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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Au pays de Sham, le dramatique marchandage international

by Pierre Barbancey

In the Land of Sham, a Dramatic International Bargaining Session

Translated Tuesday 5 April 2016, by Henry Crapo, Isabelle Métral

Five years later, Syria lives in pain. The country has become an area of ​​international conflict. Those forgotten: the Syrians, who dream neither of a caliphate, nor of moderate Islamists, nor of an authoritarian regime.

Damascus (Syria), by special envoy.

The first protests erupted in Syria on March 15, 2011. Marchers call, peacefully at first, mainly for social change. The government’s economic policy - which had notably cancelled financial aid for basic necessities, and initiated privatization, in particular, of industrial and academic sectors - was denounced by hundreds of thousands of Syrians. But the blindness of those in power, the repression that resulted, as well as the plans of Islamist movements supported by the Gulf countries, Turkey and then by Western countries [1], have divested the Syrian people of control their movement. Week after week, armed clashes multiplied. In July 2011, in Idleb, northern Syria, near the Turkish border, l’Humanité gathered testimony from people who said that an armed group had taken over the city before retiring. Near the Lebanese border, they talked about arms trafficking, also near Jordan. The outbreak of an armed movement was a gift to those in power.

Five years later, while the conflict has claimed more than 300,000 victims (dead and injured), while millions of Syrians have been displaced or have become refugees, the reality is terrible. The Syrian government, which one believed ready to collapse in 2012, is still in place. Syria became the scene of clashes of regional powers using proxy groups. Foremost, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), supported at arm’s length by France, the US and the UK, and also by Turkey, proved to be an empty shell. If, initially, some elements were actually secular, it eventually proved to be the case that the Islamists of all stripes, beginning with the Muslim Brotherhood, which already had a military wing, pulled the military and political strings, thus closing the door to the democratic and secular claims of the majority of the population, imposing, as in Iraq, a societal breakdown into religious communities.

Paris had only one goal: to bring down the regime

The emergence of the organization of the "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant", which was later transformed into the "Islamic State" (Daech), is simply the result of destabilization of these societies, urgently desired by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. We even heard the former French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, ensure us that the Syrian branch of al-Qaida, the Al-Nusra Front, was "doing a good job on the ground". In reality, far from the demands of the Syrian people, Paris had only one goal: to bring down the regime. Even to "give" Syria to the Islamists. The cosy name of "moderate rebels", widely reported in the mainstream media, does not hide the failure of Western and particularly of French strategy. Is this not the same Fabius who thundered that "the important thing is Aleppo, not Kobane"? The reference to the siege suffered by the Kurds of Rojava is important. France did not come to their aid, but the people’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ) indeed inflicted the first and heavy defeat to Daech. With this momentum, the Kurds set up a democratic government system based on respect for all ethnic and religious communities and on male / female equality. A program that is not that of the Islamists, be they moderates or not!

The Syrians people are those largely absent from this haggling

While the Syrian opposition is diverse, France supports only one group, one that has the ear of Riyadh. Thus, the Party of the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD), an ally of the Forces for Democratic Change, was not invited to the discussions currently taking place in Geneva. Discussions that one wonders if they will succeed. The Riyadh opposition intends to negotiate only if the Syrian President goes, which is their way to close the door. For its part, Damascus, which has gained ground thanks to the Russian military aid, feels obliged to nothing. Especially with the danger that Daech represents (also the Al-Nusra Front and groups affiliated to them more of less closely), no one can separate out the Syrian Arab army to attack it (even if, still in France, some media claim - the opposite of what we saw on the ground - that government forces do not attack the jihadists).

The cease-fire is in progress under the auspices of the United States and Russia, shows the entire international dimension of the conflict. But so far, the Syrians themselves are largely absent from this haggling.

[1Translator’s note: This description of the early days of protest, and the subsequent killings of demonstrators and police, makes no reference to the role of US embassador Robert Ford and his colleagues.

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