The Syrian vice president Farouk al-Sharaa didn’t make any public appearance since August, except on one mysterious occasion and nobody saw him since. After this suspicious disappearance, he is now considered as the father of a “stepping down” initiative which reflects a wide conviction that the regime is falling; soon. Sharaa calls upon the opposition to participate in a government with a wide array of responsibilities, which might hint to keeping Bashar Al-Assad as a president without any powers.
Simultaneously, another initiative is being cooked up somewhere else, called “the last chance.” It is likely that the U.N. envoy Lakhdar Al-Ibrahimi will share it with Assad and his allies in a few days, suggesting that Assad steps down and leaves Syria with his family to one of the Latin American countries, giving his powers to the opposition, in a scenario similar to what the British Prime Minister had suggested, when he proposed a safe exit for Assad to put an end to the bloodshed. The instigators of the “last chance” initiative warn Assad that refusing their plan will initiate stronger attacks on his regime, with more fighters and more weapons, which will lead to a quick and total collapse of the regime, and consequently he will stand trial.
The reason behind giving Assad a chance, although he’s described as the bloodiest ruler and the biggest criminal in history, lies in the conviction of the owners of this initiative that a negotiated departure, endorsed by different regional and international super powers, will lead to a smooth transition of power to the opposition and will spare Syria from a devastating civil war, and cuts the bloody conflict short.
The real issue is that these two initiatives do not converge: one keeps Assad in his palace without any powers while the other exiles him from the country, and it is likely that the Syrian people will refuse it, in spite of the real tragedy they live in, and even if it will claim more lives. Hence we are witnessing what we might call the last mile of the race. If he wanted to flee the country Assad doesn’t need any initiatives, he could do it by night through the western coast, and the war will go on and he will be chased, or he can flee to Russia or Venezuela, hoping that his Russian host will not assassinate him to get rid of him.
The last weeks for Assad will be complicated, and the fate of the leader is the easiest part of this puzzle, as he’s politically done, and has become a bloody chapter of history. What really counts is to preserve the unity of Syria and taking control over the cities and the state’s institutions, inheriting the regime, by the entities that were formed recently, within the framework of new Syria.
It is wrong to keep on trying to negotiate with Assad over his personal safety in exchange of stepping down. Only bringing him to trial will bring peace to Syria after all the crimes committed under his direct command; he is mainly responsible for these crimes, and if he’s not brought to trial others will pay, and they might be innocent of what he perpetrated.
(Abdelrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in Asharq Alawsat on Dec. 18, 2012)