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The Syrian uprising must take the moral high ground - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The emergency Mecca Summit being held by the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC] came to an end yesterday. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, had called for this summit to be held weeks ago, and it has enjoyed a remarkable Arab and Islamic presence. The Syrian crisis topped the summit’s agenda, and perhaps the most important result was the suspension of Syria’s membership, as well as reaching an Islamic consensus condemning the violations being committed by the ruling regime in Syria.

Some people may view these results as being modest, particularly as Syria’s membership to a number of important organizations has already been suspended, including Syria’s membership to the Arab League. Indeed, Syria has been excluded completely from a number of organizations, including numerous committees affiliated to the United Nations. The fact of the matter is that condemnation and membership suspension are very important at this stage in particular. This is because it is now within the capability of the states that oppose the military campaign launched by the Assad regime to tell all the states that support (or are sympathetic) to it that the majority of Arab and Islamic states reject this regime’s survival. How can Assad’s allies in Russia, China and Lebanon, as well as a number of Latin American states, justify their support for the Syrian regime at a time when the majority of the Arab and Islamic world oppose it? Even if they do not care about the statements being issued by the Arab League or the OIC, they cannot ignore the demands of the majority of the international community for Assad’s departure.

The problem is that the Syrian uprising has been transformed – since the first day – into a regional issue, not because the “rebels” wanted this, but because their country has been subject to foreign agendas for decades. It is no secret that the Assad regime is close to Iran, and has been active over the past decades in attempts to destabilize regional security. For this reason, the reports of the capture of Iranian officers in Syria, not to mention the death of members of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, represents evidence that what is taking place today is a regional war, and that the Syrian rebels are not just fighting Assad’s troops, but also the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)and Hezbollah.

In a military analysis published by the New York Times entitled “Syrian Leader’s Arms Under Strain as Conflict Continues” a number of military experts asserted that the Assad regime is no longer able to confront the guerrilla warfare that is taking place in the streets of Syria’s major cities. The experts stated that the Syrian forces supply lines have been destroyed, and as a result of this the regime has been forced to rely on more conventional weapons such as fighter jets and helicopter gunships, as well as missiles attacks, to strike residential areas.

Perhaps this explains the recent statements issued by defected Syrian Prime Minister, Riad Hijab, that the Assad regime only controls 30 percent of Syrian territory. In addition to this a total of 70,000 soldiers and officers have defected from the Syrian regime. This means that there have been huge human and material losses in the country, particularly as entire neighborhoods in every Syrian city have been destroyed. In addition to this, international agencies have reported that more than 150,000 refugees have fled their homes. The recently defected Homs police chief confirmed that the pro-regime Shabiha militia is following orders issued by IRGC officers.

There is no doubt that the al-Assad regime is no longer able to operate as a legitimate and sovereign state, and even if it is able to survive by relying on foreign assistance, its domestic authority – not to mention the actual territory that it is in control of – is shrinking.

In my opinion, the real fear is not the survival of the Assad regime, for this is a regime that has sealed its own doom after it intimidated and killed its own people. Rather the fear is in the Syrian uprising utilizing the same inhumane methods being practiced by the Assad regime and its Shabiha militia. One particularly horrifying video has come to light depicting field executions taking place, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and some fighters affiliated to other groups have been accused of being responsible for this. In addition, we have also begun to notice the presence of foreign fighters, albeit a minority, according to some observers monitoring the daily events in Syria. These are truly worrying signs for the unity of the Syrian state, and protecting its social fabric is a priority to ensure that Syria passes through this current crisis.

As for more positive signs, the Syrian opposition forces, in particular a Muslim Brotherhood statement – which was excellent in terms of content and timing – has committed to working to establish a democratic and civil state that will safeguard political and economic rights for all the components of Syrian society. However despite all these pledges, we have yet to feel – until now – any capability from the opposition as a political organization to win the confidence of sectarian components that are apprehensive regarding the post-Assad period.

There can be no doubt that it is morally difficult to ask victims to respect the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, particularly following what the regime and the militias affiliated to it have done in terms of transgressions and the worst forms of humanitarian abuse. However the Syrian uprising, including the members of the military, must respect moral imperatives, as well as international treaties and conventions. If they want to have legitimacy, then they must abide by international law. Take for example the case of the captured Iranians; it is not right for the FSA to threaten to kill them, even if they are criminals, or to bargain with them by making video recordings, even if they are guilty.

One might say that the FSA is not in a position to put these Iranians on trial, or even guarantee their safety, and if this is the case, then they should be surrendered to Turkey or any other state to guarantee this. Following this, the Syrians can put them on trial when they have the means to do so. There is also a need to criticize the action of a minority within the Syrian armed opposition, to ensure that the Syrian uprising avoids sinking to the regime’s level. The Syrian people have proven their courage and sacrifice in their struggle against this unjust regime, however all these sacrifices will have been in vain if the regime prompts the Syrian uprising to be like it; if it forces it to carry out the same abuses that it is carrying out. The strength of the Syrian uprising lies in its humanitarian logic, and the rebels must preserve this.

They must not fulfil the hopes and dreams of the regime, which wants to turn these victims into butchers. They must be careful of the regime’s tricks, and the opportunities they are being offered by the regime’s butchers to discredit the revolution.

Adel Al Toraifi

Adel Al Toraifi

Adel Al Toraifi is the former Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper and Al-Majalla magazine. As a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs, his research focuses on Saudi–Iranian relations, foreign policy decision-making in the Gulf, and IR theories on the Middle East. Dr. Al Toraifi holds a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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