Syrian election vindicates Bashar al-Assad
by Sandhya Jain on 03 May 2016 11 Comments
Yahya Al-Shoghri, filmed while being executed by Islamic State in Raqqa in 2014, repulsed orders to chant “long live the caliphate” as his dying words and retorted “it will be erased.” This epitomized the Syrian resistance to the terror backed by Western and Gulf States for regime change; in the April 13, 2016 parliamentary election (as per four-year schedule), his sister, Noor Al-Shoghri, cruised to victory as an independent, on the strength of this anti-IS sentiment.


Syria having created an independent election commission in the new constitution prior to the 2012 parliamentary election, no one questions the fairness of the 2016 election. Despite a boycott by opposition groups, around 3,500 persons stood for 250 seats; the turnout in government-controlled areas was nearly 58 per cent, almost equal to Canada’s in the last federal election and higher than in the last US election. Special booths were installed in Damascus for citizens from rebel-controlled Deir al-Zour, al-Raqqa, Idlib, Aleppo, and Daraa. Over 140,000 refugees returned for a day from Lebanon, to vote.


The election has enhanced President Bashar al-Assad’s credibility in the ongoing Geneva talks, vis-à-vis the Washington-Riyadh-backed opposition delegation which has no mandate from citizens stuck in “rebel-held” areas, where elections could not be held. Though the US, France and Germany debunked the election as illegitimate due to the war, they lauded the recent elections in Ukraine, where fierce fighting in its easternmost region discouraged many voters, because their favoured candidates won.


It bears stating that the majority of Syrians in rebel-held areas opted to become internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Damascus under protection of their own government and Army, rather than become refugees abroad. Even the US-EU-funded Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported in 2012 that, “Syria’s two biggest cities Damascus and Aleppo were seen as safe havens from the violence and gradually saw a large influx of IDPs fleeing from the zones of conflict”. Fleeing from US-EU backed “freedom fighters,” these citizens voted for the government in the 2014 Presidential and 2016 parliamentary election.


Currently, Damascus controls 80 per cent of the population, including 90 per cent of refugees from jihadi-held areas. Even in Aleppo, where fighting continues, 80 per cent of the population lives in government-held areas or as IDPs elsewhere. Over 1.7 million refugees have returned home following the Syrian Army’s success against the jihadis, thanks mainly to Russian strategic intervention.


The Syrian action in Aleppo against al-Qaeda and its allies hurts the US-backed forces which are tightly linked with al-Qaeda, which has long been America’s secret ally against Damascus and Moscow, according to French magazine L’Orient Le Jour. Turkey is keen to acquire Aleppo as a Sunni enclave; Washington wants a military base on Syrian territory. The US Secretary of State John Kerry recently tried to persuade Moscow not to attack al-Qaeda during the ceasefire, but was told that al-Qaeda is a UN recognized international terrorist group which has to be fought under UNSC resolutions. Washington is similarly helpless to defend al-Nusra in west Syria.


Paradoxically, the election and the successful army offensives have not enhanced Syria’s stability. Angered by the election, President Barack Obama on April 25 announced deployment of an additional 250 special operations forces to Syria; journalist Seymour Hersh observed that this nearly doubles US presence in the area and inflames passions against America. Former UN assistant secretary-general Hans-Christof Von Sponeck says such moves undermine the Geneva peace talks.


The additional troops are expected to recruit more Syrian Arab fighters into the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), currently entrenched in northeastern Syria. As Washington continues attempts to break-up Syria, SDF’s mandate is to take as much of eastern Syria as possible from Islamic State and others before the Syrian Army can do so.


Analysing President Obama’s farewell visits to Saudi Arabia and Europe, and attempts to meet Iranian leaders before demitting office, Syrian analysts suggest he is preparing the ground for the next US President, whom he expects (hopes) will be his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The decision to bolster troops in Syria aims to create Kurdistan on adjoining territory in Iraq and Syria, where America might secure a military base. Ankara hopes to push its Kurd population into this enclave. The ethnic cleansing practiced by the now failing Islamic State had such an end-game in mind.


Turkish President Erdogan’s flawed policies have brought Kurds to the brink and destabilised the region. Syrian analysts claim that Kurds were always integrated in the national fabric of Syria, Iran, and, in recent years, even Iraq. The problem is only in Turkey (where Abdullah Öcalan remains the symbol of Kurdish identity and struggle). They add that Riyadh is helping Washington to polarise the region along Shia-Sunni fault-lines.


War-torn Syria thus remains fragile. Besides Turkey wanting Aleppo, Israel wants 154 sq. miles of Golan Heights where oil has recently been found; its assertion that Golan Heights will not be returned to Syria earned a swift reprimand from the UN Security Council. However, recently, Tel Aviv gave medical treatment to nearly 4000 Al Nusra soldiers and sent them back to the war zone.


Observers note that after adopting a low profile in his first term due to the disastrous Bush policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama switched to a forward policy in his second term and attempted to force change in non-monarchical Muslim countries, viz., as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan (split into two), Libya; post-Saddam Iraq continues to simmer. The Islamic State was created when Syria proved resilient. Interestingly, the US national security document 2015 expresses a desire to downgrade ISIS but not destroy it.


However, the weak link in the chain is Europe, which is now overwhelmed with refugees and fears it will pay the price of American adventurism as Turkey pushes for membership of the European Union. The catch is that Ankara has bestowed citizenship and passports on 750,000 Palestinians, whom it wants to export to Europe with other Islamists, to establish an Islamic nation on the continent. Europe does not dare accept Turkey into the European Union and this tussle will aggravate tensions between the two, even as Ankara may use other means to push Islamists into the continent.


These multiple, overlapping conflicts, make the region extremely volatile. Syria, meanwhile, buoyed by nearly one billion dollar deals with Moscow to restore its shattered infrastructure, has vowed to destroy the terror groups and not succumb to Western pressure. 

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