Introduction – Stating the Problem
Syria was one of the last countries in the Arab world to join the wave of popular civil upheavals that covered the Islam part of the globe now known as the Arab Spring (Lynch et al. 2). However, what once was a series of peaceful demonstrations has turned into ugly bloodshed accompanied by armed conflict. Starting in Tunisia and spreading to neighboring Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and other nearby countries, this tide of protests swept the whole Arab world with the only difference – the intensity of its consequences.
This wave of upheavals demonstrated the ugliness of the societal systems and unwillingness for the transition from autocracy to democracy. In most countries, Islamist parties that came to power or significantly strengthened their positions and influence did not support building up civil society (Hubbard and Gladstone par. 3, 5). This issue is especially vital in the case of Syria where the developments of the Arab Spring upheavals have led to the outburst of the Civil War, as President Bashar al-Assad did not want to resign and the protestants led by the opposition would not give up on their ideas (WordswithMeaning!). So, unlike other states that were covered with similar uprisings that ended within a few months, the Syrian revolution lasted for more than three years shifting thousands of lives away. But how did it all start? And, what is more important, where are we now? Are there solutions to this challenge?
History of the Conflict
The unrest began on 23 March 2011 with a series of peaceful protests in the southern parts of the country that were strangled by the security forces. The uprising groupings emerged throughout the country and gained popularity, the slogan of the societal revolt was “peacefully, peacefully” (Droz-Vincent 50). Later, in May, the Government deployed the army and sent troops to suppress the demonstrations. The turning point that turned the peaceful revolution into cruel bloodshed was March 2012 when the powers of protesters stated that they should use weapons to protect the civil population from terror and oppression of the government (Kaphle par. 1). Subsequent months turned into a caravan of military operations, attacks, and bombings all over the Syrian territory with the only aim – getting more influence and power without regard to a number of dead and wounded. The beginning of 2014 was a remarkable period for the development of the conflict, as the government and the National Coalition have come to peace signing an agreement. However, this accomplishment does not outweigh the dreadful outcomes of the civil war that has claimed more than 200,000 lives, even more people were wounded, and hundreds of thousands have left their homes in the search for safety (Glass 11; “Arab Uprising: Country by Country – Syria” par. 9).
Evolution of the Conflict
It should be said what changes occurred in the mindset and the primary points of the protesters led by the opposition. What at first started as a peaceful revolt, later turned into a terrible war. At the beginning of the Arab Spring:
Syrian aspirations resonated with lovers of liberty everywhere: an end to governmental corruption and arbitrary arrest; an independent judiciary; a free press; equality before the law; abolition of torture; genuine elections leading to legitimate authority; and democratic institutions responsible to the governed. The state responded with arrests and violence. Dissidence evolved into war. (Glass 113)
That said, the initial desire to build the democratic society in Syria evolved into the want to overthrow the regime by any means, even barbarous cruelty. What worsened the situation was the waking up the so-called Islamic State that has occupied Southern regions of Syria, but it is a whole new story. So, all the military operations that have a place in today’s Syria including both internal and external participants are actions aimed at confronting the jihadist Islamic State and not the initial rioters.
Because of it, there is a stalemate in the situation in Syria. First, President Bashar al-Assad remains in power. His promise, “If this [my resignation] is what the Syrian people want, I don’t have a problem with it. I am not the kind of person who clings to power,” (“President Bashar Al-Assad interview with Agence France Presse” par. 56) is no more than a mere scrap of paper. Second, parties involved in the initial conflict are wearied out and cannot come to an agreement concerning the future of the state. Third, society has seen no democratic changes. It can be proved by the very simple fact – the use of social media and the Internet for free exchanging of thoughts. At the very beginning of the Arab Spring, social networks were seen as a powerful tool for building up a movement of protesters and setting up a rebellious mood in society (Harvey 1386). The government partially blocked social media, so the rioters would not have an opportunity to find out the places of the mass demonstrations planned in different cities across the country and get in touch with each other (Harvey 1222). In this way, it has become the initial form of oppression that later was followed by armed strangling.
What Is at Stake?
From the very beginning of the Arab Spring in Syria in March 2011, there were only two parties to the conflict – opposition, which led the protesters and the President with his supporters, and the countries supporting them – Iran on the side of the Shiite group, and Russia and China backing up the Assad’s regime (Associated Press). Such division, however, may not be comprehensive, as there is one more side of the conflict, local community members. Their position is clear. They neither wanted to participate in the protests nor back up the reigning political regime. Instead, these people strived for safety for their children and their homes and peace in their homeland. This group is approximately 40 percent of the population of Syria, who were forced to leave their homes in the search for safety and a better life abroad (Glass 16). What is at stake for them are their well-being and life.
