As the second Friends of Syria conference opened on April 1 in Istanbul, the prospect of the Syrian crisis and the fortunes of Bashar Assad's regime again rose onto the front pages of many mainstream international media. Through the talks, the West is hoping that Assad's regime in Syria is the final Arab state to be overthrown in the wave of political upheaval in the Middle East known as the "Arab Spring." But things in Syria are quite more complicated, and they are analogous neither to situations in Libya nor in Yemen.
Rolling to the deep [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]
The West had been planning to apply the transition model of Libya for Syria - that is, to overthrow the incumbent regime by supporting the opposition with direct external military actions. France had been enthusiastic about the idea of setting up a humanitarian corridor for the Syrian oppositions, which was regarded in essence as apparent carbon copy of the NATO-enforced n0-fly zone in Libya. A number of countries are seeing this as another move by the West, motivated by self interest, to intervene in another country's internal affairs under the banner of humanitarianism.
Bashar Assad's Syria is not Muammar Gaddafi's Libya. Gaddafi's Libya was actually a tribal society, and Muammar Gaddafi represented his tribe more than the poorly built nation state. But Syria is a different case. Bashar Assad inherited his presidency from his father, and it has been the main reason that his legitimacy is questioned. But Syria has significant, though modest, features of a modern political system despite its authoritarian nature. The ruling Ba'ath party, as a power base, is still accepted as legitimate by quite a number of Syrian people.
The statuses of oppositions of the two countries are also different. Libya's opposition consisting of different factions and tribes was rather unified, and has consensus not only in the final objective of toppling the regime but also in their armed forces. In comparison, Syria oppositions are rather divided. Some stand for reform without regime change, some stand for peaceful transition, and some others stand for overthrowing the regime by inviting external military intervention. They share minimal common ground.
It seems that the West and the Arab League intend to reduce the conflicts between various Syrian opposition groups by recognizing the leadership of Syrian National Council (SNC). But no evidence has shown that these different opposition forces can form a strong and effective unity.
The two are also in quite different circumstances in terms of foreign relations. Gaddafi might be regarded as a hero in Arab streets for his occasional, radical anti-Western rhetoric. But his regime was rather isolated in both the Arab world and the international community because of his bizarre character and opportunistic political positions. Therefore, when Tripoli was bombed by NATO, no other countries made serious efforts to come to its rescue.
Bashar Assad's regime is quite another story. There are tremendous divisions among its neighbors. While the gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar support external military intervention, some other Arab countries including Iraq and Lebanon stand for political solution. While Turkey stands on the oppositions' side, Iran strongly supports the incumbent Syrian government.
The division among major powers is equally large. While the U.S. and France prefer to press Bashar Assad to step aside, China and Russia are advocating dialogue and negotiation between the government and the opposition.
It is partly due to these divisions - China and Russia's joint opposition to military intervention in particular - that the West's tough stance against Syria has gradually been drawing back. The recent six-point plan put forward by Kofi Annan, named the joint envoy of the Arab League and the UN, actually reflects the reconciliation of different international positions. In some way, it suggests that international community has increasingly realized that the military option is not feasible to resolve conflicts in Syria. A military solution will least likely be authorized by the UN Security Council.
Yemen's model, of the peaceful transition of power to vice president as a result of regional diplomatic mediation, cannot be form-fitted in Syria either. Yemen's Salehi had long be a staunch ally of the U.S. fighting against Al Qaeda, and kept good relations with both global powers led by the U.S. and regional powers led by Saudi Arabia. These favorable relations provided more or less a sense of security for Salehi and his ruling group.
But Bashar Assad, a major ally of Shiite Iran, is favored neither by its Arab brothers nor by the U.S. He will have to think about the future of both his family and his ruling group. This likely means that he has no choice but to try to stay in power.
To find a reasonable outcome for the ongoing crisis in Syria, Assad's regime and its oppositions must find their solutions through negotiations that both sides can agree on.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visithttp://www.china.org.cn/opinion/jinliangxiang.htm
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.