Experts say parliamentary elections in Syria on May 7 will do nothing to end the fighting between the Assad regime and rebels. And despite international observers, the current ceasefire is something of a farce.
It's difficult to come by reliable figures in Syria. But Hivin Kako, spokeswoman for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says that the number of people killed there have declined only slightly despite the nominal ceasefire in force since April 10 and the presence of 24 United Nations observers in the country.
The Observatory estimates that around 500 Syrians have died in violence since that date, but the numbers may be higher. The Observatory calculates that some 8000 people overall have fallen victim to fighting between the government under Syrian President Bashar al Assad and rebels. The Syrian National Council, a partially recognized government in exile in Turkey, puts the number of dead at more than 14,000.
Whatever figures one trusts, it is clear that the observers have done little to rein in the Assad regime, and that is unlikely to change even if, as some have suggested, the UN contingent were increased from 24 to 200.
The United States has acknowledged that the ceasefire, brokered last month by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, is not holding.
"If the regime's intransigence continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Friday. "It is clear…that the plan has not been succeeding thus far."
The Syrian opposition, too, seems to have given up on a non-violent resolution to the standoff. Earlier in the week, deserters from the Syrian Army ambushed government troops, killing 22 of their former comrades.
With violence continuing and members of the opposition being taken from their homes by government forces, the parliamentary elections scheduled for Monday can hardly be interpreted as a sign of Assad's willingness for reform.
"In light of the continuing fighting, how are citizens supposed to go out and vote?" Kako told DW. "The army has to be withdrawn back to its bases. Then people could cast their ballots in a reasonable environment."
Rachid Ouaissa, a Syria expert at Marburg University in Germany, also doubts that the Assad regime is serious about implementing the Annan plan. Instead, he argues, the government is trying to provoke the opposition.
"The regime has had success in forcing the opposition to react violently," Ouaissa told DW. "And thanks to some minor tactical maneuvring, it can pretend that it's open to negotiations."
Ouaissa compares the situation with the conflict over Iran's nuclear program, in which Tehran signals readiness to compromise as a means of forestalling punitive international measures.
Pragmatism and Patience
Despite its ineffectiveness thus far, Hivin Kako says that the UN mission is still the best hope for maintaining international pressure on the Assad government.
"Only then will [the regime] stop offering repeated excuses and stick to the truce as well as the other points in the Annan plan," she said.
Others stress that the international community's goals regarding Syria need to be pragmatic.
"The Annan mission wasn't a complete failure," Ouaissa says. "From the moment the Assad regime agreed to meet him, something was won. But huge demands like a change of regime aren't realistic at the moment."
Time may be on the international community's side. Assad has largely lost the positive reputation he once enjoyed in the Arab world as a leader who stood up to the West and vigorously opposed Israel.
Major sources of opinion in the region such as the daily Arabic language newspaper Al Sharq al Ausat have turned against the Syrian president, writing that he has nothing to offer the Arab world and criticizing Syrian involvement in other countries, particularly Lebanon.
Unrest in the populace
While the slow-and-steady approach may be the best option for the international community, the Syrian opposition as well as ordinary Syrians will find it difficult to wait.
Being drawn back into violent conflict is tempting for rebels, but it could ultimately be a fatal mistake.
"As soon as the opposition puts it's faith in force, it has no chance," Ouaissa explains. "In terms of equipment and training, the army is in a far superior position. If it gets sucked into violence, there could be war between individual cities, and not even the best fighting force in the world could win that."
Ouaissa also says that this scenario could lead to something like what happened in his home country Algeria in the 1990s, when a civil war between the government and the Islamic Salvation Army claimed 200,000 lives.
Moreover, ordinary citizens have little reason to have faith in UN observers. Indeed, as various Arabic newspapers have reported, Syrians risk their lives if they try and speak with the foreign watchdogs.
So the situation in Syria remains one of stalemate. And next week's parliamentary elections will likely do nothing to diffuse the basic conflict.
Author: Kersten Knipp/jc
Editor: Rob Mudge