Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Syrian self-criticism

Syria’s opposition has admitted to making mistakes on the road to revolution, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

Over the past 21 months of the uprising against the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, there has been much debate over its methods within opposition ranks. The Arab and international community also do not always see eye-to-eye on this issue, while some major powers have been battling for their interests in Syria, using the conflict in the country as a proxy for wider struggles.
The opposition continues to underline the importance of the uprising and its ultimate success, but it has also been open about criticising mistakes made by the revolution. Protesters and opposition members now want to move beyond these and correct their path as soon as possible to reach common goals.
Some members of the domestic and international opposition have been critical of arming the protesters, regretting that the uprising has not remained peaceful. Others, however, have slammed what they see as the poor performance of the political opposition in Syria, along with its internal divisions, fragmentation, and at times corruption.
There has also been criticism that some members of the opposition are relying on foreign military intervention as the solution to the conflict.
Meanwhile, there are those who believe that a key mistake has been the absence of clear coordination with the international community, and that some opposition forces have relied too much on the Gulf states, opening them up to the criticism that these govern the decisions of the groups.
Some currents within the peaceful opposition believe that refusing to negotiate with the regime, at least to achieve political transition, has also been a mistake that should now be reversed.
However, overall the opposition holds the regime responsible for the progression of the revolution from peaceful to armed conflict, since it implemented a military and security crackdown in an attempt to thwart the revolution.
The opposition has been fragmented, opposition figures say, as a result of the regime’s repressive measures over the past four decades. The international community has also been disunited because different countries have different interests, they say, but negotiating with the regime would be seen as treason by the Syrian people.
The decision to critique the revolution in order to correct its path comes as a positive move by the opposition, especially since the regime itself has not yet acknowledged that a revolution is taking place and has continued with its usual policies.
It portrays the revolution as a “universal conspiracy” that includes Israel, the US, the West and some Arab states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as Turkey.
The regime has not recognised the Syrian opposition either, apart from those members of it that have agreed to reform under its auspices. It has refused to acknowledge the opposition that rejects dialogue or advocates arming the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighting against it.
The regime is adamant about rejecting change except within limits that guarantee its continuation in power, and it has taken refuge in its strategic ties with Russia and Iran in order to help it to do so.
“The revolutionaries have failed properly to handle the ethnic and sectarian diversity of Syria,” Sondos Suleiman, a revolutionary activist and member of the political council of the opposition Modernity and Democratic Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“Over the past four decades, the regime has been able to capitalise on the diversity of Syrian society in order to turn the country into a set of conflicting groups with opposing interests, channelling these conflicts in order to remain in power.”
“The political opposition should have developed a clear message aimed at the minority groups, supported by practical policies to frustrate the regime. However, this has only happened in a limited way. Yet, even if it has been late in coming, we are still confident that the Syrian revolution will succeed in its aims.”
Syrian young people have succeeded in launching a revolution against a totalitarian regime that has been in power for nearly 50 years, which is more than the country’s opposition has been able to accomplish in decades. Even veteran opposition figures have been unable to keep up with the ambitions of the young people, sometimes even acting as obstacles that have extended the life of the regime.
“The youth rose up in revolution to get rid of tyranny,” Marwan Habash, a former minister and previous leading figure in the ruling Syrian Baath Party, told the Weekly.
“The traditional political opposition, which has made many sacrifices and its leaders have spent decades in prison, has continued to suffer from ideological disputes that have prevented it from leading the youth uprising or managing a crisis on this scale.”
“Some figures who stepped up to lead the opposition abroad are not politicians at all, and some had opportunistic motives. This frustrated the youth and may have helped delay them.”
Some opposition forces have been gambling on foreign military intervention to end Al-Assad’s rule, but the international community has thus far been reluctant to intervene. Russia and China have also blocked any international moves in this direction.
“The way some opposition forces have viewed foreign intervention is evidence of their political immaturity,” Hazem Nahar, an opposition activist and writer, said. “They should have discussed the nature of any intervention in detail and whether or not it was an option. However, they did not consider the mechanisms [of any intervention], or its implications for the country.”
“These people did not realise that the outside world is not at their disposal. If outside powers do intervene, it will be to further their own interests. Even so, we have to remember that foreign intervention is only being debated because of the actions of the regime.”  
Syrian protesters did not take up arms during the first six months of the uprising, despite the excessive force used by the regime. After 5,000 people had been killed, they armed themselves in self-defence, followed by the emergence of armed revolutionary groups seeking to overthrow the regime by force.
Haitham Manaa, director of the opposition National Coordination Committee (NCC) overseas, criticised arming the protesters, describing it as a serious mistake. “Irrespective of the reasons, violence is not a rational alternative policy that can overthrow the regime,” Manaa said.
“The absence of a strategy among the combat groups, whose courage and sacrifice nevertheless cannot be denied, has caused grave losses. Some of them have also ignored international humanitarian law and human rights. Anyone who remains silent about this is heading towards another intelligence state.”
“The Syrian people have defeated the dictatorship politically, but by making violence their compass they may fail to translate political victory into the departure of the regime.”
Since the start of the uprising, the regime has also tried to manipulate the issue of minorities in Syria, claiming that it is “the protector of minorities” against terrorists and fanatics. While the opposition has accused the regime of stirring up the fears of minorities so that they will support it, some jihadists have also joined the ranks of the armed opposition, raising widespread concerns.  
“The revolution has succeeded well on the political and moral levels,” Suleiman Youssef, an Assyrian researcher and expert on minority issues, told the Weekly. “It has shaken the pillars of the regime and devastated its political and military strongholds. But these achievements have come at a very high price in terms of lives and property.”
“The political and military opposition have committed mistakes that have negatively influenced the revolution’s performance on the ground and in its popular support in society. The armed opposition, which controls many border crossings with neighbouring states, has been lenient about the entry of armed jihadist and Salafist Islamist groups into Syria that have their own agendas clashing with the goals of the revolution.”
“This has raised fears among many Syrians, and it could also pose a real threat to the future of the revolution, confirming the fears of the minorities.”
Since the uprising began, the regime has urged the opposition to engage in dialogue, though it has also placed various preconditions to this, including that it be sponsored by the regime and result in regime-sponsored reforms.
The regime has rejected any initiatives proposing a truce and instead has sent troops into the towns and cities affected by the uprising. As a result, the opposition is adamant that the regime intends to stay in power no matter what the cost and that it is trying to deceive the world about its willingness to engage in dialogue.
The opposition’s precondition for dialogue to begin is for Al-Assad and his cronies to step down from power.
However, according to Firas Kassas, a secularist opposition figure living abroad, “it would be a mistake to reject dialogue as one of the options, along with others such as peaceful protests, military operations, and media campaigns. The worst enemies in history have sat down at the table together in the end, at least to agree the terms of a settlement. If we don’t negotiate the transfer of power, Syria will enter a long conflict that eventually will destroy the society.”
Among the mistakes admitted to by the opposition is the performance of the FSA, which needs to behave according to international norms. Yet, “our position towards the regime is not defined by the mistakes of the revolution, but by the atrocities committed by the regime,” Nahar, an opposition activist, told the Weekly.
“From these, the sensible conclusion to draw is that this regime does not deserve to survive. Without this belief, there is no point in talking about the mistakes of the revolution.”

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