Posts Tagged With: reconciliation

Solving the Syrian conflict starts with shutting up (if we unabashedly decide not to listen)

Image

Caricature by Syrian cartoonist ‘Ali Farzat.

In reference to William Roffel’s article entitled “Solving the Syrian conflict starts with building trust”, published on 25th February 2013.

 http://www.transconflict.com/2013/02/solving-the-syrian-conflict-starts-by-building-trust-25/

Today I would like to share my views about this article, which is just a prototype of many on the web nowadays. It’s, to my mind, a disguised version of the several typical standardisations of peace-building process. Those standardisations according to which such “intervention models” – polluted by their own nature – are applicable everywhere regardless of local specificities.

I’m quite sceptical about this article, for the following reasons:

The author forwards the proposal of decentralising and localising potential “transitional ruling elites” – because it is still that we are talking about, and we should not forget – with the purpose of avoiding what is weirdly considered a “sudden” central power change (still “sudden” after 2 years since the beginning of the revolution). Can such a transitional power decentralisation be really carried out in proper terms with the help of the western diplomacies? As far as I’ve been allowed to know, the latter have never accumulated a fine-grained knowledge or experienced field work in Syria. And they have largely proved such an incapacity throughout the revolution: split between silence, ethical judgment suspension, fake engagement – while immobilising the status quo – or tout court detachment. Let alone they would be able to strengthen specific plans on a Syrian local level. What should the external actors’ role be in such an abstract scenario then? Or, if they’ll pretend impartially assisting local processes, would their only possible role of donors be really meaningful and harmless?

Moreover, in light of the author’s considerations: “Asking Assad to leave now is likely not a good idea given that he represents a large group of Syrians; though the opposition might demand that lower level officials be replaced”, I frankly wonder:

1. Where is this “large group” still staunchly sustaining Asad with full awareness and political consciousness – and not as a result of complex psycho-social dynamics that a long-date dictatorship engenders, such as overarching social fear and terror for the unknown, or as support to the regime to exorcise their trauma (but maybe this perception of mine is biased by my inevitably ideologised knowledge of Syria. What’s wrong with that, if de-ideologising means winking at genociders by now?!).

2. Has this guy ever spoken to one of the “rebels” or people closely affiliated to them? Does he really think hey would give up about the focal goal of Asad’s immediate departure? Is, consequently, such a proposed scheme materially feasible?

Behind the unwavering position of the two parts there is still a symbolism that feeds the trust and the support of the “masses” – or their bewilderment – that cannot be overlooked in proposing a real peace-building plan for Syria. The symbolism of the merciless and imperative need for departure of Asad’s sanguinary regime on the one side, and the end of West financed terrorists destroying a solid country on the other. Now, I wonder, does the author truly believe such a symbolism can easily be dismantled for the sake of western intervention programs?

Also: “Elections won’t help. They would just assert who will be the winner and the loser”. It is highly unlikely that the aftermath of future elections will run smoothly. Yet, I would sincerely invite Roffel to explain how and when democracy can be deployed in concrete terms and represent the grassroots, if he has decided to discourage the election process in the transitional stage.

The last but not least author’s consideration: “Sidelining Assad means sidelining that group, thereby undermining the possibility of compromise”. Why do we persist in conceiving of reconciliation as something we should try to build between powerful elites and macro-levels? He purports to criticise any top-down approach to peace-building process, while he’s reasserting it too, by forgetting that Syrian people’s current division has been caused throughout the years by “rule-and-divide” regime strategies, as well as a consequence of a domino effect and a reflection of polarised macropolitics at odds with each other.That is to say, individuals and political leaders do claim a different approach to reconciliation and trust building.

In a nutshell, if this is the best plan we are able to come up with, well, let’s get back to sip our Western afternoon tea and let’s shut up.

(Estella Carpi)

Categories: Syria | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Iraqi lessons for Syria

An article I wrote for OpenDemocracy on the similarities between the two Ba’thist regimes and what can be learnt from Iraq to avoid the same mistakes in Syria. 

Syrian wounds and Iraqi scars

ANDREA GLIOTI 24 November 2012
baath-party-symbol-1

The similarities are stark: a Baathist regime in power for decades, a ruling religious minority accused by some of fuelling sectarian resentment and praised by others for maintaining a secular identity, the emergence of Sunni-Shi’a strife

Twenty months after the beginning of the Syrian revolution, the daily massacre is a development which is reminiscent of Iraq: where almost ten years of conflict continued far removed from the media attention of the world.

The similarities are stark: a Baathist regime in power for decades, a ruling religious minority accused by some of fuelling sectarian resentment and praised by others for maintaining a secular identity, the emergence of Sunni-Shi’a strife, the proposal of dividing the country along sectarian lines to halt violence and the problems of post-conflict reconciliation if the regime is overthrown.

