Assad's Final Days Could Go on for Years
The situation in Syria is confusing. So confusing in fact, that it appears to be almost impossible to find ways to end the killing and the violence. The Syrian crisis is gridlocked, with brutality and atrocities taking on increasingly horrific dimensions as the conflict persists. Fertile ground for yet more repression, acts of retaliation, radicalization and lawlessness.
Regional and international support for individual parties engaged in this conflict has altered the balance of power on the battlefield. It has encouraged the fragmentation of the rebel camp, and boosted the radical Islamists. There have been frequent reports recently about an infiltration of the Syrian revolution by Al Qaeda and on the increasing activities of the terror network in Syria. This is happening – it can't be denied. But generally speaking, we shouldn't be overstating the presence of Al Qaeda.
The political opposition, peaceful demonstrators and the Free Syrian Army have adopted a clear and critical stand against Al Qaeda. From their point of view, the presence of the terror organization represents a real threat to the revolution.
This is because in the end, over-exaggerated discussions concerning the presence of Al Qaeda in Syria play into the hands of the regime, by substantiating its claim that it is Islamist combatants and terrorist groups that are threatening public order. Even in the midst of justifiable fears that the terror network is gaining momentum in Syria, it is still very difficult to assess the true extent of the organisation's power within the country.
Political and diplomatic means have been exhausted
But in the midst of all the destruction and the desperate attempts to topple Assad, the influence of the Jihadists could increase. A welcome pretext for the regime to commit yet more atrocities and secure its own survival by way of another outrageous massacre.
Political and diplomatic means have been exhausted. They have not only led events into a vicious circle, they have also triggered a humanitarian catastrophe across the nation. According to the latest UN estimates, 10 million Syrians are affected by the conflict and up to 1.5 million people are in urgent need of some form of humanitarian assistance.
Some 124,000 Syrian refugees are already registered in neighbouring countries, and a million people have been displaced within Syria itself. Regardless of whether Assad is ousted or remains in power: it is just as difficult to express the suffering of the people in numerical terms as it is to gauge the financial cost of reconstructing the nation and restoring conditions to pre-war levels.
The country, its infrastructure, its historic treasures – reduced to rubble. Leaving only the question of who will cover the cost of reconstruction and enable Syrians to return to their homes.
Syrians were initially fearful that their nation would go down the same track as neighbouring Iraq, Lebanon or even Afghanistan. Now, there are concerns that a calamitous combination of all three scenarios could become reality.
Descent into a confessional conflict
What began as a civil war has descended into a confessional conflict. The concentration on confessional and religious elements heightens the vacuum and the polarisation of actors both within Syria and outside of it.
Kofi Annan's resignation as special UN representative for Syria has made the prospect of a political solution even more distant. The mantra that Assad's days are numbered is no longer convincing to anyone. These "numbered days" could go on for years.
Even if the regime loses control or is forced to give up a number of rural regions in the north of the country, the battles over control of the major cities are what matters.
But nevertheless, slowly but surely the regime is destroying itself. And eventually, it will have limited means at its disposal. On the other hand, a menacing radicalism and the inability to counter extremism could leave another dark stain on this highly important chapter of Syria's recent history.
Many Syrians are increasingly frustrated at having to stand by and watch as the revolution is hijacked by other forces. But regardless of how the situation develops, Syrians will not give up, and they will decide on their own future. In the end, only the Syrians can liberate themselves from decades of repression and autocracy.
© Zeit Online / Qantara.de 2012
Jasmine Roman is the pseudonym of a young Syrian journalist and blogger writing from Damascus. Her article is part of a series published by ZEIT ONLINE in cooperation with the Körber Foundation on new actors in the transitional states of the Arab world.
Translated from the German by Nina Coon
Qantara.de editor: Lewis Gropp