Syria Conference To Propose Power-Sharing Government

Article Summary
In preparation for the upcoming Syria Contact Group conference to be held in Geneva on June 30, diplomats have been debating the possibility of a power-sharing solution in Syria, similar to accords that ended violence in the Balkans or Lebanon. Fierce debates over Iran’s participation in the conference have led to delays in finalizing the date and agenda of the conference. 

There is no Yemeni-style solution in the cards for Syria, nor one fashioned after the Libyan situation, for that matter. During consultations recently held in preparation for the international conference on Syria, to be held in Geneva on June 30, Western diplomats said that Syria’s future would likely be determined by either a Dayton-type accord — in reference to that reached at the end of the Bosnian crisis —and a Taif type of accord, which ended the Lebanese civil war.

A power sharing scheme would govern the allocation of senior government positions. This is still the case in Bosnia, where the presidency successively rotates between a Serb, Croat or Bosnian as per the Dayton Accord. That agreement ended the 1995 civil war that ravaged the former Yugoslavia. Another option would be for a solution to take the form of a consensual democracy between Alawites and Sunni Muslims. This might allow for a Sunni-Shiite balance to be brought about in the region encompassing Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. This might rectify the imbalance that was cause for concern on the international scene when the Shiite majority seized power in Baghdad.

The Geneva conference to be held on June 30 is set to be organized by the Syria Contact Group. However, negotiations that have been ongoing for weeks resulting in the decision that the Swiss city is an unsuitable theater for the signature of a “Syrian Taif” accord. A western diplomat following the negotiations from Paris told Al-Safir that those working with former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan excluded the possibility of a Taif type accord due to difficulties involved in representing all of the different ethnic groups at this particular phase of the conflict. At this stage in the conflict, it is hard to imagine how this kind of power-sharing on a sectarian basis could find its way into any future Syrian constitution.

Additional complications have arisen regarding the distribution of political institutions between the Alawites, Sunnis, Christians, Druze and Kurds. Experts say that the most likely scenario for Syria would be a solution akin to the Bosnian experiment, especially as far as the international community is concerned. This would limit the distribution of power and sharing among sects to only the highest governmental positions. It may also entail some aspects of the Iraqi power-sharing solution, whereby specific ethnic groups would be allocated various government posts. The highest position in the hierarchy of the state would thus go to the Alawites, while the Sunnis would control the position with the most power within the state’s hierarchy.

The same source said that a fair amount of discussions were held between experts and diplomats regarding a federal solution. However, in the end this option was excluded given that all regional powers rejected it on the basis that it would lead to independent entities unable to coexist. They also cited the negative connotation the term “federalism” has in the region.

A Bosnia-like scenario thus has the best chances of being adopted, especially if it is tweaked with some lessons from Iraq. Our Western diplomatic source said that Kofi Annan would propose to the Syria Contact Group that, at this stage, political dialogue should be focused on the transitional phase , which should be characterized by an acceptable power sharing scheme between all sectarian groups in Syria. The former UN secretary-general also proposed giving the Alawites the presidency in order to reassure them that their position would remain strong in the future.

The proposal would also include stripping the presidency of its current powers, transferring much of those powers to the prime minister’s office, which would go to a Sunni. The prime minister would then possess wide-ranging and effective powers, as is the case in Iraq. This is meant to reassure the Sunnis that the process of change serves the interests of the majority, and that its effects will be felt shortly.

Our source said that deliberations over whether or not to include Iran in the meeting were a central hurdle delaying the announcement of the conference to take place in Geneva. Our source denied that Annan was being pressured by the Russians to convince the Saudis and Qataris to allow Iran to participate in the international conference on Syria. According to diplomatic sources, the Russians have always said that Iran’s presence would actually be beneficial to, and would increase the pressure on Assad and convince him to turn the page on four decades of Alawite-minority hegemony over power in Syria. Washington and Paris objected to Iran’s participation, for fear that Tehran would use it as a bargaining card to better its negotiating position concerning the talks on its nuclear program.

According to the diplomatic source, past and present UN Secretary-Generals Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon, insisted on Iran’s participation in the Geneva conference. They believe that a regional approach is necessary for a solution to the crisis, and that Iran’s presence will be beneficial in this transitional phase.

Given the great influence Iran has on President Bashar al-Assad and on Syrian military and security institutions, it wouldn't make sense for Iran to be excluded from the conference simply because western countries are wary of giving Tehran credit for being the regional “power” it aspires to be. The pretext that the US and France have employed to object to Iran’s participation is that it contributes to supporting and arming the Syrian regime. However, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, which are invited to attend, are also playing a prominent and public role in pumping arms into Syria’s “civil war.”

The source claimed that the Qataris and Saudis fanatically oppose Iran’s participation, and that Saudi Arabia’s fears are not confined to Iran’s potential role. The Saudis are also allegedly worried that they themselves might not be invited to the conference and that Turkey might take hold of the negotiations as the general representative of the Sunnis. This is something the countries are especially wary of given the caliber of the conference.

Twelve countries are expected to attend the conference: the five members of the Security Council (Russia, China, The United States, France and Britain), Jordan, Iraq and Turkey and possibly Lebanon. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran will also attend, along with representatives from the Arab League, the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Conference.

Found in: power-sharing, syrian government, sectarianism, syrian contact group, syrian, syria, russian-syrian relations, geneva conference, geneva

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