With the announcement of the founding statement establishing the Opposition National Council, the Syrian crisis has entered a new phase that is both more difficult and more dangerous. This conclusion can be reached by examining the factions that have come under the broadest umbrella declared by the opposition since the outbreak of the protests. It is also significant that the announcement was made in Istanbul, or in other words, in a country that neighbors Syria, and a country that until recently, was a close ally of the Syrian regime to an extent at which it was thought that a permanent coalition between the two countries had existed.
This same conclusion can be reached by evoking a key paragraph in the statement that said, “The Syrian National Council is a frame for the Syrian revolution both inside and outside the country. It provides the necessary support for the realization of the aspirations of our people for the overthrow of the regime, including its head, and establishing a civil state without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, religion or political beliefs…The Council is open to all Syrians who adhere to the principles and goals of the peaceful revolution".
It is clear from the statement that the declared framework is not interested in negotiating with the regime nor does it anticipate any steps for reforms to be taken by the latter. The goal it has set forth is clear, namely, to topple the regime, all its symbols included. This means that any wager on a third way through negotiation that would entail coexisting with the regime has been abandoned, even if the latter should agree to sacrifice the domination of the Baath Party and the security services over the state and society. In this sense, this part of the statement represents a favorable response to the slogans raised by the protesters, slogans that have become ever more radical and belligerent since the authorities resorted to the excessive use of force in their crackdown on the demonstrations.
A close look at what the Syrian authorities have achieved in the past six months reveals the significance of the move that Istanbul witnessed yesterday.
Immediately after the protests first broke out, the authorities sought to apply the lessons learnt from other arenas in the Arab Spring. The regime thus barred the opposition from holding any permanent and safe sit-ins, i.e. a kind of a Tahrir Square that could attract young people and the media. The regime also prevented the protesters from controlling any city that would play the role of the Syrian protests’ equivalent of Benghazi, i.e. hosting a transitional national council. The Syrian authorities also thwarted any deterioration in border regions through which aid of all kinds could have been smuggled to the protesters. In another respect, the regime, through its relations with Russia, China and other countries, has managed to preclude a resolution in the Security Council condemning its actions, a resolution that could possibly facilitate any Western or international sanctions against the regime. By contrast, the opposition was confused and nonplussed, and this was clear through the series of the conferences it has held. Over six months, a certain equation emerged on the ground that indicates a protracted conflict is afoot: Neither are the protests capable of overthrowing the key symbols of the regime, nor is the regime able to put an end to the protests.
The move in Istanbul may not have important or rapid repercussions on the outcome of the ongoing confrontation on the streets of Syrian cities and towns, but its foreign implications should not take long to emerge. It is no secret that some countries that wanted to go further in their condemnation of the Syrian authorities, had spoken of the opposition’s lack of a recognized rallying frame. Here, the Istanbul statement may represent an opportunity for these countries to go further and endorse comprehensive change in Syria. This applies to some Arab and Islamic countries, and also to countries outside the region.
If it received broad international recognition, the Syrian National Council would be better equipped to address the Arab League, the United Nations and the world. Similarly, it would be better able to demand protection for the protesters by ‘putting into effect certain articles in international law”. Here, it is worth keeping a close lid on Turkish steps in the upcoming period of time. What is certain is that the confrontation in Syria is heading towards a more crucial and foreboding chapter than what we have seen in recent months.
The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of al-Hayat. The article was published in the London-based al-Hayat on Oct. 3, 2011.