the Blog Papers of Dr. Michael Sakbani; Economics, Finance and Politics

Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State university of NY at Stoney Brook,then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 100 professional papers.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

What Future for the Syrian revolution;an Essay





Sunday, December 25, 2016

What Future for the Syrian Revolution; an Essay

Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State University of NY at Stoney Brook, then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 120 professional papers and co-authored 4 books..

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What Future for the Syrian revolution; an Essay

                                 By
                   Dr. Michael Sakbani
The battle of Aleppo has dealt a severe blow to the Syrian uprising against the regime of Bashar Assad. That does in no way mean the end of the revolution, but it signals an urgent need to evaluate the consequences therein and review the strategy and tactics of the revolution in the wake of its latest defeats.
The Syrian people in their majority rose against a sectarian dictatorship foisted by a militarized police state which has imposed itself upon Syria or more than 50 years. This non-democratic state has failed economically, sociologically, politically and developmentally. It has been a corrupt clannish project which has left the country, despite the entrepreneurship and education of its people, performing among the lowest ranks of developing countries. 
The revolution received support from various regional and international players with their own Agendas. And that support became necessary for the opposition leaders as the regime refused to respond to any demands for more than six months..This dependence on foreign backing however transformed the Syrian struggle for freedom, democracy and justice from an internal Syrian matter to an international theater of conflict with the Syrian people paying the bill in lives and treasures. Furthermore, the regime with the help of Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki of Iraq introduced in 2012, and 2013, the fundamentalist jihadis into Syria first by the regime releasing the Islamists prisoners in Syria and then by conspiring through Iran with Mr. Maliki, who staged the great escape of Islamists from the American constructed prison of Camp Bucca.
 The  Islamists of al Qayda type served the propaganda of the regime that the choice in Syria was binary: between the regime and the fundamentalist Islamists. Indeed, as of 2014, the establishment of ISIS and the Nusra Front resulted in effect in the confiscation of the Syrian Revolution by the Islamists. These usurpers projected to the outside world the image of the barbarity of the Islamist jihadists under various names. This all happened while the so-called"friends of Syria," led by the West, did so little to help the under-financed and under-armed Syrian Free Army. It has truly been a revolution betrayed.

Whatever are the regional and international players` motives, after six years, most have had their agendas to defeat the Syrian revolution realized. However, the revolution is an unfinished business. A return to the status quo ante is inconceivable after half a million killed, and a third of the population made refugees and a country three quarters destroyed. It would be such an act of massive denial. But it would be wrong for any observer not to avail of the defeat of Aleppo to cast critical regard over this internecine affair.
For the regime, most of the fighting in Aleppo was done by the Iranian supplied Shiite militias along with Iran`s revolutionary guards with the Russians giving air cover. Assad and what is left of his army were minor players and seem to have lost any capacity for an independent decision.

For the opposition, the first order of business must be the question of the conduct and performance of the armed opposition on the ground. Before the end of Eastern Aleppo, the opposition fighting groups were fighting each other over the control of supplies and ammunition and when one of the groups was battling the regime north of Aleppo, others were disengaged. Similarly, in the Eastern Ghota around Damascus, the Army of Islam was fighting the Brigades of Rahman instead of uniting against the advancing regime. In Idlib, Tahrirul Sham was fighting Tahrir Sourya. And over the last nine months, nothing had been heard from the Southern front on the Jordanian border. This kind of military chaos is fatal if it continues. Despite the desperate situation of the suffering population, there were numerous demonstrations by the local people against this division in the ranks. This state of affairs clearly demonstrates the absence of unified military command and the inexperience and non-professionalism of the leaders of these fighting units. This state of chaos is a retarded manifestation of the basic weakness of the Syrian revolution: the lack of leadership capable of offering an alternative to the regime and is in control of the fighting on the ground. After the first three years of the revolution, the political opposition was either exiled, killed or imprisoned by the regime. Although the opposition did offer a viable democratic alternative later on to the UN General Assembly, in 2016,  its separation from the unbelievably numerous fighting forces on the ground, and the refusal of these scattered fighting forces to accept and obey the political leadership, have in effect undermined the alternative presented to the various foreign forces, It also unmasked the foreign agendas of the paymasters of the Islamists, who have essentially wanted to defeat a democratic, populist uprising in the region. 
The grand absent has been the cadre of officers and soldiers who deserted from the Syrian Army, some of whom were with the moribund Syrian Free Army, which seems now to play a very minor role. Despite all the valor of the Syrian people, their revolution cannot win with this type of impotent leadership and localized armed opposition largely paid by the regional sponsors and in dispute with each other. If the armed opposition does not get reorganized and accept merger under one professional leadership, which follows a unified political leadership independent from all foreign players, Assad, the Iranians and the Russians behind them will finish them off.

