In the context of the negotiations for a political solution to end the war in Syria, the Russians and Iranians insist on Bashar Al-Assad remaining as president, although they promise that he will only stay for the balance of his current term “out of respect for the constitution”. This will be in parallel with a government representing the opposition and promises of independent authorities and powers for the regions and provinces.
Anyone hearing this tempting offer would say that if this is the only condition for peace, then we welcome it. To be honest, Assad’s remaining in post does not seem to be a problem if there is someone who could guarantee that the promise will be fulfilled.
However, there are two catches. The first is the fact that the president won the 2014 election in the middle of a horrific war; no one knows how he managed to do that. The second is the fact that his presidential term ends in 2021, so four more long years will pass before he steps down; this gives him enough time to liquidate the opposition forces and similar groups.
The Russian deal is thus actually a life sentence and the opposition must accept that if the proposal is accepted it must abandon everything and agree to return to the pre-2011 status quo. The opposition must not dream of anything it had demanded and understand that everything promised to it, including a mixed government, constitutional guarantees and independent laws for the provinces, will be worthless.
If the promises of international guarantees herald a phase of reconciliation, reform and transition, which is hard to believe, then I expect the moderate opposition forces to agree to this since the aim will not be to destroy the country and the state, but peaceful change. The revolution started out peacefully and continued thus for many months, with demonstrations, banners and songs. Its calls for peaceful transition were different to those in the Tunisian, Libyan and Egyptian uprisings.
As for talk about respecting the constitution, which isn’t even being respected by those who drafted it, and calling for the presidential term to be completed, this is just a negotiation ploy aimed at making it easier for the opposition to back down and save face. It also allows the opposition to say in the future that it got major concessions. The Syrians know very well that accepting the regime to stay on for an additional four years would mean that the opposition has sold them out and abandoned all the promises it made to the people, especially to the half-a-million Syrians who were sacrificed and the millions who were displaced, never to return to their homes.
This would mean the end of the moderate opposition and the strengthening of the extremists who reject negotiations. They are, in fact, as bad as the regime.
Hence, the opposition has a great responsibility to bear for the results of what it negotiates today and what will sign later on. No one will believe it has been hoodwinked because elections have already been proposed and were held amidst the destruction, and Assad won with nearly 89 per cent of the vote. Most of the killing and destruction took place after the elections in which 10 million citizens were said to have voted. However, we know that at the time it was impossible for even 2 million citizens to have voted; nevertheless, the deception will be repeated.
When faced with the condition that the regime must stay in place in order to end the war, it is better for the Syrians to accept the division of their country; let the president have a rump state in which he would be guaranteed to have the majority of the votes from his particular sect, without the need to forge them. Each side will live in their country happily, without war and without the imposition of a regime on them. This idea is rejected by Turkey, Iran and Iraq because they are afraid of the consequences they will face as a result.
The Syria that they are negotiating over today is like a broken jar that they want to put back together, to be as it was in the past before all of the horrific murder and destruction.
Translated from Arabi21, 10 January, 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.