Al-Sharaa’s Proposal: Syria’s Last Chance

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Syria's Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa (C) stands at his office and welcomes an Iranian delegation in Damascus 26 August 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Khaled al-Hariri)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The fighters on the ground in Syria are getting increasingly caught up in the minutiae of their daily battles. Few among them have the foresight and perspective to see the bigger picture. The question is whether there’s anyone outside the battlefield really thinking about where the country is headed.

After all that Syria has gone through, we can begin talking today about a truly national crisis developing, one that divides people along political, economic, and sectarian lines – the kinds of divisions that can sustain a prolonged civil war.

This situation is only worsened by the deep involvement of international and regional powers, fuelling and reinforcing these divisions for some time to come.

The extent of foreign intervention has meant that local actors are increasingly losing their ability to control the course of events – they can neither end the military confrontation, nor move toward a political compromise. This raises the question: Who in Syria today is capable of taking such an initiative?

The outside forces are deeply divided. The Americans and the formerly colonial European countries, alongside Turkey and Israel, are not concerned about the scale of death and destruction. They could care less about the horrific scenes of carnage coming out of Syria.

Add to this the role that the Arabs are playing – from regimes, to political parties, and even ordinary citizens – in encouraging the deadly warfare by working night and day and spending endless amounts of money to arm the opposition.

On the other side, Russia, China, and Iran are acting as if their involvement goes beyond simply supporting the regime. They seem to believe that if their opponents succeed in Syria, they will be next. They are certain that the West will continue down this course, no matter what the cost.

So, the question remains, who has the ability to take the initiative and save Syria from such a terrible fate?

The answer to the question must come from within Syria, and particularly the regime, which bears a greater responsibility for the welfare of the country than any of the other actors in the conflict.

Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, in his exclusive interview with Al-Akhbar, gave us a glimpse of the debate taking place within the upper echelons of the regime. He does not in any way suggest that his view of the need for a historic compromise is the prevailing option.

But his proposal at this moment represents a logical and realistic step towards opening up a space in which such a compromise can be reached. What Sharaa offered in terms of a review and self-criticism of the regime’s actions reflects a sincere attempt to end the conflict and negotiate a solution.

There are those among the opposition who would reject such a proposal because, as they see it, the regime is on its last legs. The problem with such a view is not so much that it is a misreading of what is actually happening, but that it reflects the bitter truth that the opposition in Syria has lost its independence.

Many of the opposition groups today are motivated by revenge or a settling of accounts with the regime, or are beholden to the whims of who funds and arms them. Washington’s recent efforts to unite the armed factions under a single military command structure will only further limit the opposition’s ability to act independently.

This leads us to conclude that the opposition is unlikely to accept any compromise with the regime. Nevertheless, Sharaa’s initiative does send a message to the opposition’s base of support that a reassessment may be in order.

It is not difficult to imagine what the alternative to considering such a compromise will look like – a bloody and interminable civil war, which will not end until the death toll reaches the hundreds of thousands. The surrender of the armed groups to outside forces will only mean decades of foreign control over Syria’s affairs.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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