The Russian and American diplomats are to hold joint consultations in Geneva on Friday with the United Nations special envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. Is the crunch time coming?
What is apparently on the cards is a process of formation of a transitional government in Syria. Here, the question is framed in such a way as to imply whether Bashar Al-Assad would step down to pave the way for the transition or will preside over the transition.
To my mind, Bashar will remain where he is through this year and into the early part of next year when his presidential term ends. The next big question will be: Will the Syrian opposition countenance Bashar’s continuance? The odds, again, are that they will.
Such an impression becomes unavoidable from the joint press conference by the Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers last week at Riyadh. What the Saudi FM Prince Saud Al-Faisal didn’t say struck me as very meaningful: he didn’t repeat the Saudi demand that Bashar should forthwith step down.
On the other hand, what Faisal actually said was rather interesting; he said the way out of the crisis in Syria and “the conditions for a solution are the responsibility of the Syrian people.”
Faisal’s remarks take added meaning when we factor in that in the ‘rare speech’ by Bashar later in the weekend in Damascus, he didn’t criticize Saudi Arabia for arming and funding the Syrian rebels although he said some very harsh things about the countries that are fueling the sectarianism in Syria. (Interestingly, Faisal also hit out at the spectre of the hydra-headed monster of sectarianism rearing its head in the region.)
To be sure, the Saudis feel uneasy about the rise of Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE claims it just smashed up a clandestine MB cell.
On the contrary, Qatar has become the big-time patron of the MB. Qatar just announced that it is doubling the financial assistance to the MB-led government in Egypt to a princely sum of $5 billion.
Qatar is loosening the purse on the eve of an expected visit by the Iranian FM Ali Akbar Salehi to Cairo, the first ‘bilateral’ by an Iranian FM for decades. Syria is bound to figure at Salehi’s talks in Cairo.
Surely, from all accounts, Egypt’s MB has some big choices to make between Qatar, Iran and Saudi Arabia — and, vis-a-vis the situation in Syria or Jordan. Conceivably, Egypt’s MB leaders being master tacticians will make multiple choices.
Equally, the Saudi-Qatari divergence over Syria puts Turkey in some dilemma. This may partly explain why Turkish rhetoric against Bashar has lately diminished. Some rethinking on Syria is apparently going on. At any rate, Ankara is refocussing seriously on the Kurdish problem and may be approaching the threshold of a reopening of the peace track with the PKK. The developments in Syria would have a bearing on the peace track with PKK.
Thus, the short point becomes clear: Russian and American diplomats meeting in Geneva on Friday cannot pretend that they own Syria. An Iranian expert recently noted, “It is true that Russia and the US are the two influential powers in Syria’s developments. But this does not mean that if they agree on an issue, it will be certainly implemented in Syria. Of course, both these powers play determining roles, but they do not control all developments in Syria. A general conclusion must be reached based on all the views within Syria and those of the countries which impact the trend of the crisis, including France, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.”
– January 9, 2013