Farouk al-Sharaa

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You are Farouk al-Sharaa, Vice President of Syria

File:Sharaa.jpg

Quotes

"With every passing day the political and military solutions are becoming more distant. We should be in a position of defending the existence of Syria. We are not in a battle for an individual or a regime.”

"The (Syrian) opposition cannot decisively settle the battle and what the security forces and army units are doing will not achieve a decisive settlement."

"Peace in exchange for territories."

"I think the Israelis as a people desire peace."


Your Political Position

Let’s start by saying that you are a survivor. You served both Bashar Assad and his father Hafez as Syria’s Foreign Minister, in a tenure than ran for over 20 years and led to your achieving international prominence. As a Sunni Muslim serving a leadership from the minority Alawite sect, you helped give both Assad governments political credibility with a crucial segment of Syria’s population. In a recent article about you, scholar Joseph Kechichian calls you “wily yet affable,” and that description seems to be most apt. Yet, in 2006, you were moved into the Vice Presidency and, at the time, it appeared that time as an influential figure was coming to an end.

Not so fast.

With Syria being convulsed by a long and brutal civil war, two interesting things have happened that reflect the potential for your political renaissance. First, there has been a series of rumors claiming that you had defected, or that you were joining the oppoisition. The Assad government takes such rumors very seriously, having lost a number of key figures (including former Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab, a number of military leaders, and both your cousin Yacoub al-Sharaa and your niece, Lamia al-Hariri). Indeed, it had been five months since your last public appearance when you were shown in a video (said to have been filmed in mid-December 2013) in a meeting in Damascus with Iranian officials. These persistent questions suggest that your status may yet be fluid, and raise the possibility that you may have connections with (or sympathies towards?) the opposition. This is tied to the second interesting thing, which has to do with possible peace talks tentatively scheduled to begin in January 2014. The one consistent point being made by opposition figures across the political spectrum is that there can be no acceptable settlement agreement that leaves Bashar al-Assad in power. While no serious Syrian observer questions Mr. Assad’s skill at holding on to power, should it happen that Mr. Assad agrees, or is made to step aside, the line of succession would then lead…to you. You could be the person that would be palatable enough to all parties that you could lead a transitional government in Syria.


Personal and Political Background

A Sunni Muslim, you were born on January 17, 1938 in Mahadra, near the Syrian-Jordanian border. You attained your Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature at Damascus University in 1963 and married a year later. You have two children. While working for Syrian Arab Airlines in London, you finished your post-graduate work in International Law at London University.

You gained international prominence by serving as Syria’s foreign minister for over twenty years, from, 1984 until 2006You have stated that you seek a "real, just and comprehensive peace which will safeguard our dignity, allow us to regain our occupied territories and bring stability to the whole Middle East,” but you have also stated, "peace will not survive unless all Arab territories occupied by Israel are returned". Throughout all the Arab-Israeli negotiations you have held the position that Israel must withdraw all their forces from the Golan Heights and all occupied Arab lands before Syria will sign any peace agreements with them. This is in accordance with Resolution 242 of the UN Security Council. You are known for your successful negotiating skills, as your rapid rise to prominence can attest. You sincerely want peace in this war-torn region but at the same time refuse to sign an agreement until all Arab territory occupied by the Israelis, most notably the Golan Heights, is turned back over to Syria.

In April 2001, in response to Israeli attacks on a Syrian radar station you stated that they had made a “grave error” and “an attempt to kill the peace process.” You believed that it was another example of Israel’s unwillingness to make peace with Syria or any of the Arab nations. After 9-11, the United States soon engaged in a much broader strategy of fighting terrorism, chilling the relationship between Syria and the US due to Syria’s support of Hezbollah and other militant organizations.

In 2003, you were one of the loudest and most vocal opponents of the American led invasion of Iraq. You emphasized that the war was conducted without a UN mandate and was illegal. You pointed to the catastrophe and in 2004 repeatedly mentioned that Iraq was worse off after the war then before. You denied that Syria was providing a haven to militants wishing to enter Iraq and fight the American occupation. Regarding Hamas and Hezbollah using Syria as a base of operations, you consistently tell the media that these are legitimate organizations fighting Zionist aggression, and that they do not use Syria as a base for military operations anyway.

In 2006, you were replaced as foreign minister by Walid Muallem. You were appointed vice president to replace Abdel Halim Khaddam, a move that Bashar Al-Assad painted as a promotion, but that was seen by many as a sign of your being eased out of power. Still, you were charged with keeping your hand in foreign affairs, and you continued to play a significant role in Syria’s regional and international affairs. In 2011, you also headed a National Dialogue Committee officially charged with responding to the grievances by those opposing the Assad government. This move had no credibility with the opposition or anyone else, and went nowhere.


Role-Playing Notes

Joseph Kechichian writes of you that “as a Sunni leader, Al Shara’a remained a potential powerbroker, because a majority of Syrians easily identified with him. Likewise, because of his Baath Party membership and loyalty to two Al Assad presidents, Alawites and especially merchant classes in Aleppo and Damascus were also reassured by his voice.” It is not impossible to imagine a scenario where negotiations to resolve the Syrian Civil War take place, and where neither a wounded Assad nor an untested opposition leader can viably lead Syria into the future. In such a circumstance, your experience, reputation, and background could make you the alternative that everyone can live with, even if you aren’t anyone’s first choice. Do your best to maintain relationships with as many parties as you can, to keep from being seen as 100% “Assad’s Man,” and to leave no question about your ultimate loyalty to Syria.


References

Farouk Al Shara'a: Affable yet wily diplomat. (n.d.). Newsletter. Retrieved January 1, 2014, from http://newsfromsyria.com/2012/09/06/farouq-al-sharaas-missing-week-2/

Kechichian, J. (2012, August 24). Farouk Al Shara'a: Affable yet wily diplomat. gulfnews.com. Retrieved January 1, 2014, from http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/farouk-al-shara-a-affable-yet-wily-diplomat-1.1065417

Syrian VP Shown in Damascus Following Defection Allegations. (2013, December 25). aol.on. Retrieved January 1, 2014, from http://jobs.aol.com/videos/e/syrian-vp-shown-in-damascus-following-defection-allegations/517456309/

Council on Foreign Relations document: "Syria's Leaders" http://www.cfr.org/publication/9085/syrias_leaders.html#1

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