The Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria (CCSDS) was honored to host Dr. Burham Ghalioun, Syrian politician and academic, at the third session of the CCSDS’s Forum for Knowledge and Freedom of Opinion. Dr. Ghalioun is a professor of political economy at the Sorbonne University in Paris, ex-president of the Syrian National Council and a member of the Syrian National Coalition for the Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

This month’s session of the forum was entitled The Syrian Trap between Continued Indecision and the Prospects of a Solution and set out to discuss the reality of the Syrian crisis given the absence of any prospects for a political solution. The session also focused on two other although inseparable topics: the inability of both fighting parties to demonstrate military decisiveness; and the increased suffering of Syrian refugees both within the country and in neighboring states.

Yasmeen Merie, the session coordinator, began proceedings by reading out the session’s briefing paper before giving way to Dr. Ghalioun who spoke in great depth about the Arab Spring. He discussed the impact of the movement on each country’s social structures but was careful to avoid banal generalities that diminish the distinct and unique character of each movement and the countries in which they occurred.

Dr. Ghalioun then went on to hypothesize that what happened in Syria was quite different from the popular narrative spun by the opposition. Events progressed quite differently during the evolution of the peaceful revolution into the armed conflict. Rather than being one unified movement, it devolved into a several competing movements that have divided the opposition. He further argued that the recent retreats of the armed opposition in the face of increased efforts by the Assad regime to regain control before Geneva II is an invention by the media. Indeed, the regime remains unable to seize back the initiative or decisively defeat the opposition.

In regard to Geneva II, Dr. Ghalioun rejected it as mere theatrics that will not produce any important results. The posturing that is Geneva II is just another way for the West to present itself as seeking a solution for the Syrian people even though the conference only serves to prolong the conflict. Indeed, the only reason that the conference is taking place is because the international community has abandoned its responsibilities in protecting Syria. Despite this, Dr. Ghaloun urged the opposition to attend Geneva II if only to block attempts by the regime to regain its international legitimacy.

At the end of his presentation, Dr. Ghaloun predicted that the future will follow one of two paths: the first would be establishing mutual understanding among the Syrian people and reaching a considered, internal settlement. Unfortunately, he believed this to now be an impossibility for the conflict has destroyed any semblance of trust or understanding between the two sides. The second would be to find an international settlement – a settlement largely between Russia and America. If such a settlement could be reached then it is far more likely that an internal settlement could work. In regard to the military conflict, Dr. Ghalioun argued that the armed struggle must continue even if we wanted to enter Geneva II. As our participation in Geneva II seems likely, we should continue to support the rebels and its fighting forces.

Dr. Ghaloun’s presentation was followed by a question-driven discussion. The conversation started by discussing the political performance of the opposition before progressing on to the prospects of a solution, the preparations for Geneva II, the Coalition’s attitude toward extreme Islamic organizations as well as their attitude towards the question of autonomy for the Kurdish regions.

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