Back to the future

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria speaks to reporters, as UNHCR representative to Jordan, Andrew Harper listens during his visit to the Zaatari Refugees Camp for Syrians who fled the civil war in their country in Mafraq, Jordan, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

News reports from New York, where the United Nations General Assembly convenes this week, say Syrian President Bashar Assad is determined to see his country exit its 18-month-old crisis, by taking it back to the future.

U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told the Security Council that Assad rules a country in which people are afraid to go to the hospital, simply because they are under the control of government forces. It’s a country in which torture has become the rule, not the exception. Syria today, according to Brahimi, is a place where fundamentally important sectors, such as education and agriculture, are in free fall.

As many international organizations have pointed out, Syria is hemorrhaging its people, while the very fabric of the country is being shredded daily by the government’s iron-fisted approach to dealing with what began as a peaceful, civilian uprising.

Perhaps the Syrian president hasn’t received a full briefing on the last year and a half. Thousands have been displaced by shelling, bombs, shooting, arrest campaigns and other acts of violence, and have either fled Syria or relocated elsewhere in the country. In the capital, public parks are full of refugees. Thousands of people have been reduced to depending on charity or asking for money from passers-by, just to make it through the day. The country’s international reputation has become linked to death and destruction, atrocities and massacres, and the relentless use of military aircraft against civilian population centers.

The economy is in tatters. The once-promising tourism sector has collapsed, along with a source of national pride, namely that the country could feed itself.

The regime presided over by Assad claims to favor dialogue with an opposition, but only one that is hand picked by the authorities. The regime allows members of the “loyal” opposition to gather in Damascus to hold conferences on the future of Syria, while the regime also harasses and arrests the same people it claims to be cultivating as partners in a solution.

Amid all of the well-documented death and destruction, Assad believes Syria should merely “go back” to the way things were in the days of his father, the late Hafez Assad.

It’s easy to blame Assad for his inability to come up with anything other than a plan to take Syria back in time. The international community shares responsibility for this state of affairs. U.N. delegates will hear horrific tales this week, but if no concrete plan is produced to end the conflict, no words of condemnation will do a single thing for the millions of Syrians who would like to be surprised, for once, by the rest of the world.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 25, 2012, on page 7.




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