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Opinion: Syria’s future is yet to be decided | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A woman walks past election posters of Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad along a street in Damascus on June 2, 2014. (Reuters/Khaled Al-Hariri)

Syria is now in a state of war—anything is possible. The Mediterranean country has turned into a hotspot drawing in sectarian actors from every direction in full view of the world, but with no clear interest on the part of the international community in ending the conflict. What is certain is that the free Syrian people are determined to achieve the goals that prompted their revolution, namely freedom, dignity and democracy. What is also certain is that the Assad regime will not be able to re-impose its will on the country, despite the current uncertainty and the ongoing fighting.

The options available to the Syrian opposition are limited, while the Bashar Al-Assad regime receives unlimited financial and military aid from Iran and Russia. To maintain its hold on the ground, the Syrian government has enlisted the help of approximately 40,000 Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese fighters. In contrast, the rebels do not have enough foreign support and in effect rely on their own capabilities and the weapons they seize from the government.

The opposition still has significant cards it can play if it manages to increase cooperation between its factions and operate in a more organized manner. On top of this comes patience, perseverance and steadfastness, particularly with the Syrian regime becoming less likely to survive as an independent political power. Assad’s ability to stay in power is mainly due to Iranian support. However, Iran will soon realize that its desire to dominate and extend its influence will be outstripped by the Syrian people’s desire for freedom and independence.

The Syrian opposition, in the context of its violent struggle against the Assad regime and its de facto strategic ally, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is attempting to run the affairs of the areas under its control through the interim government it formed a few months ago. The rebels are also working to obtain the firepower needed to deter the regime’s air and land offensives. Efforts are being constantly exerted to improve the organizational performance of the opposition.

The Syrian conflict is being perpetuated by political powers concerned first and foremost with maintaining the security and hegemony of Israel in a bid to exhaust and overwhelm the eastern Arab countries—Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan—with inter-Arab wars. This will leave the region destroyed and bankrupt unless wise leaders step in to alter the nature of the conflict. Naturally enough, Iran’s greedy ambitions to extend its Shi’ite influence and Russia’s desire to defy the West are enough to create the climate to ensure the success of this plot. But the Syrian people will not accept becoming pawns in the battle for influence among Iran, Russia and even the West. They will insist on fighting until they obtain their legitimate rights and rid their country of tyranny and corruption.

The Assad regime almost collapsed in November 2013, prompting the Russians to pressure it to go to the Geneva II conference. The financial, human and military support Iran has been supplying to Assad since then has tilted the military balance in favor of the regime and increased the pressure on the rebels. And with ISIS’s constant attempts to wrest control of rebel-held areas, the rebels were faced with a new front, and this gave the regime a chance to breathe.

The regime will no longer be able to control the country. Indeed, even if it managed to score major military victories on the ground, it will not be able to retain its dominance over the state. Today, Syria is exhausted, in terms of both its economic and human resources. The extreme animosity the regime has stirred up can only be overcome through a plan aimed at achieving justice and reconciliation. The Assad regime, with its oppressive nature, does not have the ability to execute this plan. The possible scenarios in Syria are too many to list, but the following are the five most likely to occur.

First, Tehran’s spending in Syria, which amounts to millions of US dollars per month, will rapidly drain the Iranian economy. The continuation of the conflict could prompt Tehran to pressure Assad into a political solution. The possibility of this was demonstrated in the deal reached between the government and the rebels in Homs, in which Iran played a key role. A similar deal is currently being mediated by Iran in the rest of Homs.

Second, a popular uprising may erupt in government-held areas in protest against the dire economic situation. This could lead to enormous pressures being placed on the government to cooperate with its allies in order to reach a regional understanding and put an end to the infighting.

Third, the political opposition could collapse as a result of the growing political disputes between the rebels, and the increasing power of the extremist factions on the ground—particularly ISIS—who are much better organized than the rest of the opposition. This is not to mention Syria turning into the scene of a long-term conflict between the regime and the extremist forces, as in Afghanistan. This state of affairs will definitely alter the political map of the Arab east.

Fourth, the political opposition may manage to organize its ranks, bridge the gap between its factions, retake the areas it has lost, find local sources to continue its march against the regime and, eventually, either impose a political solution on that regime or topple it altogether.

Fifth, the international community may pressure the regime, either through a US–Russian deal or by forging a serious Western alliance to force the regime into a political solution to end the conflict.

Despite the wide range of possible scenarios for Syria’s future, the country is being reborn through its suffering and what is taking place there will have a profound impact on the eastern Arab countries. The Assad regime may be able to endure for some time, thanks to its internal cohesion, but it will eventually collapse because it condemned itself to death the moment it decided to launch a war against its own people.