Mustafa Amin writes from Damascus: Four leading members of the regime dead. What will the response of President al Assad’s regime be?
When something like this hits a beleaguered elite, the natural response is to batten down the hatches and hit back. Expect ferocious attacks on the insurgents, starting in Damascus. The assassination of members of the elite is a turning point. However the end is not in sight. The long drawn out agony of Syria will continue for some time yet. Is the Free Syrian Army capable of defeating the Syrian army? No. It lacks command and control functions and has not coalesced into a viable fighting force. Various insurgent groups are fighting and are not willing to come under the control of a single commander. For the moment, the regime has the upper hand. However, psychologically it is losing the civil war. Thousands who live in Damascus are fleeing the city.
So how will it end? Will President al Assad go down fighting or will he leave when he realises that power has slipped from his grasp? Let us assume that he fights to the end and goes down with the regime. What follows then?
The obvious example is Lebanon. A vicious civil war raged between 1975 and 1990. Eventually a cease fire was imposed by the international community. Lebanon remained a state within its former borders but there were internal borders. Shias, Sunnis and Christians live predominantly now in their own communities.
Syria has passed the stage where the former state can be reimposed. Such is the hatred between Sunni and Alawi that Sunnis will not be able to go into Alawi towns and villages and vice versa. Every day that passes increases this hatred. The tactic of shelling Sunni villages and then sending in the Shabiha fighters to kill will be revenged sooner or later.
Various religious and ethnic groups lived side by side in Syria. That may come to an end. Syrians have to agree on a grand bargain which will satisfy these groups. One can envisage a Kurdish autonomous region in the north east, an Alawi autonomous region in the north west, a Christian autonomous region and so on. This is the format which prevails in Spain. Catalunya and the Basque region are autonomous and have their own parliaments and languages. Yemen is divided between north and south. In Libya, those in Tripoli and Benghazi have different agendas.
Each autonomous region in Syria would have its own police force but there would be a pan-Syrian army and security service. This will take several years to implement. The militias have to be demobilised, disarmed and integrated into a national army. Libya reveals how difficult this process will be.
The transition period will be at least five years. The longer the conflict continues the deeper the wounds and the longer it will take to heal them.
So what is the role of the international community? The solution to the Syrian problem has to be resolved by Syrians. Russia and America will be leading players. The Arab League, the UN, the European Union and China will also play a supporting role. A UN military presence may be needed to defuse the inevitable misunderstandings. Needless to say, huge amounts of aid will be needed to rebuild a shattered country. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have the resources to rebuild what will be a Sunni dominated country.
The above scenario is the optimistic one. However optimism in the Middle East is always in short supply. Perhaps the time has come for it to surprise the world.