The political opposition and the fighters on the ground

Faced with this situation, the political opposition has to renegotiate the interference modes of its sponsors and paymasters. They cannot accept the continuation of direct factional sponsorship of fighter groups by various states. The help and support of the friends of the revolution has to be channeled only through a unified political and military command of the opposition. Otherwise, there will be, as is in fact, scores of competing and undisciplined groups with unknown agendas. The grand problem of the political opposition has been its lack of control on the ground and more importantly, because the fighters of the opposition are non-salaried, they are overwhelmingly religiously motivated and have agendas at variance with that of the revolution. This has turned the revolution from an uprising for democracy, freedom and justice into one of Islamist agendas of various uncontrolled armed groups. If imposing order turns out to be impossible, then the opposition should abandon the military route. and concentrate on presenting the Syrian problem to the world. A revolution requires loyalty to its ideals and not to its paymasters.

The detailed agenda presented by the High Negotiating Board in London and New York in October 2016 is a sound and moderate one which deserves to be considered the only political platform of the revolution. Any faction that does not accept, an administratively decentralized, but unified Syria, with secular and civil state institutions based on open, pluralistic and free Democracy should be ruled out of the revolution. In particular, the Islamist groups involved have to accept this platform unreservedly and if they have any objections they should accept the free electoral judgment of the Syrian people.
 The past has shown that the Islamists have been a burden on the revolution and its image and both its internal and international support. In particular, the fundamentalists of ISIS and al Nusra Front have in effect confiscated the Syrian Revolution, while the political leadership of the opposition has done nothing to present a viable unified front with a presence on the ground as an alternative to the regime. 

Contours of a compromise 

Russia has achieved after Aleppo, all its three objectives: stabilize the regime, secure military and naval basis and use this Syrian card to impose Russia as a global player whose interests in East Europe and in Syria must be respected. With the problems of the Russian economy and the sanctions imposed on it by the West, it is realistic to expect that Russia would now go for a political solution that safeguards its interests and does not tie it down indefinitely in Syria.  However, even though Russia would want a  settlement, it does so on its own terms. For the moment, that is the continuation of Assad and his regim with minor facial retouches. This does not apply to two important regional players. These are Iran and Israel. Iran has proposed nothing beyond keeping the present regime of Assad as its bridge to the Mediterranean. The Islamic revolution has a sectarian national Iranian project that it wants to impose. Israel by contrast, has its own objective of working through the US to keep Syria feeble and divided under Assad, but outside the Iranian sphere. This tactical Israeli stand is a grave strategic error, for a country whose existential aim is to be a part of the region. Israel has to befriend the people around it and not the various dictators and autocrats that serve its short-term security interests. Mr. Netanyahu has proved to be an ardent Zionist only interested i n short term security gains. Under the new Trump Administration, two different interests might pull a cleavage between Trump's team: between those opposing Iran and those wanting to cooperate with Russia. While such development might open up some possibilities for the opposition, that needs a political skill in exploiting such a split which the Syrian opposition has not heretofore demonstrated.

