Syria in the International ‘Bazaar’

Article Summary
Despite Syria's historic rejection of foreign interference, it now stands exposed to great power intervention in its crisis, writes Fawwaz Traboulsi. But the longer the Syrian regime seeks to brutally suppress protests, the more likely it is that radical forces will emerge.

The regime that has always rejected foreign interference in its internal affairs has come full circle and provoked such interference to reach unprecedented heights, [undertaken] by every power on Earth, through the internationalization of the United Nations.

The Syrian regime has never once looked for a domestic solution [to its crisis], because it does not recognize the existence of a domestic crisis. The conflict was "regionalized" from the outset by pulling in Turkey. [The Syrian regime] had tacitly approved ["regionalization"]: It considered that its neo-Ottoman neighbor Turkey, led by the Justice and Development Party, was worthy of mediating the Syrian crisis. Damascus promised Ankara roles, mediation, and compromises. It offered parliamentary seats to the Muslim Brotherhood before it offered them to the civilian opposition. We shall not discuss the strategic "regionalization" [that involved] Iran, so that the fools do not misunderstand us.

Then Damascus "Arabized" the crisis through Doha, which soon plunged the Arab League into Syria's "internal affairs." But Damascus preceded the Arab Initiative by receiving the Arab Observers’ Mission. The [Arab Initiative] required withdrawing the armed forces from the cities, a cease-fire, and a dialogue with the opposition. Damascus exploited the announcement that it accepted the Arab Initiative and the Arab Observers’ Mission to launch a first, then a second, campaign against Homs, in the name of "decisiveness." But "decisiveness" failed in Homs, in Der'a, and in other places, and bred a new front near Damascus, at Zabadani, which joined the cities, towns, villages, and other areas that are [already] besieged and outside government control.

In addition to all that, Damascus had "Russanized" the crisis early on. Moscow proposed to hold a dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition on Russian territory. But Damascus refused, while the opposition imposed conditions. Then the Russian leadership proposed formulas for the future Syrian government by leaking the names of possible presidents and government members. All that was happening while the Syrian regime was rejecting any interference "in its internal affairs" from any party whatsoever. And since the beginning of the crisis, Damascus has been negotiating with the US Administration both under the table and over it.
So what's new now that the crisis has been internationalized by the UN?

The Security Council discussions of the Syrian issue and the Russian-Chinese veto were accompanied by the death of hundreds of Syrians during consecutive days of artillery barrages on Homs, Zabadani, Der'a, and other besieged cities, towns, and areas. It used to be that when the daily death toll exceeded 20 or 30 the [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-Moon protested the so-called "excessive use of force" - using that international language of subterfuge. But now, the silence of the Secretary General is the first sign of internationalization. At any rate, the revolution is still mostly about peaceful popular protests in more than 500 locations throughout the bloodied country. And most of the regime's military operations are against civilians.

The visit by [Russian Foreign Minister] Lavrov demonstrates the increased internationalization [of the crisis]. The foreign minister reported a promise he had received [from the Syrian regime] that the violence would stop. But the "security solution" left 90 dead on the eve of the Russian foreign minister's arrival in Damascus. He also reported a peculiar [new] piece of information, about President Assad holding a referendum soon on a new constitution. It seems nobody had told Lavrov that Assad already said that in his last speech!

This is what the Syrian regime looks like under international trusteeship. It seems that those in Lebanon who welcomed the Russian-Chinese veto with celebratory gunfire, and those who cheered Lavrov and the intelligence official at his side, are not really aware that [the Russia of today] - with its intelligence services, mafias, and radical nationalism - is not the Russian superpower of the Cold War era.

It is no exaggeration to say that "internationalization" places Syria - and not just its regime - in the midst of an [international] bazaar of bargains and compromises, including the NATO missile shield, the competition among oil and gas producers, the future relationship between Turkey and Iran, the Iranian nuclear program, and last but not least, Russia's quest for a new regional and international role, on the assumption that US unipolar hegemony is declining. Certainly, Russia has stolen from Qatar the role of mediator in the Syrian crisis even if it sought to mesh its initiative with the Arab League’s. But when Russia adopted the Syrian regime's portrayal of the crisis and equated the regime's violence with that of the armed groups - worse, it focused on the latter more than the former - it had immediately ruined its role as an honest broker.
On the other side of the equation, the US and Europe see the Syrian crisis mainly from the following perspective: Who will preserve the security at Israel's northern border? And how? Who can influence Hezbollah and its weapons? It is not superfluous to say that during the Syrian crisis the US has signaled transferring power to the army - revealed in statements by Hillary Clinton - nor are current demands for president Assad's resignation surprising. [The request for Assad to resign] is in accordance with the US formula, which stays fixed during the regions’ revolutions; the latest example being the Gulf Initiative in Yemen. [The US formula always involves] saving the existing regime whenever possible by sacrificing the regime's president and transferring his powers to his vice president; establishing a transitional government; giving the [deposed] president amnesty for the killing, repression, and corruption; and adopting political pluralism - without reducing the powers of the executive authority, which relies on the army to govern.

It can be argued that internationalization is a negotiating process between the US-European approach [to the crisis] and the Russian objective of saving the Syrian President and his regime. What both approaches have in common is getting the people off the streets, which means stripping the revolution of its ability to take action and make an impact.

The major powers can come up with a settlement at the top; but they cannot stop the process of radical change currently underway in Syria. [Radical change is inevitable] not only because the Syrian regime does not understand its own crisis and cannot imagine undergoing internal changes, but also because it refuses to recognize that what the people in the streets and the squares are demanding may produce a new Syria - a Syria belonging to the youth, or in other words a Syria of independence, democracy, dignity, and social justice.

In addition to these considerations, there is a moral one: How can a regime that has committed such [crimes] against its people ever face them afterward? There are two principles that should be accepted, regardless of the fear of Islamic fundamentalism or Salafism:

The first principle is that the only form of secularism that is acceptable is democratic secularism - not the totalitarian, dictatorial secularism in its fascist and Soviet forms. And certainly not the secularism that masks the hegemonic rule of a minority. When secularism conflicts with democracy, it is secularism that must lose, or it will become a fertile ground nurturing various kinds of fundamentalists, Salafists, and Takfiris [Muslims who practice takfir, which means to accuse others of apostasy].

The second principle is that every artillery shell that falls on the neighborhoods of Homs, Der'a, Zabadani, Jabal Al-Zaitun, Deir ez-Zor, or anywhere else in Syria, may kill one citizen; but it will give birth to ten Salafists, Takfiris, or terrorists - [real terrorists], not the kind we place in quotation marks.

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