Peace in Syria?

The news wires hum this morning with news that peace in Syria might be at hand.  The headlines are a tad optimistic, because the news is that United Nations envoy Kofi Annan made a six-point peace proposal , and the Syrians (along with Russia and China) “reacted favorably.”  Meanwhile, a platoon of Syrian government troops pushed into Lebanon in pursuit of rebels, who reacted unfavorably. 

Reuters describes the Annan peace plan as follows:

Annan’s spokesman confirmed the Damascus had accepted the six-point peace plan, which the U.N. Security Council has endorsed and Annan called an “important initial step”.

Annan said it dealt with “political discussions, withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, humanitarian assistance being allowed in unimpeded, release of prisoners, freedom of movement and access for journalists to go in and out.

The Associated Press adds a few more details:

Annan is proposing a six-point plan that includes a cease-fire first by the Syrian government, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide humanitarian aid, and Syrian-led political talks to address the concerns of the Syrian people.

Why do you need “a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured” if you’ve already got a cease-fire?

You’ll notice “Bashar Assad steps down” is not one of the six points, and it probably isn’t lurking anywhere in the “political discussions” Annan envisions.  The Reuters report offers some clarification on this point:

Assad has used the army to crush protests against his 12-year rule but his ruling Alawite Muslim minority and its allies still have substantial popular support in the country.

Annan had said on Monday that Assad’s government could not resist the “winds of transformation”, but it was too early to introduce any timeline for a peaceful solution.

“It is not practical to put forth timetables and timelines when you haven’t got agreement from the parties,” he said.

Given the remarkable tenacity rebel forces have displayed, in the face of a crackdown that has claimed over 8,000 lives, they might not be willing to settle for a return to the days when Assad gets hailed as a “reformer” while remaining dictator-for-life… especially since he’ll have a stack of corpses behind him, and a robust embrace of the freedom of assembly probably won’t be one of the “reforms” he offers.

Russia and China have been vetoing every attempt by the U.N. to impose serious sanctions against the Assad regime, and many Western observers are nervous about what might replace the dictator if he falls, having learned some harsh lessons on that score from Egypt and Libya. 

Turkey is becoming very nervous about the prospect of Syrian refugees flooding across its borders, going as far as to contemplate a “buffer zone” to protect refugees on Syrian soil near the Turkish border.  Other Arab states are worried about a wider sectarian conflict spreading out of Syria, where a small minority of Alawites (a sect of Shia Islam) dominates a Sunni majority. 

Notably, one of the heroines of the Syrian rebellion is an Alawite actress named Fadwa Suleiman, who has led a small but vocal group of Alawite intellectuals in trying to separate their religion from the Assad regime.  In order to keep the Alawites on board, Assad’s propagandists have been depicting the rebellion as a Sunni religious uprising – a tactic that will likely begin seeping beyond Syria’s borders and inflaming other Sunni populations.  It’s not surprising that the frightened Alawites do not relish the prospect of becoming a 12 percent minority in a post-Assad nation that might well be dominated by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.

With Russia and China standing ready to block any international action that could topple Assad, there is mounting pressure to end the Syrian uprising on terms favorable to Assad.  He might have to hold a sham election, or make some more of the sweet-sounding promises he was dishing out eight thousand corpses ago, but he’ll probably still be there.