On the other hand, there are many differences in the way the Government has been challenged by the opposition and the outcome of this: Saddam was quickly overthrown by foreign military intervention; Bashar al-Assad is still resisting a popular uprising. But whatever the dissimilarities, there are lessons to be learnt from Iraq, particularly regarding the risks pending on any future transitional phase.

Baathist secularism or sectarianism?

In both Syria and Iraq, under weakened state control, the emergence of violent sectarian clashes has led some to believe that Baathist secularism was a valid antidote: “No one knew your sect under Saddam, there was no discrimination and I witnessed the same in Syria under Assad” states firmly Emmanuel*, a 25-year old Chaldean Christian from Baghdad, who had to flee first his country and then Syria in 2011. Norwegian historian of Iraq, Reidar Visser, disagrees. Beyond the Syrian and Iraqi official “non-sectarian, nationalist stance, […] the recruitment patterns to the truly important positions […] follow very clear sectarian and/or tribal lines”, he points out. In the Syrian case, this is evident in the choice of intelligence chiefs. Even supposing that sectarianism was absent from Baathist societies, it emerged in the tense relations between civilians and the security apparatus.

“The problem in the relations between Syrian sects is tied to the relations between security and citizens: the majority of security forces are Alawis, while the majority of citizens are Sunnis,” explains Omar al-Karosh, a Sunni journalist in his thirties from Fallujah (Anbar), who moved first to Damascus and then to Northern Lebanon’s Tripoli, because he faced so many problems as an Iraqi Sunni with the Alawi-dominated Syrian intelligence. Members of the religious majority are likely to blame the sectarian features of the minority-controlled establishment. But in the end, leftist Baathist ideology has always been an appealing option for minorities unable to achieve power through Islamic political doctrines. “In Iraq, Shi’as were prevented from reaching high military ranks, just like Sunnis in Syria,” affirms Mohammad*, a 27-year-old graphic designer from a family of the southern province of Maysan, whose surname is well known in Iraqi Shi’a politics. Mohammad had to leave Damascus to avoid being targeted by the most radical groups of the Sunni opposition. Even if they belong to different sects, Mohammad and Omar have both had to flee, just to avoid taking sides.

Saddam and Bashar al-Assad have deployed a similar “rhetoric of fear” in the way they portray the opposition and gather support from minorities. “In Syria, the regime convinced minorities that they needed it to counter a Salafi uprising,” argues Mohammad, “in Iraq, Saddam depicted the Shi’as as Iranians, warning the Sunnis about their plan to turn the country into another Iran.”

Failed reconciliation

After Saddam’s overthrow, despite all the effort, Iraq has failed to achieve a real reconciliation between Baathists and the new establishment. Syria will have to undergo a similar phase and avoid turning it into an arena of “private” purges. According to Visser, “The first problem of de-Baathification in Iraq related to the US Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) period and the interim governments between 2003 and 2005, and it consisted of the all-out attack on members of the Baath.” At that time, many called for national unity instead of pushing Arab Sunnis into the ranks of the resistance and this, together with the need to rely on experienced Government officials, was among the reasons for reversing into re-Baathification in the following years. But the damage had been done. “Any process of de-Baathification should focus on accountability for individual crimes,” suggests Visser: “Membership of the Baath party should not in itself constitute a basis for prosecution.”

In Iraq, nevertheless, the political rehabilitation of certain Baathist officers didn’t mean they severed ties with the resistance to the US occupation. The difference is that a legitimate Syrian Government elected after a popular uprising is likely to face less resistance than a cabinet shaped by Washington. As the Syrian situation reaches a bloody stalemate, some Iraqis argue in favour of a military intervention, despite their experience. “A foreign intervention should follow the Libyan pattern, not the Iraqi one, that was an occupation,” affirms Omar from Anbar, “I think both the UN and the west learned from their mistakes.”

Divide et impera

Those who have already lost hope in a Syrian reconciliation foresee a fragmentation along sectarian lines to halt hostilities. In particular, Alawis are rumoured to be preparing for the establishment of an independent state to avoid living under a Sunni Islamist ruler. However, as Visser points out, “During the years of Baathist power in Syria, Alawites have been spread throughout the country: that demographic fact is in itself a powerful argument against partition.”

After the fall of Saddam, Iraqi Arabs got used to federalist and separatist proposals coming from all sects, but they consider them part of a foreign plot to weaken their social fabric. “Federalism and division are part of the New Middle East project conceived under Condoleeza Rice,” claims Omar from Anbar, “the Kurds, Southern Sudan, Southern Yemen…It’s all part of the same plan to weaken Arab societies.”

After the US invasion, Iraq was turned into an open lab for painful experiments. Until now, it hasn’t fully recovered from the laceration of its social fabric. The result is a country dominated by sectarian parties and separatist trends backed by foreign actors. The Syrian conflict has the promising features of an uprising, but it shares with Iraq a long authoritarian history and a population composed of numerous sects. Despite good intentions, Syrians will face a challenge keeping control of its destiny to avoid the Iraqi fate.

Categories: Iraq, Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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