Friday, August 05, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Nature of the Syrian Uprising

Resistance: Armed or Unarmed?

There are interesting discussions which are beginning to appear about the nature of the Syrian uprising. Regime apologists like Ammar Waqqaf (speaking at the Frontline Club yesterday) warned that "you ain't seen nothing yet" if the protestors don't stop protesting. Ostensibly this means the regime has still not applied the full level of violence it is capable of. On the other hand, some opposition spokesmen (usually abroad) have started warning that the uprising might become armed if their demands are not met; that the protesters will form a 'rebellion' similar to that in Libya. I don't have a right to tell people in Syria, who are risking their lives on a daily basis, what to do, but I do have a right, and an ability, to analyse the situation. So this is post is an analysis, not a manifesto or some bizarre call to arms.

I think armed resistance to occupation or oppression is necessary in some circumstances, but I don't believe that this is one of them. The remarkable bravery of the Syrian protesters has been manifested in the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the protests. There is no 'Libya' - style resolution on the tables, and thankfully so. It would be absolutely catastrophic for Syrians (and the region) if NATO started bombing Damascus tomorrow. So any kind of armed uprising can count on no help whatsoever.

Secondly, the Syrian regime simply doesn't know how to deal with peaceful protests - the logistical and technical expertise of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards notwithstanding. In the eighties, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood carried out the 'mother of all blunders' by taking up arms against the regime. This led to their exile, the utter destruction of the city of Hama, and the deaths and disappearances of tens of thousands of Syrians. This dark period in Syrian history was followed by decades of complete political tyranny and an absence of any kind of sizeable political opposition within the country whatsoever. If the protesters unwisely start forming 'brigades' and begin some kind of 'war of attrition' against the regime, then this will give the regime a pretext to begin a nationwide onslaught that will have grave consequences for the Syrian people. Not that the present situation can be described as better.

Considerations about the Uprising

The Syrian uprising is probably quite unique in that nobody wants it to succeed and Syrians have absolutely nobody they can rely on from abroad. The Iranians and Hezbullah, who in my opinion have now irretrievably lost the moral high ground in Arab public opinion, do not want to see a Syria without an Alawite clan ruling it. The loss of such an important ally will also compromise the ability of Hezbullah to face Israel. Then there are the Israelis, who have been unusually quiet. The Israelis have always had a love/hate relationship with the Assads. On the one hand, they knew not to underestimate the Syrians, yet on the other they also knew there was a potential partner for peace in Assad, as well as the stability of their border with Syria. Remarkably, Peres recently expressed sympathy with the Syrian protesters, saying they were fighting for 'peace and human dignity'. Less than a week later Ayman al Zawahiri got the opposite idea, and said the Syrians were fighting their 'infidel' regime so as to better fight the Americans and the Zionists. Clearly somebody didn't get the right memo.

Then there are the Saudis, who support the Syrian people, and support the Syrian regime at the same time. Remarkably. But the Saudis are not ones to be supporting popular uprisings, having helped in brutally crushing the Bahraini uprising, much to the chagrin of the Iranians, whose Press TV mouthpiece continuously lambasts the West and the Saudis for their behaviour regarding Bahrain and the Palestinians. Then there are the Chinese and the Russians, who do not want to see a potential Western ally in a post-Assad Syria. On the other hand, the West does not want to see a potential Islamist state that is hostile to their interests and that might stir trouble with Israel. All of these countries do not want a failed state in the middle of the Middle East. So, in a nutshell, nobody wants anything to change in Syria. Ideally this protest movement would just vanish in a whisp of smoke, but unfortunately that is not happening.

