For well over a year civilians have borne the brunt of the brutal conflict in Syria. What began as small nonviolent demonstrations by secularists and members of the Sunni majority quickly devolved into an ever escalating armed conflict which is now a full blown civil war. However it has not only been with bullets, bombs, and mortars that this war has been waged. There is also a propaganda war of epic proportions being waged for the future of Syria.
There is the propaganda of the Assad regime with its claims of innocence when confronted with evidence of the war crimes and human rights abuses of the regime and its insistence that all opponents of Assad are “terrorists”. There is the propaganda of jihadists among the ranks of the opposition, including within the Free Syrian Army, denying that Islamists have committed brutal murders out of religious hatred and that there are extremists among their ranks who do not want a “free and democratic Syria” but rather an Islamic theocracy. Adding to the confusion there is the propaganda emanating from the Islamic Republic of Iran with its outlandish claims of a joint global conspiracy against Syria involving Israeli Zionists, Saudi Wahabis, the United States, Turkey, and NATO. Questions about the possible funding of Salafists by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Libya, and other Arab countries only serve to further complicate the picture.
With so many claims and counter claims it is easy to lose sight of the issues that should be of central concern. How best can the international community work together to prevent further atrocities? How best can the international community work together to bring much needed humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees and those living in conflict zones? How best can the international community support Syrians with implementation of a new government should Assad fall? How can the international community help to assure equal rights for all Syrians in a post-Assad Syria? How can the international community use diplomacy to end the conflict and assist the process of transition to democracy? Perhaps most controversial of all is the question of when, if ever, should outside forces intervene militarily in Syria? If so who should intervene and in what manner?
Answering any one of these questions is difficult, but one very important question may soon have an answer. Serious efforts are underway to form a transitional government which could immediately take charge of the Syrian government in the event of the demise of the Assad regime. Such a transitional government is necessary if the Syrian people are to be spared further crises should anarchy ensue resulting is either the rise to power of extremists or a post-Assad continuation of ethnic or faith based massacres.
So who comprises this “Syrian opposition coalition” and what sort of assurances can they offer that the transitional government they seek to create will honor and protect the rights of all Syrians? Syria, while predominately Arab and majority Sunni Muslim, is a multiethnic and multiconfessional tapestry made up of individuals who each deserve their universal human rights as enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Could the international community trust a post-Assad Sunni theocracy to give equal treatment to Syria’s Shiites, Alawites, Christians, Druze, Yazidis, Jews, spiritualists, atheists and agnostics? How can the international community be assured that the new Syrian government will be equipped to prevent an ongoing faith based civil war and the potential for ethnic cleansing among Syria’s Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians (Syriacs), Armenians, Circassians, and Syrian Turkmen?
Will this new transitional government defend and expand the rights of women, up to and including legal parity with men in the new Syria? What about the rights of the LGBT community in Syria? Will freedom of speech and of the press be abridged? Will freedom of religion be stifled or stamped out? Will this proposed transitional government be competent enough to rebuild Syria’s economy and infrastructure?
Will they be willing and able to forge necessary diplomatic ties with a wide spectrum of outside nation states in order to secure a good standing for the new Syria among the international community? Will the transitional government be willing and able to crack down on terrorist elements that have spilled into Syria since the conflict began? Will they be willing and able to crack down on arms smuggling and jihadist gangs?
These questions have no easy answer, but a cursory look at the individuals that make up the Syrian opposition coalition, formally known as the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and informally as the Syrian National Coalition, gives some reasons to hope, as well as some cause for concern. Founded in Doha, Qatar in November of 2012, the Syrian National Coalition was the brainchild of longtime Syrian dissident Riad Seif, who was elected co-vice president along with Suheir Atassi, a secular feminist. Former “moderate” Sunni imam Moaz al-Khatib was elected president.
In the short month since its creation the Syrian national Coalition has received praise, criticism, cooperation, condemnation, and skepticism. Whether it is operating in good faith and is up to the task of justly and competently governing post-Assad Syria during the transitional phase remains to be seen. In any case the international community must remain steadfast in efforts to prevent further mass atrocities in accordance with the United Nations’ responsibility to protect initiative as asserted in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, paragraphs 138 and 139 and in UN Security Council Resolution 1674 and in its support for a free, democratic, secular, pluralist Syria under which all Syrians will be afforded equal protect before the law in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
2005 World Summit Outcome Document (excerpt):
138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.
139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1674:
Links for further review: