Western Countries Will Accept Syria’s Realities

03 June 2014 | 16:05 Code : 1933774 Interview General category
An interview with Ghasem Mohebbali, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs
Western Countries Will Accept Syria’s Realities

Media outlets are giving reports of the enthusiasm of the Syrian people to participate in the elections. Will there be a return of Bashar Assad’s front to the political scene of this country?

We must first consider two points and then talk about the elections. The first point is, under what conditions is the election going to be held, and secondly, is the election going to be fair and free or not. A huge participation is not important; what is important is participation in a fair election. There is this habit in the Middle East that the winner of the election gains more than 90% of the votes. Saddam gained more than 90% of the votes. Hafez Assad always achieved more than 90% of the votes. The situation was the same for Mr. Mubarak and now for al-Sisi. But no observer says whether these elections are free and fair. What is happening in Syria is certainly not a free and fair election because Mr. Assad has no competition. At the same time, there are war conditions in Syria and an ethnical war can be seen in different regions of this country. Certainly, when an election is held, those ethnic groups that are closer to the government, such as the Alawis, attempt to have a high participation in the election. This would not mean that the people and other ethnic groups have been present in the election.

Mr. Assad believes that the regime in Syria is under pressure due to its obedience to others. What does he mean by obedience?

This statement is somehow vague and raises questions. The reason is that Syria’s allies are Iran, Russia, China and Hezbollah and if he is under pressure because of them, then the regime in Syria is paying the price for being close to Iran. Assad’s government has had a positive reputation in its foreign policy and was able to resist the trend which was supported by Israel and the US. But such an analysis cannot be made with regard to its domestic policies.

There is an outlook which states that some of the western and Arab states are interested in resuming their diplomatic relations with the new Assad government in Syria and attempt to ignore their previous policies. What is the reason behind such a change of approach?

The fact is that all governments decide their matters based on the realities of the day. The interests of the governments lie in finding out what the reality is. They have understood that today’s reality is the Assad government, hence, they do not completely cut off their relations. If the government weakened or the opposition strengthened, then they would move towards the opposition and if the government became strong, then they would move towards the government. They are not interested in the destiny of Syria; they are rather only interested in their own interests. The other point is that an uncertain situation has been created for Syria. This means that there is no replacement force which could manage a united Syria.

Some believe that Assad’s victory will increase his political legitimacy. Will this victory mean that he would have a more open hand to contain the unrests in this country?

His victory will not seriously change the realities inside Syria. Although Assad seeks to achieve legitimacy in order to punish the opposition, whether he would be able to execute this matter is not certain. The changes made during the past few months were small and superficial. Sometimes there were clashes in several districts but then the army would recapture them. These are not major changes in the situation of the country. Now Syria is divided into several divisions; the Kurds, the Daesh, the Free Army, the al-Nusra front and the army, each of which control certain areas. Such a situation may continue in Syria for years. At the same time, both the government and the opposition could claim that they are the victors. This would not mean that stability and calm would easily return to Syria. More than 35 to 40% of the Syrians are displaced. The economy of Syria has deteriorated. Based on a UNDP report, Syria’s GNP has decreased by more than 40% since 2011. Syria does not have any exports. Naturally, the return of the situation to a proper one needs a calm atmosphere. Whether Mr. Assad will be able to do this or not is uncertain.

What will the distribution of votes be like?

There is no change in the distribution of the votes among the Alawis and those who supported the government. The important votes are the votes of those who have left the country and those who have been displaced. If 100000 people vote from one million displaced, nothing special has happened. About 9 million Syrians are displaced. Are there suitable conditions for the election in regions like Aleppo? Of course, this is a tradition in the Middle East, like in Egypt, wherein the government of Egypt announces that al-Sisi has gained 96% of the votes. But there is no way to prove this claim. The fact is what should happen in the practical scene. Were those people who left the country among the opposition and took arms and have now returned to the country? There is no indication that this matter has happened.

Will Assad have a position in the future structure of Syria? Mr. Kerry has stated that these measures are fake and the UN will not accept them.

One side of the issue is Mr. Assad himself and the other side is the Alawis, the Druzes, and the Christians who compose 30% of the population. Also 70% of the population are the Sunnis. There is no doubt that the Alawis, the Druzes and the Christians will be present in the future structure of Syria. But whether Mr. Assad himself will be present in Syria’s future depends on his popularity among these ethnic groups. No one can deny the presence of the Alawis, the Druzes and the Christians in the future of Syria but we must wait to see whether what happened in Iraq, wherein the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis participate in the government, will also happen in Syria. It must be said that no one can eliminate the Alawis from the government of Syria due to their position, population and socio-historic texture.

Syria’s Intelligence Minister has stated that holding the election is a way to end the crisis in Syria. Could the election resolve the problems in this country?

Elections are useful when the situation is calm in Syria and there is a person who would compete with Assad in this election. Then the weight of each candidate would be clear. Right now there is only one candidate in this election. The fact is that the uncertainties will remain in the Syrian society. No matter if the election is held or not, this question would remain: does Mr. Assad represent the entire population of Syria or does he only represent the Alawis. The election would be useful when it is held under calm and stable conditions and all political forces are present in it.

Michel Aoun, the head of Lebanon’s reform faction, has also said that if the Shiite minority wins then we will share their power and that the Nobel Prize should be given to Bashar Assad for his fight against terrorism. What is his objective behind making such statements?

It is to Michel Aoun’s benefit to make campaign remarks instead of expert statements. He supports Mr. Assad for his own interests. No one can verify his remarks. Michel Aoun’s positions have changed during the past 30 years.  When Syria was present in Lebanon, he fought against the Syrian forces and their allies. Therefore, he takes different positions at different times based on his own interests.

tags: syria bashar assad

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