Until a couple of months ago, some TV talk shows used to take bets on how long the Syrian regime would last. This has now been forgotten, as it became apparent that you cannot bet on the life a regime that will be there for some time to come.
First, you are dealing with a regime that doesn’t mind killing its opponents and knocking down their houses over their heads.
Second, the regime still has a strong popular base.
Third, this regime has determined allies — Russia and China. The political cultures of these two allies also call for ruthless oppression of rebels.
Fourth, this is a confused regime which doesn’t really know what to do with so-called “external enemies.” When you declare to be “Friends of Syrian people” you are also saying you are not friends of the Syrian regime, which is against most of the people in the country.
Representatives of the 82 countries that met in Istanbul yesterday called themselves the “Friends of Syria” when they met in Tunis on February 23. Now they call themselves the “Friends of Syrian People,” probably because the Syrian opposition cannot yet represent Syria and has not become a credible alternative.
Finally the joint communiqué issued in Istanbul doesn’t change any of the main parameters of the crisis. Current parameters will in time result in transforming Syria into a “larger-scale Lebanon.” Syria is today heading in the direction of not only religious and sectarian divisions, but also ethnic splits due to the Kurdish element.
There are two key main issues which have to be underlined in the final communiqué.
The first is about the Annan plan, which was obviously crafted to help the regime to hold on. The communiqué emphasizes that the plan that Assad hastily accepted to gain legitimacy should not be considered as open-ended. Kofi Annan is asked to devise a calendar that would refer the Syrian crisis to the Security Council if the Assad regime fails to end the massacres, doesn’t release the detainees and continues to ban peaceful protests.
So what if Annan announces a calendar? As long as there are Russian and Chinese vetoes, the Security Council simply cannot come out with sanctions that could include military measures.
The second issue of interest is the recognition of the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of all Syrians and as an umbrella organization of Syrian opposition groups. That is to say, the SNC doesn’t represent the country, but the Syrian people. That is the crux of the problem. The SNC, by not being a credible alternative and by not inspiring confidence, cannot be recognized as “the legitimate representative” of Syria. “The Syrian people” is a play on words to give the SNC some sort of recognition.
This is why total diplomatic isolation of the regime is not possible.
The situation of Syria doesn’t really offer the friends of its people to support any other option than dividing the country.