Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Road Map for Syria: Results of Tunis Meeting and Constitution Referendum

Upon the fact that Arab League's Syria plan was vetoed in United Nations (UN) Security Council, the actors in favor of transformation in Syria started to seek ways for non-UN solutions. After the veto, a group called “Friends of Syria” was created and it was aimed to enable political change in Syria through alternative international mechanisms by overcoming the objections of Russia and China. Within this framework, the first meeting of “Friends of Syria” group took place on February 24th 2012, in Tunisia. The representatives of more than 70 countries participated in the meeting, and not surprisingly, Russia and China did not send any representatives to the Tunis meeting. At the end of the meeting, the next meeting was decided to be held in Turkey and the third one in France. Besides, Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was appointed as the joint UN-Arab League crisis envoy to Syria.

The decisions taken during the Tunis meeting shed light on future developments of the Syrian crisis that is at top of world agenda, and on what kind of steps to be taken against the Assad regime by international community. A final declaration was issued at the end of the meeting. Featured topics are as follows:

- The emphasis was laid on the importance attached to Syria's territorial integrity, sovereignty, national unity and independence.

- The Syrian regime’s ongoing, widespread, and systematic human rights violations, use of force and sexual violence against civilians, persecution of detainees were strongly condemned.

- The Arab League's proposal to achieve a peaceful resolution of the crisis was welcomed, and demands for the cease of current violence, the release of detainees, the withdrawal of tanks and armed forces from cities and towns, as well as demands for allowing peaceful demonstrations were reiterated.

- A call for the formation of a national-unity government including all segments of society in Syria was issued. The group set out its full support for the establishment of a national-unity government and a dialogue between the sides for a democratic, pluralist, equal, political transition process within the framework of the Arab League plan; and also supported the demands for holding transparent and free elections under Arab and international supervision.

- The Friends of Syria Group also emphasized that they would continue to apply and enforce political, economic, diplomatic sanctions on the Syrian regime in order to stop the violence.

Despite the fact that sanctions came to the forefront at the end of the meeting, certain proposals that could pave the way for military measures were also brought up to the agenda. In the final declaration, the humanitarian situation in Syria was touched and the Friends’ Group called on the Syrian government to allow access of humanitarian aid in Homs and other areas by UN and other humanitarian agencies. Humanitarian aid could be sent only if UN issued a relevant decision and Syria authorized it. In case the Syrian government does not agree with the decision, the aid will be delivered unilaterally. And this situation brings up the establishment of humanitarian corridor requiring military defense. In his statement after the meeting, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu gave the signs of possible military precautions by saying that “if the humanitarian tragedy continues, then other alternatives will have to be considered.” The Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal put forward his country's decision on taking more strict measures as he described “arming the Syrian rebels fighting against the al-Assad regime as being an excellent idea.” Another leader who brought up military measures to the agenda was the Tunisian President, Moncef Marzuki. Marzuki proposed the “creation of an Arab force in Syria to accompany diplomatic efforts”.

The Syrian National Council As “A” Legitimate Representative of The Syrian People

One of the most important results of the Tunis meeting was the “recognition of the Syrian National Council (SNC) as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people seeking for a democratic and peaceful change” as the Friends of Syria group. Thus, SNC gained an international legitimacy. In the recognition, the expression “a representative” was preferred instead of “only representative”. During the process in Libya, the opponents were firstly recognized as “a representative” and then as the “only legitimate representative”. The Tunisian Foreign Minister believes that SNC will be recognized as the “only legitimate representative” in the following stage.

The recognition of the Syrian National Council (SNC), which is the largest-scale opposition organization, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people points out an extremely important stage in Syrian crisis. Because hereinafter, the majority of the international community will address themselves to SNC and thus the Assad regime with already deepening isolation will be further isolated.

On the other hand, recognition of SNC as the legitimate representative indicates that this organization will be an efficient political actor in case of a possible regime change in Syria. Therefore, questions on what kind of solution SNC offered for Syria crisis, and what kind of political program SNC has, shed light on toppling process of the Assad regime and on how the post-Assad Syrian political life will be shaped. With the declaration issued after the meeting, SNC shared its political approach towards critical issues and its opinions on the future development of political process. Accordingly;

SNC put forward that it seeks for a two-pillar solution. The first pillar is “emergency humanitarian assistance”, and the second pillar is “following a political process for a peaceful transition”. The humanitarian assistance pillar of this strategy mainly embodies military measures. Because within the scope of reaching humanitarian assistances to the Syrian people, it is proposed to establish “safe humanitarian corridors” or “safe zones”. It is seen that with the establishment of safe zones, on one hand they strive to maintain security of civilians and on the other hand they seek for an area where the opponents could become organized more easily.

