U.N.'s Syrian Envoy Steps Down As Civil War Continues

May 14, 2014

Lakhdar Brahimi will resign at the end of the month from his post as Syrian international envoy, after a failed two-year effort to end the conflict that has claimed more than 150,000 lives in Syria.

Earlier this week, the forces of President Bashar al-Assad took full control of the city of Homs, which had been considered the capital of the revolution against him. Assad is also running for re-election next month, so there are questions about the future of the revolution.

The BBC’s Lina Sinjab joins Here & Now’s Robin Young from Damascus to discuss Brahimi’s announcement.

Note: Please download the Here & Now podcast or use the WBUR app to hear this interview.


  • Lina Sinjab, BBC Middle East regional editor who is based out of London. She tweets @BBCLinaSinjab.
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.



Lakhdar Brahimi is resigning as U.N. envoy to Syria after a failed two-year effort to bring peace to the war-scarred country. Brahimi had this message for the Syrian people.

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Apologies once more that we haven't able to help them as much as they deserve, as much as we should have.

YOUNG: Peace talks broke down in Geneva in February. The only achievement, a brief cease-fire that allowed hundreds of civilians to evacuate homes. The rebels are also gone from homes. The forces of President Bashar al-Assad, who's running for re-election next month, took full control of homes this week.

Lina Sinjab is Middle East Regional Editor for the BBC. She's just returned to London from Damascus. And Lina, what's the reaction to Brahimi resigning and also apologizing?

LINA SINJAB: Well, Robin, I mean, there hasn't been much hope from Brahimi's mission, although the Syrians raised a lot of hope when the Geneva talks actually took place and the two rival sides sat together in the same room face to face. But after that, everyone realized that nothing much will be achieved.

But, in fact, after Mr. Kofi Annan and Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, two very experienced diplomats who worked on peace negotiations in the past, if they both couldn't do anything, who can?

YOUNG: Well, there is another potential shift coming up, although people don't see that there will be much difference after the presidential election next month. You write about the two people running against Bashar Assad. Is there any thinking that Assad will not win?

SINJAB: Everyone you talk to in Damascus knows that this is not an election. It was just a show to tell the world that you see we have democracy here. But it's not democracy. Everyone knows that President Bashar al-Assad is the one who's going to win. In fact, every candidate will need 35 votes from the Parliament and the majority of the Parliament and the parties in the Parliament said they're going to support President Bashar al-Assad.

So it's just like a show, a theatrical show to tell the world that we made changes and we have elections now. It's not a referendum with one candidate. But everyone knows that he's going to stay in power. Now the question is what's going to happen after these elections?

Many fear inside Syria that with the ongoing wins that the Syrian regime is gaining on the ground militarily, they will have even more upper-hand and more repression. There will be no room for any other color but the colors that they want.

YOUNG: Well, and--but you mean the colors of the party of Bashar Assad, which you write are just displayed all over the city in campaign posters and on people's shops and things. And by the way, is that really reflecting support? Because you also write that Damascus itself, the capital, has been shelled, targeted by rounds of mortars, except when there are rallies for Bashar Assad. You indicate there might be some speculation that Assad's regime might be behind the shelling of the capital.

SINJAB: Well, if you talk to residents in the city, they know when the rocket is coming from the rebels side and when is it coming from the government's side. Because if you have a building, south facing and north facing, and the south is with the rebels and the north is in the government's hand, and the rocket is hitting the north facing of a building, so you will know it is coming from the government's side.

But, of course, the government with its propaganda in the media, it's always portraying everything single attack as being blamed on terrorist groups. In fact, even with the human right botched reports two days ago about the use of chlorine, the Syrian government immediately pointed to Jabhat al-Nusra using the chlorine, so...

YOUNG: The opposition, yeah.

SINJAB: Yes. On the opposition rebels. But I have to say the mood in Damascus, although you might see rows of government flags or the official flags, but not everyone is as supportive of the government. There's a majority of people who are so resentful of the government, they don't want Bashar Assad to stay. There are loads of displaced people from the neighborhoods, from the areas that are being shelled by the government war inside Damascus, but of course they are completely silenced.

One resident told me we live in a big prison cell, but we can move with our cars and walk around. They feel the tension every second and they fear killing every second.

YOUNG: Well, and they also fear not voting.

SINJAB: Yes, absolutely. Everyone is now speculating on how the voting process is going to take place. Many are talking that there will be ideas to fold and people are really terrified that that will cause them problems on checkpoints if they were asking them on their voting ideas. So far we don't know how the voting process will take place, but it's causing a lot of fear amongst people.

And let's remind our audience as well there are more than 3 million Syrian refugees who are outside the country. There is around a million other who are middle-class who left and not relisted as refugees. You have more than six million internally displaced people.

And all of these are not counted as going to vote, people who are in areas under rebel control or in other stretch of the country that is completely ravaged by the war. They're not able to vote. So who's going to be able to vote so that President Bashar al-Assad would win?

YOUNG: Well, and if he wins, as expected, that's a seven year term. There were talks of trying to kind of come to a compromise that might shorten that.

SINJAB: Yes, indeed. There has been some side talks as they call them to try to persuade President Bashar al-Assad to stay or prolong his term for another two years. And during this time they'll work on a political solution. But as Mr. Brahimi put it, if these elections takes place, it will be the end of any political process, and President Bashar al-Assad will stay for another seven years unless something dramatic and big would change the balance on the ground.

YOUNG: But isn't that just the point? As you said, millions of Syrians have left. The opposition has been either knocked back by Assad's forces or co-opted by truly Islamist forces from outside the country. Is there a sense that this is really over, that there is no other possibility but that he stay and he wins?

SINJAB: Well, you're absolutely right in thinking that this is a big failure for the opposition. Yet it's not over for good, because think of those people who lost their homes. Think of those who are stranded in refugee camps. Think of those who lost their children in the battle, or lost parts of their body in the battle, or they're still being hit by daily bombardments in the north of Syria by barrel bombs from the sky.

All these people will not accept that President Bashar al-Assad will stay forever there or stay for another seven years, so something should change on the ground to give people some justice. In fact, the coalition president, Ahmad al-Jarba, is in Washington this week. And yesterday he met with President Obama and the opposition are still pushing for the West to help them with more weapons for the right side of the rebels.

But many analysts who are observing this serious situation believe that a political solution will be very hard with the Syrian regime who always plays the game of time in postponing and playing with time. And the only thing that will change the situation on the ground is a change of the balance of power on the ground.

YOUNG: The BBC's Lina Sinjab in London with her view of Syria. Thank you so much.

SINJAB: Thank you.

YOUNG: And you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.