Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Turning Point?

More condemnation, meetings and denials after the Houla massacre in Syria, but the expulsion of Syrian diplomats from several Western countries is the most concrete development that these countries have taken against Assad's regime. It's not a moment too soon, and should have happened months ago, so what has changed?

Could it be that the French have volunteered to spearhead the European reaction to the Arab spring? Sarkozy - I think I'm already forgetting how to spell his name - famously refused to offer asylum to Tunisia's Ben Ali, and his government was pivotal in assisting the Libyan rebels topple Gaddafi's dictatorship. Yet with Syria there has been  a lull, until recently. Francoise Hollande has made little effort to hide his support for Syria's revolution, and it is France which has been making the loudest noises against Assad.

Still, I don't think we're going to see French warplanes flying over Damascus, that would be pretty stupid, especially with Syria's air defences, which I think likely include an Iranian modified Russian S-300 defence system. With regards to foreign intervention I don't understand the misguided conviction that people who support the SNC have about Western military intervention in Syria, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan. Nobody is going to send their young men and women to die for Syrians; that's just not the way the world works. What we could see is increased sanctions, increased pressure on those who help Assad to flout the sanctions, and a concerted effort to support opposition groups within the country. Finally, I think the decision will be made to start arming and training elements of the Free Syrian Army.

Is this what Syrians want? 

One of the most difficult questions that many Syrians are being asked by people is, "What do you want?" Getting rid of Assad is not an answer to that question. Perhaps tellingly, more Syrians are telling me they want the Free Syrian Army to be supplied with more weapons. The reasoning is that Syria is already in a civil war, and the people must be allowed to defend themselves against Assad. The FSA has been hit and miss as a force in this revolution, and its efforts have ranged from the admirable to the stupid.

It lacks a clear structure or any form of discipline yet, whilst poorly armed, has often conducted itself admirably in the field compared to the regular Syrian army. Still, one of its biggest failures was the attempt to fight Assad's army through conventional means, and by attempting to hold its ground in urban areas. No conventional army has shirked away from inflicting civilian casualties and fighting in urban areas since the nineteenth century - the Syrian army being no exception - so the FSA clearly needs to get with the times. A dead hero is no use to anybody.

The Post-Assad Era?

It might be a bit too early, but civil society in Syria does need to think very hard about how it will continue to grow and help the country overcome authoritarian dictatorships and political dogma. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is starting to flex more of its muscle, and I doubt Syrians will want to swap Assadism for Islamism. Of course the Syrian MB are saying they believe in a secular society, but then so does Assad. The best and only safeguard for the Syrian people against future tyranny is an iron-cast commitment to human rights, the rule of law, and a robust separation of powers. Easier said than done...

Finally, the shopkeepers of Damascus went on strike in protest at the Houla killings. Strikes on this scale in the Syrian capital are a new development. If this keeps happening then this can be a game changer. Already, the size and reach of demonstrations in Syria's second capital, Aleppo, have reached levels that were unthinkable only months ago.

Whatever happens from here, the Houla massacre is shaping up to be a key turning point in the Syrian revolution.


Anonymous said...

thanks for your posts, they are very useful to understand the situation in Syria.
But here in the Western world people had enough of wars and nobody wants to spend our rapidly decreasing wealth by helping unpredictable revolts. If we help Syrians, then people say we are colonists and try to export democracy with the force; if we don't, they say we agree with the killings and the brutality of the dictators. And at the end of the day, western intervention always leaves behind just more violence, as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lybia, etc etc. I think this time Syria must work it out by itself.

Maysaloon said...


I see you're point, but then again you are confusing the West with the United Nations, which is a classic mistake.

The United Nations, and the countries that are members of it, has a legal obligation to intervene in countries where there is genocide and mass murder. Nobody is asking for the West's, or your, charity here.

Anonymous said...

About the FSA, you should read this paper and the document in it.
The FSA is aware of teh weakness your pointing out and are trying to fix this by restructuring.


Anonymous said...

The United Nations is voluntary there is nothing legally binding in it for any country involved.