Let’s stop the foreplay and get down to the real sweaty business at hand. The Syrian war will never end until the al-Assad regime is deposed and replaced with another suitable regime that will work towards stabilising Syria. America cannot do this, the United Nations cannot do this. Only Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia can do this with the backing of the other Arab League members. Syria was formerly in the Arab League but membership has been suspended due to the civil war.
In fact, probably only Russia and China have to act to instigate a regime change given that Syria is heavily reliant on both of them for military support. The other countries represent the bulk of Syria’s trade and sanctions would force the al-Assad government into poverty.
But the last thing anybody wants is the Syrian state to collapse and its economy become destabilized. This is apparently Russia’s number one priority, ensuring the economic stability of Syria. Protecting the existing regime ensures some degree of stability but with the country becoming more alienated from the rest of the world, how much longer can al-Assad keep the engine running before it eventually overheats?
Russia have not ruled out the prospect of a regime change but finding a suitable candidate as the figurehead of the reformed Syrian government is a difficult task. There are reports of hundreds of armed groups fighting in the Syrian conflict, each with its own agenda, some conglomerating to form super-groups that represent the majority share of the resistance. Surely, from this pool of Islamic intellect there must be at least one mutually acceptable candidate?
There needs to be a figurehead who not only inspires loyalty and commands respect, but who will work towards the best interests of the Syrian people.
Let’s take a look at some of the possible replacements that caught my eye:
Abu Ammar al-Umar, leader of the Ahrar al-Sham militia group is an enigmatic man with idealistic notions of an Islamic state governed by Shariah law. His ideals are similar to that involved in the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran and the group is one of the most powerful in the Syrian conflict among rebel factions. al-Umar resents the ISIL threat and also has no love for Hezbollah and other groups that he has deemed as deviants from Islam. Despite this, a number of the Ahrar al-Sham have defected for other groups, including ISIL. al-Umar’s vision is for the reunification of an Islamic Syria and not the global jihad preached by other organisations. Ahrar al-Sham is designated a terror group by Russia, Lebanon, Egypt, UAE and Iraq. Its denomination is Sunni-Salafi Islam with a preponderance towards Sunni.
Abu Muhammad al-Golani, leader of the Tahrir al-Sham, otherwise known as the al-Nusra front or the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. The group is designated as a terror group by the United Nations along with virtually every other country bar Iraq, Lebanon, Qatar and Afghanistan. The reason for this is that the group’s origins and ethics are linked directly to al-Quaeda and the Islamic State despite the tensions between all three groups recently. Whereas Ahrar-al-Sham are predominantly Sunni Muslim, Tahrir-al-Sham abide by the orthodox Salafi-Wahhabi Islam that has been associated with extremists acts of violence.
Anas al-Abdah, president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, the political wing of some of the Syrian rebel forces including the Free Syrian Army. The group is legally recognized by the United Nations and the Arab League as the defacto government of Syria and it operates in exile (I think between Turkey and Qatar) in the hope of bringing stability to Syria. Al-Abdah was educated in England and operated in sectors of information technology. Along with others, Al-Abdah formed the Movement for Justice and Development in 2006 in response to the al-Assad regime in Syria. He has served as president of the defacto government for just over a year, one of the longest tenures of office among presidents of the National Coalition. Russia and China do not recognize the National Coalition as a legitimate government, supporting the al-Assad regime instead.
George Sabra, chairman of the Syrian National Council which was the legitimately recognised defacto government of Syria by those in opposition of al-Assad up until the end of 2012 when it merged with the National Coalition. It left the National Coalition a year later and since then, has lost kudos through a number of hierarchical changes, schisms and defections. Sabra himself is a Christian and former political prisoner of the al-Assad regime. A former communist, Sabra redeveloped his Syrian activist group into a socialist party and abandoned Marxism. His career has been long and varied. The Syrian National Council’s main collective comprises of members of the Muslim Brotherhood which raises some concerns among other groups loyal to the deposition of the al-Assad regime.
Sheikh Moaz Al-Khatib, the first leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a much respected Imam from Damascus with a forward-thinking approach of a united Syria, irrespective of religious denomination. Al-Khatib was imprisoned several times under he al-Assad regime and eventually escaped to Egypt. A Sunni Muslim, Al-Khatib is one of the more forward-thinking and less sectarian figureheads of the Syrian rebel alliances, often being described as a ‘moderate Muslim’.
