the circumstances related to security as an excuse.

He then tried to exploit his authority to stay in power. When all the Iraqi forces went against him, and the international forces intervened and threatened him, he withdrew. But he retained powers and lead militias under different names and even succeeded in marginalizing his successor.

The results are evident today. There is chaos in the political arena, obstruction of the government’s operations and the role of the Iranians in governing and administering the affairs of the military. Al-Assad in Syria might not resemble al-Maliki in Iraq because the latter was a legitimate ruler, but the condition of Saleh is identical to that of Assad. Yemenis revolted against him all over the country during the Arab Spring and they all agreed on his resignation. Allowing him to stay and work in Yemen was the wrong decision.

Assad in power

Hijab is right when he fears that the Yemeni example will be repeated. Al-Assad will always a source of danger if he remains part of the proposed regime, or if he is only sitting on a couch in his house watching television. He is capable of sabotaging the political solution and the situation and the war will continue because of him.

If the Russians and Americans want to reach a serious solution, they must first agree on Assad’s resignation. Issues like who will govern and who will vote, in addition to the constitution are only details, as the differences on them are now limited. The majority of the Syrian forces accepts a regime that, according to them ensures coexistence, protects the rights of the minorities, and the principle of the ballot box.

The remaining part of the political solution, as presented by Hijab on three stages, reflects the maturity of the opposition, which is ready to accept a realistic solution. It will certainly remain as ideas if the major powers do not support it. Without such a solution, the world will have to sit on the same table with terrorist groups and accept the resignation of Assad, so that a group like Taliban Afghanistan, which is now in control, takes power. Assad will step down at a later stage and the political opposition will lose its popularity.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 9, 2016.
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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. He tweets @aalrashed

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