Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Syria: Reform or force? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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There are reports of two different schools of thought in Damascus, fighting with one another regarding how to deal with the current events in Syria, following a wave of protests in several cities. One side believes that the time has come for reform, and that this is an unavoidable fact, whilst the other side believes that further force should be used to crush the protests. Which of the two theories will prevail in Syria?

There is no doubt that further repression would buy the regime more time, any regime for that matter, but it cannot save it. The clearest examples of this are Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. Both exhausted the use of force, and all means of oppression, but the time for change still came, and when it did it was a harsh reality for the rulers.

Can Damascus continue to prosecute a journalist under the accusation of “weakening national morale”, as it has done recently? Can it imprison a child of 15 years of age, accused of threatening national security, as it did a few weeks ago? Such acts are incompatible with the new variables that have come about in the Middle East. Whether the final outcome is positive or negative, there has been a real change in our region.

Whether or not Egypt becomes a real democracy, or if the only achievement of the revolution is limiting the duration of a presidential term, and the same goes for Libya, Tunisia, and other states, will the Syrian regime then be able to remain inactive? Of course not. What happened in Syria tells us a lot: the Syrians have rejected the slogans that the state has long been repeating; such as the country’s preoccupation with resistance. These empty slogans have now been replaced with stark warnings, about the dangers of meddling with minority-majority, and sectarian issues. The Syrians, like the Egyptians before them, have publicly declared their rejection for the oldest emergency rule in the region, along with many other issues.

Therefore, the course of events in our region (from which Syria is not excluded) tells us that Damascus has no option other than [introducing] more reforms in a timely manner, so that it does not miss the opportunity to resolve the situation, and the opposition do not raise their demands to impossibilities. The time has come for Damascus to pay more attention to its internal issues, and to seriously work towards providing decisive solutions with regards to political representation, and the democratic transfer of power. The republic will remain a republic, and there is no magic solution to these problems.

Of course, Syria announced the reformative steps it has undertaken, or would take in the future, such as abolishing emergency law, [creating] a new law for the media, dismissing certain members of the government, and so on. These are all important and vital decisions, by Syrian standards. But the real question is: is this enough? Or does reform have to continue, and do more drastic steps have to be taken? I believe that the course of events tells us that reforms are the only solution, and inaction only leads to death. Therefore, Damascus today is facing a critical moment, and must seriously re-evaluate its approach to internal and external [issues]. Today is different to yesterday, and tomorrow may be different once again. The fear barrier has not only been broken in Syria alone, but in the entire Arab region. We all know that violence breeds violence, and as a result there is no ‘magic’ solution, except introducing further reforms.