If the Syrian people manage to continue this momentum, and overthrow the Assad ruling family, then that will not be the end of their problems. They will have to deal with a myriad of political groups and movements within the country. The Kurds will have to be appeased, the Islamic parties will want their slice of the cake, and somebody will still have to try and bring the Alawites and those disaffected by the fall of the regime back in some kind of political fold. That will require immense statesmanship - and this is only on the domestic front. Then there is the economic front, which is largely dependent on how a future Syria plays her cards internationally. There is the American/Iranian 'great game' that is taking place currently. There is, more importantly, the issue of the Palestinians and the position of Syria regarding the Golan Heights, and then there are the Iraq and Lebanon issues. Both of these countries are very important to Syria and vice versa.

These challenges are difficult, but not insurmountable. What is required is a little bit of daring, imagination and political savvy. We have plenty of these in Syria, but unfortunately it is nowhere to be found in either the regime or the 'opposition' groups abroad. Where it is found is in the immense human capital that is driving the protests and demanding its rights. If future rulers of Syria realise that it is they who must fear their people, and not the other way around, then the people might actually get the kind of government and international position they deserve. Syrians have now found their voice, what they must do in the future is learn to use it.

15 comments:

poshlemon said...

Great analysis. I, too, agree that the uprising in this case should avoid becoming armed.

I would've loved for you to touch more on the silence in Lebanon towards what has been taking shape in Syria. This silence disturbs me. Greatly. I flip through local news for something on Syria that is true of what is happening, as opposed to skewed and edited for your average viewer. Yet nothing. I find myself depending on Western media and Al-Jazeera, the latter only recently started giving Syria the air time it deserves (especially compared with Egypt).

You see, the well-being of Lebanon relies heavily on the well-being of this regime. Same for Hizbullah as you mention. But, this is no longer a matter of state politics. People are being tortured, dehumanized and murdered. There is blood spilling everywhere. Of course, there are a few utterances from those within March 14, who only see this as an opportunity to pursue a vendetta. But, they are all opportunists. I don't think Hariri, who speaks from Paris, really gives two hoots. But then again, I don't like mini-Hariri to start with. There is also Hizb ut-Tahrir with their anti-regime protests in the city of Tripoli. But, their protests are sporadic. Being Salafists, as well, doesn’t help them. And there are those leftists, activists, and youths who may be the most genuine in their concern for the 'people' of Syria. They don't have a regional or international or any agenda to push and they are only numbered at most. Some have even been attacked during protests in Beirut. There is a protest this coming Monday. It promises to be large and it’s being promoted on Facebook, naturally.

Excuse me for the long comment.

Maysaloon said...

Posh,
Thanks for the insight into what's happening in Lebanon. I have been watching what is happening in Lebanon towards Syria very closely. What you've just described echoes my worries and thoughts about things there exactly. I look forward to seeing what happens this Monday, but it might get quite rough there too.

And you're welcome anytime, long or short comments!

Nobody said...

*** But the Saudis are not ones to be supporting popular uprisings, having helped in brutally crushing the Bahraini uprising, much to the chagrin of the Iranians, whose Press TV mouthpiece continuously lambasts the West and the Saudis for their behaviour regarding Bahrain and the Palestinians. ***

Bahrain is no indication. Al Qaradawi also does not support uprisings in Bahrain. However, he supports them anywhere else.

*** On the other hand, the West does not want to see a potential Islamist state that is hostile to their interests and that might stir trouble with Israel. All of these countries do not want a failed state in the middle of the Middle East. So, in a nutshell, nobody wants anything to change in Syria. ***

I think it's very obvious that the West is rooting for the protesters. They just did not want it to happen the Libya way. There were plenty of calls on the part of the US for Bashar Assad to start reforms and for the opposition to agree to negotiate with the regime. Now they are saying that the regime has lost its legitimacy and escalating sanctions. This thing hardly looks like "nobody wants anything to change in Syria"

Anonymous said...

