With the current hardening of the sense of duality between Syrian government and opposition, good faith negotiations seem even further away. The vision of an inclusive Syria in which all political factions and sectarian communities play a part is giving way to a desire of each to destroy their perceived opponents.
By Rene Wadlow
“The Messiah will come when he is no longer needed. He will come not on the last day but the day after.” In the Spanish Kabbalist tradition from which Franz Kafka borrowed this epigram, the Messiah comes not to bring justice but only after justice has been established in the world by humanity. Likewise, some esoteric Sufi traditions hold that the Messiah will come first to Damascus before starting his work of judgement, but that he will come only when men have established a society of clemency and mercy, of beauty and harmony, when men are clear-sighted and have put an end within themselves to duality. To reach this state of being, they need to follow the Tariqa, a path of growth through stages of initiation.
Currently, the pre-conditions for the coming of the Messiah to Damascus do not seem to be established, and the sense of duality between government and opposition hardens so much that good faith negotiations between the government and the opposition seem ever farther away. The vision of an inclusive Syria in which all political factions and sectarian communities play a part is giving way to a desire of each to destroy their perceived opponents.
Arms are flowing into the country both for the government and for the armed oppositions. Foreign countries are increasingly involved, each motivated by its own views of its national interests. There is increasing talk of foreign intervention on the Libyan example or the creation of a “no-flight zone” as had been used for the Kurdish area of Iraq. Turkey is increasingly concerned with the possible impact of Kurdish areas of Syria on the Kurdish activities in Turkey and a revival of demands for an independent Kurdish State. There is also the issue of foreign fighters taking control of towns on the Turkish-Syrian frontier. Increasingly, there is speculation on Syria being geographically divided along sectarian-ethnic lines.
The United Nations-League of Arab States representative in the Syrian conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian Foreign Minister in a report to the UN Security Council spoke of a “Syrian stalemate” in which neither the government nor the opposition forces can defeat the other. In Geneva, at the Human Rights Council, the chairman of the Council’s inquiry commission on human rights in Syria, Paulo S. Pinheiro highlighted the increased escalation in fighting and stated that both the government and the anti-government forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. He went on to add that the escalating conflict in which civilians bear the brunt of the killed and wounded now has an increased presence of “foreign elements”. Some have joined anti-government forces and some operate independently. Pinheiro, who has long experience in UN human rights efforts, went on to add that such foreign elements “tend to push anti-government fighters toward more radical positions.”
Pinheiro, using up-to-date reports from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, highlighted the refugee flow to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon and the destabilizing impact that the refugees may have on these countries, especially a growth of sectarian ethnic and religious tensions. In addition to refugees who cross State frontiers, there are a large number of internally displaced persons within Syria.
In the face of this continued stalemate between the Syrian government and the oppositions, are good-faith negotiations still possible? The Association of World Citizens has proposed that a useful step in Track II efforts would be to explore the possibilities of setting an agenda of issues that could be the basis of negotiations. Good faith negotiations between Bashar al-Assad and members of the Syrian opposition are crucial. It is certain that issues of greater social, political and economic participation by broader segments of the society could have been discussed at the start of the protests in March 2011 when the protests were then non-violent. However, at that time, neither the government nor the different strands of the opposition moved to set an agenda based on issues on which negotiations were possible or a realistic timetable for such negotiations.
Has the time for negotiations passed? Is the only realistic possibility a “Yemen option” in which the president leaves the country and a transition coalition is formed? There is no evidence that Bashar al-Asswad plans to leave or that he can be pushed out. In fact, the Syrian government refuses to recognize the domestic roots of the conflict and places all the blame for the escalation of violence on foreign countries — Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. In such a stalemated situation, can President al-Assad, very late in the day, still undertake negotiations with the oppositions that would insure his continued role as President while at the same time undertaking reforms that would permanently modify the socio-political structures of the country in order to give a greater role to other social classes, ethnicities and religious identities than at present? The al-Assad government will have to recognize that one-family rule with narrow sectarian support is no longer possible and that its opponents have real grievances. The oppositions need to drop it insistence that there can be no talks until the government resigns and leaves the country.
It is to be hoped that each side may prefer a negotiated settlement rather than the current violent stalemate of each trying to dominate the other. A start would be to set an agenda of issues to be negotiated between the government and the oppositions. Unfortunately, initiatives for good faith negotiations through the League of Arab States or the United Nations have broken down from lack of trust. The small non-violent movements in Syria such as the “Stop the Killing! We want to build a country for all Syrians” while stressing useful issues are still overshadowed both by the government and the violent opposition forces. Yet could such groups play a larger role if they received more non-governmental support from outside? Governments seem to have resigned themselves to the force of arms or to watch and wait. Can peace groups working together actively strengthen Syrian non-violent alternatives?
René Wadlow is a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and of its Task Force on the Middle East, and president and U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.