Alex and Qifa Nabki on Syria’s Necessary Next Steps

by mgopin on August 3, 2008 · 8 comments

Read Alex and Qifa’s important analysis of Syria’s next steps, especially if it wants to neutralize its dangerous conflict with Saudi Arabia, and if it wants to continue its positive momentum as a regional player. And note further down Alex’s important responses to Joe M.’s cogent critiques. Alex writes some interesting words of advice:

In politics, the tail may indeed often wag the dog, but grass-roots support never hurt a political cause. Syria’s reputation in journalistic, academic, NGO, policy, and think tank circles is among the worst in the region, this despite the fact that her neighbors are hardly a confederation of Jeffersonian democracies. The extent to which this reputation is justified remains a hot topic, about which people can agree or disagree. However, there is no doubt about the fact that the Syrian government — historically — hasn’t done itself any favors in the publicity department. By accelerating reforms in a visible fashion, Bashar al-Assad might begin to address this problem, anticipating a period in which Syria’s image might be an important factor in the context of peace negotiations. Cultivating the reputation of a reformer who enjoys widespread popular support can only make it easier for figures such as Sarkozy, Obama or McCain to embrace the Syrian leader without worrying about how such a move will play among their constituents.Potential reforms might include:

  • Beginning to release certain widely-respected political prisoners
  • Introducing more effective anti-corruption measures
  • Passing the much-anticipated New Parties Law, which would permit the participation of other political gatherings in national elections … to be followed two years later by free municipal elections.
  • Liberalizing the press and easing restrictions on Internet sites.

And here are Alex’s excellent responses to Joe M.’s understandable critiques. Here is where Alex brings his recommendations and analysis into sharp relief. He demonstrates the critical importance of gestures, both at the highest levels, between heads of state, but also at the popular level, such as releasing key political prisoners. These are the gestures that provide evidence of possible new futures, new relationships, the building blocks of nonviolent approaches to change between adversaries:

Joe M

I will try to answer some of your challenges.

1) We are simply recommending mentioning the Saudi peace plan more often … we are proposing a symbolic gesture towards the Saudi king. Something that makes him more comfortable meeting again with the Syrian president who is half his age and who called him a half-man.

The Arab peace plan is not more than a title and a generic wording of UN resolutions 242 and 338. It is really the Thomas Friedman plan that King Abdullah adopted after meeting Thomas.

But Syria needs to assure the Saudis that Syria is not trying to completely block them out of the solution of all the conflicts.

Look .. the Saudis are very uncomfortable … they watched all their Gulf “allies” show up at the Damascus summit despite active lobbying by Saud Al-Faisal to prevent them from going. The Saudis are not sure what is their role in the region if they are not even needed to finance a solution since by now Kuwait/Dubai/Qatar are rich enough and independent enough to replace Saudi Arabia.

2) We are indeed optimistic, to some degree, about the Syrian/Lebanese/Israeli track … in Turkey they practically reached an understanding regarding all core issues.

But there are many other parties that can, and probably will, try to sabotage the process.

As for Hizbollah and Israel … there is an understanding between Syria/Hizbollah and Hamas about the final solution. Syria is sticking to that understanding and will not disappoint her friends. They all have many incentives to settle everything at once.

After many long rounds of negotiations with Syria .. Kissinger, Carter, baker, Clinton … and after two attempts to isolate, instead of negotiating with, Syria (durng the 1983-1988 Reagan admin, and the 2003 to 2008 Bush admin) … America and Israel know by now that talking to Syria means one thing .. accepting a regional comprehensive solution based on UN resolutions.

I am hoping that Israel decided to go for it.

If not, or if the many anticipated changes in Israel will bring more stubborn leadership .. then we’ll see. But for now, I am relatively optimistic about everything.

© Marc Gopin

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