Monday, July 29, 2013

The harmfulness of "Assad must go"

Many have lamented the refusal of the Syrian opposition to negotiate - that is often masked by making the departure of Assad a precondition for negotiations. As I see it the root cause it is diversity of the Syrian opposition and its incapability to find a common position. Without foreign support those divisions would long ago have led to the end of the uprising and forced the opposition to talks to Assad.

The opposition leader now claims fear that Assad will abuse talks just to keep them busy and for that reason insists on the departure of Assad. But he is either confused or trying to mislead us.

Talks are meant to find a compromise - not to appoint a winner. For that reason insisting on Assad's departure is wrong. But such a compromise will be a very complicated road map - with concrete dates - that points out how the business monopolies of Assad's cronies will be abolished, how the economy will be reformed, how the police and secret services will reformed, how agricultural policies will be reformed, how the country will come under one government again, how the country will become more free, etc. Such a road map will not be created at once. In the beginning there will an agreement on a general framework and some dates for the first steps and gradually more dates will be set and more steps implemented.

Only when those steps have been passed will there be elections. And as by that time most of the wishes of the opposition have been implemented while at the same time the safeguards asked by the government have been implemented it will at that time not be that important who wins the elections.

During the early days of the uprising in 2011 the opposition did further some demands for reforms. But rather than aimed at a more free and just Syria they were aimed at having Assad giving up his power - step by step. This makes Syria's opposition - where the Muslim Brotherhood has considerable influence - look like the Egyptian Brotherhood. Morsi's rule too was characterized by distrust of other groups and grabbing for power while in terms of ideas for governing the country he disappointed too.

A recent report of the International Crisis Group concluded that in fact the positions of the opposition and the government aren't that far apart. Both sides claim to want free and tolerant Syria where the different sects live peaceful together. It will demand some diplomatic balancing act to achieve peace from this starting point but it is not impossible.

The biggest obstacle at the moment is the opposition that too divided to work out that road map and too still too arrogant to appoint a small team that could do it on its behalf.

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