The chain of events in Syria, whether in terms of the bloodshed and developments on the ground, or in their political and diplomatic aspect, with all of the regional and international intersections, resemble the stages of the Lebanese Civil War that began in 1975 and ended in 1989, with the Taif Accord.
There are many, important differences between the two crises. However, the sum total allows us to draw a comparison: it is a civil war in which none of the sides is able to settle the issue, which allows it to continue, and see violence generate violence as the number of the displaced rises, amid attack-and-retreat battles and the appearance of front-lines.
If we regard the last 11 months of the Syrian crisis in terms of the length of the Lebanese Civil war, the Syrian crisis might not last as long, but the atrocities being committed are rapidly accumulating.
Initiatives by the Arab League, and before it Turkey, have failed, resembling the failure of the Quadripartite Arab Committee at the beginning of the 1975-1976 phase of the Lebanese Civil War, which was followed by the efforts of a six-country Arab committee. In fact, as is the case in Syria, there was a bit of superficial calm with the arrival of Arab League monitors, or the arrival of an envoy; then, a bloody escalation would follow with his departure, or before the arrival of the next diplomat.
For now, the end of the story remains unknown, as defections in the army increase, state institutions fall apart and the currency deteriorates, along with the economic situation, except for a small number of those who are influential in the regime, and those who are loyal to them. Can the solutions be accelerated, so that the suffering does not continue, along with the dangers to the entire regional political scene?
The wasting of the earlier opportunities over the last ten months does not generate optimism. The visit by Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, ended with a promise by President Bashar Assad that he was ready to engage in dialogue with the opposition, with no conditions. However, Moscow can go back to the minutes taken during Turkey's earlier attempts in this regard, and to the time-tables for reforms, as promised in Assad's speeches and interviews, which have been missed, under one excuse or another. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, began his attempt with the Syrian president about two months before the incidents in Deraa in the second half of March. Assad met Erdogan, along with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in Aleppo in January 2011, after the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, at which Damascus rejoiced. At the time, the Turkish leader expressed his strong hope that Assad would begin reforms, because this was the logic of history. Davutoglu held a number of meetings with Assad, and brought with him the drafts of laws on the media, political parties and fighting corruption in April, while in March, the Turkish official asked Assad to convene a reconciliation meeting and dialogue that would pave the way for elections, after a general amnesty for all members of the opposition. The answer came: "We have no opposition, for elections to be held so quickly. We need time for an opposition to arise…" At the time, the demand for the toppling of the regime was not yet a common denominator among all opposition groups, and Assad repeated his stance that there was no organized opposition in Syria, for there to be new elections. Davutoglu advised issuing a general amnesty for those outside the country, so that they would return, saying that "we will help them return." Assad was unready to accept the return of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the crack-down continued. The Turks informed Moscow and Tehran of the attempts that they were making. Despite this, the Turks renewed their efforts in August, during Davutoglu's famous seven-hour session with the Syrian president, after the fiercest-yet onslaught against Hama. The meeting ended with a Road Map: a withdrawal from Hama in one day, followed by a withdrawal from Deir ez-Zor within three days, and the entry of Turkish observers. Assad would announce ten days later a reform plan, which would include a referendum, ten days later, on amending the Constitution, eliminating Article 8, and declaring that the opposition was free to enter the country. General elections would take place by the end of 2011, with the new Parliament authoring a new Constitution. As soon as Davutoglu turned his back, the shelling of Lattakia and Deir ez-Zor intensified.
This Road Map was supposed to become the essence of an Arab League initiative, which was launched in October.
Will Russia salvage these initiatives or others, or has the matter become subject to negotiations of another type, between the Russian leadership and all other forces that stand against the regime, and with the opposition? Russia's announcement that Assad is ready for dialogue with no pre-conditions has come to signal the need for this type of regional-international dialogue.
Moscow's standing with the Syrian regime means the suspension of the change in its remaining point of influence on the shores of the Mediterranean, which it will trade for a division of this influence with western powers. However, this will take place after an agreement on how to deal with Russia's fears about attempts by the west to alter the geopolitical map in Central Europe (and Turkey), via an American missile shield, and in Central Asia, by supporting the movement of states away from Russia's sphere of influence. Moreover, Russia's economic and investment presence in Arab and Gulf states, which only conclude arms deals with the United States, will also be up for discussion.
As we await these negotiations, the people who have risen up in Syria have decided to stop counting the dead, "because we will count those who will buried later with dignity," as they put it.