Syria’s Sunningdale moment


Sir, – Michael Jansen’s welcome and informative analysis of the Syrian war claims that foreign intervention by Turkey and other powers has exacerbated the conflict and some 370,000 people need not have lost their lives (“Turkey deserves the blame for what happened in Syria”, Opinion, December 6th).

Ms Jansen argues that without foreign interference the Syrian government’s initial crackdown would have ended the Arab Spring protests with limited casualties and the government would have initiated promised reforms.

When he first became president in 2000 Bashar al-Assad encouraged a series of national and regional forums to explore democratic reform during a movement known as the “Damascus Spring”. Assad agreed with some reluctance to suppress these forums as they began to promote the two main problems facing any Syrian government, separatism and fierce religious sectarianism

In response to the later “Arab Spring” protests in 2011 and despite opposition from hardliners, Assad finally managed to introduce significant democratic reforms. The 2012 constitution allows the formation of political parties provided they recognise the unity of the Syrian state and practice religious tolerance, and it restricts the future rule of the Syrian President (including Assad himself) to two seven year terms.

On May 8th, 2012 Michael Jansen reported in The Irish Times that amid slightly chaotic scenes with over 7000 candidates standing for 250 seats “at least some Syrian voters are voting with enthusiasm and hope for peace and dialogue” and representatives of five parties other than the Ba’ath Party were duly elected to the National Assembly.

The 2012 reforms may well have been Syria’s Sunningdale moment, for any future peace settlement will surely be based on something similar. But in 2012 Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the former colonial powers Britain and France were more interested in regime change than democracy for the Syrian people. – Yours, etc,