A burnt car at the site of twin blasts in Damascus on May 10, 2012.
Kofi Annan, the international mediator in the Syrian crisis, will arrive in Damascus in the last week of May. He will be welcomed this time as representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, not as the representative of the Arab League.
Syrian leaders believe that the Arab League is not impartial in the Syrian crisis especially after the League passed a resolution calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down and delegate power to one of his vice presidents.
The Syrian government officially supports Annan’s effort to end crisis in that country. There are about 300 international observers in Syria whose commanders say that the situation in Syria has calmed down. From the outset, Assad’s opposition took a cold approach to Annan’s mission and the presence of international observers in Syria. It seems that the Syrian government initially conceded to Annan’s mission under Russian pressure.
The Syrian crisis, which was triggered about 15 months ago due to a security mistake and incorrect handling of limited protests in the city of Daraa by police and the army, has been regularly marked by two elements: the element of government and the element of the opposition.
The opposition first tried peaceful means and harsh reaction of state forces failed to the people’s demonstrations and demands. Before long, foreign factors were introduced into the crisis and the opposition made its biggest mistake by giving arms to its forces. Frequent remarks by Turkish officials urging Bashar Assad to step down, did not remain limited to words and the southern parts of Turkey turned into a haven for the Syrian armed opposition. A group of NATO officers and trainers started training the opposition while the inflow of money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar for the purchase of arms and giving them to the opposition made up another side of this puzzle.
Eye witnesses say that hotels in certain border cities in southern Turkey are full of fighters who came from Arab countries and are patiently waiting to be dispatched to Syria to fight with the country’s army. A new weapon and an advanced wireless set are given to each of them. On the threshold of Kofi Annan’s mission, the US administration announced that advanced telecommunication equipment would be given to the opposition.
There is currently no news of demonstrations like before. Rallies are held in urban and rural areas but most people do not attend them. Not just because they support the government but because they view armed gunmen entering their movement concerning.
The Syrian government promotes what it calls political reform, the latest of which was the parliamentary elections. Almost half of the people did not take part in the elections. The people’s participation in the referendum on the constitution has been more than just a few percent. The majority of the new parliament in Syria is comprised of the ruling Ba’ath Party. This is not enough to prove reforms are taking place in Syria.
According to Kofi Annan’s plan, political dialogue between the opponents and the government should start after a ceasefire and end of conflicts. Holding elections to establish a parliament in the presence of all opponents - based on people’s votes - is one of the outcomes of the dialogue. The Syrian government has previously determined the results and for this reason the parliamentary elections failed to attract Annan’s attention and they failed to give legitimacy to the Syrian government on regional and international levels, although certain dissident, moderate figures succeeded in winning the parliamentary seat for the first time.
It is not only the Syrian government that faces problems in its policies. The opposition has not been able to unite either. If the plan by the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is to be implemented, the opposition should form a united front in talks with the regime. The Arab League was due to hold a meeting with the representatives of the Syrian opposition last week in Cairo to reach a common standing for the next round of talks with the Syrian government, but neither the “National Council” nor the “Coordination Committee” agreed to attend it.
The Syrian National Council, which is dubbed as the biggest opposition front, has been divided after the election of Burhan Ghalioun as its leader. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood prefers to have this non-religious figure at the helm to please the West. It was this very support that prevented George Sabra from succeeding in his race against Ghalioun. The Saudi and Qatari governments also back the Muslim Brotherhood and will not accept a Christian leading the opposition.
The continuation of the Syrian crisis does not only lead to the weakening of the regime’s authority, the undermining the national economy and the extension of conflicts to northern Lebanon and southern Turkey. The chaotic and open atmosphere in Syrian will add a third element to the crisis which increases doubts among the foreign supporters of the opposition.
Ahmed Fawzi, spokesperson for Annan, has finally been forced to admit that “another” organization is active in the Syrian crisis as the third element. He still does not want to name al-Qaeda, but the US defense secretary has already done this. The first implication of this confession is the rejection of the claims by the opposition that the recent bombings have been carried out by the Syrian regime. No one will believe this anymore. The second implication is that al-Qaeda finding its way into Syria will weaken the security prowess of the central government.