BY ADEYEMI OSHUNRINADE
It took fewer lives to topple the regime in Tunisia. The same could be said of Gaddafi’s Libya and Egypt where the Arab uprising and rebel oppositions, helped end dictatorial rules. For those nations, it was a move back to democracy which the citizens have craved for decades. Almost two years since the beginning of the opposition movement in Syria and about 60,000 feared dead, Syria Assad is still holding on and remains defiant despite the outcry and call for him to relinquish power.
After more than six months of absence from the public, President Assad appeared this week on stage at the Damascus Opera House, where he proposed what he called solution to the 21-month Syrian uprising. Mr. Assad called for a new constitution and cabinet while ignoring all opposition to his stay in power. He called the movement against him the work of “murderous criminals” and terrorists financed from abroad and motivated by nations bent on bringing an end to his regime come what may.
In his speech, Mr. Assad indicated he was open to dialogue but only with “those who have not betrayed Syria.” The expression shows the regime’s readiness to dialogue with the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, a group known to have chosen the path of non-violence as a tool to an effective change in Syria. This is a group that both Russia and China support as legitimate peace brokers, despite the U.S. and other nations’ support for the Syrian Opposition Movement. Mr. Assad called the current attacks the work of the West and its allies including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the United States.
The speech by the Syrian leader baffled those who expect the regime to have crumbled by now, considering the gains in territories the rebels have made so far. The ability of the regime to hold onto power after 21-months of fierce fighting is now making many in the region to believe that without an effective diplomatic intervention and a negotiated agreement between the regime and the rebel opposition, Syria may be heading towards an all-out-war beyond what we have seen in the past 21-months.
Many around the world find it hard to understand how Mr. Assad is able to remain in power, considering that it took far less bloodshed for the regime in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to come to an end. The fact is that in the other nations affected by the Arab uprising, there was a consensus and firm resolution among interested nations to support the people against the regimes. The kind of one voice we saw in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya is lacking in Syria. So far, the United Nations has not been able to institute a no-fly-zone and both Russia and China are yet to change their positions and support for the Assad regime, despite Russia’s admission that the regime is losing to the opposition.
There is now a fear of uncertainty in Syria. Many are finding it difficult to trust the opposition and Syrians are finding it hard to know what kind of Syria they would have should Assad be toppled by the opposition. The disgust for the rule by extremists and their sympathizers is making some to pull their support away from the rebel opposition. Though, they are tired of the current regime of Assad, they would rather maintain the status quo than a rule by Sharia and Islamists. This is a view that plays well to the advantage of the regime and helps keep Mr. Assad in power.
Members of the Alawite sect, a minority group to which Mr. Assad belong are beginning to fear the armed rebellion as an opposition determined to carry out revenge once Mr. Assad is removed. This may include killing and attacking Alawites in a new Syria and a call for vengeance from Sunni Muslims who so far have dominated the uprising. Some would be defectors, believe the rebel opposition, is unlikely to establish a unified representation of Syria without creating factions that would set Syrians against one another. They see the armed rebellion as creating warlords determined to divide the country, rather than work towards a stable and unified Syria. The Alawites and those who sympathize with the regime fear the uncertainty of a post Assad Syria and would rather the regime remain in power than deal with attack by the rebels.
So far, the Assad regime continues to pay the salaries of soldiers fighting against the opposition. Almost two years of fighting did not drain the nation’s resources and the regime is conducting business as usual by making sure those working on its behalf get paid. Those fighting for the regime with families to feed are unlikely to give up their income though, they would like to defect. They continue to fight while businesses and banks support the regime by keeping the economy going, despite instability caused by the war. Government employees continue to work and refuse to abandon their positions due to uncertainty thereby, keeping the regime in power.
Those that could have supported the rebel opposition are unhappy about how disorganized the opposition has become. Many are worried about how undisciplined the fighters are, as there have been allegations of drug use and alcohol abuse by some members of the opposition fighting to overthrow the regime, making it difficult for would be defectors to even consider switching sides.
The lack of a unified voice by the international community may have played to the advantage of the regime, making it possible for Mr. Assad to remain in power. So far, it is impossible for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution with teeth on Syria. Russia and China are yet to shift their positions on the regime. Both want a resolution that would include the regime, while the United States and its NATO allies demand an end to the Assad regime and a non-inclusive post Assad leadership, by the opposition they have endorsed. Meanwhile, Assad remains in power laughing at the international community as it lacks the strong will to make a decisive move.
Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD} is an expert in general law, foreign relations and the United Nations; follow on Twitter @san0670.