Annan’s questionable strategy
JONATHAN POWERThe Syrian ceasefire supports the status quo — the armed might of the government on one side and the armed opposition factions on the other. The government cannot eradicate the rebels, although it can brutalize them.
But neither can the armed opposition hope to topple the government, which retains its popularity in the capital, Damascus, and in many other parts of the country where Shia Islam and the Alawites are a majority.
Is this what the world wants? Are the members of the UN and its former secretary-general, Kofi Annan, who negotiated this ceasefire, aware of its implications? At first sight Annan has hardened into place, like a freeze-frame in a film, the conflict as it now stands. If the government retains its position as the superior force why should it agree to all the other elements of the Annan plan? It may concede that the International Red Cross can tend to the wounded. But it will never concede bowing to elections in which there is a chance of the opposition winning. At most it will allow for some minority representation.
The Annan plan may not even get this far. The Syrian government is quite capable of shooting itself in the foot. So intent is it in inflicting bloodshed it can’t see that the balance of the advantage with the Annan plan tilts in its direction.
But there is a chink of light for the opposition. It does not lie with the armed factions that make up the Free Syrian Army, which are in effect being neutralized by the Annan initiative. It lies with the large numbers that have protested but have not taken up the gun.
If one reads or watches the news reports one can be forgiven for thinking that the armed militants are the dominant force in the opposition. This is not so. As often happens in conflict zones the media leads us astray. The media gravitate towards the gun. Quieter forces get only cursory attention. We saw this in Egypt. Not at first, as there was, as in Tunisia, only non-violent protest. But later after ex-president, Hosni Mubarak, had been deposed some of the demonstrators started throwing at the police stones and petrol bombs. Perhaps there were only a hundred or so of them, but this is what the media focused on for days to the detriment of the peaceful demonstrators.
The leadership of the non-violent opposition in Syria, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, convened a meeting in Cairo in February. The forum’s stated aim is “to enable the Syrian people to overthrow the current regime with all its symbols by all means of civil resistance.” The forum is due to meet again this month. One member, Rasha Yousef, told the Daily Star of Lebanon, “It’s not late for a political solution. In politics we don’t say we have one solution. We say we have solutions.”
BBC television reported from Syria last week on the mass non-violent demonstrations after Friday prayers. What it didn’t point out was that these demonstrators were the majority force. Only these demonstrators can prize apart the stalemate that Annan, with the best of intentions, has organized.
*Jonathan Power is a veteran foreign affairs commentator. This article originally appeared on Khaleej Times online.