Syria Using Russian Veto
WADAH KHANFAR | GUARDIAN NEWS SERVICE
WHILE Russia and China were using their veto to abort a UN security council resolution against the Syrian regime, reports of a massacre in Homs came thick and fast. In an unprecedented escalation, the Syrian regime sought to exploit international hesitancy to have a bloody showdown with its opposition.
This regional and international hesitancy stems from two main factors. The first relates to the regional balance of power and what would happen if the regime collapsed. The second is linked to the alternatives that would replace the Ba’ath regime.
On a regional level Syria represents the cornerstone of a strategic axis that extends from Tehran through Baghdad to Damascus and ends in Beirut. A change of regime in Syria would result in a fundamental change in this political configuration and these alliances. Iran would lose an important ally, which would affect its influence in Lebanon and Iraq. Therefore, Iran has a strong interest in defending the Syrian regime until the bitter end.
As for the possible alternatives to the regime, this is another problem confronting the main players in the region.
Despite the theoretical state of “war” between Israel and Syria, the Assad regime has maintained quiet borders with Israel since 1967. Israel would face a new situation with unpredictable consequences if the Ba’ath regime collapsed, similar to the new relationship it faces with Egypt.
Analysts and politicians share several concerns about change in Syria; primarily, the security of the religious minorities should the Sunnis become the majority in the new regime. Others have raised the issue of Syria’s territorial integrity if a civil war erupts. Still, others highlight the organisational weakness of the Syrian opposition and question whether the Syrian National Council is capable of representing the people.
All these fears seem legitimate on the surface, except that they ignore an important truth - which is that the Syrian street is astute and the revolution is well aware of the dangers that surround it. A close examination of the popular action in recent months shows that the street has succeeded in largely neutralising the spectre of sectarianism and the militarisation of its revolution.
The Syrian popular consciousness has been able to protect the revolution from the virus of sectarianism and ethnicity by preserving its national character.
From day one, the ranks of the opposition included Alawites, Christians, Druze and Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
They all stood as one front, demanding freedom and dignity. Despite severe repression, the revolution managed to preserve its predominantly peaceful nature except in the context of defending civilians; this is a role now mainly carried out by the Free Syrian Army.
This army consists of individuals and experienced officers who defected from the regime’s army. They resolutely preserve the national discourse, and have not resorted to sectarian rhetoric. The Syrian street knows that the language of sectarianism will only serve the interests of the regime and it will divert the revolution from the path of democracy.
As for the supposed weakness and organisational ability of the Syrian opposition, there is in fact a huge capacity to organise and instil discipline. The people’s co-ordinating committees communicate between themselves in all parts of Syria, assigning duties and dealing with logistics in a manner that is now much better than in the early days of the revolution.
At the same time, the Syrian National Council has begun to organise its ranks abroad, agreeing on a political discourse that is more coherent and co-ordinated.
True, the opposition is less well organised than its counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, because of the extreme brutality of the Syrian regime, but an acceptable measure of maturity and commitment has been achieved.
The street, with its civil and political forces, is able to guide the transition to democracy with no less proficiency than the other peoples in the region who have already got rid of their regimes.
The Syrian people have resolved to overthrow the regime. It is now for the international community, especially Russia and China, to make their choices, because the Syrian people have a voice, and it is being heard, with photos of their daily suffering being widely circulated - and memories that never die.
(Wadah Khanfar was the director general of the Al-Jazeera network)