In his speech at the Arab League on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said that Syria is between two possible paths: either it voluntarily chooses the path of wisdom, or it moves towards the depths of chaos and loss. Unfortunately, it has become clear over time that the Syrian leadership has chosen the second option, deciding to kill its own people and destroy the country in order to cling to power.
This is a clear accounting of the situation in Syria today, whose people have expressed their desire – in a peaceful manner – for change and transition from a totalitarian regime which is politically and economically stagnant and dependent upon methods that are no longer accepted by the people to confront the protesters with violence and bloodshed. This violence and bloodshed has intensified throughout this uprising, which has transformed into a revolution and which is today approaching its one-year anniversary.
The question that comes to mind here is: why did the Syrian leadership choose this path, particularly when they had the opportunity to learn lessons from what happened in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and later Yemen, and realize that the security solution would only result in the protesters raising their demands, in addition to greater violence and bloodshed taking place, leaving the regime no room for retreat? We are now looking at a situation that could be investigated by the International Criminal Court [ICC] as a case for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Is this due to delusions of power and detachment from reality on the part of the [Syrian] leadership, which believes that it can lead its people with iron and fire in an era when people are communicating with one another across continents in seconds via new media, as well as witnessing how people in other societies live and enjoy freedoms and rights?
Or is this due to the composition and balance of power in the [Syrian] regime, which has become accustomed to a certain internal balance of power and style of rule which is dependent upon a complex network of security apparatus that have become empires in themselves within the regime? Has this made any political reform process driven from the top akin to a coup against the regime, which would require the sacrifice of senior figures that are used to rule, and are not adverse to utilizing suppression to consolidate power?
Most likely it is a mix of the two; namely delusion of power and detachment from reality, and the composition and balance of power within this regime which has been ruling the country for decades, under different names and forms. This regime has been granted superficial cover from slogans justifying its presence, such as the slogans of the “resistance”, “opposition”, and “victorious party”. However these slogans are false, and are essentially nothing more than tools to secure and control the people.
Gaddafi clearly expressed this state of detachment from reality with his most famous statement issued following the uprising of the [Libyan] people, namely when he addressed the protesters and asked “who are you?” It is likely that Gaddafi’s wonder and shock at the Libyan revolution was not contrived, for he believed that he had tamed the Libyan people over 4 decades of tight security and political slogans that were the subject of international ridicule. However Gaddafi was caught off guard by the Libyan people, who still possessed the courage to revolt against him and the methods of his rule. He thought this was a crisis that he could confront with the old methods of security suppression, rather than attempt to seek a political solution that involved him stepping down from power, and this ultimately blew up in his face.
This is practically the same situation in Syria, although there are differences in the conditions and composition of the two countries. Indeed, al-Assad is in a stronger position than Gaddafi was, for he has been granted one deadline after another to find a political solution to the crisis and attempt to conduct dialogue towards a political roadmap that meets the demands of the peaceful protesters, creating a new social contract that befits the twenty-first century. However he [al-Assad] always preferred the bloody security solution, which did not give anybody room to stand with him or offer assistance, and even the Russians and China are indicating that their attempts to defend the regime are becoming a source of embarrassment.
We have now reached the turning point, despite all the opportunities that the regime was granted and which it ignored, namely to hand-over power to a transitional authority to avoid more bloodshed and destruction. As for the question, why did the al-Assad regime choose the second option: this is something that will be answered accurately after change occurs [in Syria] and the secrets of the former regime begin to be revealed, which is what happened in all similar circumstances.
The writer is Asharq al-Awsat's Deputy Editor-in-Chief. The article was published in the London-based daily on Feb. 15, 2012