Eid al Adha, the feast that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael (and Ishmael’s acceptance) in the Koranic version of the story, is starting relatively quietly in Syria. The ceasefire that both the Syrian government and some of the revolutionaries had agreed with UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and the UN Security Council endorsed, has reportedly held in much of the country for the first few hours after Friday morning prayers today. Demonstrators are taking the opportunity to go to the street.
I have my doubts that the situation is “ripe.” The conflict is far from over. Both sides are hurting, but there is no “mutually hurting stalemate.” The rebellion has been gaining ground in Aleppo in recent days. Some of the rebels feel they have something to gain from continuing to fight. The Syrian army statement accepting the ceasefire was equivocal. It reserved the right to respond to the following:
First, the continuation of the armed terrorist groups’ gunfire against civilians and government forces and attacking public and private properties, in addition to using booby-trapped cars and explosive devices.
Second, attempts of the armed terrorist groups to reinforce their positions as of the beginning of this announcement or getting munitions or members.
Third, the facilitation of neighboring countries to let terrorists pass across the borders to Syria.
On the rebel side, the Free Syria Army accepted the ceasefire, but the radical Al-Nusra Front,which the Institute for the Study of War describes as a homegrown Salafi-jihadist group, did not, thus guaranteeing that the three conditions would not be met. It is hard to imagine a ceasefire holding for long under these circumstances.
That however doesn’t mean Brahimi was wrong to try. He should keep on trying. The ceasefire will give relative moderates both within the regime and among the opposition an opportunity to reassert themselves. He needs to give these people opportunities to express their opposition to continued fighting, reaching beyond the more belligerent components of both sides to find a constituency that will support a political process.
There will be many ceasefire “violations,” and the likelihood of a return to fighting is still high. The ceasefire has no monitoring mechanism. After a few days (or even a few hours) of rest, fighters on both sides may feel like going at it again. The regime is not going to want peaceful demonstrations showing the strength of the rebellion or rearming of the Free Syrian Army. The armed rebels are not going to want the regime to use the ceasefire to regain its balance and reset its strategy, which has accomplished little beyond destruction so far.
Brahimi and his team will need enormous patience and commitment. I wish them well. They will need the kind of faith Abraham and his son demonstrated. Peace requires sacrifice.