Amid negotiations to reach a political solution to end the Syrian war, Russia and Iran insist that President Bashar Assad stay in power. The two crucial allies pledged that he would remain president until the end of his tenure in office out of “respect for the constitution.” They also vowed to form a government that would include the opposition, and promised autonomy to provinces and governorates.
Anyone would accept this tempting offer if it was the condition for peace. Assad remaining in power would not be a problem if there were guarantees to implement these pledges. However, there are two problems.
Firstly, nobody ever knew how he won the presidential election that was held amid this terrible war in mid-2014. Why would he give up power when he fully restores his rule and the opposition is disarmed?
Secondly, his tenure ends in 2021 — these four long years are more than enough to liquidate all opposition and semi-opposition forces. Russia’s proposal of Assad’s temporary stay is in fact a life sentence.
If the opposition accepts this, it will give up everything and accept to return to the status quo before the 2011 uprising. It must also realize that its demands and promises of forming a unity government, constitutional guarantees and independent laws for provinces would be to no avail.
If there are international guarantees — though it is almost impossible to believe — that the coming years will be a transitional phase for reconciliation and handing over power, I expect that moderate opposition forces would accept them because their aim is not to destroy the country, but rather peaceful change.
The uprising began peacefully and continued for several months with non-violent demonstrations, lifting banners and singing songs — all calling for peaceful transition. It was totally different from uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and even Egypt.
Speaking of “respect for the constitution,” which has not been respected by those who drafted it, and of the call to complete Assad’s presidential term, it is just a negotiating ploy to make it easy for the opposition to concede, save face and claim in the future that it gained key concessions.
Syrians know very well that acceptance of the regime remaining in power for four more years would mean the opposition abandoning them and all the promises made to them, with more than half a million Syrians sacrificed and millions displaced forever. This would also mean ending the moderate opposition and strengthening extremists who refuse negotiations and are just as bad as the regime.
The opposition has a big responsibility, and will be held accountable for the results of what it negotiates and what it will sign. No one would believe that the opposition was deceived, as the election idea was previously proposed.
The elections were conducted amid a devastating war, and Assad won 89 percent of the vote. Most of the killing and destruction occurred after the elections, in which the Assad regime claimed that more than 10 million citizens took part, while we know for a fact that it was impossible for more than 2 million to take part.
Now the ploy is repeated by conditioning Assad’s stay to end the war. Syrians would rather accept the division of their country. By doing so, Assad would be granted a state and guarantee the majority of votes from his community without the need to rig elections. Then every party would live happily in their own state without war or suppression.
However, this bad project of division has been rejected by Turkey, Iran and Iraq because they fear the consequences. Today they are negotiating on Syria, which is like a broken jar. They want to return it to its previous state after all this terrible murder and destruction. How come?
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.