Syria: Schisms and Rancor Shape the Contours of a Bloody Conflict

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In her most recent TIME article, Rania Abouzeid explains why the chance of a nonviolent resolution to political conflict in Syria is increasingly unlikely: even as embattled President Bashar Assad holds nominal talks with minor opposition groups, tanks remain in the street and his troops continue to mow down unarmed protestors. In the past 19 weeks there have been 1,800 people killed in political violence, according to rights groups, and this number looks only to grow as the conflict drives many of those still in the middle ground into either pro- or anti-regime camps. The opposition forces — intellectuals, Islamists and disenfranchised youth — have begun to consolidate their organizational efforts, but these efforts have proven challanging: a conference attended by some 350 Syrian dissidents last weekend in Istanbul resulted in walkouts and anger. Abouzeid writes:

The assembly had intended to elect 50 members from inside Syria and 25 exiles to serve on a National Salvation Council, but the Damascus gathering (which was to be held simultaneously) was called off after security forces targeted the venue ahead of the event. Instead, the Istanbul meeting elected the 25 exiles, but there was discord, according to Radwan Ziadeh, a visiting scholar at the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University, who attended the Istanbul gathering and declined appointment to a position on the board of exiles. A group of Kurdish delegates walked out, he said, angered by the use of the term Syrian Arab Republic, which they felt failed to acknowledge the country’s long-marginalized ethnic Kurdish population. Tribal representatives also left the meeting.

Even if the opposition does get its act together, its plans to unseat the regime are unclear. Right now it appears to be relying on street protests and waiting for the sputtering economy to collapse, a danger of which even Assad has warned. “The opposition is counting on the economy causing elite members to defect and the country to fall out of government control progressively,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. “So long as the military and state elites stick together to fight the opposition, it will be very difficult to bring down the regime.”

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