The initial position of the opposition was that the people lacked freedoms and there was a need to eradicate the autocracy from social and political life and implement a new regime that would rest upon democratic values and respect for human dignity. All the requirements of the protesters came down to fair employment, sufficient provision, and an adequate health care system (Hubbard and Gladstone par. 12). The only matter with the transition to the democratic society is that, from the opposition’s perspective, it was impossible until Bashar al-Assad remained the President. What is at stake for the protesters is the belief that if they win, their country might witness the positive shifts in the social and political systems.
The standpoint of the President remained the same during the course of the revolution evolving into an armed conflict. He would not want to give up on his powers and would do everything possible to maintain the functioning of his regime based on old autocratic ideals. So, «as the protests spread, the regime responded, predictably, with gunfire, arrests and torture» (Glass 18) thus demonstrating the desire to rule. What is at stake for him is his power and the opportunity to preserve the autocratic regime that was distinctive for all the Arab states.
One more party to the conflict is the world community acting through the United Nations Organization that gets involved later. The primary position is that Assad should step down so that it will lead to the renewal of peace in the country. What is at stake for this part is global peace and the safe tomorrow. Moreover, it is the safety and welfare of the citizens of their countries because, with the growing numbers of refugees, the issue of welfare is up in the air.
Crafting the Design of Potential Solutions
The primary problem in the case of Syria is the fact that thousands of people were killed and millions of people were forced to leave their homeland in the search of better living conditions abroad. Of course, they have chosen European and some of the neighboring countries as the final destination because these states are the hubs of safety and opportunities for personal and socio-economic growth. However, the migration of Syrians has become a serious issue to host states, and they have faced the necessity to deal with the challenge of illegal population shifts.
Before introducing potential solutions to the problem, it is vital to acknowledge that they should be specific in voice and language as well as backed up by strong arguments to be brought to life and entail the changes necessary to fix the issue. They should also be addressed to primary stakeholders and decision-makers to be enacted. The central idea is to demonstrate the potential consequences of ignoring the challenge to everyone involved in the conflict, i.e. those, who could trigger changes as well as those, who could possibly become the drivers of these changes.
Who Is in Charge of the Changes?
There are two powers, which can cope with the challenge. On one hand, there are decision-makers, i.e. those, who have enough power to bring the changes to life. On the other hand, there are stakeholders – everyone interested either in stopping the bloodshed or driving the conflict forward. As of the decision-makers, they are, of course, the President of Syria, the Opposition, and the countries providing them with both military and financial support – Iran sponsoring Shiite group, and Russia and China backing up the Assad’s regime. Together with them, changes can be accelerated by the global community represented by the most influential international organizations such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU), and the groups of countries known as G8 and G20. As of the stakeholders, they involve the people of Syria as well as the global community as such. In addition to it, international organizations and the groups of countries mentioned above can as well be considered stakeholders because they have enough influence to bring pressure on the decision-makers and foster changes.
Potential Solutions to the Problem
Even though officially an end to the Arab Spring was put in January 2014 when al-Assad and the National Coalition signed a treaty of peace, the problem, in fact, remains because negotiations and agreement did not stop the bloodshed in Syria. Of course, as for now, the parties to the conflict have changed as well as the stakeholders, but the aim of this proposal is to offer solutions to the problem of blood spilling in Syria. It will not cover the emergence and activities of the so-called Islamic State; it will just hypothesize on the decisions and the ways to bring them to life.
I believe that there are two potential ways to solve the problem, which are closely interconnected and require the cooperation of all parties involved in the conflict both internal and external. Bearing in mind the number of people, who have been killed and the aggressive moods inside the country, it is nearly impossible to intend that the conflict will be done peacefully. Still, there is hope that there will be fewer lives shifted this time, and peace will be renewed so that everyone, who left their homeland, receives a chance to return home and live in safety, not fear.
I believe that the most significant step to handle the challenge is to organize the platform for negotiations between the parties involved. It can only be achieved with the help of the United Nations, the European Union, and the most influential countries. This plan implies making the states supporting the conflicting parties step back and stop providing the opposing parties with weapons and financing.
