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Iran and Syria: Bazaar tactics - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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There are a lot of similarities between Iran and Syria’s crisis management strategies. Often the methods are comparable to the bazaar merchants in terms of bartering, bargaining, and buying time in the hope of improving the terms of the deal and securing the best price!

In Iran, after a series of fiery statements in response to the plot that the United States recently declared to have uncovered, – the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington – the Iranian authorities have taken a small step backwards by declaring, in the words of the Iranian Foreign Minister, that they are prepared to calmly consider the charges lodged against them. In a letter to Washington, Iran requested that America provide it with the relevant information, and facilitate a consular visit to the accused Iranian who is currently being detained in connection to this plot.

This shift came after this unprecedented case was referred to the [UN] Security Council, which may yet discuss the plot and issue resolutions. Remarkably, the shift also came after the harsh comments issued by the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and hard-line members of parliament, threatening doom and despair.

This shift may be part of a power struggle that has been raging since the beginning of this year between Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad, over influence and determining who the next president of Iran will be following the 2013 elections. However, it is certainly an attempt to buy time and ease tension at the peak of this crisis, and then later resort to bazaar tactics through bargaining and bartering in the hope of obtaining the best price to get out of this impasse, which has forced the Iranian leaders into a corner and revealed to the world that their foreign policy utilizes terrorist methods.

In Syria, a longstanding partner and regional ally of Tehran, the Iranian leadership is alarmed at the possibility of the regime collapsing as a result of the ongoing popular uprising there. Here we also find [Syrian] attempts to buy time, in the hope that the protestors will grow tired of mobilizing their forces every Friday, and taking to the streets in sporadic daily demonstrations demanding freedom.

It was natural for Damascus to reject the decisions of the emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, which was held amidst the rhythmic chants of protestors gathered outside, urging that Syria’s membership to the Arab League be frozen.

The Syrian regime resorted to bazaar tactics by bargaining before the meeting, issuing a presidential decree forming a committee tasked with drafting a new constitution over the next four months, in order to give the impression that Syria is moving forwards with the reforms that the world demands. Here it is buying time in the hope of being able to suppress the uprising during these months, and then changing the deal afterwards. Meanwhile, the Syrian regime is showing its “sincere” commitment to reform by declaring the formation of a new government – incorporating opposition and independent representatives – and led by an independent figure, during the transitional period pending the preparation of this constitution. In addition to this, the Syrian regime also said that it would abolish Article VIII of the constitution, which stipulates the Baathist party’s control of the state.

The Arab League route was obstructed from the beginning and may only be able to record a moral stance [in support of] the Syrian people seeking freedom. The Syrian regime wants to sit down with the tame, internal opposition, whilst the wider Syrian opposition has gone beyond the stage of dialogue; after all it has endured in terms of terrorism and murder. The demonstrators slogans have also evolved from “the people want to overthrow the regime” to “the people want to prosecute the regime”, and now methods to buy time will be of no avail. The people have had enough; they have already granted the regime a lot of time, and received nothing in return but bullets!

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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