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May 16, 2014
The last rebel troops have departed the Syrian city of Homs, increasing President Bashar Assad’s hold in areas once considered rebel strongholds. Coupled with the expected victory of Assad in the upcoming presidential elections (regardless of their dubious validity), their departure sends a clear signal that peace talks between government officials and rebel representatives are unlikely to lead anywhere anytime soon. That signal must have been unmistakable for Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy to Syria who this week announced that he would resign his position at the end of the month. The fact that few were surprised by his announcement says more about the hopeless situation in Syria than about Mr. Brahimi’s abilities as a negotiator.
In Damascus, the Peninsula newspaper reports that government officials and state media are greeting Mr. Brahimi forthcoming resignation with glee: “Damascus accused Brahimi, who announced on Tuesday that he will step down on May 31, of bias and interference in its internal affairs after he criticized the planned election as a blow to peace efforts....Al Watan, a newspaper close to the Assad regime, put the blame [for the failure of peace talks] on Brahimi. ‘Brahimi is Saudi Arabia’s man,’ it said, in reference to the Sunni kingdom’s backing for the Sunni-dominated uprising against Assad.”
Others have expressed their frustration at what they perceive as a setback in the effort to resolve the Syrian crisis. Refusing to blame the UN envoy for the failure to find an adequate solution to the crisis, the Gulf News editorial points the finger squarely at the international community for refusing to do what it takes to move the process forward: “The reality is that no matter how hard he tried, Brahimi was always on a losing cause — not for the lack of effort on his part, but because the international community as a whole has washed its hands of the three-year conflict....When the international community tried to raise the plight of the Syrian people at the UN Security Council, the initiatives were vetoed by Russia, as it acted to protect its geopolitical interests and those of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad....And when the flood of refugees became a torrent of human detritus, there was no consensus on delivering relief or opening humanitarian corridors. There is no failure for Brahimi. The failure belongs to the international community.”
There are those who believe that, despite the apparent failure to secure a lasting solution, Mr. Brahimi’s efforts did provide a modicum of success, especially since, as a Khaleej Times editorial notes, “Brahimi’s major success as the mediator was bringing the opposition in diaspora across the table and make them have a tęte-a-tęte with the reigning Baath party. Another achievement was in forcing Damascus to give up its toxic weapons under the aegis of an international agreement brokered by the Russians and the Americans in Geneva last year. However, diplomacy couldn’t triumph in the case of forming a transitional government and in persuading President Bashar Al Assad to step down....With the world body chief maintaining a discreet silence over naming Brahimi’s successor, the path of diplomacy seems to have ended halfway. The Algerian diplomat is the second person to bite the dust after Kofi Annan, another veteran of impeccable credibility. This suggests that there is something seriously wrong in the manner the Syrian crisis is addressed. This is where Ban Ki-moon has to get introspective before showing his new cards.”
Complicated peace processes generally take multiple concerted efforts to make it a reality, however, which as a The National editorial reminds us, is what happened in Lebanon: “Mr. Brahimi has been a tireless campaigner for a negotiated settlement, searching for nearly two years for a way to end the fighting and start a political transition. He has had the ear of the powerful, in the United States and in the UN Security Council. All have pretended to be deaf. The concerted political will that is required to push Russia and Iran to talk seriously is lacking. As long as the refugee crisis doesn’t overwhelm neighboring countries, the international community seems happy to watch Syria disintegrate....It may fall to another diplomat to do for Syria what Mr Brahimi helped to do for Lebanon with the 1989 Taif accord that eventually ended Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. The world must ensure that Syrians do not have to wait that long for a resolution.”
Still, it is difficult to deny that the Syrian president has the upper hand at the moment. Much of that momentum could be halted, argues Al Jazeera’s Fawaz Gerges, if only the opposition could learn to cooperate: “While Damascus and its allies — particularly Iran, Hezbollah and Russia — have been resourceful and ruthless in their war game plan, the anti-Assad coalition is deeply divided and suffers from a fatal disconnect between goals, means and ideologies. Beyond Assad's removal from power, there is little unity among the opposition front. In contrast, Assad and his partners share unity of purpose and ranks....The opposition's disarray has played into Assad's hands. In the past year, the tide of war has decisively shifted in his favour. He has not only weathered the violent storm but has gone on the offensive. His army, with critical help from Hezbollah and Iran, has regained control of major urban centres in Homs, Damascus, and Aleppo to a lesser extent, consolidating its grip on the western half of the country.”
Al Riyadh’s Yousef Al-Kwileet delivers a biting commentary on Assad’s presidential campaign and what it means for the country, considering the likelihood of an Assad presidency a foregone conclusion: “the president and the other candidates for presidency have forgotten that the simplest Syrian farmer knows that this farce is a part of accumulated events for usurping the power where a whole country, including all of its establishments and cultural heritage, has become mortgaged for accepting a certain person or destroying the whole country on the heads of its people as the nation does not have the right of choosing, accepting or refusing....The Arab condition which has permitted that we become the farce of the world is being repeated through the image of Al-Assad and other dictators. The issue is not a matter of underdevelopment. It is rather a retardation imposed on a nation which has sought life but has faced an organized death.”
Complacency can be dangerous, especially in a part of the world that has seen so many changes, which is why Arab News, Osama Al Sharif urges for ‘swift and coordinated action’, warning that should no such thing be forthcoming, “the region will be overtaken by small but toxic wars that extend from western Iraq to eastern and southern Syria and from northern Sinai to Yemen....The war in Syria has changed the reality of confrontations and regional threats. Regardless of the fate of the Syrian regime, extremists have found a foothold in a region that extends from Al-Anbar to Deir Al-Zour and Darra with access to Sinai. This is a serious challenge to the countries of the region, one that they can’t afford to ignore.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.