The fate of Aleppo is also the fate of Syria and the region
Since 21 April, the fighter planes of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by the Russian air force, resumed the brutal, destructive and indiscriminate bombing of Aleppo, the country's largest city. The presence of opposition forces in Aleppo, the oldest urban centre in the world and the city that embraces some of human civilisation's most precious heritage, represents a major insult and an embarrassment to the regime that claims to have a right to continue to rule the country.
It has been clear, for weeks, and in light of the stumbling of negotiations over the Syrian crisis in Geneva, that the regime is seeking to impose a siege over the city in prelude to an attempt to seize it and change the balance of power in northern Syria. However, the bombing of Aleppo and its countryside did not target the opposition forces or their quarters and positions. For two weeks, the bombing targeted residential districts, hospitals, medicine stores, schools and mosques causing hundreds of deaths among civilians and wounding thousands of them.
As it did in Homs before, and as it is still trying to do in the Damascus countryside, the Assad regime has no means of regaining control over Aleppo except through death and brutal destruction. In all cases of minority ruling regimes, as soon as the majority begin demanding their rights and rebelling against the relationship of servitude, violence becomes the sole tool used for regaining control. This was the same policy Gaddafi resorted to before; this is what Ben Ali tried to accomplish, and this is what the Assad regime and the coup regime in Egypt are doing at the moment.
A current saying in the political language of the Middle East goes as follows: the Arab Islamic world is witnessing a fierce confrontation between two axes, a Shiite-led by Iran and a Sunni-led by Saudi Arabia or by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. In fact, there is indeed a bloc that is led by Tehran that may be called Shiite or Iranian, or whatever. This block includes Hezbollah, what remains of the Assad regime in Syria and most of the Shiite political forces in Iraq. The opposing bloc, on the other hand, does not represent a conventional coalition or axis. There is no doubt that what Aleppo is living through represents a living testimony to the extreme imbalance of power between the politics led by Iran and those who fall within the firing range of such politics or fall dead or wounded in the hundreds in consequence to it.
It was clear when the agreement to cease all hostilities in Syria came into effect that it was too early to bet on the success of the path of negotiations over the Syrian crisis. The positions of the opposing parties were still far apart, so much so that it was rather difficult to bridge them. At the same time, military victory in the battlefield was still distant for both main parties in the crisis.
During the past two months, and contrary to the illusions rumoured about the existence of a US-Russian agreement over a solution of some kind, there were increasing indications that Moscow and Washington were dealing with the negotiations process in instalments and not in one go.
There has never been, at any moment, an American-Russian deal or a prescription ready for any solution. The negotiations started in Geneva, then stopped, then they were resumed once more, then they stopped again. This was due to the fact that the level of concord between the two international sponsors was quite low and did not touch the main issues set for negotiation. This is what provided the regime and its allies with the opportune moment to breach the ceasefire agreement and to go back to military escalation. But this time the escalation reached levels of prolonged brutality never known to the Syrians since the eruption of the revolution against the Assad regime in the spring of 2011. First of all, because the regime pays no attention to Arab or world public opinion. Second, because Assad does not recognise any force that is capable of deterring the bloc that supports him and supports his war against the Syrian people.
What is certain, anyway, is that Aleppo will not fall into regime hands. The regime can destroy the city and leave no stone in it on top of another. It can kill its inhabitants one by one sparing no child, no woman and no elderly man. But, no matter how far it goes in this policy of death and destruction, it will not be cable to seize control of the city.
Aleppo, just like the whole of the Syrian people, will not return to servitude and will not succumb ever again to the rule of the minority. What is certain too is that irrespective of the fate of Aleppo and its people, the stance of the Syrian people and the Syrian political forces and armed groups will not change: there will be no negotiations, whether in Geneva or in any other place.
The Syrians took to the streets more than five years ago to demand their freedom and an honourable life for their children. After all the death and destruction inflicted by the regime upon Syrians, the Syrians have become more adamant and insistent on their demands for change and for an honourable life.
Yet, silence toward what is going on in Aleppo will have repercussions at the level of the region and its peoples. What goes on inside Syria, just like what goes on inside Egypt or Yemen, does not concern one single country on its own but concerns the peoples of the entire Arab-Islamic sphere. These are interconnected peoples that are linked together by one history and one strategic space and that will most likely end up having the same fate. The echo of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions did not reverberate within Angola or Uzbekistan but within Libya, Yemen, Syria and Jordan.
Today, there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the Arabs sympathise with their brethren in Syria. This has been apparent from the reactions of scholars and political activists as well as from the expressions of protest and anger across the modern means of communication. However, this is far from sufficient. Should the violation of the Egyptians in Rabaa, the Syrians in Ghouta, Homs and Aleppo, and the Yemenis in Taiz and Imran go unpunished, the tyrants would be emboldened to desecrate the life of every single citizen and the lives of all the Arabs.
On the other hand, the countries that stand by the Syrian people and their revolution, and that have for years been endeavouring to put a limit to the Iranian expansionist project and to the sectarian fissures it has caused, realise now that they have lost more than just one opportunity during the past five years. The one fact about the Syrian revolution is that the longer the confrontation is postponed the worse matters get, and not just for the Syrians but also for the entire region. There is no seriousness, neither in Syria nor in Tehran, vis-à-vis the course of negotiations over the crisis. Unless the balance of power in the Middle East is restructured on reasonable and fair basis, the violation of Aleppo will be nothing but the beginning of the horrors awaiting Syria and the other conflict arenas across in the region in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
So, what is to be done?
First of all, the peoples must take to the streets of their capitals and cities to express an unequivocal stance toward what is occurring in Syria. They must speak in the clearest terms and say to the Russians and the Americans that the Arabs as a whole do not approve of the continuation of massacres in Syria. The past Arab waves of demonstrations and protests against the Israeli aggression on Gaza and Lebanon were not without outcome or effect.
In addition, the people have a duty to provide whatever aid they can afford to help the Syrians remain steadfast in the face of this brutal war, which is being waged by the ruling elite in Damascus and its allies in Tehran and Moscow. However, the biggest responsibility falls on the shoulders of the states that support the Syrian people and that has a direct relationship with what goes on inside Syria and the region as a whole. Foremost among these states are Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Certainly, this is not the time for an emotional response, especially since their refraining from intervention during the past several years has rendered the situation in Syria more complex. No one has the right to provoke Ankara and Riyadh into embarking on an uncalculated adventure.
But where is the sense in watching the mobilisation of thousands of Shia mercenaries from Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and even from the Gulf states themselves to fight alongside a fascist criminal regime while Arab young men are barred from offering any financial or human assistance to the Syrian revolutionary forces?
Where is the sense in watching weapon caches being supplied to regime troops while the revolutionaries are prohibited from obtaining the necessary weapons to defend themselves? And where is the sense in watching Russian warplanes dump their fire on top of the heads of Syrians while the forces of the Syrian revolution are denied possession of any anti-aircraft weapons? There is so much room for work to be undertaken in Syria only if there is a will. All that is needed is the will.
- Basheer Nafi is a senior research fellow at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Syrian civil defence volunteers and rescuers remove a baby from under the rubble of a destroyed building following a reported government air strike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Kalasa in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on 28 April, 2016 (AFP).