Unlike for much of the past in writing about the Middle East, where the challenge was in trying to make old subjects seem new, the current challenge is in picking just one thing to discuss at a time. It seems that more has happened in the past year than happened in the past thirty. Right now, we have presidential election challenges in Egypt, unrest in Yemen, state-building in Tunisia and Libya, and governmental reform and efforts to redefine the status of women in Morocco, just to name a few. For today’s entry, however, I will stick to my guns (as it were) and discuss Syria.

The UN set up its observer HQ in Syria yesterday and today has gone about trying to do what the Arab League could not – monitor peace efforts. From the initial reports, things aren’t going so well. Neither side is cooperating fully, which is hardly a surprise when you stop to think that neither side hopes to gain much by doing so.

The Annan plan is arguably more favorable to the regime, which it leaves in power with only promises to reform (promises the regime has already shown it is quite willing to break), but even a little movement in that direction could have disastrous consequences for it as its survival depends upon remaining unchallenged. It holds no basis for power other than the power it already has. Meanwhile, the opposition gains nothing from the compromise unless the regime were to do a complete about-face and genuinely open up the system to reform, which as I just said, would be fatal.

I’ve thought for a while that the writing was on the wall for Assad – that his abandonment by Turkey spoke volumes as does Iran’s desire to play for time by supporting the Annan plan – but a friend of mine with access to good information has maintained that he would weather the storm. Lately he’s slightly shifted his position saying that he still thinks Assad will survive but that he may become little more than the mayor of Damascus and Aleppo when all is said and done. I don’t give good odds at such a situation working out well for the mayor for very long.

So if the plan helps no one involved, why are both sides making efforts to abide by its terms (even though they are failing to fully do so)? Both sides think they stand to gain by waiting, that time is on their side. Both are right in different ways. The regime can steadily grind down the opposition, destroying their homes, their lives, and their livelihood. The opposition gains popular support the more the populace sees that the regime cannot win outright and, if the deals go through, money and possibly arms from outside interested parties (namely, Saudi Arabia and other GCC states). Their fighters also get better with practice. In the short term, then, both sides see a good opportunity to regroup and resupply. I predict this ceasefire is a temporary halt and not the beginning of serious peace efforts.

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