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.
Friday, August 05, 2011
Resistance: Armed or Unarmed?