Why Syrians should say no to Annan
The UN ‘peace plan’ is about enforcing stability, even if that means keeping Assad in power, not liberating Syrians.
‘If you want to take it off the table, what would you replace it with?’
So goes the iron logic of former UN chief Kofi Annan in his attempt to persuade the ‘international community’ to keep faith with the six-point peace plan he is attempting to broker between the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and assorted rebel forces. The already-extended deadline of 6am on Thursday 12 April may well be broken, and battles between rebels and Assad’s forces have been spilling into both neighbouring Turkey and Lebanon. So far, the imposition of a deadline for peace has had the effect of intensifying, not halting, the violence.
Despite grumbling by Western ambassadors and foreign secretaries about the Syrian government’s ‘flagrant and unacceptable’ lies and ‘all the commitments made and promises broken’, there is a general acceptance that Annan’s peace mission is indeed the only option on the table. Even rhetoric from Western officials, like UK foreign secretary William Hague, who said Britain was ready to ‘return to the UN security council’, seems more aimed at heaping moral pressure on Russia and China than posing any kind of alternative. The peace plan even has God’s backing, with the pope using his Easter Sunday message to call for an ‘immediate commitment’ to peace.
The choice for the opposing sides in Syria seems to be between accepting Annan’s peace deal or accepting Annan’s peace deal. But looking at the content of what’s on offer, it’s immediately clear why this vague six-point plan is unlikely to be palatable to either Assad or the assorted rebel forces, which are loosely represented by an unstable coalition of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Annan’s plan is to get both sides immediately to agree to:
- A Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people;
- A UN-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians;
- All parties ensuring provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause;
- Authorities intensifying the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons;
- Authorities ensuring freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists;
- Authorities respecting freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully.
Accepting such an agreement would mean that Assad and his cronies would have to put an end to a longstanding history of violently suppressing dissenting voices, permitting a level of democratic freedoms previously unseen in Syria. They would, all the while, have to allow this to be monitored by UN ‘supervisors’ and the international press (including the army of attached journalistic crusaders who openly state their determination to try to bring down Assad). This attempt to straitjacket Assad, who lacks any substantial legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people, is almost certain to fail as he attempts to cling on to power.
Equally, the fact that some are billing the peace process as the last chance for the survival of the Assad regime should be evidence enough as to why rebel forces have refused to commit to the deal in writing. Assad has already indicated that he would brand anyone suspected of flouting the deal as ‘terrorists’, and there is sufficient ambiguity in the plan to allow him ample room for manoeuvre.
Even if Assad had to relinquish power in the name of gradual reform, the peace process would allow for the survival of the infrastructure of his regime. So naive is the international community, however, that many have simply singled out Assad as the ‘evil’ individual who needs to be deposed, with Assad’s female vice president, 78-year-old UK-educated translator and novelist Najah al-Attar, a favourite in the West to replace him. Yet it is evident to many in Syria that any replacement for Assad could be just as brutal. As one rebel fighter told the Guardian yesterday: ‘We don’t want a dialogue with this regime… We only want to see the end of this regime. I can’t forget the memories of the slaughter of the last year, or the repression of the last 40 years.’
In fetishising Western-imposed peace above all else and attempting to treat the situation in Syria as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in need of a technocratic fix by trying to force a dialogue between two irreconcilable sides, the UN is quashing the rebels’ aspirations to bring about a fundamental change in the regime. While the fragmented opposition in Syria is undoubtedly problematic in terms of bringing about such a change, by sitting down at the negotiating table with Annan and Assad and forging a compromise, rebel leaders would inevitably become even more estranged from the interests of the people they represent.
It is never easy to see the death count increase as Syria heads ever-closer towards an intractable civil war – over 9,000 civilians have been killed in the past year alone. But it is only in the process of the collective struggle for the removal of the Assad regime that the Syrian people will be able to develop a shared vision for the development of a future Syrian society post-Assad. And any mooted external intervention beyond the peace plan, from arming the rebels to imposing humanitarian ‘no fighting’ zones, will distort the conflict and likely intensify and internationalise it further, encouraging neighbouring Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia, among others, to bring their interests ever more into play. The disintegrating situation in Libya following the Western-backed removal of Gaddafi last year should serve as a reminder that external intervention always does more harm than good.
If you want to take the peace plan off the table, asked Annan, what would you replace it with? The answer should be clear: it should be replaced by the struggle of the Syrian people themselves for liberty.
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