“Friends of Syria” Like it or Not: Assad is an inextricable part of a fair and balanced peaceful transition
July 14, 2012 (TSR) – During a recent interview by the Turkish press, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly claimed that he would resign from his post if doing so could end the political crisis in Syria. But this statement has not only been denied by the Syrian government, which stated that it was a misinterpretation of Assad’s words, but is also highly unlikely from a pragmatic perspective.
Assad’s fate can only be decided by the Syrian people through the ballot box. If the Syrian public can be given a chance to vote and if the result indicates that Assad has to leave, he might resign. But before this happens, Assad will not quit, no matter how much pressure the Western countries place on him.
The regime, consisting mostly of Alawite elites and other factions like the Shiites, won’t abandon Assad either. The possibility was raised when the Geneva plan, brokered by the UN and agreed by world powers to solve the Syrian crisis by peaceful political means, drew objection from the Syrian opposition as they do not want to cooperate with an Assad-led regime.
Giving the mounting pressure from both inside and outside Syria, some have speculated that the regime may be forced to remove Assad in order to make a political solution possible. However, there is currently no credible replacement within the regime, and no one is willing to shoulder the blame.
This is the dilemma that has been bothering the UN. The opposition won’t cooperate unless Assad steps down, and the regime won’t abandon Assad. But a political solution requires all sides get involved in the process in order to make compromises to avoid a potential civil war, while working together to establish a generally accepted political structure that can make the transition peaceful and smooth.
Excluding either side will jeopardize this peaceful approach and lead to military confrontation. Since Assad will remain a representative of the regime, if the opposition genuinely accepts and wants the UN’s solution to work, it needs to understand that Assad’s removal cannot be set as a prerequisite, unless the crisis is resolved by force.
But even if that were to happen, the opposition would still have to face another major dilemma. It currently doesn’t have the military strength to overthrow Assad and will need support from foreign powers to make that happen. Yet that would means the future of Syria would be decided by those external actors, because the Syrian opposition wouldn’t have the capability to hold the country together alone either.
The opposition still doesn’t yet have a reliable plan on how to rebuild and manage Syria in Assad’s absence, and is divided over the issue of foreign military intervention, as witnessed from its recent meeting in Cairo. The only thing that has been holding different factions together is the ouster of Assad.
However, the uncertainty the Syrian opposition will bring to Syria is often underplayed or ignored, while the efforts of trying to lessen this are often misinterpreted or even demonized.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently stated in the third Friends of Syria meeting in Paris that China and Russia must stop supporting Assad, or pay the price. This was not only mistaken, but also showed how some Western countries have been manipulating public opinion on Syria.
Both China and Russia never stated that they support Assad or wish him to stay in power. The two countries simply believe that a smooth political transition will need to involve all factions in Syria, which will also include the Assad regime.
But the Western countries apparently want to impose their predilections on the Syrians. The opposition calls for Assad’s removal are why the UN’s political solution can hardly progress, yet what’s behind such persistence is the Western countries’ continuous militarization of the opposition, which has made a civil war more viable than peaceful negotiation.
The sooner the Syrian people can be given a chance to vote in a transitional government consisting of all Syrian faction, the quicker Assad’s fate will be determined and the crisis will end.
Otherwise, the current gridlock between the regime and the opposition will eventually turn into civil war.
The article was compiled by Global Times on an interview with Wu Bingbing, deputy director of the Department of Arabic Language and Culture at Peking University.