Why You Should Support This Plan To Save Syria

Bashar al-Assad liked to think his “après moi, le deluge” (loosely, after me there will be chaos) attitude would keep him in power for the rest of his life, and continue the Assad dynasty forever.

Not so in today’s Syria, where nineteen months into the popular revolution, Assad is responsible for more than 32,000 deaths. But that’s not all: some 2.5 million Syrians are internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands have sought refuge in camps in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Approximately 70% of the nation’s infrastructure has been destroyed, according to a source inside Syria, and 15 million people are nearing destitution with employment and trade at a near-standstill.

As the Syrian Revolution has grown increasingly militarized, the influx of foreign jihadists has grown. Al-Qaeda makes its presence known at every possible opportunity, and extremist groups have inserted themselves into the military puzzle that is the Syrian armed opposition. Indeed, avec Assad, le déluge. For it is he who opened the door to chaos, practically inviting in those groups that thrive on disaster, that capitalize on human suffering, that flourish in times of crisis.

When activists started with simple protests and flowers, Assad’s forces shot them. When civilians began to take up arms to defend themselves, Assad started shelling their villages. When soldiers began defecting, Assad bombed them. Today, Assad forces routinely drop barrel bombs, cluster bombs, and dynamite on civilian communities. Today, under the Assad regime, civilians lined up at bakeries are routinely murdered. Avec Assad, le déluge.

And so, today, with and because of Bashar al-Assad, Syria is in chaos

Where do we go from here? The likes of Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and the governments of Russia, China, and Iran – key Assad supporters – would like to see a “political solution.” A political solution? This is a crisis in which the regime thinks nothing of mowing down its own people. Does such a regime even deserve a political solution? Will Syrians be willing to negotiate with their executioner? I don’t think so.

Mr. Brahimi’s failed ceasefire plan was at best, a failure doomed from the start since the Assad regime only escalated its bombardment of major Syrian cities, and in fact, all but leveled the suburbs surrounding Damascus. In Brahimi’s case, it was all too easy to label the Syrian situation a “civil war,” demand a political process, and walk away. Brahimi’s attitude reflects laziness of the most dangerous kind: it condemns Syrians and Syria to death. Russia, China, and Iran are complicit.

And the ever-present fear of sectarian strife has been created, nurtured, and fostered by Assad. It is no secret that Syria’s rich cultural fabric includes a multitude of religions and ethnicities, along with clans and tribes. It is also no secret that the Alawite sect has dominated the government since Assad the elder took power in 1969.

Rather than celebrate and encourage Syria’s diversity, the Assad regime has outdone itself to pit Christians against Muslims, Kurds against Armenians, and all sorts of other combinations that include Alawites, Druze, Shi’a, and the clans, tribes, and other pockets of minorities. Today, despite the opposition’s calls for an undivided Syria with equal protection under the law for all citizens, Assad and his apologists continue to raise the specter of sectarian, ethnic, and regional conflict. Avec Assad, le déluge.

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As horrific as the death toll is, the impact of the regime’s antics spreads far wider, catching some 22 million Syrians in the crossfire of its desperate attempt to crush protests, destroy new communities and local councils, and hold on to power.

Business is at a near-standstill, with some 15 million Syrians – roughly 68% of the population – out of work and running out of savings. The regime, close to broke as a result of sanctions and asset freezes, cannot pay salaries on time for those government workers who actually brave the daily commute in a state where snipers positioned on rooftops are the norm.

Most economists would agree that the Syrian economy was already in a sad state at the beginning of the uprising; Assad’s inability to quell his population, militarily or otherwise, has left the economy in the garbage heap. At last check, the Syrian currency was trading at 77 SYP to the US dollar, a 60% drop in value since the beginning of the Syrian revolution.

Après moi, le déluge? It’s hard to imagine that any post-Assad déluge could be worse that the status quo

Let’s look at our options in Syria. We must look beyond the dysfunctional and hopelessly ineffective Syrian National Council (SNC). The SNC – as inept and paralyzed as it was, was not ever going to overthrow Assad, establish a transitional government, or lead the way to freedom and democracy in Syria.

No, the SNC would have entertained us, time after time, with its promises of reform and desire to do better. With the announcement of the new National Initiative under the leadership of Riad Seif – a charismatic, prominent businessman, activist, and long-outspoken critic of the regime – Syrians have a real opportunity to create a transitional government, gain international recognition, and provide the world an alternative to Assad.

We know that the Seif plan incorporates concepts from the Cairo Follow-Up Committee, and we know that the Cairo Follow-Up Committee incorporates concepts from The Day After project (www.tda-sy.org). Therefore, there is already some continuity based on work previously completed. We are already a step ahead if the transitional government is willing to consider key transition recommendations that address subjects such as transitional justice, security sector reform, and rule of law.

Let us support this plan. Let us give Riad Seif and his transitional government a chance to save us from further chaos, more deaths, and a completely destroyed Syria. Let us avoid the knee-jerk reaction of immediately decrying Western intervention (isn’t that what we were asking for anyway?) and move forward. Let us support any realistic effort to put an end to the bloodshed and destruction. Let us support an initiative that just might give Syria back to Syrians.

Transitioning to peace and democracy will be no easy task, but it can be done – with a carefully planned transitional plan, sincere representation from inside Syria, and a clear vision of our revolution’s original goals: Freedom, Democracy, and Dignity.

Rafif Jouejati is the Washington, DC-based English-language spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, and the Director of the Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria. She is also a member of the Executive Committee of The Day After project.