The Importance of De Mistura Initative:
A formula to implement realistic mechanisms to resolve conflict and negotiate
Interviewed by: Majid Mohammed
Dr. Samir Atiah is a famous Syrian writer and the Editor-in-Chief of Le Monde Diplomatique newspaper, a highly-esteemed Arabic-language newspaper distributed throughout the Arab word. Dr. Samir is also a writer, intellectual, and Head of the Economic Forum. He has lived and studied in Paris, France for many years. He is currently working on the Democratic Forum for the Change of Syria, which is a platform of the Syrian opposition.
Five years have passed in the crisis in Syria. The political and military formations are still in confusion on what to call and how to describe the crisis. Some of them still see it as a revolution and others see it as civil war. How can you evaluate the general scene of Syria after all these years and the victims and destruction? Is the path to a solution out of Syrian hands? Have Tehran, Ankara and Riyadh, Doha, Washington and Moscow become in control? What is your vision to exit this impasse after all these obstacles?
In my opinion, what is happening in Syria is a revolution and a plot at the same time. It is a revolution because it is the product of a social movement, which includes the entire Arab region in the so-called “the Arab spring” and also because it has a demographic, economic, political and intellectual roots. It is also a plot because the existing authorities in the regional countries and other countries far away been engaged in the course of the movement since its inception, even before it begun, for fear of the consequences to themselves, or to secure their influence in the region if the change becomes dramatic. Syria is at a crossroads of the Arab Spring; either through mobility comes a state of equal citizenship and freedoms and identities in a multi-sect country, or it will end with an Autumn that would take it to extremism, division and a struggle over sovereignty.
Unfortunately, Syria today lives it’s Autumn even in Winter. The first and basic responsible party is the head of its regime which defined it bet, since his first speech, when he said that he will discipline the “ Arab Spring” in Syria to give a lesson to the people in the region, so the countries that oppose him will thank him because he is serving their interests in the end. As all of them believe that equality and freedom are dangerous for their existence in power. Syrian political elites also bear a historical responsibility as well, because they did not know how to keep their purity from the states game and how to keep the revolution for all Syrians and not to one part even if albeit a large part of them. But a patriot position, such as the attitude of the founding fathers of the state, the owners of the slogan “Religion is for God and the homeland is for all,” requires a lot of courage to rise above the desire for revenge against the crimes of repression.
Unfortunately, the head of the power is international, as most of the opposition spectra placed the fate of their country’s in regional and international powers, especially when the conflict turned into a war that must constantly be funded. An end will not come to the conflict in Syria unless these force collaborate to reach a solution between the disparate interests even for those that are “friendly” to the revolution! Perhaps there is a window now, for a few months, to reach such a solution starting with the Russian American agreement which produced the Iranian nuclear deal, through what he called the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura “International Contact Group.” But there is also the fear that this solution will be a division, especially since the souls in Syria have been crushed as stones.
You have participated in numerous international conferences on the Syrian issue, such as Cairo and Moscow, and you came out with work papers or road maps that didn’t result in any practical solution, it also didn’t contribute until now, in bringing the views of the Syrian oppositions fragmented components. Where can these conferences lead? Is it actually a waste of time, in the shadow of no political solution and the large differences in visions? What is the best solution to reach a political agreement, which opens the road before the international community to place an end to this struggle?
I do not like “political tourism”, nor to participate in regional or international political activities unless I see that they can offer something in the public interest. In fact, I only participated in two activities and I will describe them in detail. In the first, I was a member of the Syrian Democratic Forum in preparation for a unifying conference in Cairo, in summer of 2012. We drafted two documents: the document National Covenant and the document of the transitional phase. This conference remains the only time the Syrian opposition were united, and the documents that were produced were the most important released by the opposition so that history can record that the revolution had a noble goal in its pursuit towards a country of equality of citizenship and freedoms. Everything that was produced later didn’t extend past the contents of these documents. However, countries have failed the unity of the oppositions, which we worked so hard for and removed things from the hands of the political opposition, and transformed the conflict into an open war at the start of the battle of Aleppo and its countryside.
