Commentary

What's Next for Syria?

Middle East In Focus

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After weeks of protests resulting in a government clampdown, the situation in Syria seems to be  reaching a point of no return. The apparent torture and death of two young boys caught up in one of many anti-government protests has inflamed the passions of the street even further. And just this week, Syrian government forces suffered heavy casualties — as many as 120 killed — at the hands of an armed group fighting to overthrow the Damascus regime.  What will the international community do now and how will the Syrian regime react to pressure from both outside and, more important, within.

The Gulf News editorial is clear about what the Syrian government must do: “The current situation in Syria is definitely unsustainable. The violence can neither continue endlessly nor can the clashes with protesters go on without an end in sight. The future of Syria can only be built by all its people, and for this to happen, dialogue has to begin....Syrian authorities have to take into full consideration the changes that are taking place on the global front as pressure from various parties will continue to mount. The protests will continue despite the retaliation. Hence the time is just right for Syria to fulfill its promised mandate for reconciliation and dialogue. Not doing so will be detrimental to the nation's future.”

In a series of editorials and opinion pieces, Khaleej Times takes a more critical path, while also acknowledging that political reconciliation is the best way forward for Syria and the region.  An editorial expressed the view that “Syria’s troubled political front is already mired in violence and bloodshed with the situation escalating rapidly beyond control....It is feared that further instability in Syria may well start a bigger regional conflagration, one involving neighboring Israel and even Iran. Particularly disturbing is the rising number of civilian casualties of the Syrian protests. Something must be done on an immediate basis to start talks with the opposition groups in order to end the instability and work out a negotiated settlement for the future of Syria.”

A day later, another editorial proposed a more specific way forward:  “The president’s endeavour to kick-start a process of reconciliation and national unity stands badly shattered, and he cannot just go on by shielding himself behind the official excuse of not having knowledge of what went wrong. The least that is in need of being done is to exercise caution and inject in a sense of confidence among the masses. Too much of terror on the part of security forces has unnerved the entire system….Cessation of gunfights and release of all political prisoners can make things work.”

The Peninsula editorial earlier this week, on the other hand, calls for more pressure from the international community o the Syrian regime: “The condemnation and UN voting will help little to convince the Syrian authorities to follow the path of restraint. The Western and Arab states need to meet on Syria to work out an effective strategy to help Syrians. Though a convergence of opinion on the issue is difficult, given the interests of various forces, these countries can agree on a minimum plan to protect the lives of ordinary people....Since street protests demanding reform began in February, Syrian security forces have waged a campaign of violence against the protesters. The authorities must now realize that a brutal crackdown will not silence the protesters.”

Calling for more robust measures against the Assad regime, the Lebanese Daily Star editorial points to anachronism:  “Arab leaders once liked to propagate the notion that they were in control of any situation. They claimed that actions they ordained would produce the desired effect, usually prolonging their grip on power. Such choices used to be taken under the comfort blanket of a subservient populace and effective intimidation. But that was then....The world has given Assad more than enough wiggle room to prove it wrong and implement reform; sanctions and political pressure now seem like the only options the global community has left to avoid rightful allegations of double standards when it comes to dealing with Arab uprisings. But the action must be carefully considered and not give the regime any additional pretext to continue killing its own people.”

Yet few are quick to call for doing away with the Assad regime or creating more instability in the region, which many believe would be the natural consequence of any such development. While critical of Assad’s actions against protesters, the Saudi Arab News is cautious about where instability could lead: “Things appear to be worsening by the day with deepening fears in the region about the largest country in the Levant unraveling….If recent history of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen is any guide, the use of force — the first and last resort of all totalitarian, insecure regimes — is not just ineffective in checking the tide of people’s anger and frustration, it often seems to fuel it. So what Syria needs is a free and transparent dialogue. Syria’s leaders will have to get down to the root of the current unrest and address it….Syria is too important to fail.”

