A Sharaa mirage

Smoke rises at the Akcakale border gate after a shell fired from Syria landed on the Turkish-Syrian border in Sanliurfa province October 7, 2012. (REUTERS/Veli Gurgah/Anadolu Agency)

In the wake of that Syria’s shelling of Turkey which claimed five Turkish lives, authorities in Ankara took a few steps. Naturally, the government verbally condemned the Syrians’ actions, while more importantly, the country’s parliament gave the Cabinet a one-year blank check to send Turkish troops across the border, if necessary, to respond to the provocations and violations of its national sovereignty.

But this has been followed by a disappointing statement by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, when he talked about scenarios for the future in Syria. It was reported that he told a Turkish television station that Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa was a candidate for leading war-ravaged Syria through a political transition, meaning the end of Bashar Assad’s presidency.

These comments deserve several points in response.

First, they have been heard before, and perhaps Davutoglu is forgetting that around the last time they surfaced, the candidate in question, Sharaa, disappeared from the scene, as rumors of his defection swirled.

One should also remember that in the recent past, Russia and Iran have hinted, through the media via various officials and means, that Assad is not as important as their national interests. This development is significant, if true, and if there were additional signs that concrete steps are being considered. However, with his recent comments on the political side of the Syria crisis the Turkish foreign minister opted to produce a nonstarter in the form of Sharaa.

Sharaa has not been seen as a particularly effective figure; his brief of overseeing dialogue with the opposition based inside Syria has ground to a halt, assuming that a meaningful process was there to begin with.

Assad and his regime remain locked into their “go-for-broke” crackdown, amid an increasing cost in human life.

The Sharaa option, if it exists, is something that causes one to question why it couldn’t have been reached after 100 deaths, or even 1,000, but not after the war’s toll has exceeded the figure of 30,000 people.

In making such remarks, Davutoglu is signaling a backtracking, or is laying down a smokescreen for what is happening on his country’s borders with Syria. Are the Turks facing intense pressure to back down?

It remains unclear what Turkey and the U.S. truly want to see happen in Syria, and the same can be said for the stances of Russia, Iran and China. Davutoglu recently discussed the Syria crisis with Iranian officials, but one must also wonder if Assad is truly entertaining the notion of handing over power to his deputy.

Even if Assad is doing just that, Sharaa still represents the regime and there is no guarantee that the Syrians would be rid of their mukhabarat-led system. Did Davutoglu run the Sharaa option past anyone in the Syrian opposition that it has partially hosted, whether in the civilian or military wings?

If the signal is that Turkey can perform the service of switching the sect of Syria’s head of state from Alawite to Sunni, it’s not very appealing – Syrians have risen up to demand a better system of government, and not the same thing run by someone from a different sect.

The only thing that isn’t vague is the killing and destruction. Instead of throwing out ideas that have no chance of success, the Turks, and everyone else, should at least remain silent and not peddle illusions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 08, 2012, on page 7.




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