Maybe its just best for Syria to go back to life before march, give a general amnisty to all, because lets face it, neither side is inoccent anymore. I mean, people keep using words like torture, humiliation and blood spilling, while always using these words to side with the protests. forgetting the 400 something soldiers and security forces that have been killed since the start of april. Many people use the "self defence" argument to support armed gangs, and armed protestors. but the fact is that the security forces have been loosing people by the way of violence sine early april, not even 2 weeks into the revolt. If the violence started sometime in june or july, it would be possible to say that it was selfe defence against a force that is only out to kill them rather than protects them. And in admitting that the gangs killed since the start of the conflict, is also admitting that the army isnt killing its own, which is one of the pillar arguments the opposition has made. So if the opposition is lieing about the security forces killing their own, and lieing about having armed elements with them or on their side, what else could they be lieing about?

the people who think that all the problems are coming from the "armed gangs" are just as miss-informed as the people who think all the problems are coming from "el shabeeha" and army. No one side is better than the other on this one. There is no way on God's green earth that soldiers can deploy anywhere without causing problems. And there is no way that the army is asked to deploy in places where there are no problems, or a security risk to the majority of the city and it's inhabitents

good analysis nevertheless.

Victor said...

Maysaloon,

Then there are the Israelis, who have been unusually quiet. The Israelis have always had a love/hate relationship with the Assads. On the one hand, they knew not to underestimate the Syrians, yet on the other they also knew there was a potential partner for peace in Assad, as well as the stability of their border with Syria. Remarkably, Peres recently expressed sympathy with the Syrian protesters, saying they were fighting for 'peace and human dignity'.

Can you explain this? On the one hand, you don't want Israeli intervention. On the other hand, it's almost like you blame Israel for not helping the Syrian people. Is there something specific you want Israel to do or to stop doing? Should Israel start flying humanitarian supplies to Hama? Or bombing Syrian tanks? Or convincing Washington to isolate Assad? Or do nothing? You seem confused. Just taking Israel in specific, what could that country be doing that it isn't doing?

For example, here is Netanyahu's official position, in an interview with al Arabiya. Please tell me what you don't like in what he said.

P.S. I've been following your Tweets and saw this one: "I am very patient. I tend to sit with people of varying opinions."

Even evil Yehudis?!

Maysaloon said...

Nobody,
I don't think the West has been rooting for the side of the protesters at all. The statements of the US and Britain in particular were very insistent that Bashar should lead reforms, or step aside, but really lead reforms. So not much of an argument you've got. As for Qaradawi, well, he speaks for Qaradawi.

Anonymous,
The 400 Syrian soldiers, yes, I have heard the claims made about them. My initial guess is that they were themselves killed by the regime. I don't see any evidence of these 'armed gangs' as this story seems a concoction of the regime. Unfortunately because no independent media are allowed to verify the story of 'armed gangs', I must assume the regime has something to hide and is likely to be lying. Unfortunately for the few instances where it might even be telling the truth, but there you have it. It's too late for any general amnesty, Bashar and his regime are finished. The only question is how effective they are in dragging the country into civil war and self destruction.

Victor,
We don't have a problem with "evil Yahudis" we just have a problem with yahudis who take Palestinian land and don't let Palestinian refugees go back home. Other than that all would be peachy.

As for the comment, you misunderstand. I want nothing from Israel. I merely note that as an enemy of Syria, it can be causing a lot more damage if it really wanted Bashar to go. So far it has stayed well away - relatively speaking.

Nobody said...

*** Maysaloon said...
Nobody,
I don't think the West has been rooting for the side of the protesters at all. The statements of the US and Britain in particular were very insistent that Bashar should lead reforms, or step aside, but really lead reforms. So not much of an argument you've got. ***

I don't see where is the problem with what I said. You are one of the very few people who believe that Syria is a normal nation state. Most even minimally informed people would agree that Syria is not a normal state and it's not a nation state. And it's even less a normal nation state.

Who is going to lead the reforms if not the regime itself? Who is going to keep this Yugoslavia together after the regime falls?
In my view it's not a big deal if the Alawi regime stumbles and Syria disintegrates into pieces and takes a couple of countries around with itself. However, I can perfectly understand why so many are weary of things turning this way. People are clinging to the status quo even though the current configuration of most countries in the region in terms of their sectarian compositions and borders is impossible in the long and even medium run. Many people have already caught a glimpse of the future in Libya and Yemen. They know what's coming next

Maysaloon said...

