Syrian stalemate

January 21, 2013 - 2:56:59 am

The Syrian uprising is sliding into a maze of confusion and uncertainty. Until recently, hopes were high that the rebels would achieve their objective of toppling the dictatorial regime of Bashar Al Assad. There were a slew of factors which lent credence to this thinking: there were a series of high-profile defections from Assad’s close circles, the rebels were making rapid and considerable progress on the ground by capturing more territory from the government troops and there was a thinking that Assad would wilt under pressure. But the scenario has changed significantly in the past few weeks. There is a feeling that the revolution would take longer than expected, and unless corrective measures are taken to sustain the current momentum, Assad will become emboldened and ruthless and the rebels might find going tough.

Assad’s address to the nation early this month is said to have worked in his favour. In that speech, he sounded confident and defiant and offered nothing in concessions to the opposition, while appealing to the people to stand behind him. Adding to this was a dilution in international support for the opposition and the failure of the West and Arabs to reach a consensus on how they should move forward. At the same time, Russia and Iran have been steadfast and determined in their support for Assad and seem convinced that he can continue in power.

Though there are several factors working for and against the Assad regime, there is one point which is gaining attention: that a large number of Syrians are still sitting on the fence. One reason why the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt came to a swift end was the mass support. Protesters poured into the streets in a human tsunami, which the government troops couldn’t stop. Syria hasn’t seen that kind of a demonstration at a steady pace. Moreover, the growing sectarianism in the country is working against the opposition, with many Syrians worried that the country could splinter after the exit of Assad.

It’s in this context that the Syrian opposition is meeting in Paris on January 28. In this meeting, the rebel leaders will try to resolve some of their differences  and try to form a transitional government. The 70-member Syrian opposition coalition, which is dominated by Islamists and their allies, was formed with international support in Qatar in December, but power struggles among its members have undermined efforts to agree a transitional government. Also, the head of the Syrian National Coalition is said to be in Qatar to seek financial aid for their government.

Even if Qatar is willing to offer them aid, the progress the coalition has made is not promising enough. They have to bury their differences first and prove that they are capable of carrying out the task they have been entrusted with.