Another potential solution is a two-state model of handling conflicts. In the case of Syria, it would mean creating the atmosphere in which both pan-Islamist values and Western principles would co-exist peacefully. It implies guaranteeing democratic rights and freedoms to the people of Syria and, at the same time, establishing the caliphate, a traditional Islamic form of reigning (Taheri par. 4). That said, it is vital to let the ruling authority deal with the internal issues and make all crucial decisions without the interference of the external decision-makers. Moreover, there should be no difference whether the ruling party would be the pan-Islamist authority or a democratic one. What is significant is that the citizens should have the right and freedom to choose people, who would govern them, and be sure that these people would eradicate corruption, rebuild the economy, and create jobs. If the ruling party fails to improve the situation in the country, Syrians should have the opportunity to vote it out without being afraid of death, bloodshed, and the recurrence of disturbances (“Arab Spring or Islamist Winter? Three Views” 36). In other words, people should feel that if they want to see changes in their country, they have the right to arrange peaceful demonstrations with the aim of being heard, and they will be heard. This solution implies recalling the initial requirement of the Arab Spring, i.e. the president’s resignation, and the slogan of the uprisings – “peacefully, peacefully” (Droz-Vincent 50). However, bringing it to life is impossible without persuading Assad to leave and make way for long-awaited democratic changes in Syria.
How and Why Enact Changes?
The most significant question, however, is what can be done to enact changes and solve the problem of bloodshed in Syria. How is it possible to persuade all sides of the conflict to back down and restore peace in the country as well as the region as the whole? Why is it necessary to foster changes? First of all, it is crucial to remind the world that the Arab Spring is slowly turning into the Arab Winter, and what is more frightening is that the winter would be nuclear. There is no need to remind that al-Assad has already used chemical weapons to preserve his powers and stop the protesters. The only thing that he could achieve was escalating the conflict and heating the hatred in society, but what matters is the fact that there are no boundaries in his desire to keep reigning.
The problem with Syria, however, is the involvement of the external parties into the internal conflict. If there were no supporters on the outside, the conflict would not have lasted and turned into a living nightmare. The global community should recollect what was the purpose of creating the United Nations, i.e. preserving peace and guaranteeing safety for the present and the future, and realize the potential hazard of the outbreak of the Third World War.
It is crucial to persuade the leaders of the most influential countries that the danger is real. If they are not interested in saving the lives of the Syrians, they should think of their citizens’ lives. France, Belgium, the United States, and some other countries have already fallen victim to the outrageous mood of jihadists. Because now they have nuclear weapons, attacks in the future might have even more catastrophic consequences. At this point, it is vital to make sure that China, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and other supporting parties stop providing the conflicting sides with weapons and financing. Yes, it is the lever for increasing influence in the region and yes, it is a source of increasing economic might, but what cannot be ignored is the fact that Syria is just the first step, and occupying it does not necessarily guarantee that the jihadists would stop and the world community would be in safety.
I believe that there are two ways of achieving the initial goal – ceasing bloodshed in the region. First, it is to fall back on the United Nations peacemaking mechanism. It also implies blood spilling and is costly, but, nevertheless, it has proven to be effective. Second, choosing the path of isolation. It means that the global community should detect all external parties involved in the conflict and isolate them both economically and socially by stopping doing business with their companies and not permitting their nationals to enter the territory of the states imposing sanctions. This plan would become the source of potential economic losses to both sides. However, it would become both a motivator for terminating any support to the conflicting parties and a guarantee of a safe future. It is also vital to demonstrate the supporters that they could redirect the money they spend on fostering regional conflict to solving internal issues such as economic growth, developing infrastructure, and raising the standards of living. As of the international community, additional motivation to take this way is the fact that increasing numbers of illegal immigrants from Syria would not benefit their economies and social welfare and would inevitably lead to mass demonstrations because citizens, for the most part, are not fond of the idea of sharing their homelands with the unlawful newcomers.
So, what I see as the solution to the Arab Spring consequences is a set of comprehensive actions. First, it is vital to assure that the conflict returns to the internal scale, i.e. all external parties are excluded. Second, the president should be forced to resign and the new ruling authority should be voted in, thus giving Syrians the chance to build the democratic society they strive for. As of the President, motivating him to leave can be reached through reminding what happened to the leaders, who did not want to give up their powers when the nation wanted them to, e.g. Gaddafi in Libya, Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia Hussein in Iraq, Ceausescu in Romania or Pinochet in Chile. Finally, the international community should guarantee non-interference into Syria’s internal affairs and peace.
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