The Arabs in Syria

Bassel Oudat , Tuesday 23 Apr 2024

Badr Jamous, the president of the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), spoke to Bassel Oudat about the prospects of a political solution

The Arabs  in Syria

 

According to Badr Jamous, the president of the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), to accelerate a political solution in Syria and thereby avoid further humanitarian catastrophe there, the Syrian opposition would welcome greater and more effective Arab involvement. The SNC was formed in 2015 in Riyadh to represent the Syrian opposition in negotiations with the Syrian regime in the framework of UN Resolution 2254.

“The Syrian crisis is now in its 13th year,” Jamous said in an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Weekly. “The Syrian people are still waiting in vain for the implementation of international resolutions regarding a negotiated solution to the Syrian crisis, while the situation in the country is growing more complex and worse at every level. The security, the economy, conditions for human life are continuing to deteriorate. Internal and external displacement are sapping the country of its people, its strength, its human energies.”

“Despite this,” he continues, “we see a disturbing international silence while the UN remains unable to impose conditions obligating all parties to move forward towards a political solution and the implementation of all UN resolutions, especially the Geneva Communiqué and Resolution 2254. These instruments, to which all world powers and Arab states including Syria have agreed, provide for a negotiating process between the regime and the opposition aimed at forming a transitional governing body endowed with full executive powers and tasked with overseeing the drafting of a new constitution and holding internationally monitored elections.”

What actions is the opposition taking amidst the international inaction?

“So, we continue to do all we can to get the process going and keep it going, although we reject futile negotiations that drag on indefinitely. We communicate with Arab and other regional powers and with member states in the UN Security Council to find ways to pressure the Syrian regime to work towards a political solution and to agree to a clear timeframe and agenda for negotiations to work out the steps for a political solution as called for in the Geneva Communiqué and in UN Resolutions 2118 and 2254.”

According to Jamous, a main reason why the efforts to promote a political solution have stalled is the lack of consensus among UN Security Council members. “Unfortunately, the UN has become a mediator between the countries involved in Syrian affairs instead of being a mediator in the negotiations between Syrians. This is why we continue to work with parties outside the Security Council, especially international human rights organisations and many European legal and humanitarian organisations.”

The UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen has recently stepped up efforts to reactivate the constitutional committee tasked with drafting a new constitution for the war-torn country. Meetings in Geneva came to a halt two years ago when questions arose regarding Switzerland’s neutrality against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.  The SNC, which represents a diverse coalition of Syrian opposition groups, had participated in those meetings. On Pedersen’s attempt to kickstart them again, the SNC president said: “We are always ready to participate in the constitutional committee meetings, provided there are clear mechanisms and a timetable for producing practical and substantial results.  Unfortunately, the Syrian regime refused to come. They objected to Geneva as the venue, even though it is the place approved by the UN.”

“In all events, we informed the UN envoy that we would be perfectly willing to attend the ninth round of meetings if it were held in Riyadh.  After all, our negotiating commission was formed in Riyadh. Also, Saudi Arabia is an Arab country that enjoys considerable influence and prestige among all parties in Syria, the Arab region, and the international community. We are still waiting to hear the results of Pedersen’s consultations with the other concerned parties, especially regarding Saudi Arabia’s response on whether it would be willing to host the meetings.”

Jamous believes that the Arabs, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt above all, have an important role to play in the Syrian process at this time. The SNC has sustained uninterrupted and good relations with Arab countries and is currently working to improve its relationship with the Arab environment, he said. “The Syrian question has an Arab and regional dimension, and we need Arab support, especially from pivotal Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Saudi role cannot be overstated. Also, we have great confidence in Egypt because it seeks just and fair solutions for the Syrian people. Egypt is a regional and international leader which, moreover, has also hosted many Syrian opposition conferences in the past.”

“Egypt is aware of the dangers of the partitioning of Syria or the grip of Iranian influence, and it understands that if Syria collapses, the resultant chaos could spread across the Middle East. Egypt also supports the Syrian people’s right to build a civil and democratic state. Egypt’s position stems from its commitment to a set of established principles as pertains to the Syrian crisis. It supports the preservation of Syria’s unity and territorial integrity, it opposes regional projects to divide Syria and the presence of militia groups, it prioritises political and diplomatic efforts and rejects military solutions, and it supports the safe return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes and the release of all detainees.”

On the European position in general towards the Syrian question, Jamous said, “We recently met with many European officials, diplomats, and parliamentarians. Their positions remain unchanged. They continue to adhere to the three “Noes”: No normalisation, no lifting of sanctions, and no reconstruction. They also continue to support Resolution 2254 as an approach to a political solution for Syria. Some have proposed ideas for Security Council action to get the political process moving again.”

The SNC president believes that the longer the drive to a political solution remains stalled, the graver the risks and perils for Syria. “The ongoing interruption of efforts to reach a political solution generates more migration of human resources, increases chaos, creates openings for terrorism and insecurity, accelerates economic deterioration, facilitates Iranian penetration into the state and society, and increases the risks of collapse and partition of the country. The reason our commission is so eager to speed up a political solution is because Syria, today, faces existential danger as a state. The Syrian regime cannot afford to cling forever to the no-solution formula. Only a negotiated political agreement offers the way out for all parties concerned. Innumerable challenges lay ahead, but a comprehensive path forward opens the ways to find the most appropriate solutions.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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