Syrian Regime's Rejection of Arab Initiative Sparks Fears of Civil War "à la Libanaise"

Article Summary
According to Sarkis Naoum, the Assad regime has just missed another chance to end the Syrian crisis. The regime may think that if it fails to achieve an outright military victory in the present conflict, the country can simply be partitioned along sectarian lines; but the Lebanese Civil War provides a stark warning against this strategy.

Two days ago, the Syrian Foreign Minister officially declared his country's - or rather, his four-and-a-half decades-old regime's - rejection of the solution proposed by the Arab League a few days earlier to end the political and bloody conflict between the regime and the majority of its people. The rejection was accompanied by another decision, “taken by the people,” as [the regime] said, to resolve the conflict through military means. That latter decision raises two obvious questions: First, is it reasonable that the people, or at least most of them, would give a regime they are seeking to bring down the green light to suppress the revolution through the use of force, advanced weaponry, and by an army which is still - and may remain for a long time - loyal to the regime? Second, has the regime not already been using military means since the start of the popular protests, that later became a revolution because of the regime’s refusal to give in to the fair and minimal demands for reform? Has the use of military means for the past ten months been successful in putting an end to the popular protests? Isn't the spread of the revolt to most Syrian regions and [the success of the rebels in] taking control of neighborhoods in large cities and many towns throughout Syria indicate that resolving the conflict through military means has failed? And if the Assad regime's supporters - be they Syrian or Lebanese - counter that the regime has not yet used its full military might because the international, Arab and Islamic communities would not remain silent before the deaths of thousands or tens of thousands of victims, then doesn't that mean that the use of full military might is forbidden and impossible, making threats to use it pointless? Finally, doesn't that also mean that resorting to full military might is "suicidal" in every sense of the word?

In short, a close reading of the Syrian developments since March 15 indicates that the Assad regime passed up the opportunity for a dignified and "fair" solution the day it refused to address the reasons why the people of Dar'a not only took to the streets but also "got out of their own skins" [i.e. rejected their identity] and cursed their own lives, because they could no longer bear the suffering at the hands of the regime's supporters, tools, and mercenaries. On that day, the regime could have brought the guilty - and they are many - in front of the military judiciary, or perhaps set up tribunals to try them. It also could have - or rather should have - launched a serious reform programs to improve the regime and set it on the road to democracy by gradually abolishing the monopoly of the Ba’ath Party and those who use it to control the country. Had they done so, the Assad regime and the Ba’ath Party would have eased the tensions, started a dialogue over reforms, and avoided the sectarian strife - or rather the civil war - the country is slipping towards. [This strife] threatens the "people" who support the regime as well as the "people" who oppose it, and will destroy Syria in the end. So will the Assad regime pass up the new opportunity presented a few days ago in the form of a second Arab League initiative that can stop the slide of [the Syrian] people toward civil war, as happened with the divided peoples of Lebanon? Is that initiative a serious opportunity? It definitely is. Because a regime victory is no longer possible even if those inside it think otherwise. Accepting the basic elements of the initiative means, in one way or another, the establishment of a new regime which would be a mixture between the old one and the one desired by the majority of the Syrian people. This mixed regime could be gradually developed towards a true democratic system, and thus the Assad regime would not have lost everything with the loss of its president, and the rebels - meaning the majority of the Syrian people - would not have gained everything either.

But the news from yesterday and the day before seemed to indicate that the Syrian regime has decided to pass up the present opportunity. An official source declared it and it was repeated by [Syrian] Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. This means that Syria is entering a dark and bloody tunnel. This recalls the Lebanese experience when one of its communities [a reference to Lebanese Christians] thought that it could continue to rule the country forever; and failing that, they thought they could always retreat to their own region and rule within it. Is this what the Syrian regime is thinking? No one knows. But if it is, the Lebanese experience should convince [the regime] that it is mistaken; the Lebanese see the results of that plan every day, and the Arabs do too. That is, unless regional and international guarantees make such a choice possible. But let us keep in mind that the proper lessons from the experience of one of Lebanon's peoples have not learned by another Lebanese people [a reference to the Shiites]. The first lesson that should have been learned is that partition, cantonization or federalism are not options that can be taken by a people few in number and within a small and weak state. It is a decision taken by the great powers and according to their interests. And what Lebanon is currently experiencing - the undeclared and perhaps unintentional repetition [by Shiites] of the [Christian] experience - shows that one has to experience something directly in order to learn its lessons.

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