By Wael Sawah
It’s no longer news to repeat that the situation in Syria is catastrophic. Nor does one achieve anything by recalling that Syria has lost one hundred and fifty thousand people, with twice as many wounded, and an exponentially greater number of people of detained and missing. There are millions of displaced people inside and outside Syria. There is no need to repeat that the country has become countries, that the slogan has become slogans, that the Law has become laws—all of us are surely aware of these facts.
The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) along with Jabhat al Nusra control most of the “liberated” areas and their way of dealing with people makes many of the Syrians in these areas wish they weren’t liberated. The kidnappings and executions of Syrian civil society activists have increased Syrian indignation in places where authority is in the hands of killers belonging to militant Islamist groups. These criminal acts don’t differ from the kidnappings and executions that happened and are still happening in areas controlled by the regime.
Meanwhile, the Syrian economy, including agriculture and infrastructure, were destroyed and the factories have been halted. In many of these areas today, there are no schools, no hospitals, no drinking water, no electricity, no communications, no food, no medicine, no police, and no courts. And where courts are found, they apply different laws in different areas. For example, in some areas the Islamic Sharia is applied by ignorant people who don’t know anything about either Sharia or law. In another area, Unified Arab Law, which is very conservative, is applied. Customary and tribal laws are applied in other areas, while the official Syrian laws are still applied in areas controlled by the regime.
The regime continues committing crimes against Syrian civilians by launching grenades, rockets and sniper attacks in civilian areas. The regime not only gives a free hand to the shabiha, but also to Hezbollah’s shabiha to perpetrate chains of massacres—the most recent of which was a massacre committed last Friday by the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade, which was supported by Hezbollah in the Ghouta area of Damascus.
On the other hand, the Syrian opposition, which purports to exist ‘inside and outside Syria,’ is still confused, helpless, and under the influence of the conflicted regional forces. In spite of all this it still acts like an alternative to the regime, while lacking any ability to impact events on the ground. And on the subject of the Coalition, [Interim Prime Minster] Dr. Ahmad Tohmeh is still incapable of forming the intended transitional government. Indeed, the meeting of the democratic forces held last month in Istanbul ended as it began— without any effect on the political arena, either inside or outside Syria. While the opposition inside Syria is saying “Told you so,” they are happy with the decreasing tension between the regime and the West, and feel happier still with the wide smiles drawn on the faces of Kerry and Lavrov after their meeting last month. This is because any American–Russian convergence means an assurance of the role that this opposition, which is supported by Russia, will play in any political process.
The world—which downplayed the Syrian tragedy by reducing it to just a matter of chemical weapons— saw the decision to strip President Assad of his chemical weapons as fair compensation for its shameful failure. Secretary Kerry, who seems cheerful about Assad’s decision to apply the Security Council resolution, praises him. Kerry believes that the process of the chemical weapons destruction began in a timely manner, saying, “We are grateful for the Russian cooperation, as well as, of course, for the Syrian compliance. I think it is a crucial matter to be achieved within a week, and frankly speaking, I think it's a credit to the Assad regime. It's a good beginning and we welcome a good beginning.” The idea that is now circulating in Western circles is based on the possibility of rehabilitating Assad to keep him in power in Syria, with some formal reforms that give the impression that everyone is okay, and that the battle will end without a clear winner or loser.
But now is precisely the perfect time to move in a different direction. Everything mentioned above assures that the actors in the political arena reach an impasse, and that the military battles, which have been fruitless and futile, become more fruitless and more futile, and that the civil society forces that haven’t been killed or detained by the regime will be killed or detained by militant Islamic forces.
It is time to start what is called, in the world of back-room politics, “Track II,” where a number of intellectuals, academics, and civic activists of the two main parties of the Syrian conflict (i.e., the regime and the rebels) begin a genuine dialogue on the ground where the road is now blocked. Getting out of the bottleneck requires brave attitudes and real concessions from both parties.
The idea of "Track II" is based on the process of communication between intellectuals and activists from both parties who do not occupy any political or administrative positions in the party to which they belong, but who are rather working either as independents or through civic organizations. Track II aims generally to achieve an agreement between the parties leading to a breakthrough in the first track, which has now reached an impasse.
It requires extraordinary courage from the two parties, since the participants may be accused [of betrayal] by their comrades and supporters. It also requires patience and the ability to negotiate and understand the concerns of the other party. Track II mainly requires that these people be able to influence the party they represent and to have a popular base of those who believe in what they do and understand that they work, first and foremost, for the interest of Syria and Syrians.
The regime is aware – or has to be aware – that it can’t continue ruling as a repressive dictatorship with its oppressive symbols and killers who have committed massacres against Syrians everywhere. And the opposition is aware as well – or has to be aware – that it has reached a place that Syrians didn’t want to go, or never even imagined that they would ever reach.
The Syrians deserve another government, different from the one that has continued to crush them for five whole decades. At the same time, they deserve an opposition better than the one now representing them.
Therefore, the intellectuals, activists and opinion leaders must leave their seats in the back rows and come forward to fill real seats in the front rows, where they can work effectively and lead the rescue effort to change the track that’s now at an impasse.