Nobody,
I've never called Syria a 'natural nation state' - if ever such a thing can even exist - and I don't see how this follows from your first argument.

Nonetheless, your Yugusolavia analogy is an interesting one, but it doesn't really apply. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and yes, even Israel, do not want to see a Somalia in the region. That's with regards to external factors, internally, you've got an overwhelming majority of the population as Sunni, not really inspired by Salafism, and quite united after 40 years of being ruled by an Alawite minority regime. You have Damascus and Aleppo able to project enormous influence to the surrounding areas, and you have a substantial backbone of the population which is well educated and of a similar cultural and national outlook. The Iraq scenario simply doesn't apply here.

Now, with regards to the West, yes, they will not risk alienating Assad if it doesn't appear like he is going anywhere. But the stronger the people will become, the more likely it is that these other players will begin to exert more pressure on him. He's by no means the only means to reforms. If anything he is a hindrance to it. The real question is how much of a mess he can make before he goes, and this can be substantial, but unlike Gaddafi Assad just doesn't have the budget, manpower or sheer temerity to draw this out. When his regime collapses - and it will - then it will be a swift implosion.

Of course, like all these things, it is difficult even for people like yourself or I to predict what will really happen. We can only make an educated guess.

Nobody said...

*** That's with regards to external factors, internally, you've got an overwhelming majority of the population as Sunni, not really inspired by Salafism, and quite united after 40 years of being ruled by an Alawite minority regime. ***

From what I know, Syria has a simple Sunni Arab majority of something like 60%+. You have 10%-15% who are Kurds. Something similar with the Alawis and about 8%-10% Christians. The Druze and Ismaeli Shia should be like another 10%+. As far as the Sunni Arabs are concerned, one Palestinian recently told me that he was amazed by the opposition videos. You listen to one video and you think you are in Jordan, another one and you are in Iraq. "Syria is truly an Arab Yugoslavia," he told and he was referring to the Sunni Arabs.

Maysaloon said...

Well if your friend says so then I can't really argue with that.

Nobody said...

Look. I have other sources of information in blogs and articles. I read Syrians complaining about Damascus and Allepo. It's hard not to notice that this is a deeply divided country. There are plenty of people in these two big cities who are rooting for the regime. This is an abnormal situation, by the way. And I am saying this from knowledge and even personal experience. Pro democracy movements usually flourish in the capitals. It's the periphery who is normally more conservative and backward and supplies regimes with cannon fodder for Baseej squads.

Otherwise, if I were to bet on the end result I would bet on some mix of Somalia and Yugoslavia. It's obvious where the Kurds are on this. The Alawis may eventually try to retreat to and barricade themselves in Latakia, basically cutting to the rest of the country access to the sea. The Sunni areas may partly turn into Somalia but some like Aleppo may well become semi states. It does not look like this Aleppo lives in the same country that the rest of the Syrians do.

Maysaloon said...

Nope, I disagree. Look, I'm just saying that you do need to read a bit more widely. Your comments betray a very superficial understanding of the region.

Nobody said...

There will be a reality check for our understandings. We will see what your extensive reading is worth of

:D :D

Lirun said...

nobody your view is old school.. these days the rich city dwellers have all the reasons to back an elitist regime.. and its the poor (yet increasingly internet connected) peasants who have everything to gain from regime change

i have never been to syria but i have to been to joran egypt and morocco

Nobody said...

This is not that I am an old school. What they have is not a normal pro democracy movement. It's something else. On the opposition's videos you don't even see people throwing stones, then the Syrian army comes with tanks and navy and storms these cities for days. Come on. The amount of shooting and shelling going on there far exceeds what is normally required to crash a non violent protest the style of the green revolution