Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara has only appeared in public once since August, and that was under mysterious circumstances, whereas nobody has seen him since. Following his suspicious disappearance, a “concessionary” initiative has been attributed to him that reflects the regime’s acknowledgement that its collapse is imminent. Al-Shara is calling upon the Syrian opposition to participate in a broad-powered government; this initiative hints that Bashar al-Assad would remain in his palace as a president without any powers.
At the same time as this, another initiative is being cooked up somewhere else, namely the so-called “last chance” initiative. It is likely that UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi intends to share this initiative with al-Assad and his allies sometime over the next few days. This initiative suggests that al-Assad step down and leave Syrian with his family for one of the Latin American countries, conceding his powers to the opposition, in a scenario similar to that proposed by British Prime Minister David Cameron last week. Cameron proposed “safe passage” for al-Assad in return for an end to the bloodshed. Those responsible for this “last chance” initiative are warning that al-Assad rejecting this will only result in an escalation in attacks on his regime. This is something that will ultimately lead to a quick and total collapse of the al-Assad regime, whilst at this point he will not find anybody willing to grant him immunity from prosecution.
However why are those responsible for this “last chance” initiative granting al-Assad, one of the world’s greatest and most blood-thirsty criminals, a chance of escape? The reason for this is that they believe that a negotiated departure, endorsed by different regional and international powers, will lead to a smooth transition of power to the opposition and will spare Syria from a devastating civil war.
However there are huge differences between these two initiatives. One keeps al-Assad in the presidential palace, albeit without powers, whilst another exiles him from the country. It is most likely that the Syrian people – who have lived through a real tragedy – will completely reject both. Indeed they would reject al-Assad’s “safe” departure in this manner even if it means more bloodshed. Therefore, we are witnessing what might be described as the last miles of the race. If he wanted to flee the country al-Assad doesn’t need any initiatives, he could flee by night via Syria’s western coast. At this point, the war would continue and he would find himself internationally pursued. Alternatively, he could flee to Russia or Venezuela, hoping that his Russian hosts would not be prepared to assassinate him just to rid themselves of him.
The next few weeks will be very complicated for al-Assad, and the fate of the Syrian leader is the easiest part of this puzzle: he is finished, and will be nothing more than a bloody chapter in Syria’s history. What is more important is the preservation of Syrian unity, not to mention control of Syria’s cities and state institutes. In other words abandoning the al-Assad regime and replacing it with the recently formed entities and institutions within the framework of a new Syria.
It is wrong to keep on trying to negotiate with al-Assad over his personal safety in exchange for him stepping down from power, particularly as this would be too little too late. There will be no peace for the Syrian people, following all the crimes that were committed under his direct command, if al-Assad is free; he must stand trial. Al-Assad standing trial for his crimes may bring peace to the country. Whilst in the absence of this, it will be others who will pay the price for what he did, perhaps including innocents.