An image was the main event at Tuesday’s Arab summit held in Doha. It was an unprecedented image indeed, and cruel and decisive at once: It is no simple matter for the delegation of the Syrian opposition to have assumed the seat of its country at the summit to wide applause.
It is no simple matter either for Moaz al-Khatib to sit at the summit, in front of the revolution’s flag rather than the flag of the Syrian Arab republic, which we have known for decades. Likewise, it is no simple matter that none of the leaders of the delegation left the hall this time.
It is not customary of Arab summits to address this kind of messages to a ruling regime in a member state. The summit, this time, did not content itself with an empty seat for Syria. It went further and granted it to a delegation that represents the Syrian revolution.
One must take heed that the image in question concerns a major Arab state. To be sure, Syria had always been strongly attendant at Arab summits, being also one of the Arab League founders. It was difficult for the participants to ignore its positions, even in those issues that do not directly concern it. Syria had the right to have an input in, or even veto, all those affairs that concerned Lebanon, Palestine and elsewhere.
The image carried many implications. It is a firm Arab response to Lakhdar Brahimi’s barehanded return from Damascus most recently. It was a response to the astounding material and human loss inflicted by the regime’s military machine on Syria’s cities and villages. And it was a response to the continued Russian-Iranian support of the regime, which risks turning the ongoing conflict in Syria into an internal, regional, and international duel that threatens what is left of Syria and its unity.
The image came in the context of a growing conviction among Arab and Western powers that the Syrian regime will never accept political settlement unless it is forced to do so.
Thus, a decision was made to seek to alter the balance of power in favor of the revolution. This was translated with a return to funding and arming, and continuing efforts to delegitimize the regime as evident from yesterday’s image.
The image also came at a time when the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is claiming successes in the south of the country, that is, the most important flank of the regime’s capital. It also came at a time when bombs are falling in the heart of Damascus itself, becoming an almost daily event.
The image is a major development that concerns all parties to the conflict in Syria. We will have to wait to see how Damascus will interpret the implicit messages in allowing Khatib to head Syria’s delegation to the summit.
What conclusion will Damascus reach, and does it have any other option than the one it is currently pursuing – an option that threatens to inflict exorbitant costs on its adherents?
How will Tehran interpret the image, which also coincided with accusations against its intelligence services of running a spy network on Saudi soil? Will it see the image as a persistent attempt to uproot its foothold in Syria and block its path to Lebanon? Will it conclude that it is now too late for retreating or changing course?
And how will Hezbollah interpret the image? Can Lebanon bear more involvement in the Syrian conflict, by Hezbollah and others?
What will Nouri al-Maliki see in the image, having preferred to see it from Baghdad? What about Moscow? To be sure, Khatib has hinted in the direction of the opposition assuming Syria’s seat at the UN and other international organizations.
We must also ask about what the Syrian opposition intends to do with the success it achieved yesterday. Will it fall into the temptation of wagering on a knockout blow, or will it seek to alter the balance of power to impose a settlement that preserves what is left of the Syrian state, and of the chances for coexistence among Syria’s communities? Will the revolution invest this success to develop a wide consensus that reassures those anxious at home and abroad, about growing divisions, conflicting visions, and the increased clout of marauders?
Observers of the Syrian happenings are seriously worried that what will come after the image may be even crueler and more horrific than what we had seen before it was taken. Some speak of a terrible and destructive battle in Damascus, which would produce new waves of refugees and a river of funerals and massacres. There are those who believe that what we have seen, which is terrible enough, is only a small sample of what we are yet to see.
Most probably, that which will come after the image will be more horrific than what stood before. The Syrian revolution has entered its most difficult and most dangerous chapter yet. Clearly, the neighboring countries are preparing for the worst.
The image may be a portent of the imminent earthquake. Nothing prevents the Syrian lava from flying over international borders. So pending the horrors looming in the horizon, the parties involved ought to keep the phone number of Lakhdar Brahimi handy. Indeed, they may need him to approve the change and rein in the losses and massacres.