The second activity was in my meeting in Moscow with representatives of the Syrian power. I have been involved as a citizen, so I won’t embarrass anyone, and not as a representative of a political group. I have seen in these two rounds of the negotiations the first move to end the war by Russian and US agreement since the failure of two rounds of Geneva 2 and the occupation of Daesh and Al Nusra of a part of Syrian territory. In fact, these two rounds in Moscow went far from Geneva and established the initiative undertaken by the United Nations now.
Otherwise, I maintain constant contact with most of the spectrum of opposition in the society, even if I disagree with them in visions such as the political opposition coalition and the Committee of Cairo and the coordination assembly and others. I am also in constant contact with active civil society organizations, and the armed opposition groups which believe in the equality of citizenship. I consider it my duty to always try to push everyone to converge around a national project and stay away from the hegemony of states. The national project is what everyone can unite around and not just part of. It penetrates the sectarian and ethnic divisions that were led by the regime and foreign countries.
And in my opinion the most effective solution is to re-produce a “National Bloc”, which fought for the unity and independence of Syria in the last century. It was not a party nor a national council, but rather a set of political and social figures partnered to carry the concerns of their homeland, and snubbed by their religions for that, who refused to intervene in the affairs of foreign countries, and united effort for the triumph of the cause of its people. They made a great effort for this purpose at the founding of the Democratic platform in 2012, especially by giving priority to young people who set off mobility and paid a heavy price. I still strain today through continuous communication, but it is very difficult, and perhaps more difficult today than in 2012.
De Mistura proposed his initative for a solution in Syria. How can the regime and opposition form joint work groups in the absence of a will for a solution by both sides, and without guarantees and basic introductions to sit down to the table of negotiations? Does this initiative represent an appropriate formula to the Syrian crisis? What are the obstacles in to the process applied under the dispersion of the position of the oppositions politically and militarily, the absence of political opposition, and the in the big power of the armed factions that control areas beyond the regime controlled areas?
In my opinion there is a misunderstanding of all the Syrian parties to what can be negotiated for as a political solution. In the shadow of war and the actual division of Syria, and the occupation of Daesh and the Al Nusra of part of the homeland, and the chaos of foreign militias on both sides; the negotiation is no longer between two coherent parties; the regime and the state apparatus which is controlled by one side, and the opposition, which the dream of uniting it has long left on the other end. Today negotiating is multilateral, must take into account the de facto forces and the fragmentation of the pro-regime party as well as the parties of the so-called opposition, including the armed opposition. While all fighting parties still hope to enhance their positions on ground and the continued support of the countries that back them reject a political solution as compromise.
The main dispute is a transitional governing body. The regime is arguing as the Syrian state and its institutions, and we must explain this article corresponds to Geneva 1 with the existing constitution, while interpreted by the political opposition, as well as armed, as the transfer of power to it, and that the army and security services must be resolved, quite simply, while the article of Geneva 1 stipulates that the transitional governing body must create a neutral climate, not with any authority, and thus not with its president, nor with the opposition. Sharing the power between the two is a possibility and is not inevitable.
Basic introductions to negotiate are known. It is in all the documents that have been developed in 2012; Geneva document 1 to Cairo documents. Any talk about guarantees before negotiating does not make sense but to impose this or that interpretation by the States before embarking on negotiations between the Syrians. Placing any result to a negotiation as a condition for negotiations won’t happen.
The question remains about how to negotiate in light of all this. The importance of De Mistura’s initiative, which put up the initial idea to confront the regime in Moscow, they propose a realistic formula for the development of mechanisms to resolve and to negotiate. The humanitarian committee representatives from the concerned NGOs also participated with providing relief and health services, civic organizations; that doesn’t mean for the topic to be subjected to political debates, including political polemics. The military and security committee representatives of fighters from all sides are also involved. That also doesn’t mean for this committee to be controlled by political bodies, which have no power on the ground. The time this committee will take to work in their field is a time that would allow regional and international agents to generate agreement and to find a solution. Especially that details are so much and the fronts are numerous and the issues of security. The importance of de Mistura initiative is that it issued a statement that received the consensus of the Security Council. The refusal of the regime or the opposition of this or that political solution that is compatible internationally means moving on to a military solution.
