Why the Yemeni Solution will Not Work in Syria

Article Summary
Suggestions of resolving the Syrian crisis along the lines of the GCC Initiative for Yemen ignore the sharp distinctions between the uprisings in these two countries, writes Jamil Matar. To begin with, Syria’s opposing sides have a level of parity - both on the ground and in terms of foreign backers - that the Yemeni conflict lacked.

Every recent meeting between Arab intellectuals has included discussions on the potential gains and losses brought about by the Arab revolutions. [During these meetings, intellectuals] have also compared the circumstances surrounding the initiation, development and expected conclusions of each [Arab revolution]. These discussions always lead to the conclusion that the Libyan revolution has resulted in the heaviest loss of life; that the Syrian authorities have been the most brutal in their confrontations with the rebels; that the course of the Egyptian revolution has been the most complicated; and that the Yemeni revolution was the most surprising of all. [These Arab intellectuals also agree that] the Tunisian revolution was relatively the smoothest out of all the Arab revolutions.
The revolutions shared [many of] the same slogans and goals. They have all sought freedom, dignity and social justice. All have sought an end to tyrannical rules, unilateral [decision-making], ruling family corruption and the squandering the wealth of nations. [But, the Arab revolutions] diverged in their nature and structure. Many almost believed that the Arab societies differ in most aspects, despite the fact that they share the same language and culture. [Distinctions between these countries can be found] at the level of [sub-national, i.e. ethnic/sectarian] identities, social divisions and the relationship between [the individual] and the nation.

Recent discussions have comprised debates over the success of the US-Gulf Cooperation Council plan in Yemen. The plan was for Ali Abdallah Saleh to give up his post as president [of the Yemeni republic] to Vice president [Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi]. Those who developed the plan believed that, after a short interval, Yemen would witness a period of relative calm during which new elections for a parliament and president could be held. Some of the ongoing debates over the [GCC initiative for Yemen] aim to examine the possibility of implementing a similar plan in Syria, whereby [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad - and perhaps a few members from his entourage - would be given guarantees for a safe exit [from Syria] and legal immunity. In exchange for these guarantees, [Assad] would relinquish [authority] to his Vice President Farouq al-Shara, who in turn, would form a transitional government encompassing the entire political spectrum. [This would supposedly] pave the way for the holding democratic and free parliamentary elections, which would then be followed by presidential elections.

The way I see it, the plan relies on two principle [sets of] assumptions: First, that all parties [involved in the conflict], including those in Syria itself, now believe that the ongoing conflict between the authority and the revolution in Syria has reached a “level of equilibrium,” meaning that any escalation in violence from one side will be offset by an escalation in violence from the other. For example, any external interference in favor of the rebels will be met with interference in favor of the authority. Any obstinacy or hardened positions on the part of an international party supporting the rebels will be met with intransigence on the part of another international party which supports the Assad regime. In all cases, the conflict will remain at the “balanced level” it has now reached, [without one side being able to tilt the scales in its favor].

Those discussing the plan [for Bashar al-Assad to step down in a way similar to Saleh] must presumably also have taken into account that foreign planners must balance a number of other considerations. These considerations are pressuring Western and Arab countries to speed up the implementation [of the plan]. They are listed very briefly as follows:

1.  There is a limit to the patience of [Syria’s] Arab neighbors - whether they be rulers, revolutionaries or nationals. They will not accept the cost and consequences of a drawn out process to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and his entourage, especially as most see his toppling as [inevitable].
2.  The [realities] that have been surfacing on the [conflict] in Libya - like those surrounding the US-Nato war on Iraq - have made Western societies tolerant of the moral and strategic burdens that result from full or partial participation in foreign wars. What’s more, the impossibility of commissioning one or more Arab country’s to carry out a military [endeavour] in another Arab country has become a given, as the Arab League still lacks the necessary mechanisms [to implement] such a collective intervention.
3.  Recently, sectarian tensions have peaked not only in Syria and its [neighbors] - which are subject to explode - but more removed areas as well. These include a few countries in the Arabian Peninsula, particularly those in which are located oil fields or Western military bases.
4.  All of the ongoing Arab revolutions have yet to show their full colors - including the potential revolutions in Algeria and Mauritania, the ongoing struggles [in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain] and the [violent conflicts] underway in other areas [Syria]. The whole region is in a volcanic state: [Tension] is boiling underground in certain countries, lava is spewing out from time to time in others and new soil - though [the solidifying of burnt lava] - [is emerging] in others. There is no doubt that if the revolution in Syria were to continue as such, it would complicate the course of [all] current revolutions, exacerbate the current turmoil and lead to the explosion of new volcanoes.

The [information that has now come to light] - whether it was transferred through personal contacts or published in the articles of Western newspapers - indicates that there is a desire to develop a plan for Syria [similar to that which was] implemented in Yemen. In an article published in The New York Times, one [political] analyst suggested that the [plan tailored to Syria] would require “preemptive concessions” from Western countries, Israel and the rebels, if these countries are to succeed in having Assad relinquish [power], even were this to happen a bit later on. [This is to say] that [this analyst] is calling for a “disciplined overthrow” of the regime in Syria.

Syria is not Yemen, and the solution in Syria will look nothing like that of Yemen, no matter [the shape of the plan]. Syria is wrought with turmoil, while Yemen - at the time when of the [GCC initiative] - only faced potential risks and threats, but nothing more. Moreover, Syria has a strategic and international significance that has been imposed on it by geographical and historical circumstances. [Similarly], Yemen previously paid a high price when it had an equivalent geographical and historical significance - and it may regain this [geo-political] significance in the future.  On the other hand, there is no Lebanon, Iraq, Israel or Turkey - when conceptualized individually or as a bloc - in Yemen’s vicinity, as is the case in Syria.

Finally, we cannot deny or ignore the fact that Syria may perhaps be the only arena in which Russia can battle the West. Russia will not give up this arena easily, and will only do so for a high price which, in the present moment, the West seems unwilling to pay.

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