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Dutch Scholar Nikolaos van Dam: Syria in Dilemma | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Nikolaos van Dam (Asharq Al-Awsat Arabic)

London- Syria is in a dilemma since the regime is unwilling to allow any true participation in the authority and the only way to change the regime was through military intervention – which has brought disasters in other countries, said Dutch scholar Nikolaos van Dam to Asharq Al-Awsat.

However, he added that the fact that western states have changed their attitude towards Bashar al-Assad and accepted that he remains during the transitional phase opens the door to test the settlement.

“Everyone who knows Syria and its regime’s structure is aware that Assad will stay unless obliged by military force to leave,” said van Dam as he differentiated between the Syrian regime and other regimes with two things: the formation of armed forces and intelligence bodies and the minority intellect.

“When the minority senses that it is threatened – whether true or not – it becomes more coherent,” he added.

Yet, van Dam who published his book “The Struggle for Power in Syria” decades before, pointed out that the regime is no more fortified against the interior.

“Many in the regime and army are discontent of how things went. There is always a possibility of something happening, but the problem is that the Alawite captains are the most capable to carry out a coup… If they do so, will they get full support from the army?” he questioned.

One of the suggested resolutions for Syria is to adopt administration decentralization with keeping centralization in Damascus, van Dam added as he stressed that the regime won’t approve anything that threatens its power.

He was previously a Dutch Ambassador to Egypt and Turkey and a former envoy to Syria – he also published lately his book “Destroying a Nation”.

“How do you see the fact that British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson accepted the departure of Assad within a transitional phase while his French counterpart said that the priority is to fight ISIS?” asked Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

“They should have thought of this six years ago because one of the difficulties in the Syrian negotiations is the pre-condition of Assad absence. With such a condition, Assad won’t accept to negotiate,” he replied.

“But the case was different in 2011, there was an Arab Spring,” commented the newspaper. He replied, “True, it was different and there was no bloodshed. They said that Assad is illegal and should depart but this is wrong – in my opinion. Everyone who knows Syria and its regime structure would be aware that this wont happen if not forced militarily.”

“Western states thought that Assad will depart as Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali did,” he continued.

“How does the Syrian regime structure differ from that of other regimes, Tunisia for example?” the newspaper asked.

The reply was, “The main difference lies in the formation of armed forces, intelligence bodies and key positions. They are all connected directly or indirectly to Assad. Further, they are connected to the minority intellect… The structure differs from the Tunisian and Egyptian ones – the Syrian regime has half a century of experience in eradicating opposition.”

The newspaper asked, “The biggest question is: Is forming a joint military council the solution?” The answer came as follows, “between the regime and the opposition, yes, such as the Free Syrian Army.”

Commenting on the concerns over dividing Syria, he assured that both the regime and opposition want a unified Syria, but they wanted it under their control. He also reiterated what has been mentioned in his book that the western states have given a wrong impression, making the opposition sense that they abandoned them.

“How do you view Syria in 2021?”

“Assad wants to stay until then. I see 2021 as an opportunity to hold elections and change the regime… Assad is not irreplaceable. If he departs, there must come a president capable of changing and developing the country,” said van Dam.