The speech by Syrian President Bashar Assad delivered on January 6, 2013, his first speech in six months, portrayed a person who is still living in denial and believes he is about to win the military showdown with the opposition and can dictate his terms. As usual in all such occasions throughout the history of the Syrian ruling Baath Party, the president spoke before a large audience of supporters who cheered and applauded at every end of a sentence. He denied the presence of a revolution in the country and described the 22-month-long uprising as a struggle between the “citizens (of Syria) and their enemies.” He went as far as denying there was a confrontation between the regime and the opposition. However, he admitted for the first time that his government was losing control and the country was sliding into a state of chaos. “Safety and security has abandoned the streets of our country,” said Assad, blaming what he described as foreign Islamic terrorists supported by some neighboring countries and the West.
Assad proposed a three-phase plan to solve the crisis based on his government leading a political reform process along with opposition figures that remained close to the regime. Of course Assad’s plan did not mention anything about his status and future, indicating his desire to stay in power. Assad did not even acknowledge the international efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis led by the emissary for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the Arab League Lakhdar Ibrahimi. Assad asserted that any internationally brokered solution to the Syrian crisis must be within the framework of his 3-stage plan. As expected the Syrian opposition and Western leaders were quick to reject and condemn Assad’s speech describing it as delusional.
According to the United Nations at least 60,000 Syrians have been killed, tens of thousands injured and about 3 million displaced in the systematic campaign by the regime’s forces to quell the rebellion. However, the rebels have grown substantially in size and strength over the past year and have gained control over large chunks of the country, especially in the north, east, south and suburbs of the capital Damascus. The Syrian regime has used all weapons in its arsenal including jetfighters and ballistic missiles to check the advancement of the rebels and terrorize the civilian population into submission, but without success. Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions at the UNSC that could have forced the regime to cease fire and enter into dialogue with the opposition. The West and most Arab countries have insisted on a political solution with a transitional period that sees the ouster of Assad, while Moscow and Beijing have rejected international intervention and insisted on Assad’s fate being determined by the people at the end of a political transitional period that ends with elections.
It seems the rebels’ achievements on the ground exceeded all expectations, even of those supporting them. Lack of organized international support to the rebels has allowed Islamist forces to establish themselves with aid from sympathizers in the region. The United States has already branded one group, the Al-Nusra Front, a terrorist organization linked with Al-Qaeda. However, Al-Nusra Front along with several other Islamic factions fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army has scored the biggest victories in the north and in and around Damascus. Ibrahimi warned at the end of his most recent round of talks in Damascus, Moscow and Cairo that Syria was facing the risk of becoming a failed state like Somalia, ruled by warlords. This has apparently caused alarm bells to go off in many capitals in the West and the Arab world, which led to increased talk of a political solution based on a compromise deal between the regime and the opposition. However, is such a compromise deal feasible or even logical?
Long experience with the Syrian regime has taught the players who were close to it before the revolution (the French, the Qataris and the Turks) that Assad’s regime is incapable of reforming itself, and its definition of reform revolves around scenarios or formulas that will ensure Assad would stay in power indefinitely. This was made clear in his most recent speech. Moreover, Assad has lost legitimacy in many parts of Syria and over 100 countries have withdrawn their recognition of the Syrian regime and recognized the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Several rebel groups with control over the ground do not recognize either the regime or the NCSROF. So a compromise deal at this stage is almost impossible to reach or even implement, especially when the regime still does not recognize the forces that control over half of the country.
Therefore, short of a UNSC resolution under chapter seven that compels all parties even by force to adhere to its terms, the Syrian civil war will likely continue until one side runs out of steam and succumb to the terms of the other. The Syrian regime continues to receive much needed military support from Iran, Hizbullah and Russia, while the rebels have become more dependent on weapons and ammunition they gain from captured bases and units of the regime’s forces. Foreign support to the rebels has reportedly been eased over the past couple of months as Western powers and their Arab allies are working on organizing the opposition ranks, especially the armed factions to check the growing influence of the Islamic forces. Hence between a delusional and intransigent regime and a self-dependent predominantly Islamic rebel forces on the ground Syria is quickly sliding into a state of full chaos without any tangible outside control. Foreign intervention is a must and the longer it takes the bloodier and more complex the Syrian crisis becomes, especially if the chemical weapons in the regime’s arsenal are used. They are the only weapons the regime has not yet deployed and their use is only a matter of time.
Riad Kahwaji, CEO, INEGMA