Albay Ahmed Berri, the Chief of Staff of the Free Syrian Army, originally After a dispute between the Supreme Military Command of the FSA and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces in 2015, Berri was asked to take charge of the field operations once again after a short two-month tenure in 2014. However, his leadership is not recognized by the Supreme Military Command despite his endorsements by the National Coalition. Berri, a career soldier has also been held captive by ISIL. The FSA is predominantly Sunni Muslim although Berri’s own denomination is unknown and is officially recognised by the United Nations and other countries as a legitimized military faction of the National Coalition. Sadly, all interviews with Berri are in Arabic and not translated but you can find the latest one by clicking here.
Ahmad Issa bin Zakaria al-Sheikh (Abu Issa), the former chairman of the the Islamic Front’s Shura Council. The Islamic Front was another collective of rebel groups within groups, once boasting an army of over 45,000 soldiers and comprising of some hard-line jihadist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham. Abu Issa is the leader of Suqour al-Sham, part of the Islamic Front umbrella and was previously known for his moderate views on Syria’s future. Since the collapse of the Islamic Front, Suqour al-Sham joined with Ahrar al-Sham and the charismatic Abu Issa represents the groups political interests. His views have become more consistent with Ahrar al-Sham’s philosophy of a Shariah State. Abu Issa’s groups are not designated terror groups and as a student of the Muslim Brotherhood, he is a Sunni Muslim.
Sipan Hemo, commander of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, otherwise known as the YPG. A Kurdish Sunni Muslim, Hemo’s brigades have been responsible for more damage to the infrastructure of ISIL than a lot of coalition-led attacks. The YPG also fights against Al-Quada and its affiliates such as the al-Nusra group and Hezbollah. Although not designated as a terror group directly, its affiliations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK) has, by proxy condemned the YPG to be labelled as such by Turkey, who have fought against the PKK for over thirty years. Hemo is regarded as many as a hero, a man fighting for the freedoms of the Syrian Kurds, who represent about a fifth of the Syrian population.
Salih Muslim Muhammad, co-chairman of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, the PYD. Salih Muhammad has been embroiled in Syrian politics for decades, becoming affiliated with the PYD in 2003. He is a Sunni Syrian chemical engineer with links to London and Saudi Arabia but his real strength is in his charisma. He is easily the most prominent representative of Syrian Kurds on a political level. Despite gaining his education in Turkey, he is viewed as a criminal by the Turkish government who have issued an arrest warrant for him. Muslim Muhammad has denied active links to the PKK but is still considered an outlaw by the Turkish authorities, despite his prominence on the European and Arab political stage. Muslim Muhammad blames Turkey for a failed assassination attempt against him prior to the arrest warrant.
Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the PYD is the only woman that I can find politically linked to the Syrian conflict. She is a humble and overwhelmingly ‘real’ woman with real stories from the perspective as both a woman and as a political activist. There are heroic women among the soldiers, such as Nessrin Abdallah and Rojda Felat but they are confined to the battlefield, in charge of the YPJ. Nevertheless, their own stories and ethics are honorable and committed. Campaigning for women’s rights in Islam as well as Syria, Asya Abdullah has gained kudos and has already been invited personally by Putin to visit Russia. She is geared towards the emancipation of Syrian Kurds from oppression in disputed territories and of Kurdish descent. Her religion is unknown but the majority of Syrian Kurds are Sunni Muslim. No arrest warrant has been issued by Turkey for Asya Abdullah despite her co-chairing of the PYD with Salih Muhammad
There are probably hundreds of candidates for the job but getting agreement between groups would be difficult. Personally, I’d like to see a woman in charge but that’s just me. We have to remember what Sahih al-Bhukari wrote:
Narrated Abu Bakra:
During the battle of Al-Jamal, Allah benefited me with a Word (I heard from the Prophet). When the Prophet heard the news that the people of the Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their Queen (ruler), he said, “Never will succeed such a nation as makes a woman their ruler.”
Bhukari Vol. 9, Book 88, Hadith 219
Obviously Bhukari had never met Indira Ghandi or Queen Elizabeth I…