Monday, August 29, 2011

In The End, Syrians Will Decide The Assad Regime’s Fate

By Rime Allaf
For years, it seemed nothing could happen in the Levant without Syria’s involvement, according to its regular critics – a claim that simultaneously annoyed and pleased the Syrian regime.
On the one hand, the regime protested the automatic assumption that Syria was to blame for everything that went wrong. On the other hand, however, with the proverbial cards at its disposal in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and beyond, the Syrian regime never tired of alluding to its own importance in maintaining a status quo that was supposed to benefit everyone concerned.
Because of these cards, both real and imagined, there has been a concerted effort over the decades to get Syria out of its self-described resistance camp and into the so-called moderate allies-of-the-United States camp. This is what Syria calls, rightly, the “conspiracy.” Whether going back to 1996 and the “clean break” strategy peddled by neocons to then-Israeli prime ministerial candidate Benjamin Netanyahu, or whether thinking more recently to the stringent isolation of Syria in the aftermath of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, there has been no shortage of occasions for countries to declare their opposition to the Syrian regime. Despite their apparent determination to sideline Syria, they failed repeatedly to do so.
Even with hundreds of thousands of coalition troops on the other side of Syria’s border following Iraq’s invasion in 2003; even with the full might of Israeli aggression on Lebanon inferring a trespass into Syria in 2006; and even with the spectacular defection of former vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam and his alliance with the regime’s sworn enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian regime was shaken, but it hardly stirred.
To the frustration of all those attempting its destabilization, the Syrian regime repeatedly managed to weather the storms and come out steady again after periods of loneliness. This was not a case of the survival of the strongest or of the fittest; on the contrary, the Syrian regime seemed to commit every mistake possible and repeatedly dug itself into its own hole. Indeed, Syria survived not because its regime knew what it was doing or followed a strategic plan; it survived because everyone else made bigger mistakes, and because others consistently failed to differentiate between regime, state and country.
In some ways, there has been – to put it irreverently – a conspiracy of dunces surrounding Syria, heavy on theory but short on workable strategy. For all their frustrated desire to see the Assad regime fall, they miscalculated not only the foreign factors impeding this, but the domestic one as well: until now, the Syrian people stood squarely behind the regime, either because they truly and patriotically rallied behind the cause of the moment, believing there was a concerted effort to attack Syria, or because they had no choice.
Suddenly, like many in the Arab world, many Syrians have decided that the only way forward is to bring about the regime’s ouster. After 40 years, the failed conspiracy dissipated to make place for a full-blown home-made mutiny, and there is every reason to believe that it will be much more successful than previous attempts to unseat the Syrian regime. For all the voices claiming that after the Assad regime will come the deluge, there are many more ready to prove the contrary.
The shock that nobody expected was that the support of the international community (which had been taken for granted) suddenly seemed subdued and hesitant. Having for years accused the Syrian president of every misdemeanor in the region, the U.S., in the person of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was surprisingly calling Assad “a reformer,” while dozens of Syrians fell dead under the fire of his. The U.S. and its main allies seemed to favor the devil they knew, rather than risk making waves with the unknown, especially when Israel was so obviously in favor of maintaining the regime.
Were it not for a rather late redressing of its position, Washington appeared to be sticking to its history of mistakes in the region, with the Syrian regime continuing to benefit from such miscalculations. Some think that the delay in the U.S. reaction has cost many Syrian lives and that an earlier strong condemnation would have forced the Syrian regime to better consider the international voices.
The contrary can also be argued, however. By taking so long to push the Syrian regime, the U.S. and its allies gave the regime a false sense of security and the notion that the world was impotent while it conducted its rampage against a civilian population. Consequently, because it went so far in its repression, believing it had a free hand, the Syrian regime left the international community no choice but to intervene diplomatically and economically.
So far, the sheer determination of the Syrian people courageously protesting week after week has convinced many that there is no going back and that the regime as we know it cannot be a part of Syria anymore. With a formal opposition determined to organize itself and to group those inside and outside the country while continuing to preach non-violence and non-interference, the incredible seems to be happening. It took 40 years, but the people are finally doing what decades of conspiracy couldn’t achieve.
-This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 29/08/2011
-Rime Allaf is an associate fellow at Chatham House in London. This commentary first appeared at, an online newsletter

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