During discussions over a political solution to end the war in Syria, the Russians and the Iranians insisted that Bashar al-Assad remains president of Syria. They pledge that Assad will only remain president for the rest of his presidential term out of “respect for the constitution” while forming a cabinet where opposition powers are represented. This is in addition to promises of independent provinces and regions.
When hearing this tempting proposal, one will welcome it if this is the condition for peace. Indeed Assad remaining in power does not seem like a problem if there is someone who guarantees implementing these vows.
However, there are two problems here. First of all, Assad won the elections and no one knows how he did it especially that elections were carried out amid the raging war in mid-2014. So how will they make Assad exit power after he’s in full control and the opposition is disarmed?
The second problem is that it’s still a long time until Assad’s term ends - 2021. This means it will be four long years that are more than enough to eliminate all opposition and semi-opposition powers.
The Syrians know well that aggreeing to let the regime stay for four more years means that the opposition has sold them, that all the promises which were made to them have been forgotten and that more than 500,000 Syrians have been sacrificed and millions have been displaced and will not return homeAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The Russian proposal for Assad to temporarily stay in power is in fact a life sentence. The opposition must realize that if it accepts it, it will have to completely give up everything and accept to go back to how it was before the 2011 revolution. It must not dream to achieve any of the demands it had made and must understand that all the promises of a hybrid government, constitutional guarantees and independent laws of provinces will be worthless later.
Respecting the constitution
If promises of international guarantees that the upcoming years will be a phase of reconciliation, rectification and transition of power are honest - though they’re impossible to believe - then I expect moderate opposition forces to accept them because their aim was not to destroy the country and the state but to achieve peaceful change. When the revolution erupted, it was peaceful and it was as such for several months as people only voiced their opposition of the regime through protesting, holding banners and singing. Their calls for a peaceful transition were different than the revolutions in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
Talk of respecting the constitution, which has not even been respected by those who drafted it, and the call to allow Assad to complete his presidential term are just a negotiation ploy that aims to facilitate the opposition’s retreat, save face and later allege that it received major concessions. The Syrians know well that aggreeing to let the regime stay for four more years means that the opposition has sold them, that all the promises which were made to them have been forgotten and that more than 500,000 Syrians have been sacrificed and millions have been displaced and will not return home.
This will mean ending the moderate opposition and empowering the extremist opposition - that is actually as bad as the regime - which rejects negotiations. The opposition bears a huge responsibility on the level of bearing the results of what it’s currently negotiating and what it will sign later. No one will believe it was deceived because the solution of holding elections was once proposed. The elections were held in the midst of destruction and Assad won 89% of the votes. Most of the murder and destruction occurred after these elections which the regime claimed that more than 10 million people participated in them. We know that at the time, it would’ve been impossible for even two million to participate. This deception will happen again.
Given the condition to keep the regime in power in order to end the war, it will be easier for the Syrians to accept dividing the country and granting the president a state where he guarantees the majority of votes from his sect without needing to forge them. Each party can happily live in its state without war and without any regime imposed on it. However even this bad divisions’ project is rejected by Turkey, Iran and Iraq as they fear its repercussions on them.
Today, they are negotiating over Syria which is like a broken jar that they want to restore to its past shape after all this horrific destruction and murder.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on Jan 10, 2017.
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