Monday, August 1, 2016

The Syrian Nightmare: A Counter-Narration

Cartoon referencing Aleppo’s children role in creating a temporary no-fly zone by burning thousands of old tires. 

The Syrian opposition members who bet that Assad would be quickly deposed in 2011 are now largely spectators. Their country lies in ruins. Their goal of bringing down the state (Isqat al-nizam) looks as far as ever from being achieved. And Salafists control the fighting on the ground. Like all conflicts that turn armed and violent, the most militant and extreme end up elbowing the more moderate aside. Burhan Ghalioun and Haytham Manaa have been replaced by Caliph Baghdadi and Mohammed al-Jolani. Rebels have been replaced by mujahedin. Without a single exception, every armed group today is committed to ruling by sharia law. This is why Assad and his supporters will refuse to give up and continue fighting. Syrians, unfortunately, have a long fight in front of them. Miscalculation has led to Syria’s ruin.

Those who actually believe that it is the Syrian opposition that is to blame for the current nightmare in Syria miss the entire context that made a revolution possible: the tyranny, corruption and sectarianism of the Assad regime, the systematic destruction of civil society, the official support for the quiet Islamization of Syria, and the tactics deployed from the very beginning of the Revolution by the Assad regime. None of these things warrant any mention by the author who ends by turning the whole situation on its head, making it sound as though Assad and his supporters have always been on the defensive. This might be the point.

Not that I think that the opposition is blameless. In fact, despite spending years agitating and calling for a peaceful revolution in Syria, including writing articles, laying out transition plans and producing a TV program dedicated to the topic of civil disobedience and nonviolent revolutions, I never hid my major misgivings about the timing of the Syrian Revolution.

My increasing involvement with political opposition factions between 2005 and 2011 amply demonstrated to me their lack of readiness to lead a revolution in a country like Syria. The improvised way they issued the call for revolution following the success of the Tunisian Revolution, failing to note the radically different conditions and political context between he to countries, and their cynical reaction to the article I published in the Guardian on February 7, 2011 in which I tried to highlight the domestic and geopolitical complications involved in the Syria transition and the opposition lack of readiness for tackling any of these issues consolidated my fears.

Still, neither I nor the team of Syrian activists which continued to support the work of Tharwa, the organization my wife and I established in Damascus back in 2003 to help facilitate peaceful democratic change in the country, shirked our responsibility for supporting the Revolution, for advising the opposition and for lobbying for international support. In a new article for the Guardian I came out in support of the revolution and the early nonviolent protesters who included many of our Tharwa activists in their ranks. The field has been prepared for a revolution since at least 2008, and the Tunisian revolution provided the much-needed spark.

Playing a bigger leadership role, as some has wanted and expected, including the Syrian regime, was not something I was willing to entertain. The in-fighting involved in opposition work has always been distracting for me, and with so many people expecting “victory,” the tendency was bound to intensify. Mine was always meant to be a supporting rather than starring role.