Syrians yearn for unity under re-elected Assad

President’s third term offers chance for reconciliation, say Syrians

Syrians smoke water pipes at al-Noufar cafe in Damascus yesterday, a day after embattled president Bashar al-Assad scored an expected victory in presidential elections. Photograph: Youssef Badawi/EPA

Syrians smoke water pipes at al-Noufar cafe in Damascus yesterday, a day after embattled president Bashar al-Assad scored an expected victory in presidential elections. Photograph: Youssef Badawi/EPA

Fri, Jun 6, 2014, 01:00

Damascus returned to normal yesterday after a heavy night of shooting to celebrate the re-election of President Bashar al-Assad.

The streets were filled with people walking to avoid traffic jams, road blocks and checkpoints. Youngsters gathered to dance the debke and sing Suriya, Suriya, a popular patriotic song, and chant victory slogans as women shopped and men sat in cafes smoking water pipes.

Assad is due to be sworn in for a third seven-year term this weekend, following his landslide victory. His first task will be to form a new government. Khaled, a businessman, said this cabinet would be a “national government” that would enjoy “legitimacy”, and so would have the “opportunity to start something new” on the political front, perhaps call for “power-sharing” with opposition groups.

Strong prime minister A veteran of Syria’s long struggle for independence and social justice said

if a “strong prime minister was chosen and the country’s communities are represented in the cabinet, the conflict will finish. Once we are united we can deal with the [radical] rubbish if we have help from the world. We all must come together to forge peace” in Syria.

“I am prepared to lose everything but not lose peace,” he added. He was sharply critical of Europe for withdrawing ambassadors. “If we talk, we can solve our problem. If there is a coup, that will finish Syria.”

Economic consultant Nabil Sukkar criticised the expatriate opposition, the National Coalition, for believing US president Barack Obama, who also fears the rise of radicals, would eventually give insurgents anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons that could change the conflict’s course.

“Being Syrians [the opposition] should not want to see their country further damaged and reach a compromise on the regime’s terms,” he said.

The coalition, however, condemned the election. “The people will continue their revolution until its goals of freedom, justice and democracy are reached,” it said.

Sukkar said the new government is unlikely to take the hard economic decisions needed to halt the downward slide, or to tackle corruption or adopt major reforms needed for development. The ruling Ba’ath party has still not learned the lesson, he said, that the poor can revolt if neglected.

The party, which took power in the 1960s promising social justice, has forgotten that mission and many of its members have become part of the commercial elite, he said. He believes that once the regime has strengthened its hold on the country, reforms will be enacted because there will be no money for reconstruction otherwise.

National reconciliation George Jabbour, a former legislator and academic,

said: “What is important on the ground is national reconciliation. All detainees and kidnapped people must be released. The government will have to deal with armed groups, as the US did to release a soldier in exchange for five Afghan Taliban.

“We must re-establish the rule of law and differentiate between political, religious and ordinary crimes. Once there is justice there will be security. We must get refugees and displaced people to return to their homes and end the economic crisis.”

Assad must recognise that “he enjoys the confidence of a majority of the people” and appoint a new team of advisers to deal with the new political situation, he said.

Criticisms of the president put forward during the campaign would encourage Syria’s citizens to follow the example of his two rivals, said Jabbour. The situation will be better if he adopts a “more conciliatory approach and more democracy”.

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