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Assad exit in 2017: A plausible scenario?

Ghada Atef , Friday 22 Jan 2016
Assad
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (Photo: Reuters)
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Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and his “inner circle" should leave office by March 2017, according to a US government document recently obtained by the Associated Press.

Although it is not clear yet whether the document represents a set of policy recommendations on Syria or an actual decision by Washington awaiting implementation, it sets a timeline for political transition in Syria.

However, President Barack Obama himself will be leaving office in January 2017, two months before Assad's departure in accordance with the Obama's administration's timeline.

Some analysts believe that this situation raises uncertainty about the future of the transition plan.

Radwan Ziadeh, head of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington, told Ahram Online that the document offers only expectations for what should happen. He is not optimistic about it, arguing that the plan "will not take place because Assad won't be committed to it."

"The opposition will not stop such solutions, but Assad will. He is still the strongest party here, using his airforce to kill civilians, and he believes that Russia's military support for him is the key," said Ziadeh.

"The only way to get out of that long crisis is using power against Assad and forcing him out, through imposing a no-fly zone which will prevent him from using his military airforce and his barrel bombs," he added.

According to the US document, a new president and parliament for Syria should be elected by August 2017 to end the ongoing civil war, with the UN Security Council providing a "framework for negotiations between Assad's representatives and the oppositions." 

A security committee will also be formed in advance in April 2016, which "would be accompanied by an amnesty for some government and military members, and moderate opposition leaders and fighters."

From May until November 2016, the Syrian parliament will be dissolved and the UNSC will supervise the establishment of a transitional authority and legislature, though no details were provided on the mechanisms and means of achieving such process.

International donors will fund Syria's processes of transition and reconstruction and a new constitution will be drafted, the document stipulated.

It also involves "setting a schedule for drafting a new constitution, with free and fair elections to be held within 18 months under UN supervision with all Syrians."

The plan seems close to a UN resolution that was unanimously approved in December 2015, which called for a ceasefire and negotiations between the Syrian regime and opposition figures.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby described the document as a "working-level" document which of "laid out a potential way forward for the political process."

The US administration wants a "government in Syria that Syrians have had a hand in making and in preserving," Kirby said.

Kirby stressed that the war-torn state should be unified, non-sectarian and free of terrorism, accentuating that "we continue to believe Assad can't be part of the future of Syria."

Since the Syrian civil war erupted, more than 250,000 people have lost their lives, in addition to the displacement of 12 million people, the UN said in August 2015.

For Syrian journalist and activist Bassel Oudat, who spoke to Ahram Online via email, the formation of a security committee which will combine military members of the regime and the opposition is "one of the most important points in the leaked timeline."

"This is the best way out for Syria to begin the reconstruction of the country, especially in light of the divergences between the Syrian political opposition and the large numbers of the armed groups in Syria. Each side has its own ideology and supporters," said Oudat.  

"Without such a plan, there is no realistic solution on the short or the medium term", said Oudat, stressing that a solution can only take place if Assad and his advisors have no influence on the to-be-established security committee.

But he drew attention to the need for international consensus and the prevention of funds directed to the armed opposition factions in order to make them accept the plan and join it.

For Majid Rafizadeh, a US-Iranian scholar and President of the International American Council, pro-Assad Iran could be a regional obstacle against the implementation of the plan, and making a compromise with the Shia state on this issue a necessary step.

"If the Alawite state remains in power, Tehran will be willing to abandon Assad," Rafizadeh argued. He mentioned that the plan is likely to happen, but believed that the departure of Assad will not resolve the Syrian conflict.

"Syria has turned into one of the largest regional and international proxy battlegrounds of our generation," he concluded.
 

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