The Syrian crisis has been a prolonged one, compared to what several Arab countries have experienced as part of the Arab Spring. Perhaps the one-year commemoration of the Egyptian people's 25 January uprising makes one happy with regard to Egypt, where the transition was accomplished in rapid fashion – despite the defects involved, which some consider to be the military’s continuing grip on power – and frustrated about the case of Syria, since the “security approach” remains dominant after 11 months of methodical killing.
Although one should not make a comparison between the Egyptian and Syrian cases, or between Syria and Tunisia, which celebrated the one-year anniversary of its revolution several weeks ago, the frustrating question remains: Does the Syrian crisis require 18 months or more to resolve, while the transition in Egypt took only 18 days?
In Egypt, the tool of the “security solution,” i.e. the army, became involved in the political solution. Thus far, there have been no indications of this scenario in Syria. The capacities of the Syrian army continue to be fully utilized for the regime, which is leading to daily attrition of the military in the bloody violence, and exposing it to defections, which are growing.
In Syria, all of the political talk is aimed at providing cover for the security solution, as regime figures show no embarrassment over their contradictory statements. At the beginning of last month, Syrian President Bashar Assad denied that he had issued orders to crack down on protests, during an interview with ABC television, when he said that he was not responsible for the repression. Yesterday, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem expressed pride over the security solution, calling it a “popular demand.”
Although the regime is maintaining its insistence on the security solution by rejecting foreign intervention, its acts are only providing further justification for this intervention, even if this plays out differently as it did in Libya. With the Syrian regime talking so much about the crisis being a foreign conspiracy, it increases the linkage of the fate of a solution and its own future to the outside world – to the degree that it considers external developments as cards in its hand, to be used in self-defense. The regime is unable to realize the fine line between holding cards, in its relationship with Moscow and Tehran, and the fact that Russia and Iran are dealing with Syria as if it is a card in their hands, as a part of the ongoing struggle with western states over influence in the region. In other words, the Syrian regime is deluding itself into believing that it holds negotiating cards, while its allies are behaving as if they hold a valuable negotiating card, through their alliance with Damascus.
It is no secret that solutions for the Syria crisis are awaiting a deal between Russia and the west, and between Iran and the west – a deal that treats conditions in the region as a whole, in isolation from Syria, while also covering Syria.
Even before the last meeting of the Arab League, officials following the possibility of such a deal taking place were behaving as if the discussion of this scenario had not begun – does the Arab League’s decision constitute a warning that negotiations over a deal on Syria have in fact been launched?
These negotiations will take time, and the continuing “security solution” in Syria will be a card in the hands of regional and international powers. Moreover, there are growing indications that the launch of this negotiation process is nearly ready. Russia’s stance on the decision by the Arab league is a key to the launching of this negotiation process.
Among these indicators is that Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, have withdrawn their observers from the Arab League mission in Syria. This reflects their loss of hope that the Syrian regime will abandon the hard-line security solution, due to the regime’s conviction that it is more capable of playing the game of stalling the mission of the observers, whose prime objective has been to move the situation in the direction of a political solution. It is one of the rare times that Riyadh and other Gulf capitals, whose diplomacy is characterized by hesitation and a slow pace, have been relying on an active form of attack, beginning in November. These countries have modified the Arab League initiative from being based on an opposition figure heading the government and Assad finishing his term in 2014, to the formation of a government in which the opposition would take part, while Assad would cede power to his vice president during a transitional period. If Moscow justified its rejection of taking the Syrian crisis to the United Nations by urging western states to support the Arab League initiative, what is its stance on the new version of the initiative, since the proposal of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, to send an Arab deterrent force to Syria, remains on the table?
Another equally-important indicator is that Iran has retreated from its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, which the Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassem, called the “property of the world.” Meanwhile, Turkish mediation has succeeded in renewing European negotiation with Iran, under the shadow of new sanctions, which will come into effect in May.
If these developments are insufficient to begin negotiations over a “deal,” the Syrian crisis could last more than 18 months.