Syria in Battle: Things Assad Can Do
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Thursday, June 14, 2012
No voice rises above the sound of the battle. This slogan prevails in Syrian decision-making circles. But some in those circles are more explicit: no voice rises above the sound of the bullets.
This group pays no heed to any other steps that need to be taken, even as part of that same battle. Moreover, informed observers get the strong impression that the decision-makers are not listening to anyone else – to those who declare their alignment with Syria against the foreign onslaught it faces, but believe a solution must include other, perhaps more important, components, or that the violent aspect should be confined within one circle, that the people would be able to renounce in due course.
The security and military confrontations are underway, under whatever label. Those who are capable of intervening in them provide means of support to either the regime or the armed opposition. There are also the criminal elements among the gunmen, which are interconnected and have diverse sectarian and regional affiliations. They have started running what Syrians call the “kidnap bureaus” responsible for actions aimed at spreading sectarian tensions, in addition to smuggling operations within and into the country in order to provide other groups with weapons, or even information. Most members of this category used to work as informers for the state in order to avoid criminal prosecution, or were fugitives who were in hiding in Syria or had disappeared to neighboring countries.
In rural areas of some troubled provinces, delegations of security and civilian envoys have been arriving, saying they were despatched by the presidential palace on special missions. They have arranged meetings with village or district “notables,” sometimes attended by opposition activists, to listen to their demands. So far these have focused largely on the release of detainees and the transfer of certain security or military officers away from the locality, in addition to numerous development demands.
In some cases, it seems that this has succeeded in containing local anger and forestalling explosions. Pardons have even been provided to deserters from the army and other lawbreakers. These range from people who exploited the crisis to carry out illegal activities, such as unlicensed construction, or hoarding or exporting basic consumer goods to “crisis merchants” who do not care who controls the area concerned. They pay protection money to both sides, the regime and the armed opposition groups, as is the case in several regions.
In practice, these are the only tangible manifestations people can sense of what is referred to as the comprehensive reform process. The other steps taken in that process – like lifting the state of emergency, halting the use of state security courts, changing Article VIII of the Constitution, the new laws on political parties, media and associations, and the dozens of other measures decreed over the past year – have had no practical impact. For the security state continues to operate. It is immaterial whether a detainee held in custody is referred to an investigating magistrate or not. The security alert makes the authorities behave as though the state of emergency is still in place.
As for the Baath party, it continues to enjoy privileges it was supposed to relinquish in favor of the state as a whole. Yet senior figures in the state feel that the party’s overbearing interference and influence largely persist – and where they have retreated, this has been in favor of power-centers within the regime rather than the state’s institutions.
Nothing appears to be different about the new licensed political parties that have become active. The extremely low turnout at the parliamentary elections meanwhile exposed the lack of public confidence in the thought that anything has changed. The polls also revealed that those in charge of nominating candidates retain the same acquisitive attitude. The results showed that the mentality prevailing over the Baathists, and over the political and security administration, is unaltered.
The same applies to the media. So long as the censor vies with the security man at the borders, and glares over the shoulder of the Syria reader, nobody will believe that Reformed Syria is any different. Even the question has become surreal: With all this violence, bloodshed and fighting of every variety, are there still people who worry that public opinion might be influenced by some article or commentary?
Nevertheless, due to the decision-making process in Syria, it must be reiterated that to separate the struggle for deep-seated reform from the political and security process means only one thing: attempting to keep things as they are. That sends a message of despair to two sections of the public: the pro-regime, and the hesitant. And it incentivizes the opposition public, some of which justifies the resort to arms by arguing that no change will ever come from this regime.
There are many things which need to be done. There is nothing today preventing the retrial of those responsible for the first crime in Daraa. Nothing prevents the indictment of Rami Makhlouf and his “Dardari-era business” colleagues, the confiscation of their funds, and their reinvestment in development programs in Syria’s ravaged rural areas. Nothing prevents the Baath party leadership being sacked and forced into long overdue retirement. Nothing prevents the transfer of real authority to the government. Nothing prevents the cancellation of expropriation orders issued against millions of square meters of land.
Most important of all, there is nothing preventing President Bashar al-Assad from declaring that he is president of Syria in his capacity as a Syrian citizen, and that henceforth nobody can exploit their family, party or sectarian ties to him to abuse a people who are being exhausted by a crisis that threatens torrents of blood.
The military confrontation itself calls out for many things that can be done. It is no longer acceptable to blame the rusty machinery of state, the shoddy administration, or the impact of years of lethargy. This has ceased to convince. For the military and security confrontation has demonstrated, over the course of the past year, the deficient state of the security forces themselves. It has shown that they are as decrepit as the other departments. They need to be restructured, rehabilitated, and brought up to date with the realities of the age, so they can perform their allocated function without interfering in citizens’ lives.
Nothing prevents action from being taken today to reorganize the security forces. It has been widely circulated, after all, that Assad himself said the deficiencies of the security forces forced him to call in the army early on, and led to mistakes which resulted in hundreds of civilian and military deaths.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.