#FCBBCA: Crisis in Syria – what can be done?

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By Emily Wight 

Almost a year since the uprising began inSyria, 7000 people are estimated to have died at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The death this week of the revered journalist Marie Colvin – a founding member of the Frontline Club – has intensified the media spotlight on what has become a humanitarian crisis.

A panel of experts on the situation came to the Frontline Club on Friday for a #FCBBCA event exploring possible solutions to the situation.

Chaired by BBC Arabic presenter Rasha Qandeel, Crisis in Syria – what can be done? began with a tribute to Marie Colvin before Qandeel began the discussion.

The panel was nothing if not balanced. British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai, a reporter for Channel 4’s documentary series Unreported World, focussed on the plight of Syrians; meanwhile Ammar Waqqaf, a member of the Syrian Social Club – which strives for regime reform rather than regime change – claimed that the killing of army members by rebels is commonplace.

Waqqaf also referred to a poll – the source of which he couldn’t say – showing that the majority of Syrians supported Assad. Navai found this hard to believe, recalling her time undercover with members of the opposition movement in October, when they found themselves under siege (“You couldn’t walk down the road to get bread”, she said).

Navai dismissed any speculation that the rebels weren’t simply ordinary people whose human rights had been trampled on by an oppressive regime:

“Who are the rebels? Who is the Free Syrian Army? They’ve taken to arming themselves to protect themselves and their families – it’s a natural progression. The activists are not terrorists.”

Navai also insisted that Assad has a stronger military than Gadaffi ever had inLibya.

Debate moved on to what can be done to stop further bloodshed. Scores of refugees have fled across the border toTurkey, but Qandeel spoke of latest BBC reports that the Syrian government has now lined their borders with landmines to kill anyone attempting to leave the country.

Should, then, the international community intervene? If so, how?

Dr Mouna Ghanem is a gender expert and vice-president of the political movement Building theSyrianState, which aims to unite Syrians with a variety of ideologies in forming a democratic and egalitarian state. She still has faith in diplomacy, saying:

“Only through international consensus among other countries – this is the only way for a safe exit strategy. We can stop the killing by creating an international consensus amongRussiaandChina.”

Others on the panel as well as audience members agreed that this is looking less and less likely.

The biggest controversy of the evening, however, came after Malik Al-Abdeh, Chief Editor of the Syrian opposition Barada TV, pointed towards the sectarian issue as the “elephant in the room”. The Syrian regime is dominated by Alawite Shiites; Al-bdeh claimed that “Sunni Arabs feel that the state doesn’t represent them.”

But Dr Ghanem insisted the situation was simply a question of pro- versus anti-Assad. Audience members spoke up; many had personal ties to theMiddle Eastand could shed light on their experiences. All were passionate about the humanitarian crisis unravelling in the country and hopeful that, somehow, it must come to an end.