On June 4 2014, news broke that Bashar al-Assad has been reelected into office as President for another 7 year term amidst a three-year-old civil war.
The conflict started as a protest against Assad’s mode of governance and then later it evolved into a demand that he altogether quit office. As non-lethal protests soon progressed into a complicated armed contest between the pro Assad forces and those calling for his removal, many issues began to spring up. Fresh in our memory are the episodes of the use of chemical weapons on civilians, President Obama’s red line and Russia’s stance, as well as pictures of over 2 million Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands dead.
I remember writing in favor of a humanitarian intervention to check the damage to civilians and to curb a regional disaster prompted by a sudden supply of arms and fighters who have dubious interests. In the light of Russia’s stance, the argument was also made that this intervention did not have to remove Assad from power as this would have given Syria into the hands of extremists, seeking to abrogate the civil rights and freedoms of the people on the basis of religion.
The major diplomatic breakthrough reached was the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. But this did not address the human suffering there neither did it produce a ceasefire. It only meant that certain weapons were taken off the wield and the killings would have to be restricted to the traditional methods of warfare.
If you asked me, I would say that the rebels fighting to take over government have lost their initial cause as well as their legitimacy to lead Syria. Their lack of organization, unity, singleness of purpose, as well as their violence against civilians have only helped Assad’s position and have contributed to him continuing in power for another 7 years. Assad’s narrative that the rebels are terrorists have endured and the West knows this as well.
Assad has conducted his strategies well and therefore remains the strongest force in the country. He had the votes of over 10 million people who, reports say, are willing to sacrifice their souls and blood for him.
Much damage has been done already and as each day passes, the need to end the conflict only becomes greater. And if we would be sincere, we ought to see that the goal posts have moved as well. The conflict situation has undergone significant changes and so the demands the international community makes of the Syrian government must change to fit the current realities and anticipate what comes after.
I think the time has long passed when it made sense to ask Assad to leave government. The time has also passed when it made sense to ask Assad to make concession to the rebels. The table has turned and now I believe the rebels have to be convinced to stand down at this point in time. Perhaps they would be offered amnesty in exchange. The painful part would be that this Syrian government, without credible foreign pressure, would not give justice to the people whose relatives and friends and businesses have been destroyed.
With Assad continuing in government with the legitimacy given him by some 10 million citizens, I am not sure the reforms the initial protesters longed for would be coming any time soon.
Therefore, apart from asking the rebels to give up an obviously lost battle, the United Nations Security Council should mandate the Syrian government to allow humanitarian aid reach the people. Obviously, Assad’s government cannot deal with the extensive damage alone. There has to be a unified and binding international resolution compelling Assad to address these issues. That might mean that Assad must allow UN monitors or observers into his country. It could also mean that the UN would have to set up a special ‘court’ to address justice issues that have sprung up in the course of the fighting. This would resemble the platforms created in South Africa after the apartheid system had ended to foster reconciliation and rebuild the broken pillars of justice.
It is my hope that the fighting and killings end; that the Syrians are able to rebuild their lives and their country, and that the international community would develop a sensitive conscience coupled with tangible and quick actions to avoid these type of costly scenarios in future.