The Turkish daily Today’s Zaman on its website also quotes Turkish government officials who are concerned about the fallout: “Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday dismissed  foreign intervention in Syria, whose government has received worldwide condemnation for a ruthless crackdown on anti-regime protesters....Davutoglu said Turkey wanted Syria to speed up its reform process and for violence in the country to subside. ‘Syria is not any country,’ he said, emphasizing that it has a central position in all three main conflicts of the Middle East: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon and Iraq because of its geographical location. ‘Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, it does not have a homogenous population either. Everyone should offer positive contributions regarding Syria,’ Davutoglu said.”

No wonder then that Nehad Ismail expresses frustration on the Lebanese website Ammon News about the inactivity of Syria’s neighbors:  “Even activists who instigate weekly protests in Jordan to demand reforms are very quiet about the massacres in the Syrian city of Deraa, which is a few kilometres away across the northern border of Jordan. Well-known so-called vociferous opposition figures in Jordan who demand reforms and more democratisation are in denial about the mayhem in neighbouring Syria. Why when it comes to Syria have they suddenly transmogrified into Trappist monks? This silence is explained by the fact that the Syrian regime has for decades been able to portray itself as the last citadel of Pan-Arab Nationalism projecting itself at the forefront of the so-called ‘ rejectionist front.’ This sort of stuff has been swallowed whole by the gullible Arab Street….Arab and international response has been slow and feeble. With a few exceptions (Qatar and Saudi Arabia) most Arab regimes and media remained silent. There has been no official protest about the collective punishments meted out, such as the cutting off water supplies and electricity.”

The Israeli press, on the other hand, views the events in Syria from the prism of the recent events on the Israeli-Syrian border, where last week several Syrians were killed when they organized protests in memory of Naksa. In an article on Haaretz critical of the Israeli government’s actions, Gideon Levy highlights the similarities between Israeli actions and those of the Syrian government: “We see Bashar Assad's regime slaughtering dozens of unarmed Syrian demonstrators every day and say he is 'slaughtering his own people.' But when the Israel Defense Forces killed 23 unarmed Syrian demonstrators in one day, we boasted that the IDF 'acted with restraint'....On our border they're rioters. In the Syrian towns, they're demonstrators. There it's admirable nonviolent protest, while that same battle when it's waged on our border is considered violent, its perpetrators having death coming to them....In the new Arab world taking shape in front of our eyes, at some point these young people in both Syria and on the Golan border will have to be heard, and some of their demands will have to be addressed, particularly if they persist in their unarmed struggle.”

The Jerusalem Post editorial, on the other hand, criticizes the Israeli government for giving Syria’s Assad an opportunity to distract its population and win a much-needed respite from the international community’s attention: “Assad would like nothing more than to have the international community focus on casualties ostensibly inflicted by Israel rather than on what he is doing to his own populace. Therefore, the more blood spilled at the border, the better for his purposes. To improve the manipulation’s desired effect, Assad magnified the numbers of alleged Israel-caused fatalities. Nobody can anyhow reliably check or ascertain anything in his totalitarian backyard. Assad’s crude diversionary tactic wasn’t merely produced for foreign public opinion, but also for the home crowd. Assad needs to replicate his success of yesteryear to unite the very diverse components that comprise Syria’s citizenry by demonizing Israel as the common enemy. Paradoxically, in this respect, Israel to date has provided the Assad dynasty with one of its abiding claims to power.”

Of course, there are also those who believe that what is going on inside Syria and how it is portrayed in the media is part of a Western conspiracy bound to weaken and overthrow the Assad regime. In an article posted on the Hezbullah-backed Al Manar website, Michel Chossudovsky insists, “There is evidence of gross media manipulation and falsification from the outset of the protest movement in southern Syria on March 17th....The objective is to weaken the structures of the secular State while justifying an eventual  UN sponsored "humanitarian intervention.” The latter, in the first instance, could take the form of a reinforced embargo on the country (including sanctions) as well as the freezing of Syrian bank assets in overseas foreign financial institutions. While a US-NATO military intervention in the immediate future seems highly unlikely, Syria is nonetheless on the Pentagon's military roadmap, namely an eventual war on Syria has been contemplated both by Washington and Tel Aviv.”

 


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