And in the aspect of supporting the political process, it is proposed to “create local councils in different regions of the country in order to help civilians and to coordinate assistances”. Thus, SNC wants to start preparations for an alternative state-structuring. In this way, they strive to prevent a post-Assad chaos and conflict. Within the frame of the objective to secure the post-Assad order, it was proposed that the countries do not limit their military assistance for Syrian opposition. Within the same framework, they put forward their expectations for assistance on keeping entries and exits on Syrian borders under control. Here, the main expectation is to prevent radical Islamist groups, which would want to take advantage of the post-Assad chaos across the country, from entering in the country.

The SNC indicated that it is ready for a peaceful transition by stating that “a political negotiation with the acceptable members of the Syrian government is possible.” However, it was understood that there is a distinction made between “unacceptable members” and “acceptable members”. Thus, as a precondition for negotiations, it was suggested to remove the Assad family and his immediate family away from the power. The SNC divides the ones to be punished for crimes they committed into two groups. People in the first group will never be tolerated. It is stated that some other officials will be removed from their offices but they will be allowed to carry on living in the country. Considering that the Assad administration will not accept these conditions under the present conditions, it is seen that the possibility of a peaceful transition is almost zero.

The opposition states that the primary agenda is to form a unity government. And the primary task of a unity government will be to restructure the security apparatus of the country, to revise the constitution, and to restructure government institutions so they continue to serve the people and keep the order during the transition. It was emphasized that the national unity transition government will include members from the regime who have no responsibility in crimes or major corruption affairs, opposition figures and representatives of the revolutionary committees. This government will carry the country to the elections for the designation of a “Constituent Assembly”. And the Constituent Assembly will carry the country to parliamentary and presidential elections to be held within 1-1,5 years.

The SNC stated that necessary guarantees will be given to all ethnic (Kurds, Assyrians and others) and religious (Christians, Alawites, Druze and others) minorities composing the Syrian society, and tried to win all the social groups over. It was stated that their safety and all the constitutional rights would be guaranteed. The SNC also guaranteed that all citizens would be provided with equal rights within its political program. Indicating that the regime took the Alawite community in the country hostage, the SNC guaranteed that the security forces would maintain necessary safety for the security of this society in the aftermath of the fall of the regime. Meanwhile Burhan Ghalioun, President of the Syrian National Council (SNC), who participated in the conference stated that a regime far from centralism will be established in the country, in case the Assad regime falls. In addition to this statement, considering the social realities of the country as well, it is seen that new Syria will have a decentralized structure. With this statement, Ghalioun strived to win the Syrian Kurds and Arab Alawites, who have not attempted to stage a severe revolt against the Assad regime, over to the opposition side. Social groups in the form of new administration that are not extreme centralist will have a certain self-determination in their own regions.

Counter-Attack From Assad: New Constitution Referendum

While “Friends of Syria” group takes decisions to impose sanctions, on the other hand, anti-regime demonstrations continue in Syria. Almost a hundred civilians are killed as a result of bombardments and fire with each passing day. In such an environment where the pressure on the Syrian regime is gradually increasing, a counter-attack came from the Head of State Assad. Syria went to polls for a new Constitution at the weekend. In response to administration's calling the people to vote, the opposition called on Syrians to boycott the referendum. The new Constitution was prepared by a committee appointed by the Syrian President Bashar Assad. The biggest novelty to be brought by the new Constitution is adopting a multi-party system by removing the autarchy of the Ba'ath party. Besides, President's term of office is limited to a maximum of two terms of seven years each. If the draft constitution is approved, the Syrian government will hold parliamentary elections on a multi-party basis within 90 days of the vote. This step also shows the fact that the Syrian administration started to understand the impossibility of maintenance of the status quo as it is. However, achievement of such attempts, which could have yielded result in the beginning of the events, is not possible in terms of suppressing the riot from now on. As a matter of fact, the first statements from the opposition wing are in the same direction. The opposition think that only the groups that are close to the power will be allowed to establish a party, even if door to a multi-party system is opened. Besides, other amendment were found superficial. The first and foremost criticism was against the fact that almost no limitation was imposed on the Presidential powers, despite the limitation on the term of office.

After the point arrived, none of the groups uprising in Syria will accept a solution package, in which Bashar Assad, his family and his immediate circle are found. The revolts will continue until the Assad regime leaves the power. Therefore, steps like constitutional amendment can never produce solution. The Syria opposition, which took further courage after the Tunis meeting, will fight to the end. In return, the Assad administration does not give any sign at the point of taking a pragmatic step to enable a peaceful transition. It appears that the regime struggling to survive will fight to the end. In an environment where international intervention cannot be mentioned, the unstability in Syria should be expected to expand in a long period.

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