The “Friends of the Syrian People,” a group of countries formed last year to shape a post-al-Assad Syria meet today in Morocco for its fourth meeting, which could turn into a critical one, mainly because of two reasons.
First, the stage of the civil war in Syria gives the impression that the Bashar al-Assad regime has been making its last efforts to keep itself up. The latest statement on that belonged to the German foreign intelligence service (BND), which implied that the days of the regime might be numbered. The Turkish government has had the information for weeks now that considerable parts of the country are out of Damascus’ control now. On the other hand the extension of the civil war and disorganized nature of the rebel forces have caused a radical Islamist group named al-Nusra to emerge and start fighting with the rebels supported by the Friends of the Syrian People as well. Kurdish secessionist factions have already started to fight on behalf of the al-Assad forces; the whole thing could turn into chaos.
Secondly, the winds in international politics have started to change further against Syria. There have been a series of interesting developments over the last 10 days. Russian President Vladimir Putin for example said in Istanbul in a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan on Dec. 3 that his country was not an advocate of the al-Assad regime. It was important for Russia as the country (with China) that had vetoed any U.N. resolution on Syria three consecutive times. The next day his spokesman told journalists in Asghabad that Turkish and Russian diplomats could start working on some new ideas, followed by Ankara sources saying that Turkey and Russia had agreed to work on a new Syria plan. On Dec. 7, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.N./Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met in Dublin on Syria and endorsed the July 1, 2012 Geneva consensus on a transitional government in Syria between Russia and the West. The next day Lavrov spoke again and said that it would be wrong to assume that Russia’s position on Syria was changed, further confusing people.
The question on Russian minds could be what kind of a transitional government to end the civil war in Syria will be proposed by the FSP conference in Morocco. Turkey, France and a number of countries think that it should embrace elements of al-Assad’s Baath party in order not to have the Iraqi situation once again, plus protect minorities’ lives and rights considering the furious rise of Sunni Islam in the country after being oppressed for decades.
A newly established Syrian National Coalition will be represented at the Morocco conference. And if the outcome of the conference will satisfy both the opposition and parts of the Syrian government now, Russia and the FSP group, then there might be a chance for an answer to the question in the title, asking whether Syria would be a better country after al-Assad.
(The writer is a columnist at Hurriyet Daily News, where this article was published on Dec. 12, 2012)