Who is Farouk al-Sharaa, and What Role Could He Play in Syria’s Transition?

Assad's former vice president has been touted as a possible key player in mediating a solution with the Syrian opposition, Alsouria writes

Russian media has spoken about a possible role for the former deputy to the Assad regime, Farouk al-Sharaa, in the conference in the Russian coastal city of Sochi, to bring together representatives of the Assad regime and Syrian opposition for political dialogue.

Over the last two days, Sharaa’s name has been proposed again as one of the figures who will have a role and presence in future political movements around Syria. Russian agency Novosti quoted three sources as saying that Sharaa will attend the upcoming Sochi conference which is expected to be held in February 2018.

The agency said that “three independent sources close to the conference’s organizers said that Sharaa will open the national dialogue conference in Sochi and that this may lead to him chairing the meeting.”

But according to Novosti other sources have voiced their doubts that Sharaa will land the role of chairman.

In the same context, the Russian news agency Sputnik quoted a member of the Kurdish National Council, Abdel Hakeem Bashar, as saying that “Sharaa could play a positive role during the transitional stage.” He added that: “Sharaa was a deputy to Assad and represents the Syrian government, but his hands are not soaked with Syrian blood, and therefore he is viewed differently than the representatives of the security and military forces of the Syrian state.” Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai quoted senior American sources as confirming that Russian officials had informed Washington that Moscow and Tehran and the head of the regime of Bashar al-Assad had agreed for Sharaa to take charge of administration of the “transitional stage” in Syria.

The Russian officials said, according to the newspaper, that Sharaa had been met with acceptance among the Assad regime and opposition, especially given that he is “a civilian figure and was not involved in any of the fighting that has erupted in the country since 2011.”

However, the newspaper added that it appears that Western states still differ in their view with Moscow and its allies over the form and details of the transitional stage.

According to Al-Rai, American officials familiar with the Syria talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that “the Russians and Assad believe that they can reduce the significance of the transitional stage and have turned the ‘transitional ruling body’ into a marginal committee concerned with reforming some paragraphs of the constitution without touching the essence of the regime, its composition or its security agencies.”

The Americans said that Assad’s agreement for Sharaa to take charge of the transitional period meant that he saw it as just a government sub-committee carrying out constitutional reforms, with Assad clinging to power in reality no matter the reforms.

In this context, Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat said in an issue last Tuesday that Russia was considering a proposal offered by Syrian opposition to invite Sharaa to head the Sochi conference.

The newspaper quoted its sources as saying: “Opposition figures asked officials in the Russian defense and foreign ministries to invite Sharaa, given that he is a national figure accepted by a large segment of the opposition and state workers.”

The newspaper added that Arab and Western officials had circulated the name of Sharaa, who is still in Damascus, as head of the “transitional body after transferring a portion of the powers of the president,” in accordance with previous proposals.

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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