: Who's Next: Syria?

22.11.2011, 09:03
The Assads are finished but can Syrias opposition agree on transition?


Neighboring Turkey ramped up the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad today after at least 12 people were killed and two Turkish pilgrims were wounded in attacks by Syrian security forces.

Turkeys president, Abdullah Gul, today insisted that the crisis is at a dead end in Damascus is at a dead end and change is inevitable.

If you believe in yourself as a leader, if you are confident, you will open the ballot boxes and everyone would go to vote, said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But with tanks and cannons you can only lead up to a point. A day will come when you will go too.

Arab leaders and Syrian opposition groups are lobbying for the UK and France to lead an international Contact Group to help prepare for a transition.

The Assads are finished and the dam could burst as soon as next year, said a senior diplomat. The Arabs have acted because they know he cannot survive.

The UK today urged the opposition uncoordinated and beset by personality differences to unite, after Foreign Secretary William Hague met with rival groups.

Ive emphasized the importance to them of achieving a united platform and a unified body among the opposition, he said. At an extreme moment in their nations history it is important for opposition groups to be able to put aside their own differences and come to a united view of the way forward.

Britain could not offer formal recognition, partly because there are differing groups.

There isnt a single national council as there was in Libya and the international community has not yet reached that point, he said.

We discussed the situation in Syria and the possibility of international protection to stop the bloodshed and provide protection for civilians, said Syrian National Council chairman Burhan Ghalioun (above, center).

The SNC issued its own transitional program last week, but other opposition activists are working with the Arab League to convene a unity conference of political factions and independent figures. The forum is expected to forge a strategic 10-year transition plan, featuring an inclusive national unity government, comprising diverse political, ethnic and religious groups.

There is no opposition body that has the confidence of the Syrians and the international community to act as real transitional body, the National Initiative to Unify the Syrian Opposition said today.

The Councils program has good points but the Council is acting like a political party rather than a broad opposition movement, said Amr al-Azm. The international community and the people on the ground in Syria are pressing for more opposition unity, he said.

Arab and Western leaders share an incentive for regime change, says Radwan Ziadeh (above, right), director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies.

For years now, Syrian foreign policy has hinged on making trouble with its neighbours, he said. Syria depends on unrest among neighbours. If you want to bring stability to Iraq, to Lebanon, to Syria, to Iran, you have to change the Assad regime.

The regime cannot survive, said Ziadeh, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

If they still fight to the last man, it will take longer, but for sure Assad] wont be able to hold on to power forever, he said.

Observers are loath to predict when the regime will collapse, given the evident loyalty of the security apparatus and his urban base of support in Damascus and Aleppo. But it most believe it will be unable to withstand the combined effect of its suspension from the Arab League, army defectors attacks on government installations, and the economic impact of sanctions.

I think weve entered into a new phase. I dont know if its the final phase but it is significant because of two things: on the ground there is a more militarized environment, and in the diplomatic sphere, a more determined effort which includes Arab cover, Salman Shaikh, Director of the Brookings Doha Center, told Reuters.

I am not suggesting that theres going to be some orderly disintegration of the regime. It is likely that there will be a continued militarization and the regime will be ousted through military means, with the assistance perhaps of Turkey and other Arab states perhaps with buffer zones in both Jordan and Turkey which would be focused on protecting civilians and offering a safe haven for those launching attacks, Shaikh said.

The defectors Free Syrian Army is a serious threat to the Assad regime, said Riad Kahwaji, CEO of the Beirut-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

Were talking about troops who know the enemy very well, because they were members of these forces, Kahwaji told The Associated Press. They know them by name, their culture, their habits. They know all the secrets.

The regime is increasingly reliant on the allegiance of two elite Alawite units the Fourth Armored Division and the Republican Guard a dependence that is not logistically or politically sustainable.

If you have to move these people around, they are going to get tired They are going to crack, an Arab diplomat said.

Sanctions are starting to have a psychological as well as an economic impact, analysts suggest.

Theres a symbolic impact of Arab sanctions but also a practical one, says Samir Seifan, a Dubai-based Syrian economist. If youre already cornered by the US and Europe, and now by the Arab world, where do you go? It tells the Syrian street that the regime is over and tells people to distance themselves from it.

Syria seems to have reached the point of no return, said Fawaz Gerges, head of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. We are witnessing the emergence of a potent armed insurgency in addition to the peaceful protesters. Both sides are now going for broke.

Regime change is unavoidable, Gamal Abdel Gawad, an Arab affairs expert in Cairo told The Associated Press.