Saturday, February 2, 2013

Syria: The Case for Direct Negotiations


Since March 2011, demonstrators in towns of Dar’a and Homs voiced their longing for freedom, dignity, and justice.  Syrians across the country, who took to the streets to demand change, also voiced their awareness of the diversity of Syrian society, hence the famous chant of “One, one, one, the Syrian people are one”.  

The initial momentum of the uprising morphed into a crisis over time, resembling a civil war.  Sectarianism seeped into the fore; communities and people were targeted based on their ethnicity and religious sect. Which in a country like Syria is a recipe for self-annihilation. The full capability of the Syrian army was launching on all out assault on armed groups, which did not spare innocent communities from its wrath. Two years of mutual destruction fueled and prolonged by regional and international power tug, resulted in more that 60,000 dead, and millions displaced internally and externally. Towns and villages across Syria deemed unrecognizable. 

Neither side, the predominantly Islamists armed groups and the Syrian military, are able to assert control and restore stability.  Prolonged attrition warfare even if it resulted in a pyrrhic victory would not serve the political cause of either side. In short, it is a lose/lose situation, and the cost in lives and infrastructure are much too great.  The urgent reason to start direct negotiations between the two sides is to stop the blood spilling, continuous displacement of people and the senseless destruction. But that is not the only reason.

If there was one virtue in the time passed since March 2011, it would be the painful and incremental political maturing of the Syrian opposition.  It might not be a stretch to say that hundred of thousands of Syrians had to pay the price for political incompetence, fragmentation, and short sightedness. The inescapable path to negotiation was paved with delusional demands for American military intervention, demands for direct arms supply from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the hope that Russia, China and Iran detract their support for the Syrian government.  It is a disgrace and a dishonor to everything that was sacrificed by Syrians, willingly or unwillingly, if the opposition prolongs the crisis when the writing is clearly on the wall. 

There are long-term reasons to start negotiation between the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition with minimum condition: that is to set an elite precedent that solution oriented discussions among situational adversaries is possible.  Not only possible, but that it is the only way for Syrians to coexist in a non-coercive environment, for democratic practices to be institutionalized for the benefit of larger and more diverse segments of society, and to establish the start of an inclusive national dialogue.

The social, political, and economic fabric of Syria is woven by a multi ethnic and religious daily exchange. Disenfranchised communities in Idleb, Dar’a, Raqqa and Dair al Zur can not flourish and benefit form future political reform and economic development if they are not integrated with and the benefactor of the diverse socioeconomic reality of the rest of the country.  From the time you leave your apartment in downtown Damascus to get coffee, croissant and a newspaper, you would have run into, talk to, ask for and receive from, people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds . The factory owner in Aleppo buys his material from, employs, and sells to most if not from all ethnic/religious groups in Syria.

Any attempt to institutionalize democratic practices, rehabilitate communities across the country, and start the rebuilding process, must start with a meaningful attempt at a dialogue, negotiation and compromise between the two sides at the top. Yes, between Syrians themselves.

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