An analyst says the Syrian president is enjoying increased support from the peoples’ majority in defiance of armed opposition and illegal US-led sanctions.
Despite immense foreign support for a heavily armed external opposition that consists mostly of non-Syrian extremist elements, the Assad government still stands intact after 20 months of resistance against the imperial onslaught.
Press TV has interviewed Dr. Franklin Lamb, international lawyer, Beirut about this issue about this issue. He is joined by Mr. Osman Bakach of Hizb At-Tahrir opposition party, and Danny Makki, co-founder of Syrian Youth in Britain, London. The following is an approximate transcription of the interview.
You were recently in Syria. Is the Syrian president really as unpopular as some say because many people would believe that to remain in power for this long means that you do have a significant portion on your side?
Yes. I think that has never been in real doubt for people who go to Syria and talk to people first hand and not rely on the internet in exchanging and repeating the same themes.
But I think in the last two to three months I’ve noticed when visiting there - more support - and it’s because of the disappointment with the opposition; it’s because the government is actually doing quite a lot to soften the immoral and illegal US-led sanctions.
It hasn’t been reported a lot in the news, but they’re taking a devastating effect on the population throughout Syria, but noticeably now in Damascus.
So I say yes his popularity has risen - I think it’s always been strong in Damascus. But it’s risen for a number of reasons including these sanctions.
People aren’t used to not having fuel oil in Damascus or losing electricity... so there’s been a rallying around the president. It’s both remarkable and very noticeable these days.
The opposition, many people deemed it, if we recall at the beginning... the head of the opposition said if we come to power we’ll cut off ties with Iran and Hezbollah.
How did that have an effect on many Syrians? Did they perceive the opposition as being a means to weaken Syria’s position in the resistance bloc and this hence led many Syrians to be alienated from the opposition?
Frankly I think that notion early on would be too nuanced and subtle for a lot of the population who were facing other problems. I believe that... and I agree with what our colleague Osman said, but I would take the position that the Americans don’t intend to get involved - I agree with our colleague in London, that early on.
But what they found out is the same thing the Qataris and the Saudis and the Arab League is finding out - and the OIC who made a very early bold gesture in cutting off relations - both them and the Arab League - but they’re realizing is not going to be easy, they’re realizing that the opposition isn’t or they couldn’t make it the way it is.
They learned that they’re making heroes out of el-Nasra (extremist group)... Why? Because al-Nasra aren’t randomly killing people - Even in Yamuk they’re setting up food kitchens for everybody, they have a clean image - this supposed extremist group that wants a caliphate in all of Syria and probably won’t stop until they can get it...
But that shows us the difference between the wishes of the Americans and the reality, which they are now accepting because of the desperate and weakened and non-convincing so-called coalition - it’s lost the support of the people significantly. So, I think those are important factors.
I think there will be a deal and I think the deal will allow for the Syrian people to choose in the 2014 election who they want.
You know, these events get started as we know from the last two years - we don’t know which way they’re going. But I say this is the way it’s going now that there is a realization that regime change isn’t as easy as it looked like.
And I think the Americans and the Russians will get together with others and find a solution...
What do you think about what is called Islamic extremism - is it Western propaganda or is there really extremism on the ground?
I don’t know, I personally take that with a grain of salt. As Robert Fisk likes to open his speeches he will say nine words all the same, he’ll start off, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. I think there is so little credibility in terms like terrorism and extremism. These terms I think you really have to take it case by case and judge it.
As an outsider I don’t feel comfortable predicting or recommending the internal conditions of Syria, but I do respect their secularism. I think they’ve had a blend since 1970 of religion and secularism and nationalism - Arab nationalism and I think these formulas have worked.
But having said that I don’t claim to be an expert on the extremists - they come in many forms, colors and shapes and some of these groups - the Muslim Brotherhood is now unpopular in Egypt.
Personally I support Morsi in Egypt so I think it’s difficult to specify exactly what their element or essence would be.
Do you think an Islamic state in Syria is a suitable idea?
From my background and education and outlook I wouldn’t prefer it, it would not be my first choice, certainly not.
But would it be the end of the universe, probably not because we’re seeing that Islamists have a way of adapting. And why do they adapt? Because within those parties there is debate. And the society, they have to reflect that. Within Islam there is plenty of opportunity for discussion.
So I’m not terrified of it at all, I think it may complicate things and I have a certain affection for secularism in the idea that there is no question about equality. And that’s what I liked about this so-called Islamist Constitution.
Everybody said look at what they’re doing to women in Egypt... excuse me... What they did in that Constitution Article 5 is an advance. It said that men and women are created and are to be treated equally. That’s very strong, an improvement.
Would you agree that in the end Assad’s fate will be to be toppled or do you think we’re heading towards negotiations? As we said, the next American administration with Hagel, Kerry... maybe we’re going to see negotiations and Assad staying?
Yes. I agree with some of the interests points our colleagues said, but I see that now a lot of people talk about a war going on by proxy. I think our guest in London referred to that.
Now I think we might have a transition and dialogue and negotiation by proxy. Even if some of the parties don’t show up, especially from the opposition, I think that Russia and the Americans will have that. And I think in the end Assad will stay and it will be 2014 for the people to decide. I sense that’s the way we’re going here, and he may well survive.
So in the end we are heading towards negotiations?
Absolutely. Nobody’s got the stomach.... Turkey or anybody, nobody has the stomach for it.