It has been 10 years since peaceful protests against Bashar al-Assad’s government turned into a full-blown civil war. Far too many have died or been crippled. Millions have fled their homes and millions have ended up in poverty.
This blog has followed the developments in Syria from the promise of the Arab Spring to the disastrous destruction of the country by the government’s repressive reaction to the intervention of Islamist terrorists and calculating cold-bloodedness of foreign powers.
Our blog’s first report was one of optimism.
“This is the purest people’s revolution there ever was,” said a Damascus-based activist who is affiliated with two of the groups engaged in encouraging protests. Leaders are nonexistent, he said, and they wouldn’t be welcomed.
Efforts by exiled opponents of Assad to form a united front have faltered because of an acute awareness that the Syrian street is driving the uprising. No one, least of all the Syrians wants to see a repeat of the Iraq experience, in which exiled leaders with no street credibility are foisted upon those living inside the country.
“The people who are on the streets don’t want a leader,” said Dhia Aldeen Dugmosh, a protest organizer who was detained twice and escaped to Beirut. “Not only the Syrian people, but all the Arab people, are fed up with having a leader.
But, sadly, it was not to be. In due course, the blog was carrying accounts of developments did lead to the formation of self-appointed leaders from various organisations setting up a Syrian National Council, seeking support from such outside parties as "the Friends of Syria" and also the birth of the Free Syrian Army, financed, armed and trained by the Gulf States as well as various Western powers. Into this mix came the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist Jihadist Islamic groups, operating under various guises, creating religious sectarianism.
"We are still many who want a peaceful revolution,” an activist who calls herself Celine says via Skype from Damascus. “But since it became an armed conflict, many people who were sympathetic to our cause have dropped out.”
“Peaceful resistance is a must; if we use weapons we will not be able to succeed as we do not have enough weapons or soldiers,” said Khalaf Ali Al-Khalaf, a Syrian activist from Aleppo. “The military option will increase people’s pain. Providing people with arms will only increase death. The opposition must convince those requesting arms that there is a different method of resistance. We are facing an unusual regime so we have to use unusual methods.”
"The SNC claims to be representative of the Syrian people. That’s just not true," says Ms. Nseir, a SNC's spokesperson in Lebanon but nevertheless a critic of it. "They talk only about arming the rebels. They never talk about nonviolent resistance and they certainly do not speak for the ramadieen, or grey people, the silent majority who support neither the regime nor the armed rebels.”
‘Safinas’ explains. "Our revolution has been stolen from us...We are fighting two regimes and two armies now."
Many Syrians who had embraced the opposition now felt alienated by its drift toward extremism and aligned with neither side. The opposition movement once offered hope of a more democratic future. Now many Syrians worried that they could be trading one repressive regime for another.
SOCIALISM OR YOUR MONEY BACK: Syria - A Plague Upon Both Houses
"We won't be with the regime, but neither are we with the opposition," said Ahmed, a journalism student at Damascus University. "People like me are still here," he said, "but who listens to the voice of reason when guns are shooting all the time?"
The non-violent movements that had gathered momentum early on has become side-lined by the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian regime's bloody crackdown on dissent pushed many Syrian protesters into an armed uprising and call for foreign military intervention. The FSA began as a collection of soldiers who refused to fire on peacefully protesting civilians, who then left the army and began to form militias aimed at protecting these demonstrators. Soon, this purely defensive function gave way to raids and ambushes of government troops, thereby fuelling the regime's claims that protesters are not peaceful, and that they cannot be dealt with peacefully. We witnessed how the militarisation of the Syrian protests lessened the democratic nature of the opposition by placing the power into the hands of the armed exile groups who have ended up serving the interests of rival nations because it is they who arms them, rather than expressing the genuine will of the Syrian people.
The Syrian civil war had transformed into a proxy war for regional dominance and remains so to this day. There were the hawks who masqueraded as doves justifying military interventionism by saying that it’s necessary to save people from the tyranny at the hands of their own government.
Rim Turkmani, a member of the Syrian Civil Democratic Alliance, explained :
“Nowadays, people don’t talk about democracy anymore.You don’t talk about the original rights and freedoms, which the people two years ago went to the street to protest for. We’re talking more about ending a war.” A peaceful resolution to the conflict is not something international actors with regional ambitions, such as Saudi Arabia, are interested in,
Our blog’s constant message has been that any war is brutal and it is dehumanising and the majority of victims will always be the innocent unarmed civilians. Eating the hearts of prisoners and slitting the throats of children should not surprise anyone. Nor should we expect that the atrocities are to be committed solely by one side and not the other.
Our alternative is simple and involves no partisanship or bias towards either side in the conflict. Cease fighting and stop shedding blood for those who share not a shred of concern for your welfare and who for their own vested interests want warfare. Peaceful resistance does not mean no resistance. It does not mean non-action. It involves direct action, like general strikes, which is capable of paralysing the country. Despots depend on the population’s cooperation and submissiveness - and if the people effectively withhold their consent, even the strongest of regimes can collapse. Without the consent of working people - either their active support or their passive acquiescence the ruling class would have little power and little basis for rule. Non-violence is not passive, nor is it a way of avoiding conflict. Any non-violent movement that takes on a well-entrenched dictatorship will suffer casualties. Nor is there any guarantee of success, even in the long run as we have seen in Syria. However the other option, entails an even greater price in lives lost and ruined.
Today, it is the turn of the people of Myanmar, Hong Kong and elsewhere to learn the harsh lessons that if you go over to violence, the soldiers will not mutiny. They will be loyal to their officers and the Tatmadaw will have a good chance to survive. An armed response from the protesters will not succeed, as the regime is invariably stronger on the military front. As soon as you choose to fight with violence you're choosing to fight against opponents in possession of the best weapons. The state's police and army are better trained in using those weapons. And they control the infrastructure that allows them to deploy them. To fight dictators with violence is to cede to them the choice of battleground and tactics. Using violence against experts in it is the quickest way to have a movement crushed. That is why governments frequently infiltrate opposition groups with agent provocateurs—to sidetrack the movement into violent acts that the police and security agencies can deal with.
Non-violence is an aspect of resistance that the normal forces of coercion are ill-prepared for. The success or failure of any peaceful revolt largely depends on the campaign’s ability to undermine the regimes supporters and weaken the allegiance of its civil servants, police and soldiers to the regime; to persuade those neutrals sitting on the fence to join the opposition. The worse the regime suppresses protests, the more steadfast ought the opposition be in its commitment to non-violence and the more the people resist, the more we will realise our own collective strength.