Last Updated: Sat Jan 28, 2012 13:50 pm (KSA) 10:50 am (GMT)

Syria and the complex of international intervention

Osman Mirghani

The reactions to the latest Arab initiative suggest that the Syrian crisis is now approaching difficult months and a further escalation in the cycle of violence, murder and repression. The regime has announced its categorical rejection of the initiative, deeming it to be flagrant interference in its internal affairs, and there are many indications to suggest that the regime is summoning all its energies and strengthening its arsenals in preparation for a widespread onslaught on the protests at the first opportunity. The regime has never moved from its position in dealing with the uprising as a conspiracy, and dealing with the revolution’s participants as terrorists. This position was confirmed by the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Moallem, in a letter to the Secretary General of the Arab League, on the eve of the League’s recent meeting. In the letter Moallem said that the [Syrian] government will confront acts of terrorism with force, and this is the mindset that makes it hard to believe that the regime wants to respond to the people’s demands or enact genuine changes that could lead to its removal from power. This is the mentality that prompted the Syrian regime to attack and reject the Arab League’s initiative as soon as it was issued.
On the other side, the majority of the Syrian opposition appears skeptical regarding Arab movements, and is unconvinced that the Arab League is really capable of intervening or forcing the regime in Damascus to accept its proposals. Indeed, some opposition members have openly directed strong criticism towards the League, accusing it of siding with the Syrian regime. Furthermore, some claim that the people do not trust the Arab League anymore, because all its movements and initiatives do nothing other than assist the regime in buying more time so that it can continue with its policy of killing and repression.

Given such a situation, in what direction will the Syrian crisis go now?

There are two possible directions, both thorny and complex, and both expensive: the internationalization of the crisis or a civil war. It is true that all parties are stressing their categorical rejection of the civil war scenario and are warning against it, yet it would be extremely easy to be dragged into such a war if the state of deadlock and violence continued, along with the flow of arms to Syria. The ongoing violence is the reason behind the increasing defections of officers and soldiers who, at first, disobeyed the orders to kill civilians and attack cities, but when the repression and killings continued, they opted to resist and fight fire with fire. As in Libya, youths will join armed groups to protect towns and civilians, resist the regime, and - albeit reluctantly - the uprising will gradually take on a military shape. This is because the longer the delay in finding a solution, the less chance there is for a peaceful uprising, and we can now see the signs of this on the ground today.

The other possibility is international intervention, which is not without its complications, although current developments are pushing towards this direction. By continuing with its repression and killing, the regime is pushing the situation towards international intervention, and similarly because the opposition is unconvinced of the sincerity and effectiveness of Arab movements, it has demanded that the issue be transferred to the Security Council. The recent Arab initiative also seems to be pushing the situation towards this direction.

Anyone who contemplates the Arab League initiative must deduce the three main points that were in the mind of those who drew it up. The first point is that the initiative is an attempt to cause division or confusion within the regime, by throwing a lifebuoy along the lines of Yemeni scenario. The initiative proposes that the president hand power over to his deputy who will then cooperate with a national unity government, to be formed within two months, the duty of which will be to prepare for free and fair elections under Arab and international supervision. At the same time, the initiative demands that the freedom to demonstrate peacefully is protected, and this means that public pressure on the regime will continue. The second point is that the initiative paves the way for the crisis to be transferred to the Security Council, which will review its seven articles and then be asked to support it; hence paving the way for Security Council resolutions should the Syrian regime reject the initiative, something that the Arab League has undoubtedly anticipated. The third point is that the initiative, by directly involving the Security Council, is helping the Syrian opposition avoid embarrassment when demanding international interference. This is because anyone who listens to the leaders of the Syrian opposition when they talk about international intervention must sense the degree of embarrassment in the vague language and elastic phrases they use, when speaking about the nature of international intervention they seek. The opposition does not want to be accused of bringing foreign powers into its country, or jeopardizing Syrian sovereignty.

Thus the crisis is now being transferred to the Security Council, but will this mean a prompt solution? Certainly there is no international solution to remedy the Syrian crisis in 24 hours, regardless of the nature of the steps taken and regardless of the significant hopes being pinned on such a solution. The Russian and Chinese stances will remain an obstacle hindering the issuance of prompt resolutions by the Security Council, and so the usual trade-offs and lengthy negotiations can be expected until an acceptable drafting is reached; one that can be adopted by the Council without a "veto" from any country. Furthermore, 2012 is an international election year par excellence; from Russia to France to the United States. This means that the election considerations will influence political stances, and it is likely that this will cause further complications and delays with regards to international resolutions towards Syria.

Hence, those who strongly criticize the Arab League - saying that it is buying time for the Syrian regime so it can kill more of its own citizens - are giving people false hope of a magical and prompt solution from the Security Council. The painful reality is that there is no quick solution, and based on the experience we have learned from the Libyan crisis, if international intervention is to happen, it will take time and will entail complexities of a different kind. This is because it may cause the overthrow of the regime, but it will not remedy the consequences or solve all outstanding problems.

The only remaining point is that the Arab revolutions that were settled domestically and without international intervention have ended quickly, whereas the popular uprisings and revolutions that had to wait and required international assistance have experienced prolonged suffering and a higher number of casualties. The lesson to be learned is that we must not rely on international intervention to complete what the demonstrators have started, unless we are prepared for prolonged sufferings and are ready to pay an exorbitant price. Change is always better when it comes from within and by the people themselves, rather than through foreign assistance, and in this case the price is always lower, no matter how high.

The writer is Asharq Al-Awsat's Senior Editor-at-Large, where this article first appeared on Jan. 27, 2012

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