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Even illegitimate elections will allow global powers to deal with the Assad regime

February 9, 2021 at 2:49 pm

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus, Syria on 11 February 2016 [JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images]

With the approaching presidential elections in Syria, it has become clear that the military solution is not within sight, and that the current borders between the four Syrian regions, which are protected by international and regional balances, have become more stable than ever before. This fact is particularly heavy for the Syrian regime because among the Syrian actors it is the only one who loses. The regime, which used to be in control of all of the Syrian land unchallenged, at least internally, has had many large areas leave its control. As for the authorities that emerged in these areas, they are winning, regardless of how large the area they are controlling, because they started with zero control, so however much power and land they possess today is considered a net profit at the expense of the regime.

Which county has the fate of Syria in it's hand? - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Which county has the fate of Syria in it’s hand? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The Syrian situation could have been described in another way, had the new authorities on Syrian soil truly had a national outlook and saw themselves as a starting point for a Syrian homeland. However, the truth is that these forces are politically far from the Syrian national project, as they include themselves in a local framework, as in the south, in a Kurdish national framework that does not correspond to a Syrian homeland, or in an Islamic framework that does not recognise a Syrian homeland in the first place. It is also far from the Syrian national project militarily, because it is limited in strength and incapable of imposing itself on the entire area of ​​Syria, and therefore it is happy with what it has in its hand, and it is only concerned with preserving the state it is in. Meaning it takes a defensive stance against the regime’s attempts to advance and reclaim land from it, and Syria does not exist on its political or military horizon as a homeland for its people.

In this light, the Syrian regime is, among the ruling Syrian authorities on the ground, the only authority that seriously seeks to unify Syria, in its endeavour to recover what it has lost. However, this unification that the regime wants has only one political meaning, which is the enslavement of the Syrians, and the passage of their rights through the prism of the ruling clique, with all that this prism, entails including discrimination, restrictions, and indignity. In addition, the regime views the unity of the Syrian soil from the perspective of the continued power of the ruling clique. Therefore, it is willing to concede this unity if it finds that the path to it seriously threatens its authority. The result is that there is no active Syrian party today on the ground that represents the territorial integrity of Syria.

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This is about the land, or what we call “national soil”. As for the Syrian people, they are as fragmented politically as they are geographically. Today, there is no Syrian political party that would obtain sufficient support or approval from the Syrians, in a way that enables it to speak on behalf of the Syrian people. Furthermore, the question that comes to mind is: Is there a political idea today that satisfies the majority of Syrians? If so, do those who reject it have a “patriotic” willingness to accept it as the choice of the majority?

Syrian refugees and Assad - Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Syrian refugees and Assad – Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

In the situation that Syria has ended up in, don’t Syrians have the right, regardless of their explicit or implicit loyalties and affiliations, to ask: Why is the Syrian regime seeking to hold presidential elections? Why does it express its concern for this formal respect for constitutional rights, at a time when Syria is experiencing occupation from several parties, continuous Israeli attacks, scarcity of resources, lack of food that reaches the level of famine, the spread of disease, etc, i.e. Syria is in a situation that requires the state to take emergency action, even if at the expense of the constitution because the entire Syrian existence is at stake? Why is the state, which does not have enough to feed its people, shelter them and provide them with medicine, spending large amounts of money to hold elections, the falsity of which is one of the few matters the Syrians can agree on, regardless of their political affiliations? In the eyes of the regime, these questions have no value because it only cares about preserving its “legitimacy” even if it is a sham and does not care about anything else. The regime does not want to open a “constitutional” door that would lead to it being described as illegitimate, and it believes that whatever it has inflicted on the Syrian people does not harm its legitimacy.

The purpose of the constitutional legitimacy that the regime seeks from the presidential elections, which are practically devoid of any legitimacy, is to send a message to the world, saying it is true that the regime is no longer the only one on Syrian soil, and that there are three new authorities, but, firstly, it is the strongest militarily among the existing powers, and secondly, the strongest internationally, as the representative of the Syrian state, and thirdly the most constitutional one, because it can translate its forcibly imposed authority into constitutional legitimacy, while others cannot.

This message has no value in a perspective guided by the interests of the Syrians and the unity of the Syrian land, but this message can gain value in the perspective of influential countries that do not want, or are unable, for many reasons, to solve the chronic Syrian dilemma and want to find a way out, even if it is through a formality.

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The American rejection of the Syrian elections does not seem final and the statement by Kelly Craft, US ambassador to the UN, refusing to recognise the planned Syrian presidential elections, does not scare the regime more than the statements of former US President Barack Obama and his red lines. The resurgence of Daesh’s activities in a sudden and apparently thought out way will only concern the Western governments and embarrass the US administration in particular and push it towards further favouring a strong and secure regime, instead of entering into a serious political transition that will naturally be turbulent.

The fact that the world should realise, and that the supporters of the regime should see, is that this ruling clique has become rejected by the Syrians to the point of no return. Syrians may not have their sights set on transitioning to a democratic, or even semi-democratic, regime in the near future after these bitter years and they may agree to coexist with another regime that is not much different from the Assad regime. However, they can no longer, under any circumstance, coexist with the Assad regime, neither with nor without presidential elections.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 7 February 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.