After the Uprising, the Syrian Regime Is No Longer the Same
The recent fracture of the relationship between the Syrian government and both the Administration and European governments is by no means superficial. Nor is the shakiness of the regime in Damascus at all minor or temporary. What happened in Syria in the past few weeks sealed the fate of the type of relations that had been carefully woven by the Syrian government. What happened exposed the regime whose priority was never reform but in fact to stay in power with authoritarianism under any circumstances. It is an existentialist matter for those who have grown accustomed to being in power and have been raised around it. This is why it is difficult for them to implement promises of reform. They are forced to choose either to comply with the demands of the reformers “pocket and ask for more”- a risky bargain when this time they are on the giving side. Or they have to opt for what traditionally calls for decisive action, repression, intimidation and the use of every force to “break” those who dared raise their heads and make demands. Whether as a result of a spontaneous consent or deep division in the ranks of senior officials of the Syrian regime, the decision has been made for the second option, and it will not be easy to backtrack. This in turn means postponing whatever President Bashar al-Assad may have had in mind when he was portrayed by the political and PR machine as a “man of reform.” The rumbling of the tanks has risen to mute the voices of civilian protesters, and it makes it no longer possible for countries and individuals who sympathize with the Assad regime or admire him and his wife Asmaa to turn a deaf ear – except for some in Russia, China and Lebanon. As for American-Syrian and European-Syrian relations, these have entered a new juncture that will prove costly for the regime in Damascus, not just economically in case serious sanctions are imposed, but also morally and politically. This is because Damascus has placed its relationship with the United States at the top of its priorities and made good use of its relationship with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in order to reap great benefits for itself in Lebanon and to avoid isolation and accountability. But today, those who are holding the Syrian regime to account are the Syrian people who have the right to hold their government accountable like any other people in any given country. The Syrian government is wagering on international and regional powerlessness. But in fact, it is taking a risk by making such a wager. It would have made a better choice had it wagered instead on partnership with the Syrian people to create radical change in their relationship and on a lucid interpretation of the regional situation. Had it done so, the regime would have understood that the change in the regional map was perhaps an opportunity for it to rearrange its scattered interferences and alliances, stretching from Iran to Iraq to Lebanon. But Damascus, once again, is playing its “cards” with excess, and is behaving with both panic and arrogance.
Damascus is perhaps wagering on the unwillingness of Western nations to open a new front in Syria similar to Libya’s where NATO is carrying out air strikes- and it is right in making such an assumption. However, Europe, the United States and many countries in the world will not remain silent and stand idly by while the repression of civilians continues, casualties increase, hundreds of people are thrown in jail and the world is prevented from seeing what is happening. For these countries, it will not be sufficient to issue condemnations and denouncements. They will be forced to take “measures” to isolate the Syrian regime and to impose sanctions. In fact, those countries themselves are monitored by NGOs like Amnesty International, which demands the prosecution of those who violate human rights laws, or Human Rights Watch, which holds to account governments that bury their heads in the sand and pretend to see or hear no evil. There are many NGOs investigating and getting ready to hold to account countries that give regimes a free pass to commit crimes against their people. Today, there is the principle of the “responsibility to protect” people who fall victim to their governments. Libya has set an important precedent in putting such a principle to work. Yet there is also the wager made by the Syrian regime, along with it China and Russia, on the League of Arab States and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) refraining from referring Syria to the Security Council, as they previously did in the case of Libya.
China, and with it India and Russia, supports a regional initiative on the Syrian issue, while it has strongly opposed placing the events in Syria on the Security Council’s agenda. These countries have exploited the stance taken by Lebanon – the only Arab member in the Security Council – whose Foreign Minister Ali Shami, instructed Ambassador Nawaf Salam to reject a Security Council statement whose issuing requires unanimity. The three countries pointed to the positions taken by the Gulf Cooperation Council and by the League of Arab States on Libya- positions not taken on the issue of Syria. In this vein, China underscored the role played by the Gulf Cooperation Council in Yemen and to the fact that the Security Council has been waiting for the outcome of its initiative. Chinese diplomacy also spoke of potential efforts and attempts to launch a regional initiative on the Syrian issue in hopes that it will produce results. This might have been perfectly alright had the Gulf Cooperation Council been prepared to be decisive over the issue of Syria the way it has acted decisively on Libya and Yemen.