''Turkey Regards the Assad Regime as Finished'': An Interview with Mustafa el-Labbad

Analysis, posted 09.02.2011, from Turkey, in:
''Turkey Regards the Assad Regime as Finished'': An Interview with Mustafa el-Labbad (Photo: AP)

The visit by the Turkish Foreign Minister to Syria was preceded by verbal confrontation and a "war of declarations" between both sides. How do you interpret these declarations?

Mustafa el-Labbad: They reflect deep tensions in Syrian-Turkish relations. Each side has a different viewpoint on the events in Syria. The regime there refuses to yield and instead suppresses the uprising, while Turkey regards the current upheaval as an expression of popular discontent and the start of a revolution. The mood in Turkey has since moved from mere sympathy to open support of the rebellion. This shows that the formerly excellent relationship between Syria and Turkey, which could even have been characterized as a sort of alliance, has now become clouded by a certain degree of disaffection. The Turkish side is increasingly turning away from Damascus and also applying pressure.

At the same time, Turkey does not wish to break its ties with Damascus. It wants to maintain sufficient leeway in order to influence Syrian decision makers with respect to the country's domestic affairs as well as Syria's relationships with other countries in the region. And it wants to maintain Syrian-Turkish relations.

Turkey has played host to two conferences by the Syrian opposition. In addition, leading figures in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood have held a press conference in Ankara. Is Turkey trying to put pressure on Damascus by signalling that it holds trump cards in its hands?

Mustafa el-Labbad: I think that these conferences clearly took place under the auspices of the Turkish government and in coordination with the respective parties, especially the Muslim Brotherhood organization in Syria. This was more than just a message to Damascus. Turkey has hereby gone so far as to form a Syrian opposition group for the period following Assad's rule.

I am therefore of the opinion that these conferences are an indication that Turkey expects the situation in Syria can only escalate and assumes that the Syrian regime has simply run out of time. Now it is a matter of finding a suitable alternative.

The Muslim Brotherhood organization maintains very close relations with Turkey. Of course, Turkish interests don't only take ideological concerns into account, but also they consider the geographical situation and the geopolitical balance in the region. This is why Turkey is now replacing its former alliance with the Syrian regime with that of the Syrian opposition, in particular, with its most active group, namely, the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

...

Interview by Abduljamil Mikhlafi; Translated by John Bergeron

[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full original text]