Syria: Why is it Taking So Long?

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A Syrian refugee is pictured at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, 31 July 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Muhammad Hamed)

By: Nahed Hattar

Published Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Time and time again, promises made by the Syrian regime and its armed opposition to deal a decisive blow to the other side have failed to materialize. Is this savage war destined to go on forever?

Both sides have a long list of justifications for their failure to resolve the situation. All of these seem to be military or technical, but may really have more to do with politics and ideology. Warring sides can never achieve military victory if their ideas do not prevail first.

Syrian opposition groups became embroiled in an armed rebellion and therefore lost the moral high ground needed to succeed. They became proxies, used against their own country in a regional and international war. Since they chose the path of war, it became easier for local criminal gangs and terrorist groups from all over the world to manipulate them.

Their ideology and their operations became tainted, revealing a repulsive image of intentional killing and destruction, of authoritarianism and obscurantism. With this, the armed opposition had to resort to rallying support around a sectarian and religious agenda to justify its insane war.

It became the militia of the oppressed Sunnis in Syria. Seeing as those who have rushed to raise the Sunni banner include the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, and Jihadis, Syrian Sunnis will have no choice but to become fully compliant with Brotherhood and Salafi authoritarianism in all its forms.

This is what underlies the armed groups’ failure to reach a decisive victory. They are unable to offer a national alternative which could win over a critical mass of Syrians belonging to various religions, sects, ethnic groups, and political orientations.

For the Syrian regime, sectarianism is not a suitable framework for a political ideology. It may use it implicitly for effective rallying, but it cannot officially adopt it without losing its national legitimacy. If it does, it will condemn itself to a very rapid and inexorable downfall.

However, the Syrian regime is waging war without a clear message. The regime’s approach is to react to the opposition’s ideology; when the latter was liberal, the regime responded with reforms along those lines. It spoke of constitutional changes, elections, widening the framework of the government, and calling for dialogue. Whether these solutions were enough is not what’s important here. The crux of the matter is that the regime played the game according to the opposition’s rules. It then tried to deal with the rebels’ sectarianism by denying it, refusing to acknowledge the presence of a civil war.

Meanwhile, Hamas dealt a blow to the Syrian government by abandoning Damascus without attracting scorn from the other two sides of the Resistance triangle, Iran and Hezbollah. Even the government’s inspired idea to promote opposition figures, Communist Qadri Jamil and Social Nationalist Ali Haidar, to become ministers was wasted because even they could not galvanize public support for a regime waging a war that had not been defined.

On two very separate occasions, President Bashar Assad revealed positions which could be the basis for a decisive victory. He described the war in Syria as “a struggle between Arab nationalism and political Islam.” Then he stated that the conflict was “in defense of the only secular state remaining in the East.” However, both these positions turned out to be vacuous; neither developed into the regime’s central message, and they failed to rally support.

I would go as far as saying that retreating from these two positions had to do with the ideological ties imposed by the crucial alliance with Iran, which is neither Arab nor secular. But effective alliances are based on diversity. We must not abandon a message which is vital for the resolution of this situation for the sake of any ally.

This brings us to the third element missing from the elusive message: a progressive social ideology. Due to the regime’s alliance with the local capitalists, this message is totally absent. If Damascus wants to win, it has to join the crowds in Tahrir Square. It has to define its war in terms of the Square’s stand against political Islam. It has to take a stand on much more radical positions on Arab nationalism, secularism, and social justice. It also has to rally the support of the nationalists, secularists, and socialists in Syria, the Arab world, and the world in general. This struggle should not be restricted to the intellectual, political, and media spheres. It should become part of the international struggle against imperialist and terrorist aggression.

Raise your banners. We want to join the struggle!

Nahed Hattar is a Jordanian writer.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


To the obviously CIA commenter, neither Bush nor imperialism is popular in the U.S. and your comment is pathetic. The party of Bush and continued anti-Islam war was trounced in the recent elections. Obama only dupes the majority of Americans by promoting war with Syria as "humanitarian intervention" to save embattled Syrian civilians.

Antiwar Americans have bad information; our media is controlled by wealthy war profiteers who hide the voices of regular people. We do not understand who the opposition in Syria is. Our media ignores the foreigner jihadists in Syria also.

Is it true that President Bashar Assad won in the last election promoting all Syrian religious and ethnic groups by championing the illegality of religious-based parties? Conservative/right-wing people in the U.S. Christians dominate and oppress minority religions, but they lost the recent election because they were too narrow (black, Latino and youth voters did not back them; U.S. demographics are changing and older, white protestants (groups most likely to benefit from status quo and vote conservative/right-wing) are dying off and being replaced by Latino immigrants. Overwhelmingly Black people remain oppressed, disproportionately poor & discriminated against, and thus anti-conservative. So it makes sense to appeal to most Americans on the grounds of equality for ALL Syrians. Could you please explain the Syrian opposition, both secular and faith-based (or are they more mixed together based on ideology or race or ?). Thank you very much.

How was your memorial at the grave of "shaheed" Wasfi at-Tal, the criminal who waged the crackdown on the Palestinian resistance in Jordan in the 70's? Did you seek penitence at his grave?! It's ironic, many of these Jordanian leftists were among the biggest supporters of Saddam, I wonder how that goes down with the "Resistance".

A very interesting article with which I agree largely. One of the rare articles that analyze the ideological background of the war. President Assad, raise your banners! We want to join the struggle!

The fan of the most stupid USA prez (no mean feat) a self-proclaimed imperialist (he is, without "") is sure that imperialists, colonialists and war criminals are "winning" in Syria. He is as smart as his favorite blockhead. Sure, they are winning just as they had won in Afghanistan and got 9/11 and then more bodybags, just as in Libya - with a CIA men went to the imperialist heaven.

Of course, there is some difference between the most stupid USA prez and his fan. The first is not likely suffer as a results of such victories, but the second could enjoy not only USA economy going to s...hole with all those victories, he could even be killed as a result of some more 9/11s. So, who got the 1st prize for being stupid between them? Looks like the fan LOL

Assad can't be saved by re-cycled failures ( "resistance "B.S., socialism,ect. )
It's a shoot-out,Mr.Hattar ; and we "imperialists" bèlieve we're winning.

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