Ahead of a summit meeting on Syria scheduled to take place in Switzerland next month, the Arab media are reporting the possibility that President Bashar Assad may nominate himself once more, causing — for the first time — a public clash with Russia.
“Damascus asserts Assad’s right to nominate himself for president,” reads the headline on the website of Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera.
“I ask the opposition, why is it not the right of a Syrian citizen to run?” sheepishly wonders Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad, whose photo adorns the article. According to the report, Syria’s protest followed Russian criticism of Assad’s indication he may run for president once more. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that Assad should refrain from such talk ahead of negotiations with the opposition in January.
“Signs of discord between Moscow and Damascus concerning Assad’s candidacy,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat. Assad, the article remarks, has repeatedly stated his intention to run in elections scheduled for late 2014. Diplomatic sources told the daily that the US has informed Russia (presumably acknowledging Russia’s role as patron), that, if Assad ran, America would consider the elections “illegitimate and disruptive to attempts to form a transitional government and implement the declaration of Geneva I.”
Al-Hayat columnist Abdul Wahhab Badrakhan fears that the West has grown convinced that Assad is in fact in the midst of combating terrorists rather than “his own people.”
“Ahead of ‘Geneva II,” the Americans and Russians must clarify their positions on the fact that the battle being waged is between Assad and the Syrian people, not between him and the terrorists. As a result, the required political solution should strive for international containment of the conflict rather than recreating the regime in the name of fighting terrorism,” writes Badrakhan.
Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera interviews the leader of the Islamist opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Muhammad Julani, who tells the channel that when Assad eventually falls, his group will not rule Syria alone. Sharia will certainly govern Syrian law, he said, but Shura councils will decide on legal matters and implement a “just Islamic government” that will rule by the law of God.
The Nusairi sect, a derogatory term for the Alawites to which Assad belongs, have defended Israel’s borders, Julani charged. The international community often invokes the rights of minorities in Syria to maintain Assad in power, but his group will protect minorities as prescribed by Islam, he argued.
But for one Arab columnist, Julani may in fact be a collaborator with Assad. In an op-ed published in Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat on December 14, Abdul Rahman Rashed writes that the appearance of Islamist organizations on the Syrian battlefield, just as Hezbollah entered the scene, could not be a coincidence.
“No one can believe that these groups want to topple the Assad regime, or go to heaven. It is certain that they are run by the Syrian regime and its Iranian allies, just as the Syrian regime ran [the Lebanese-Palestinian jihadist group] Fath Al-Islam in Lebanon [in 2006-2007], who allied themselves with Hezbollah to fight their foes.”