 Russia has been pushing for negotiation in Kazakhstan outside the UN. The opposition must be insistent about coupling such attempts to UN resolutions, even if supported by Turkey whose post-Aleppo policies are suspect. Turkey has reordered its priorities at the battle of Aleppo. It now sees the Kurds as its main security problem and hence, it was willing to stay its hands in Aleppo for a quid pro quo of Russian support on the Kurdish question and at al Bab. But these contours are not fixed. Russia needs the regime continuation to protect its leases of military bases and to impose itself on the international table. From what one discerns, Russia wants to rehabilitate the regime through constitutional changes and new elections under regime control. This would in effect collapse the Syrian revolution to one of another election under Assad with cosmetic governmental changes. 
Turkey might run into problems with Russia concerning the Kurds. However, its behavior after Aleppo indicates a willingness to give the Russians what they want. The US is the player missing in all this. The US card, the Kurds, is in the long run not a good hand, and would further alienate Turkey, the Syrian opposition and the Gulf states. This all means there are no fixed positions in the Syrian imbroglio and no true friends of the Syrian people.
The opposition has a vital interest in entering into the negotiation at this juncture, because Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, the three main supporters of the revolution have now reordered their priorities.; the first towards Yemen the second towards cooperating with Iran to break its blockade while the third to confront the Kurdish rebellion. But negotiation should be based on Geneva I and UN 2254 decision. In particular, the aim of the negotiations is to effect, a transition over 18 months, from the present regime to a new state with free democratic choices based on inclusive and equal citizenry rights guaranteed by a new Constitution .The negotiation will involve , as proposed by the opposition, the representatives of the current regime and the opposition on the formula of  40 % equal representation plus 20% left for third parties proposed by the opposition. Should such transition be accepted and the transition authority be fully and exclusively empowered, the issue of Assad becomes secondary; his departure is not necessary if he has no power. The political opposition, backed by its political supporters, has, however, to demonstrate its ability to work with Russia, the US, Europe and the regional powers involved in finding a political compromise that ends the Syrian civil war under the aegis of the UN. And for that, it has to have a unified stand on the major issues and speaks with one voice. The Syrian revolution can all be lost if the opposition does not draw together and disengage from carrying foreign agendas. and concentrate solely on the transition of political power.
It should be noted in this regard that the regime, egged on by the Russians, has started a series of local truces with the divided military combatants. The results of these local truces is to further divide the opposition and transfer population to the Idleb area, thereby effecting demographic changes. The spread of such local truces frees the hands of the regime, bottles up the revolution in most areas and further separates the local militants from the political opposition abroad. This is another trick of the regime and its Russian sponsor. However, the local truce agreements have another side to them; they enable the exhausted local population to breathe and get some necessities which the siege of the regime has denied them. If the areas of reduced tension, as they are now called, can be locally administered by the populous, then it would enable the locals to govern their areas and run their daily affairs and therefore presage the transition out of Assad`s dominance.. 
  For the Russians, the price of the settlement will be in all likelihood to eventually get rid of Assad and the Iranian militias thereby allowing a real transition. However, they cannot do that without a credible unified and enlarged moderate Syrian opposition. The challenge for Russia, and perhaps Turkey, is to do a rapprochement with the guys they just helped to defeat in Aleppo and enlarge the representation of the opposition. Without a fundamental and real transition, Syria cannot be reconstructed; neither the Europeans, nor the Arabs nor the US will give any money if Assad does not go, and Russia and Iran cannot foot the bill.
In principle, the US and Turkey can help. But the US has been complicit against the armed opposition and, under Obama, has done nothing to help the revolution on the ground. All moderate opposition leaders are wary of the US and Mr. Trump does not come to them with good declared intentions. He is from what we know, an isolationist American nationalist and a pro Israel of Netanyahu.Turkey by contrast is trusted by the moderate opposition and is now on good terms with Russia. But Turkey has the additional problem of prioritizing the Kurds against the interest of the revolution. After the continual rebuffs to Turkey by the US and the Europeans, it can be a partner to Russia if the latter signs on its policies vis-a-vis the Kurds, an exorbitant if.

Putting Syria up again

Any future Government in Syria will face multiple grave problems. The first is a reconstruction: the cost of which will be around $ 300 -400 billion and will require expertise and resources beyond Syria. This needs an Arab-international effort. Syria has neither the resources nor, at this point, the expertise to do it alone. And without changing the regime, especially its head, no help would be forthcoming from the friends of Syria.
 The second problem is national reconciliation. Assad, his father and their associates, have persecuted the Syrian Sunnis and committed massive crimes against all their opponents. There has to be some form of "transitional justice" against guilty individuals but not against communities so that justice.is done and the page is turned. The majority of Syrian Sunnis governed after independence for seventeen years with tolerance and equal citizenship for all but were rewarded by ingrate minorities with persecution and exclusion. This has created fundamentalist anger and caused a deep retreat upon themselves. They have to learn that all other Syrians are not like them and have their own distinctness and should be respected and treated as different but acceptable others. Diversity and pluralism are sources of strength and should be taught in schools as social virtues.
 The third problem is the clear need to reinvent and modernize religious traditions and the received culture. In all the Arab World, the educational systems have failed to produce a modernist generation. The reformist in the Islamic traditions at the end of the 19th  century and before WWI have been overtaken by the imperialists' conquest of the various countries and they did not achieve even the advocated reforms. Thus, an enlightenment rationalist culture did not emerge. The nationalist turned out to be not interested in modernity and in building national states on a modern democratic basis. Thus, the Arab societies have been suspended between the received culture and the modern age rationality. Syria has lost 60 years since it was passed by the train of modernization and development in the mid-fifties. A central lesson of this revolution has been that the Salafist sociological influence on Syria promoted by Saudi Arabia and other states as well as by the traditionalist Syrian Islamists, like the Muslim Brothers, has been since the 1970`s against the march of history and alien to Syrian sociology. Assad and his father have shied away from confronting this influence because of their minority status. However, Assad`s father, more than anybody before him, tried to contain but placate religious sentiment and for the first time in Syria`s history injected religion in state affairs to exploit it. and justify his minority regime. That opportunism has cost Syria dearly.
 Finally, the historical baggage of Palestine and Arab nationalism, two fundamental thrusts of Syria, have occupied an undue share of Syria`s concerns. They must be brought down to a meaningful proportion. In their dark hours, the Syrians have discovered the limits of Arab solidarity at the official levels and the inefficacy of the Arab political system. The Syria of the future is better served by being more self- centered and more open onto the other countries outside its Arab region and more concentrated on its own problem of forging a modern, democratic and rationalist state and society.

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