TEHRAN (Press Shia) – A California-based political analyst highlighted the challenges facing the Syrian Constitutional Committee and said its foreign-backed members have little support in the Arab country and this may give them an incentive to walk away from the committee.  

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“So the question is whether the political opposition will act in Syrian interests,” Rick Sterling from San Francisco Bay said in an interview with Press Shia.

“But they have little support within Syria,” he said, adding, “That may give them an incentive to block or walk away from the Constitutional Committee.”

“Let us hope they still care about their country and they are not just foreign-backed puppets who follow the bidding of a foreign government.”

Sterling is a retired aerospace engineer who now writes about international issues. As a member of the Syria Solidarity Movement and a prominent analyst, his works and interviews have appeared in media outlets around the world.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Press Shia: A 45-member committee equally divided between the Syrian government, the opposition, and civil society held talks in Geneva on Monday about the amendment of Syria’s Constitution. Media sources close to Damascus said that 35 members of the Constitutional Committee traveled to Geneva on Sunday afternoon while UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen kept 45 others in the Swiss city to be part of the mini-committee that would discuss the constitutional reform in the country, after eight and a half years of conflict. The committee will conduct its work and adopt its decisions by consensus wherever possible, or resort to a majority of 75 percent of votes. Observers fear that the required number of votes could prevent the committee from approving any decisions in its upcoming meetings. What do you think about the developments? How possible is it for the Constitutional Committee to reach an agreement given the deep differences and lack of trust between its members?

Sterling: The Constitutional Committee could help bring an end to the conflict. But a key question is whether the opposition is serious. In previous negotiation attempts, they were not serious, they sabotaged negotiations and quickly walked away. Initially, in 2011 – 2015, they thought they could militarily topple the Damascus government.  After that, they thought they could damage the government sufficiently that it would capitulate politically. But this has not happened. Instead, the Syrian government has slowly prevailed on and off the battlefield. 

So the question is whether the political opposition will act in Syrian interests. The government side is headed by Ahmad Kuzbari, who led the effort which revised the Syrian constitution in 2012. The opposition side is headed by Hadi Al Bahra, former leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. He is connected to Saudi Arabia. In fact, he lived most of his adult life in Saudi Arabia. One indication of the prospects will be whether they start with the existing constitution and make amendments to that, or whether Al Bahra insists on an entirely new constitution. A positive sign is that Al Bahra has said they need to “find a way to live with Assad”. That shows he accepts reality.  But behind Al Bahra is Saudi Arabia and the US. Will they again sabotage the negotiations to prolong the conflict? That is the question.

Press Shia: The Syrian Constitutional Committee was established with the aim of paving the way for a political settlement in Syria. If a new constitution is approved by the committee, how practical will this be?  How can the opposing parties guarantee to implement the new constitution? 

Sterling: Syria revised its constitution in 2012, partly in response to the conflict. They made significant changes, especially by changing from a one-party state to allowing competing parties and individuals for the People’s Assembly and Presidency.  It will be interesting to see if the Saudi or Turkish backed opposition fields candidates and if so, how much support they receive in Syria. My guess is that they will receive very little support. Whenever I asked Syrians in Syria about this they said, “We can have an internationally monitored election. Fine. We will re-elect Bashar al Assad.” The opposition has some support from foreign-based Syrians including those who left the country in the 1980s. But they have little support within Syria. That may give them an incentive to block or walk away from the Constitutional Committee. Let us hope they still care about their country and they are not just foreign-backed puppets who follow the bidding of a foreign government.

Press Shia: Given Turkey’s military operation against Kurds in northern Syria and the presence of Ankara-backed extremist groups in the area, what do you think about the negative impacts of foreign intervention on the political settlement of the Syrian crisis?

Sterling: There has never been a time when so many countries collaborated to attack a sovereign state. The “Friends of Syria” was actually a coalition devoted to overthrowing the Syrian government in clear violation of international law. Now, Turkey has invaded and is occupying various parts of northern Syria. The US is still operating bases in eastern and southern Syria. Trump is brazenly claiming the right to use Syrian oil to finance the US mercenary army. There is a desperate need to restore international law. The irony regarding Turkey is that it is using terrorists to invade Syria while claiming that it’s doing this to prevent terrorists from invading their own country. Such hypocrisy! 

Syria has endured an assault by virtually the entire West, the Persian Gulf monarchies, Turkey and Israel.  The Syrian government has withstood the assault, thanks to their own courage and tenacity, plus the important support of a few countries such as Iran, Russia, and the Lebanese resistance. If the resistance succeeds, it will mark a historical turning point. It looks like the tide is turning and sooner or later Turkey and the US will be forced to depart Syria. Then Syria can start rebuilding and reconciliation in earnest.