By Press TV
By Seyyed Mohiaddin Sajedi
The Syrian critics and opposition have held their first meeting in Damascus and the Syrian government has announced July 10 as the date when it will hold direct talks with the opposition.
During eleven years of ruling Syria, Bashar al-Assad had always talked of the necessity of reforms, and some even considered the year 2005 as the beginning of reforms; yet, the ramifications of the US war in Iraq and the assassination of Rafiq Hariri (the then member of parliament and former prime minister of Lebanon) and Israel’s war on Lebanon increased foreign threats. There was also no firm determination for change in Damascus. It was only when the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt bore fruit and resulted in the downfall of the dictators and the breeze of change reached Syria – not by the government but by the people – the thought of change struck Bashar al-Assad who replaced the prime minister as a first step. The reforms imposed themselves on the government and this caused the government to fall behind the nation.
Change in Syria is certain. Both the president and his opponents agree that this country is experiencing a crisis. Bashar al-Assad sees the reforms that he has planned as the way out, but the oppositionists have yet to reach a consensus on the paths to a resolution of this crisis. Some demand the toppling of the regime and others still maintain faith in reforms from within.
There is a contest in progress in Syria between governmental reforms and street rallies. The Syrian government had grown so dependent upon its security institutions for years that the current demonstrations took it by surprise, leaving the establishment confused at how to deal with them. Firing tear gases toward the demonstrators has become common in recent days, and before that, direct shooting towards the people claimed the lives of many, resulting in the deepening of the crisis. Opposition sources announce the number of fatalities as 1,300 in the last 100 days.
The Syrian government claims that a number of the victims have been shot by armed people provoked from outside the country. The opposition asks how it is that such armed men and troublemakers are absent during rallies by the proponents of the government. However, there are video clips on the web showing some armed men near the borders of the country shouting slogans that favor the fall of the regime. A report has also been recently published on the English newspaper the Sunday Times whose writer claims to have personally seen armed men in the city of Jisr al-Shughour.
The city lies near the Turkish border and the recent upheavals have displaced many of its people. The escape of these people to Turkey has turned the political and security crisis in Syria into a humanitarian one, too. Ankara says the number of the Syrian refugees has reached 12,000. Lebanese sources also say around 6,000 people have fled to Lebanon. Jordan, meanwhile, has ordered for the border minefields to be swept clean so the explosives do not incur any casualties among potential refugees from Syria’s southern areas.
Most of the tension occurs in areas near the border with Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, giving Syria an opportunity to consider the root of the crisis as foreign conspiracy. The protests, however, have grown in Damascus’ suburbs and the number of casualties in the western cities of Hama and Homs is not small. Security forces hold sway over the main squares in the key towns so the country does not begin to host another Tahrir Square.
So far, the Syrian president has twice issued general amnesties. He has promised to hold multiparty elections over the next three months and even to allow change in the constitution. Before all this, there should be national dialogue and a number of opposition leaders and government’s critics should enter talks with the authorities. The meeting of the intellectuals and opposition in Damascus has divided the oppositionists and has become a target of criticism especially by those dwelling abroad.
The crisis could subside, should the meetings continue and a consensus be reached on a solution for the implementation of the reforms. There, however, lie many obstacles including disagreement among the oppositionists, not being assured of the government’s reform programs, interference by foreign governments and the potential resistance of government elements against the reforms.
The changes implemented by Assad over the past decade have been limited to economic affairs and the situation has remained intact on the cultural, political and social arenas. Neither press freedom was realized nor has the Baath Party let non-governmental or even semi-governmental parties into power. Banks grew in number, the private sector was awarded a bigger share of the economy and a new class of capitalists took shape inside Syria, a crucial part of whose members were people close to the Baath party, security organizations and the presidential palace.
Due to historical and geographical reasons, Europeans constitute the foreign party involved in the Syrian economic developments and transactions. The European Union’s recurrent decisions to impose sanctions on Syria would endanger the country’s economy and the nouveau riche. The government may be able to replace Europe with Russia and China in its economic plans, but, when the private and semi-governmental sectors are concerned, it is difficult to do an about-face towards the East, and Damascus would have to reach a solution that would prevent a revolution and a complete disorder in the affairs.