World leaders are warming to the idea that Assad may stay

What the Arabic press is saying about the future of Syria with or without Bashar Al Assad

Russian president Vladimir Putin shakes hand with Syria president Bashar Assad in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Alexei Druzhinin / Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
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If we are to believe reports that a Russian initiative is being developed to find a political solution, following the recent visit by president Bashar Al Assad to Moscow, then the chasm between the conflicting parties in Syria and their respective global backers will probably shrink, according to Oraib Al Rantawi, a columnist with the Jordan-based paper Addustour.

The rumoured Russian initiative outlines the prospect of a coalition government that includes the regime. There is even talk that the proposed government will not take any of Mr Al Assad’s powers.

Disagreement will centre on the form of government – interim or national unity – its powers, how long any interim period might be, and which of the various opposition factions will be represented.

This will be no picnic and the devil, as usual, will lie in these details, the writer argued. Dialogues and conferences are probably not going to cut it. The resolution of such questions might require battles on the ground to set the stage for a settlement that wins the approval of all parties.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are in favour of a provisional government, support a wide range of armed fundamentalist groups including Ahrar Ash Sham, Jabhat Al Nusra and Jaysh Al Islam. The trio of countries say that Mr Al Assad should have no role in the interim government, and if he does, it should only be for the shortest period possible – six months according to Turkey – and with as limited power as possible.

It is over such specifics that battles rage, people get killed, money is spent and civil infrastructure get destroyed, Al Rantawi noted.

According to leaks, Russia is suggesting elections without international observers, which casts doubt on the neutrality of the organisers. Other major countries can accept the proposal of an early election, and even see it as a step forward from Russia, but they will not agree to elections without international observers, the writer said. Moreover, many Syrians will have strong reservations about Mr Al Assad as a candidate.

The bloody race between war and diplomacy is likely to continue amid bad news coming out of Syria, the writer said. The only good news recently has been that all players on the ground appear to be exhausted and that other external players are clearly concerned about the costs of a proxy war. This could lead them to step back and work towards a political solution to the conflict.

However, events are moving fast and all concerned seem to be in favour of reaching a political settlement, columnist Ghassan Al Azzi wrote in the Sharjah paper Al Khaleej.

Russia has achieved some strategic goals from its military intervention in Syria. It has saved the exhausted Syrian regime from total collapse; prevented direct foreign military intervention, possibly by Turkey; inserted Moscow as a major player in finding a solution to the onflict; and solidified Russia’s dream of having a military base on the Mediterranean.

But this is the limit of what can be achieved by Moscow’s military involvement in Syria. Air strikes alone cannot secure a decisive victory while land warfare between regular troops and armed groups would be a risky business, as history has demonstrated in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, a costly war would only deepen Russia’s economic woes.

Mr Al Assad’s visit to Moscow on October 21, the first since the outbreak of the civil war, appeared to follow a summons from Mr Putin to inform him of critical information in person. The writer noted that Mr Al Assad returned to Syria on the same day and was accompanied only by his translator.

Two days later, a summit involving the foreign ministers of Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey was held in Vienna to discus the Syrian war at the behest of Moscow. This suggests that all parties want a political solution, with Mr Al Assad’s future the main point of contention.

Mr Al Assad’s opponents continue to say that he has no place in the political settlement or in any interim government. Recent events show that there is now much more flexibility on the part of the international community in accepting that he stay in power for a transitional period. How long this period will last and what role Mr Al Assad is going to remain the main topics of conversation in the halls of power across the globe, Al Azzi said.

• Translated by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni