Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Riyad Hijab – “We Don’t Want Another Saleh” | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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There is always hope for a military settlement or a political solution during conflicts, and this also applies to Syria. The Syrian political opposition held a meeting in London this week and was represented by the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) which announced its plan for a political transition. This coincided with the negotiations that took place at the G20 summit in China.

I don’t want to suggest something that is not certain and say that the parties concerned have come to an agreement, and that the only matter that needs to be negotiated is where Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad will be exiled to. The negotiations focussed on the discussion surrounding the beginning of new negotiations within an unclear vision.

The most important thing that we heard is what the coordinator and the “leader” of the political opposition Riyad Hijab said. He said in a clear voice that there should be no place for Assad in any solution, and cited the important and convincing examples of Yemen and Iraq. He reminded everyone that a weak solution which leaves space for an ousted president later leads to greater destruction.

In the agreement to end the crisis in Yemen, the opposition parties agreed to the mediators’ condition that Saleh would leave government but stay in the party. The result is that Saleh took advantage of this right and worked with the Houthi opposition to interfere at the beginning and create political sabotage. Then he built a relationship between his armed troops and the Houthi rebels and they carried out the coup together. As a result, the crisis in Yemen became considerably worse, more people died and institutions were destroyed. Now, reaching a solution has become harder due to Saleh’s presence in Sana’a.

The second example cited by Hijab is that of the former Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri Al-Maliki. He disrupted the state for nearly two years in order to dominate it and refused to leave when the time came for him to do so, citing security conditions as an excuse. Then he tried to take advantage of his authority in order to stay. When Iraqi forces unanimously turned against him and international forces intervened and threatened him, he withdrew but remained in the shadow, retaining his power and leading militias under various names, and succeeded in marginalising the prime minister who replaced him.

Today we see the result; the chaos on the political arena, the disruption of state affairs, and Iranian penetration in governance and the administration of the military. Assad in Syria may not resemble Al-Maliki in Iraq because the latter was a legitimate ruler, but the Saleh situation is identical to that of Assad. Yemenis revolted against him across the country during the Arab Spring and there was consensus on the fact that he needed to be deposed. Allowing him to stay and work in Yemen was a mistake.

Hijab is right to be afraid about the Yemeni example being repeated. If Assad remains in any capacity within the proposed system or even just sits on his sofa at home watching television, he will remain a source of danger. He is able to subvert and sabotage the situation, and the war will continue because of him.

If the Russians and the Americans want a serious solution, they have to agree that Assad must leave. Who will govern, who the electorate will be and the constitution are merely details, and differences over these are limited. The majority of Syrian forces accept a system that ensures coexistence and secures the rights of minorities, and they also accept the principle of the ballot box.

Other details regarding the political solution, as presented by Hijab over three phases, reflects the maturity of the opposition and its willingness to accept a realistic solution. Of course, it will just remain an idea unless it is supported by the major powers. Without such a solution, the world will later be forced to sit at the table with terrorist groups, accept the departure of Assad and hand over rule to a group like the Taliban of Afghanistan. Assad will then leave at a later stage and the political opposition will have lost its popularity by then.