Three scenarios appear plausible for Syria’s future: agreed transition; segregation; or disintegration. It is imperative that friends of Syria help Syrians create a scenario they can live with.
AMMAN – In 1942, Winston Churchill famously drew a distinction between “the end of the beginning” and “the beginning of the end”. That distinction is equally applicable to the unfolding crisis in Syria.
While intense battles continue in Idlib, Aleppo and Damascus, equally intense discourse is already in full swing anticipating the “day after” or the beginning of post-Assad Syria.
Undoubtedly, the Syrian revolution has reached a critical point. Despite equipment shortages and government brutality, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been able to show some significant advances. Following the successful planting of the bomb that killed three top inner circle officials, the FSA now effectively controls most of the border crossings between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, and with them, the critical supply lines from Iran which has thus far kept the regime afloat.
Some of the FSA’s recent strides can be attributed to the growing list of defectors that now includes generals, pilots, diplomats and even inner-circle officials like Brig-Gen Manaf Tlas, the son of former defense minister Mustapha Tlas and a recent close ally of Assad.
Assad is still suffering in the international arena. The EU decided to strengthen its arms embargo against Syria, demanding to search airplanes and ships suspected of carrying weapons and other banned equipment into Syria. The EU further froze the assets of an additional 26 high level Syrian officials and placed additional Syrian companies under sanctions.
Even Russia, a close ally and patron of Syria, has begun to hint at a possible change of policy with the recent statement by its Ambassador to France about the possible willingness of Assad to “leave in an orderly fashion.”
Syria’s economy also reflects the last year of fighting and economic sanctions. The EU accounts for 95 percent of Syrian oil exports which are now sanctioned. Unemployment has reached over 25 percent and the expected GDP growth is negative 8 percent. Deposits fell by an average of 35 percent in 2011, and 2012 is expected to be much worse.
The trajectory of these events does not bode well for Assad, and is likely to bring about a “game changer” in the form of a successful FSA attack or a consensual departure of Assad and his close circle. From there, three scenarios appear plausible: that of agreed transition; that of segregation; or that of disintegration.
The transitional scenario, such as was recently attempted in both Yemen and Libya, aims to establish a coalition to provide a solid enough base for a transitional government to assume and hold power over the country until it reaches its own conclusion regarding its future. This scenario appears to be very popular since it aims to secure a relatively stable transition, assuming the transitional government is able to function and lead the country forward.
While many might wish to see a transitional process, disagreement over its composition and the fractured structure of the opposition, both in Syria and outside Syria, will make it very difficult to implement.
In addition to the opposition itself, other parties have vested interests in securing a certain structure in any transitional (and future) political process in Syria. Some would like to install the recent defectors who were welcomed in the West and are considered an asset due to their knowledge of “country management” issues.
Others would not accept any “falouls” or remnants from the old system. The growing list of self proclaimed opposition leaders, tribal leaders, defecting general, ambassadors and long-time human rights activists is by itself a recipe for disagreement and infighting.
Larger interests are also very much at stake and the interests of these larger share holders, such as Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US do not necessarily align.