Many Arab countries live a real crisis in terms of social justice, even though it was living in a state of stability for quite sometime. Until today they couldn’t face unstructured work and the increasing number of labour. How do you see the future of justice towards unstructured labour after the crisis in Syria? Are there any political and economical indications and other awareness measures that indicate that the reality of labour will be different from what the regime had implemented?
This is a very important and complex issue. I was, as an economic researcher, made a great effort towards this topic and to raise awareness of its importance.
The lack of the ability of the dense population of Arab countries to face the growth of youth, leaving newcomers plotting conditions in the work that does not give them minimum rights, were two main reasons in the Arab spring explosion. It is what lies behind the dignity of freedom, which is required in this spring’s logo. And dignity is the dignity of the university student Bouazizi who owned a vegetable cart and was disgraced in what gives him his living.
So I insisted that the National Covenant, which was drafted in 2012, referring to the International Charter on the Social and Economic Rights, to ensure the employment of the Syrians and the residents, mostly Palestinians in Syria. As well as to state policy that is based on social justice and balanced development between regions, which also guarantees the rights of workers, including comprehensive health insurance, pensions and unemployment benefits.
There is no magic solution to this big problem in the coming decades, except for employees to organize themselves and defend their rights, and that the development within the administrative decentralization, and that the state is working on the restructuring of investment, employment and the distribution of national wealth between regions and between the population. It will be a fundamental problem in Syria after the war, as the economy is devastated, the economy of war is prevailing, and everyone will accumulate their wealth by land and real estate investments.
Thus, the reconstruction is not only a re-construction of housing, but to rebuild what was destroyed by the power of the economy through policies in the ten years that preceded the revolution, and the legacy of war of destruction in the economic and social structures.
After the political opposition failed in marketing their projects and plans of the solution, is it possible that we will see a positive investment for the current crisis of refugees, which occupies the political and popular circles in Western countries, in terms of re-prioritization of the Syrian issue in its human dimension after the recession to deal with it even though it is one of the largest man-made disasters since World War II, according to the United Nations? Can we talk about the political maturation in this direction after five years of failure?
The political opposition, known in the media as the Coalition, didn’t have a real role in the Syrian refugee issues originally, not even in Turkey. They also weren’t interested in the Palestinians of Syria even though they claim to represent the Syrian State. The Syrian civil society is active, in all sects, especially in Jordan and Turkey, especially the Kurds of Turkey. There is no relation to the political opposition with the big wave of refugees that is going to Germany, and they are being quiet about this wave now, and on countries policies that support this opposition towards refugees.
Syrian refugees are the ones who changed the European public opinion through what has been recorded in the media on their pride and solidarity with each other in the midst of their tragedies. This change is an important transformation after the western public opinion refused to side with the Syrian revolution, as with the rest of the Arab Spring countries, because the political opposition and the countries supporting it were silent for quite so long in regards to extremism and terrorism until it got worse.
Syrian refugees remobilized the European and American public opinion in solidarity with them and with their country by showing that they are educated people. Asylum seeking is a right given by International Humanitarian laws, preceding European regulations and laws. This made Europeans show extraordinary solidarity that overcame their political divisions within their own countries that then embarrassed decision makers in their governments. This made the governments not only receive refugees properly even with their large numbers, but also to actually mobilize to solve the conflict in Syria even if that meant changing previous policies, that includes supporting parts of the oppositions due to geopolitical reasons.
Syrian refugees are the ones who took with their bodies and suffering the crisis of their country so it becomes a crisis for all of Europe, and to place European countries that messed with the “ Arab Spring” as it happened in Libya before their historical obligations today, as to also reconstruct the future.