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Syrian uprising, one year after

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It is one year this month since Syria, a nominally Arab nation, fell under the domino effect of the so-called Arab Spring which was ignited in Tunisia and went through Egypt, Yemen and Libya,  and then Syria. What started as a mere agitation for political, economic and social reforms has been internationalized and even heavily radicalized. The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, at the start of the protest last year, acknowledged that most of the demands of the protesters were legitimate and, therefore, required a proper government response. He took some bold steps like lifting the nearly three decades-old state of emergency, changed the Constitution to end the monopoly of power by his Baath Party.

However, the Syrian opposition, organized around the National Council, refused to have anything to do with the government initiatives, having seen how internationalization of the Libyan conflict handed a victory to the opposition almost overnight, helped by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s air strikes. Buoyed by the success of the Western military alliance and the rag-tag opposition over loyalists to the former mercurial Libyan strongman, Muamar Gaddhafi, the Syrian opposition seemed to believe they too could throw out the government in Damascus – with help from outside.

However, the expectation of outside intervention did not materialize at the UN Security Council ten months ago, when Russia and China, both permanent members of the Council, wielded the veto stick. Their position seems to have strengthened the hands of the Syrian government whose forces are unrelenting in their offensive against the opposition. What we have on the ground now, a year on, is a virtual military stalemate: the government is not showing any sign of bowing to the opposition and the latter is not making any headway militarily.  In this no-win situation it is ordinary Syrians that are suffering the most.

We sincerely sympathize with most Syrians including the opposition who desire change but we wonder if a change brought about by mindless destruction of life and property is what Syrians deserve. We urge the opposition to rein in its military wing, the Syrian Free Army, and seize the opportunity of international attention to engage the regime in a constructive dialogue. And the government should lift the siege on opposition held areas of the country and allow humanitarian aid through.

Both sides must learn a lesson from Libya where the opposition that won the battle in alliance with NATO is yet to win the decisive political settlement that is critical to the normalization of the country. The Syrian opposition need not be fixated on defeating Assad militarily but should focus on what is good for all Syrians, including the supporters of the government.

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