One of the proposed initiatives with regards to the Syrian crisis, the repercussions of which have been on-going since mid-March 2011, has finally borne fruit. The Syrian authorities have approved the initiative launched by the Arab League council around two weeks ago. The approval came without any Syrian reservations after a series of consultations which began in Damascus, and continued in Doha, before the approval was announced in Cairo.
The initiative encompasses a package of procedural steps, the key phases of which are as follows: The initial and most salient step involves ceasing all acts of violence from whatever source, in order to protect Syrian civilians. Step two stipulates that all military and security forces be withdrawn, and all elements related to them be removed from residential areas in Syrian towns and villages. Step three includes provisions to set free all those being detained against the backdrop of recent events. The real value of these steps is that they will put an end to the on-going suffering and pain the Syrians have been experiencing over the past 8 months, due to the developments and reverberations of the security solution adopted by the Syrian authorities. This solution caused heavy casualties to Syrian civilians including the martyrdom of around 4000 people and the injury, arrest and pursuit of tens of thousands more. This is not to mention the material damage which has cast its burden on the Syrian people’s life, an existence that was already tough and fraught with difficulties.
Besides the abovementioned stipulations, an additional step has also been sanctioned, namely to allow joint Arab action organizations as well as international and Arab media outlets to do their work across Syria without restrictions. Such a step would provide the public and human rights organizations with live and direct monitoring of all events and developments in Syria, through the broadcasting of a genuine picture. We can safely say that this will allow for close and detailed observation, and will reveal all active powers and their role in shaping events.
The most important part of the Arab initiative is the cessation of policies and procedures which were adopted in the context of a military security solution. Thanks to the monitoring that will be provided by the media and the presence of joint Arab work organizations, there will be little chance for the repetition of such atrocities and crimes, committed away from the eyes of the public.
With its outlined content, the Arab initiative represents a significant development in the stance of the Arab League towards Syrian events. It also reflects the determination of the League to play a role in defusing the crisis, despite the failure it previously experienced when an earlier initiative was rejected by the Syrian authorities. The impending role of the Arab League does not stop at the abovementioned procedures, but it will go beyond them to open the door for a political solution to the crisis. This is evident in the initiative’s reference to the contact to be made by the League’s committee with the Syrian authorities and the opposition parties, in order to hold meetings under the auspices of the Arab League at its Cairo premises, to prepare for the convening of a Syrian national dialogue conference. This aspired conference is intended to address the crisis in Syria.
The potential dialogue conference and the solutions it could offer exceeds the content of the Arab initiative, and brings us to what the Syrian authorities should now do, having declared their approval of the initiative without reservations. The Syrian authorities should seize the spirit of the initiative. They should not only undertake the stipulated steps and stop the bloodshed and oppression, but also go beyond that and place the country on a foundation for defusing the crisis. The suggested procedures must be carried out with a positive outlook, in addition to implementing fundamental changes in the Syrian political and security environment.
The key change required in the political and security environment comes in the form of alterations to the political and media discourse embraced by the Syrian authorities and their state-run media during the past period. This discourse has stoked up incitement and encouraged mobilization against demonstrators, protesters and their social milieu. It also fostered a sense of hatred towards the political opposition and its figures. This discourse must stop blindly levelling accusations of treason, of collaboration with foreign countries, of taking part in plots, and of using armed force against the state. The Syrian authorities must adopt a discourse of reconciliation and consensus, in conjunction with the release of political detainees and prisoners from all backgrounds, and it must stop or limit its security pursuit, at least at the present stage.
Apart from the required changes in the political and security environment, it is incumbent upon the Syrian authorities to implement the procedures proposed in the Arab initiative with a positive outlook. They should prove their good intentions to the Syrian people who have endured serious casualties and substantial political and material damage, and also to the Arab League which has established mechanisms to monitor the authorities’ implementation of the initiative. All this requires that the Syrian authorities deal with these procedural steps with a high level of responsibility. They should not undertake these procedures simply on account of being pressured to do so, but also on account of the Syrian citizens who have been aggrieved and harmed by the policies of their government and the measures taken by its security apparatuses. Those policies and measures entail compensation for all physical and material harm inflicted on the victims and their social milieu. Furthermore, all those responsible for the crimes that have been committed must be held to account.
Addressing the Syrian crisis in light of the Arab League initiative calls for the existence of an earnest desire on the part of the Syrian authorities to reach a settlement, and also requires a high sense of responsibility. Otherwise, it will be impossible to move on from the current reality of the security solution and head towards a political outcome for the crisis in Syria. The Arab League should continue to exert efforts to hold a dialogue between the Syrian authorities and its dissidents under its own auspices. This opportunity will not be available for much longer after the door has been pushed open for other alternatives.