OKLAHOMA CITY —
A student of the Middle East recently observed that when rebel forces reach a nation’s commercial capital it usually indicates that the ruling government’s days are numbered.
Recent reports of what is called the “Free Syrian Army” fighting government forces in the mercantile center of Aleppo may indicate that the Assad government that has ruled Syria for more than 40 years will soon be gone.
The Oklahoma City-Edmond area is home to more than 30 physicians from Syria, as well as many other immigrants from that nation who operate businesses in the area. Most of them still have family there, and deplore the violence that the Assad government has visited upon the Syrian citizenry and beleive that regime change in Syria is warranted as a result. Several of them have expressed fears that if the conflict in Syria is not ended soon it could spill over into the neighboring states of Turkey and Lebanon.
What type of government that the Syrian rebels will seek to impose on their nation remains to be seen. But in recent days there have been reports that may be indicative of how they would like to rule Syria.
The BBC reported that in an area under the control of the rebels, a governing council was set up that included Sunni Muslim clerics, and that that body ordered that a young man who had had sexual relations outside of marriage recieve 100 lashes. Under the Assads, who are members of the Alawite Shia minority, Syrians were not subject to the strict Muslim law that governs other Middle Eastern state, alcohol was freely available, and women were not required to wear headscarves in public.
Christian Science Monitor correspondent Kurt Shillinger, who formerly covered the Middle East for that publication, has recently written about what is needed to insure a prosperous and peaceful post- Assad Syria. He believes that Syria’s neighbors and other interested parties should work to form a coalition government for that nation that would include representatives of all of its religous and ethnic groups.
Shillinger also thinks that a commission should be set up in Syria that would be similar to the Truth and Reconcilation Commission that was convened in South Africa to investigate the crimes that had been committed under Apartheid. Such an undertaking, Shillinger asserts, would foster healing and reconcilation among those who have suffered under the Assad government and in the struggle to oust it.
The Assad government has been allied with Iraq and has supported the Lebanese organization Hezbullah that is committed to the destruction of Israel. The Golan Heights are part of Syria but have been been ruled by Israel since it was seized during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Shillinger maintains that if the Israeli government were to display some flexibility on the issue of returning that territory to Syria would encourage a post Assad government to repudiate its predecessor’s alliance with Iran and Hezbullah and seek a partnership with the U.S.
WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.