What now for the Syrian opposition?
The Syrian opposition is facing a dilemma that it did not expect to come about so quickly, with changes in the positions of the Arab countries and Turkiye toward the regime in Syria.
Some Arab countries have started to change how they deal with the Syrian crisis, as there is no longer a unified international stance against the Assad regime’s brutal handling of the war.
Arab countries have begun to resent the lack of a quick resolution to the crisis, after significantly more than a decade of fierce war that has destroyed infrastructure and displaced Syrian citizens.
Many countries in the region have learned that the major international powers are not serious about finding a comprehensive solution in Syria, especially since the EU and US administrations have not been decisive in resolving the crisis. This has prompted some Arab countries and Turkiye to gradually open up to the Syrian regime at various levels and to move away from the opposition.
The US and the countries of the EU continue to oppose normalization with the regime and impose severe sanctions on Damascus. Still, they do not seem willing to do more.
In light of this dynamic situation, what are the options for the Syrian opposition, which has always relied on Arab countries and Turkiye, especially in its political and military actions against the Assad regime?
It seems that the opposition will be divided into three movements regarding how to deal with the political transition in the region.
The first group will bet that Arab normalization with Damascus creates an opportunity to work in Syria under Arab auspices. This opposition movement believes that Arab countries will not normalize all relations with Syria without Russian or Chinese guarantees that the regime will make concessions and be willing to cooperate with the opposition.
It seems that the opposition will be divided into three movements regarding how to deal with the political transition in the region
This could be done by forming a unity government that would unite the opposition and the regime, holding parliamentary elections and restructuring Syrian state institutions such as the security services and the army. This opposition movement will favor a new Arab political approach after the stagnation on the Syrian issue.
Some Syrian opposition leaders believe the new Arab-Turkish action will not give the Syrian regime a blank check. Therefore, this paves the way for some Arab guarantees to the Syrian opposition, be it for their security and personal safety or their ability to work in the country.
The second political group believes that the normalized relationship between any Arab country or regional government and the Syrian regime would only be a bilateral deal that would have nothing to do with the future of the Syrian government, the reconstruction of Syria or even the presentation of an Arab initiative to find a solution for Syria away from coordination with the UN, US, Russia and China.
This branch of the opposition believes it should not change its policy toward the regime, but rather wait until it sees the results of Arab normalization with Bashar Assad. At the same time, however, this group will remain cautiously flexible and neutral, hoping there will be a chance for a long-term solution to the Syrian crisis.
The third opposition movement is convinced that the Syrian regime will obstruct any Arab initiatives and hinder the implementation of the Turkish-Russian plan to create a decentralized and opposition-managed safe zone as a gateway to a federal state. This group believes that the Syrian regime cannot be reformed or trusted.
This current will have difficulty engaging in political activities, as it will lose Arab support and may even be rejected by Turkiye, where the central hub of the Syrian opposition is located. This group may adopt the idea of turning into an opposition in exile, operating permanently abroad, following the example of the Iranian opposition based in Paris.
This political strand may start to cooperate more closely with the US and European states in an effort to tighten sanctions against the Syrian regime. It will hope for a change in the mood of Western countries and a renewed push in Syria, especially with these countries ready to act on the Syrian crisis in response to the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Regardless of all these potential political outcomes, the position of the Syrian opposition will remain unenviable because it was divided into various factions and related affiliations even before the Arab countries began to reengage with Syria.
All the options facing the Syrian opposition do not allow for a free and controlled choice of which way to turn, but rather a dangerous and untested political game of weathering the storm and finding a new form of existence.
It all depends on whether the region’s countries or the international community can create an opportunity that could pave the way for the opposition to take power in partnership with the regime, or just keep it waiting. At the same time, what is left of Syria disintegrates.
- Ghassan Ibrahim is a British-Syrian journalist and researcher on issues regarding the Middle East, most notably Turkiye, Syria and Iran. He can be reached at www.ghassanibrahim.com.