Three options for Syrian opposition to lessen al-Assad normalization
Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi
The Syrian opposition found itself in a dilemma following the Arab normalization initiatives with the Syrian regime, which began at an accelerated rate since last February.
The pace of normalization with the Syrian regime began with the visit of the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, to Damascus, followed by Saudi moves that led to the issuance of the Arab League’s decision to grant Syria a seat for the Syrian regime, then the presence of the regime’s head, Bashar al-Assad, at the summit meetings in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 19.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), or the Coalition of Revolution and Opposition Forces, tried to act in turn by announcing its rejection of the Arab step and warning against it, holding meetings with European and American officials, and warning Arab countries of its step.
It seems that the largest opposition body has three options at the present time, either proceeding with the same form of moves, or repositioning and building new alliances, which requires concessions, and the third option is to go towards the dissolution of the current formations and the emergence of political formations led by new faces to lead the next stage.
When al-Assad attended the Arab summit meetings, he received a “warm welcome” from a number of leaders of Arab countries, headed by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the Tunisian, Egyptian, and Palestinian presidents, except for those who welcomed Syria’s return to the Arab League without explicitly mentioning al-Assad’s name.
This reception and the focus of the Arab and international media on the presence of al-Assad, and the emergence of a change in the form of the discourse of Western countries towards the process of normalization, put the political opposition forces in a dilemma about how to move during the next stage, especially as the head of the SOC, Salem al-Meslat, said in a press conference held in Istanbul On May 9, “The move to re-admit the regime to the Arab League was a surprise to the (SOC).”
The first option among the opposition’s options, which is to continue with the current situation and be content with statements, denunciations, and holding meetings with Western officials, seems to be a “destructive and fatal option for the Syrian revolution,” according to Zaki Droubi, a member of the Democratic Left Party.
Droubi told Enab Baladi that the continuation of the “Coalition” and the opposition forces to deal with the current circumstances in the same way they have done over the past years is to prolong people’s suffering and grant gains to al-Assad.
In a previous interview with Enab Baladi on May 9, al-Meslat clarified the shape of the moves that the “Coalition” will implement in the current period, including holding international meetings in France and Belgium and with American officials, and consulting with “the Syrian people through holding extensive popular meetings.”
The SOC released a statement on May 19 that “strongly emphasizes the inclusion of war criminal Bashar al-Assad in the Arab summit is a deplorable endorsement of his heinous crimes against the Syrian people. It disregards the sacrifices made by Syrians over the past 12 years, insults the victims who await justice, and abandons the Syrian people who yearn for freedom.”
Ayman al-Assimi, a SOC member, considered that the best solution in Syria remains through the Geneva process that paves the way for political transition, according to what was reported on the official website of the “Coalition” on the 17th of the same month.
Is opposition able to reposition?
Over the past 12 years, many Arab countries have provided explicit support to the Syrian opposition, the most prominent of which are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with support from other countries led by Turkey.
During the past months, many countries began to change their positions according to their interests in the region, whether in the Syrian file or other files, and this matter was evident with the Saudi-Iranian agreement last March, which included the restoration of relations and the mutual opening of embassies.
These changes in the political game impose a re-reading of the Syrian political scene and the building of new alliances in accordance with regional and international changes. Here lies the second option for the Syrian opposition. However, the prominent question is: Does the Syrian opposition have the ability to rebuild its alliances in light of the momentum gained by al-Assad during the past months, especially since it takes great diplomatic efforts to create a balance between al-Assad and his opponents from the opposition.
Droubi believes that there is a need to reposition and build alliances in a different way, far from the previous case, which relied on subordination to countries friendly to the revolution and identification with their policies in a way that guarantees the independence of decision and better margins for action and gives greater influence to the revolution.
Droubi pointed out that the sanctions issued by the US administration, and the Arab movement in its latest version, specifically the “Amman” statement, give greater margins of action, especially with the possibility of dialogue on the implementation of UN Resolution 2254 to form a transitional governing body with full powers.
The consultative meeting that brought together the foreign ministers of Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Syrian regime on May 1 in the Jordanian capital, Amman, contained an agreement to hold talks aimed at reaching a “solution to the Syrian crisis,” in line with UN Resolution 2254.
Droubi considered that the Syrian regime is trying to delude people that the Syrian revolution has ended and that it has defeated the will of the people.
On May 19, several cities and towns in northwestern Syria witnessed popular demonstrations titled “Syria is not represented by the criminal Assad,” against the backdrop of al-Assad’s participation in the Arab summit.
As Droubi points out that there are margins to work for the opposition if it succeeds in changing its policies, former Syrian diplomat Danny al-Baaj wonders about who will implement these new policies and moves.
The senior fellow at the Omran Centre for Strategic Studies told Enab Baladi that if the same people from the opposition are going to implement this option, then there is a big problem waiting.
Al-Baaj explained that the Syrian opposition figures were the reason for the Syrian revolution’s loss of its allies in the first place through its wrong moves and decisions, and therefore is it possible to complete the path with the current opposition in the same way and guarantee different results?
Third option: Alternative political body
Since the recent Arab moves to bring al-Assad back into the Arab fold became clear, many Syrian opponents started talking about the option of dissolving the “Coalition” and forming a new political body with new opposition faces that would have the ability to lead the next stage.
Al-Meslat told Enab Baladi on May 9 that “it is not fair to demand the dissolution of the SOC, especially since the Syrian opposition is required to unite, complete what has not been completed, and correct and review mistakes, although he will not be against dissolving the SOC if the case is linked to “the will of the Syrian people and serving their demands.”
It was not announced that any new Syrian opposition political body would be formed against al-Assad, but the current regional changes and the opening of Arab countries to al-Assad may open the door for Syrian opponents to go towards this option, which al-Baaj considers necessary.
The former Syrian diplomat told Enab Baladi that this option is the most appropriate in the next stage, given that it is one of the main problems that the Syrians faced in their revolution.
Those who took the lead in the opposition scene were not qualified to represent it and the revolution properly, neither in terms of the values and principles advocated by the revolution nor in terms of political literalism, according to al-Baaj.
He added that the Syrian opposition in the past felt that the Syrian regime was about to fall, so there was a kind of urgency, and disputes over leadership and positions prevailed, and the major problem is that with the regime not falling, there were no serious steps to reform the “Coalition” and its system, and the failure is still repeated. With the same faces, the same mistakes are repeated to reach the same results.
It is not known if there is anything that can be saved, but if there is a step that must be taken now, it is the reconfiguration of the political opposition and negotiation with countries, according to al-Baaj.
However, Droubi, a member of the Democratic Left Party, believes that the Syrian revolution “is not in a state of nothingness that wants to end the other and replace him.” Therefore, instead of going towards dissolving the SOC as an option that is neither available nor realistic due to the dominance of states over its work, It is more useful for there to be an internal dialogue between the revolution’s parties, building on the common factors between them and focusing on the points of strength.
Droubi concluded that the “Coalition” and the revolution need a new work mentality that works for the distant future through the accumulation of points that make the difference, not through the quick profit mentality.
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