Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Damascus: Is anybody listening? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The statement issued by the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] late last week expressing its concern about the killing of civilians in Syria broke the Arab regional silence with regards to the situation in the country. Despite the fact that this statement was bound in ornamental and diplomatic lingo, it nevertheless angered Damascus. Following this, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz issued a clear and direct message to the Syrian people and government, using frank language that reflects the regional impatience with the Syrian regime’s suppressive policies. This statement stressed that Saudi Arabia does not accept the sitiuation in Syria, and that the shedding of innocent blood by the Damascus regime is something that contradicts our religion, values, and morals. This statement was followed by Saudi Arabia undertaking a practical measure, namely Riyadh recalling its ambassador from Damascus for consultation. Kuwait and Bahrain followed Saudi Arabia in taking this step, and other Arab countries are expected to take this same step in the future. This is something that may represent a new custom or tradition in inter-Arab relations, which in the past focused upon empty courtesies and avoiding making public statements on sensitive issues relating to regime’s internal affairs. However patience has run out, and the Arab region and the world has changed, so it is now impossible and unacceptable for countries to shirk their responsibility, particularly as the international community and the people of the region are closely monitoring the situation. In order to end this crisis, we need somebody in Damascus who listens to advice, rather than somebody who closes his ears and follows up the regime’s attack on Hama with an attack on Deir al-Zour.

One week after another, the Syrian demonstrators have continued to mobilize themselves to take to the streets in even larger numbers every Friday [following Friday prayers]. This is not to mention their undertaking of daily demonstrations which represents a clear challenge to the suppression that they are facing at the hands of the regime. They have become experts in raising and chanting slogans, including chants demanding the reason behind the Arab states and Arab League’s silence towards the brutal violence they are being subject to merely for calling for freedom and justice.

The Arab silence was a cause for questions not just amongst the Syrian people, but also in the streets of every Arab capital, for only Western states issued overt and explicit statements [condemning the violence]. The official Arab positions differed from one country to another, whilst public feeling was of the view that the Syrian people deserve attention which must go beyond the traditional Arab diplomacy and official relations that we have seen over the past decades.

However this silence hid a clear and official Arab state of concern and worry with regards to what is happening in Syria, not to mention Arab scepticism towards the official state of events that are being put forward by Syria to explain the brutal attacks on cities that have done nothing except conduct peaceful protests calling for legitimate demands. Nobody in Damascus listened to the indirect messages [being sent by regional states] or what was being said in [UN] closed sessions or the positions being taken and which were hidden behind diplomatic rhetoric, until the situation in Syria reached a state where silence is no longer acceptable.

No political position, whether Arab or international, reached the extent of completely closing the door in the face of the Syrian regime. The door remains open [for diplomatic communication], and there is still a glimmer of hope for this, as reflected in the statement issued by the Saudi monarch, in which he specified that there are two courses that the Syrian leadership can take: wisdom or chaos and loss. In his statement, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz called on the Syrian leadership to implement comprehensive and speedy reforms.

However the Syrian protestors may have closed the door by calling for the fall of the regime and by expressing their lack of trust in the current regime’s ability to follow the course of reform and respond to the people’s aspirations for freedom. They are right in this, because thousands of people have been killed so far, whilst affluent [Syrian] cities now more closely resemble cities under occupation, with tanks patrolling the streets and the sound of gunfire everywhere. The Syrian regime needs to exert huge effort in order to convince the people that it is capable of implementing reform, which in this case means a transitional period during which the people can determine the form of the future [political] regime that they desire.

The first step must be an immediate end to the killing and suppression, and the withdrawal of the military forces and the pro-regime militia from Syria’s cities, returning to their barracks. Following this, the Syrian regime must allow demonstrations to take place without any security interference, dissolving the pro-regime “Shabiha” militia, and prosecuting those responsible for the formation of these illegal militias. This would represent the beginning, as for the political fate of the country and questions as to who should stay and who should go and the form of the future regime; this must all be decided by the Syrian people alone. This represents wisdom and responsibility, but is anybody in Damascus listening?