Sunday, February 03, 2013

Syria's Opposition Hawks and al Khatib's Initiative

It is interesting to see the reactions to Muath al Khatib's recent statement. al Khatib said he was ready to have discussions with the regime provided that it releases all political prisoners, estimated to be around 160,000 people, and to allow for Syrians abroad to have their passports and travel documents renewed. Now this all seems innocuous and pretty reasonable, but there are those who seem to deliberately portray this as a concession to the regime and a betrayal of the revolution. Not surprisingly, the fiercest opponents of Khatib's initiative appear to be those with the closest sympathies or associations with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. In fact the reactions remind me a lot of the outcry and smear campaign that surrounded the Ghalioun - Manaa agreement which died a quick death almost as soon as it was announced.

I think there is a strong case to be made that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is the most hawkish party with regards to dealing with Assad, and understandably so. There is a generation of Syrians, the children of Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers or members, who have never been to the country and whose parents witnessed the most horrific brutality and repression by Assad's father during the seventies and eighties. Ironically it was their insurgency which gave Assad's father the excuse to completely destroy the Syrian state and remake it into the Stalinist model we had until 2000. Theirs and thousands of other families have had their lives completely destroyed as a result of this dictatorship, but that should not justify the witch hunt surrounding al Khatib.

This is also not a triumph for the Syrian "fake" opposition that has pretended to champion a "political solution" with the support of countries like Russia and Iran. The "political solution" that they have been trumpeting was very clearly just a stalling tactic to buy Assad time. Therefore when it comes to discussing al Khatib's position, we have to be very careful about what we are speaking of, and the terms that we choose.

I think that Khatib's proposals should be seen first and foremost as something which has the Syrian people's interests at heart. Syria's opposition hawks must understand that nobody is going to allow them to arm the FSA to the point where it can topple Assad and maintain control of the country. This does not mean Assad will remain in power, quite the opposite. Assad's regime is crumbling however much his supporters insist that it isn't. The real problem is that he will only be defeated after a very long and costly war. This means that whilst the FSA inch towards the presidential palace in Damascus, Assad will have more time to destroy Syria city by city and turn the country into a nation of paupers and refugees. This fear drives al Khatib to try to salvage what is left of Syria and at least try to break this political and military deadlock. It will also force the regime, in front of its own allies, to start real negotiations, rather than just hold discussions with itself through groups like Manaa's NCB or Louey Tarek's "Building the Syrian State" movement, amongst other so-called "internal" opposition groups that have been cultivated by Assad's supporters.

In Syria we say "follow the liar behind his door", meaning that it is best to go along with the liar until the contradictions in his position become too great even for him. Assad and his supporters are liars, they speak of political dialogue but bomb Syrians and torture them to death. They pretend to be a government when they are really a gang of criminals. al Khatib is not denying that, but he is genuinely concerned with those who are suffering the most because of this battle to regain the country. I think what he's doing is worthy of support, and that it might open unexpected doors. It is important to remember that Assad's initial strategy in dealing with the revolution was to destroy the peaceful component immediately, in order to stop it from gaining momentum and to solidify his position. He has been successful in brutalizing and radicalizing the Syrian people, but if this violence should stop then it is not too late for the original spirit of the Syrian revolution to be revived and rejuvenated.

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