Syria observer mission – beginning of the end?

Anti-government protesters attend the funeral of protesters killed in earlier clashes in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani December 21, 2011 (Reuters / Handout)
A coordinating group has arrived in Syria to lay foundations for observers from the Arab League to visit the restless land. For Damascus, this long-expected visit may become its final diplomatic battle, RT’s Marianna Belenkaya reports from Syria.

­The observers – like foreign journalists – will be limited in their movements, traveling across the country with Syrian officials. They will see only what the government shows them, but that will only be half of the truth.

On the other hand, the observers have kept regular contacts with the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) of the opposition. So, they could either risk angering Damascus by demanding full freedom of movement, or meet with opposition members in secret. The latter option is a difficult one, though not unlikely, if they manage to win the LCC's support. In that case, they will see what the opposition wants to show them – still only one half of the truth.

The outcome will still be the same if Damascus agrees to ensure transparency, allowing the observers to choose where to go on. Of course, this means the observers will go where the LLC tells them they should. This option is most likely off the table, though. But, no matter which decision the Syrian authorities take, they appear to be cornered – either the observers will not trust them and criticize them on the lack of transparency, or they will wrap up the mission with a long list of accusations.

In private conversations, some members of the opposition said they were sure that observers would leave Syria in a month with a list of high-ranking officials, including Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher. They said the list would be immediately handed over to the International Criminal Court, with further options as follows: a military coup; al-Assad’s murder; or a popular uprising driven, among other reasons, by mounting discontent with the effects of economic sanctions and a tense security situation.

­Opposition consolidating – Syrian regime catching up

Growing rates of inflation and unemployment, shortages of power supplies, and long lines for cooking gas and fuel have proven to be a heavy burden on the Syrian people. At first, those waiting to take their gas canister tell foreign journalists they are all right, and still loyal to al-Assad’s regime – and can get along only on flatbread and olive oil, but eventually the complaints come out.

Go on, shoot! We die in the queue every day,” cries a young man dragging a gas canister. When another in the line was asked who he thought was responsible for their hardships, his reply was surprisingly vague – “everyone.” But the look on his face seemed to imply that “everybody” included the authorities. There are those, too, who are sincere in their belief that Syria has been through harder times and still managed to survive. These people are prepared to wait and put up with difficulties to avoid interference by the international community into their domestic affairs. The opposition is also divided over the need for international assistance.

The opposition here is not made up of officially-registered parties, but the out-of-system groups operating both inside Syria and abroad.

Some opposition members say economic sanctions and international observers will suffice, with the belief that foreign military intervention will result in national disaster. In contrast, others are certain that the “Libyan scenario” may become a necessity if al-Assad does not step down in the near future.

It’s like surgery – the treatment would be painful, but there are no other options since a slow response could lead to gangrene,” they say. Despite the differing views on Syria's future, the opposition is unanimous about one thing – Bashar al-Assad and his team must leave, which will happen sooner or later.

In late summer, some members of the LLC claimed that the Syrian National Council set up abroad and headed by Burhan Ghalioun did not represent their interests. Now, the situation has changed.

The actions of Burhan Ghalioun and the Syrian National Council are in line with our interests in terms of regime change,” local activists told RT. They know what is happening in the country’s restive regions. Such unity is likely to linger until the fall of al-Assad’s regime, but after he is gone, the Syrian opposition is bound to split.

Over the past few months, the structure of the LLC, and the coordination of their actions, have been seriously streamlined. Initially, the LLC gave the impression of a spontaneous grassroots movement built around the following principle: I trust my neighbor, he trusts his neighbor – and we all go out for a rally. Now these committees are well-coordinated agencies with a director, a press service, a communication system, etc.

However, Syrian authorities have been quick to learn some lessons, too. They have learnt to communicate with the press: the Syrian Foreign Ministry now has an official spokesman, Jihad al-Makdisi, who is young, fluent in English and appears to be aware of modern realities. It is a huge step forward, but not enough to win the information war. The Syrian authorities cannot compete on this front either with the press or with the opposition, which could lead to catastrophic consequences.

Still, no one can make a plausible forecast for developments in the country. The opposition, the regime's supporters, and the silent majority are mulling over the possible scenarios. And according to the latest statements from Washington, the West stands firm in the belief that Bashar al-Assad must go.

It is now up to the Arab countries to take their stance. Will they muster enough determination to go ahead with real action against Syria, or will they play diplomatic games trying to kill the clock? Of course, most of the Arab states have made up their minds that the Syrian regime will fall, but they are afraid to take that last step because it could open up doors to the unknown. And it is that fear of the unknown that might give the Syrian authorities a chance, and some much-needed time. Some Syrian circles are certain that in a couple of months the protests will be a thing of the past. They still believe that al-Assad controls everything and the situation in the country is going to calm down soon, a hope some Syrians do not buy into. Now it is the position of the international community that may play the decisive role. The last battle for Syria is on.

Marianna Belenkaya, RT Arabic