Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Meeting the Syrians who helped start the revolution

 'Mohanned: "We stood defiant, facing the police and the shabiha militia, demanding freedom, justice and democracy. They opened fire, some of us fell dead, but we held on, unarmed, in a peaceful manner. It was an incredible feeling, it's indescribable.

 I'd rather sacrifice myself for 5 or 10 years, to put an end to this régime, than be controlled by this régime for centuries on end. In most countries, people are allowed to protest, as part of their fundamental rights, but in Syria, it was suicidal."

 Riad al-Asaad: "The entire world has turned a blind eye to the situation. Now there are talks of a political solution, but the régime should put an end to its offensive, and to its bombings. During the last conference in Geneva, the Syrian régime kept on advancing towards Deraa, and on the coast, and besieged Aleppo. The régime prevents access to humanitarian aid, and starves civilians, while the US and Europe do nothing about it."

 Aziza Jalad: "Just last week, we saw that many protests broke out in Syria. If the bombings ended, and if the régime stopped killing or arresting demonstrators, I believe the entire country would keep on protesting, including in territories controlled by the régime."

Yassin: "The ceasefire could pave the way for a permanent solution in Syria. But for that to happen, things need to change. There will not be any solution if Bashar al-Assad stays in power. Syrians are fleeing their homes because of the war. If the war ends, they will stay in Syria. But the war started because they wanted Assad to step down, so if the current régime stays in place, the migrant crisis will continue."

 Ziad Majed: "Russia pretended it was there to fight Daesh [ISIS], and we see that Daesh is still occupying 40% of the Syrian territory. What Russia really did was save the Assad régime from military collapse, they gave it the possibility to regain some territory. The peace talks are starting, and maybe the Russians thought that Assad was asking too much, the analogy used by his state affairs minister about refusing any discussion concerning the transition, is challenging the Russian, American and de Mistura discourses about the necessity of having a transition. Putin wanted to show he is back internationally, and is imposing himself on the Syrian situation, and maybe he is telling Assad to calm down a little bit, because Assad was saved due to this military intervention.

 Maybe with the new Russian position, it will put pressure on the régime to accept compromises. What continues to be the problem, is the place of Bashar al-Assad in a transition. For the opposition and for the majority of the Syrian people. After 45 years of rule by the Assad family, the only condition of success for the talks, is the departure of Bashar al-Assad. So that the fight against Daesh will start, so that the many challenges facing Syrian society can start being addressed. If they agree on how to deal with the Assad question, many of the other things, I'm not saying they would be easy, but at least negotiations on that could start.

 The problem today is, what kind of transition? The Syrian régime uses the term, 'coalition government', meaning the régime will stay, and add some opposition figures. While Geneva I stipulates a transitional body, that will lead to elections, and then to turning the page of the past. So I think the negotiations will mainly be about that, and how to deal with Daesh later.

 I think the Syrian population has benefitted a lot from the ceasefire, because for four years now it has been under the bombing of the Assad's aeroplanes, of barrel bombing, of the Ruusians recently, and the consequences of all sorts of fighting. We've seen that as soon as the ceasefire was respected, partially, all kinds of demonstrations against the régime; peaceful gatherings, started again, and there was a kind of rebirth of civil society, that in the last years emerged, tried to organise itself, to survive, and now is feeling some help to end the conflict. On the other hand, without a political horizon for the ceasefire, all parties will try to benefit from it, militarily speaking, to reorganise their troops, to prepare for the next phase. Unless they understand that this is a long-term ceasefire, and in parallel the peace process will lead to long-term changes in Syria. The priority would be the régime change, at least the Assad change, if some structures of the régime would be preserved for the next phase.

 There are three or four reasons why Assad didn't fall in 2011. Unlike in Tunisia, in Syria the structure of the régime is a mixture of security services, military, and a family clan, based on sectarianism and the confessional configuration in Syria. The reaction of the régime was not to look for a political compromise, but to crack down on the demonstrators, to destroy the society of the demonstrators, and use all sorts of force, exactly as Bashar's father did in 1980 and 1982. The the reaction of the régime was quite different, and led to the militarisation.

 The second thing is the geo-strategic location of Syria. On the Israeli border, on the Iraqi border, on the Turkish border, with all that meant with regional actors becoming involved.

Thirdly, the Syrian régime had a strong ally in Iran, that from day one supported it, and then Russia also jumped in, because it considered it was its ally that was being targetted, and Putin wanted to show that he is loyal to his old alliances, and will protect them.

 All that generalised the conflict, and internationalised it, plus Daesh, but at the origin, and I think the major responsibility, is of course that of the régime, that refused all kinds of political compromises, of dealing politically with its own society, and preferred to just use violence against it, to crack down on it. This has also been the history of Syria, unfortunately, since 1970, where the régime replaced politics in the society with violence, that is the killing machine that operates against all kinds of dissidence and opposition, and preserves politics for regional and international questions. So I think it's a mixture of that, and the timing did not play for a quick change in the régime. We saw in 2015 with all that, that the régime was very close to collapse, and that's probably why at that moment Russia decide to restore the balance, in order to make a compromise where they were part of the new Syria.' 

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