Time for a Rethink in Syria

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Syrian regime supporters flash the victory sign and hold portriats of President Bashar al-Assad as they celebrate the unveiling of the "Syrian Soldier" statue during a rally in Damascus on 21 December 2011. (Photo: AFP - Louai Beshara)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Thursday, December 22, 2011

The first phase of the Syrian crisis was one of harsh confrontation. With the agreement to send Arab observers into Syrian towns and cities, a second phase of the crisis begins for all concerned.

There are no guarantees that the uprising will end, that armed operations by rebel groups will cease, nor that the foreign diplomatic, security, economic, and media pressure will ease. It easily follows, therefore, that there are no guarantees that the security remedy pursued by the regime will be discontinued either.

But the political divide persists, its intensity undiminished. And it daily takes on the semblance of civil warfare, both cold and hot.

But will the Syrians undertake the rethink necessary to avert further deterioration?

On the regime’s part, there is grudging admission that the problem was inaccurately diagnosed. Those in power ignored what people were really protesting about: the trappings of years of arbitrary rule.

These include the security agencies’ control over people’s lives, affairs, and interests, within or outside the state; the control of one party over the state’s administration and resources, resulting in pervasive and widespread corruption, and; the sharp reversal dealt to political and cultural development, accompanied by incomprehensible and senseless repression.

All these combined to reduce Syria to the state of political decay which the uprising so starkly highlighted.

Within the regime today there are people who concede that the security remedy was damaging in many cases and regions; that the response to the popular protests was mistaken; and that it would have been possible to contain the situation via clear and firm practical measures – such as arresting those responsible for torturing children in Deraa, or those unleashing blind repression in Homs and its environs, or those carrying out arbitrary arrests in Hama and Damascus countryside.

Those in the regime who think in this way cannot explain why nobody has to this day been questioned or held to account. But they speak – though actions have yet to follow their words – of a clear decision to carry out an extensive purge that will transform the security apparatus that Syrians face beyond recognition.

In politics, they argue that change is already underway, that the amendments being made to the constitution effectively concede to popular demands for an end to one-party rule, and that the effects of this will be felt throughout Syria.

They also maintain that proposed political and party freedoms will become a reality, and that no government will be able to suppress or reverse them. Promised media freedoms will also be speedily introduced.

Discussions about the condition of the Syrian state media have apparently reached the stage of considering major changes, which may result in the complete disappearance of existing press outlets.

But outside the regime, there are people who refuse to even listen to such talk. Some want to see Bashar Assad removed from his post. But others want to see Syria in its entirety removed from its current position.

It is at this point that the debate with opposition forces – whether home-based or offshore – takes a different turn (while acknowledging the moral authority of the internal opposition, especially the young people leading the movement demanding political and economic change.)

It became clear that certain Syrians grew weary of leading popular protests. Perhaps the street itself grew weary, or could not withstand the price it was made to pay so far. But it was a mistake for the street to defer to political leaders and forces that seemed in a hurry to reap political rewards.

Some of these underestimated the regime’s strength. They thought it would all be over in a matter of weeks as in Egypt, and that failing that, it would always be possible to resort to the Libyan option.

This attitude prevented the emergence of a genuine political leadership for the popular movement. Indeed, the leaders became captive to the protesters’ daily declarations. No distinction was maintained between the protesters’ slogans and the near-term or ultimate objectives of the protest movement.

Meanwhile, the Syrian regime’s foreign adversaries near and far – Israel’s Western protectors, the US’s Arab clients, and others subscribing to their plans for the region – joined forces against it as never before.

They believed that the street protests could be used to appeal for international salvation. And the opposition groups in question obliged.

Rather than trying to formulate reasonable demands, or a mechanism for translating the protest movement’s achievements into concrete gains; rather than taking account of sectarian, ethnic, tribal, political, and regional sensitivities, and pursuing dialogue even if accompanied by protests and clashes with the regime; these forces, especially those based offshore, looked for foreign assistance.

They did so with a single-minded fixation on Libya and the foreign intervention that took place there. They have worked tirelessly to mobilize international and regional support for a similar march of folly in Syria. Yet they avoid discussing it directly, and even make a point of denying that it is what they seek.

They know that it is not the option the Syrian people want. To be more precise, there is no consensus in favor of it. But one could confidently assert that the majority of Syrians reject it.

Yet the offshore opposition has tried shamelessly to replicate the Libyan model: The Syrian National Council was named with Libya’s Transitional National Council in mind.

They supported supplying weapons into the countryside on the pretext of protecting civilians, but had the rebels of eastern Libya in mind.

They were quick to call for protected areas, with Benghazi in mind. And they demanded international protection, hoping for another UN mandate for regional and international powers to provide that protection via military intervention.

Inspired by Libya’s revolutionary brigades, they blessed the creation of the Free Syrian Army. And they remain at the service of any foreign army that may be willing to join a war aimed at toppling Bashar Assad’s regime.

With characteristic irresponsibility, they have no qualms about exhorting the Syrian people to engage in a bloody confrontation with the regime. Their leaders can scarcely conceal their delight when announcing the rising numbers of fellow Syrians who have been killed, injured, or arrested.

They rely on the media uproar to blur any details. Every casualty is counted as one of their followers, every gunman assumed to be a defecting soldier.

These characters have continued to solicit support from world capitals, and financial backing from various sources. But they have made no effort to try to win over the inhabitants of Syria’s largest cities, or other towns and villages that have not taken part in the protests.

Their only answer to the fears that are – rightly or wrongly – growing among Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities, are platitudes. This while a campaign of sectarian, confessional, and political vilification is being waged on the web.

And instead of vying to outdo the regime’s position regarding the conflict with Israel, they were quick to promise to break relations with the resistance axis, and opt for negotiations rather than resistance to recover the Golan Heights.

Yet they seem to have failed to accurately assess the extent to which their slogans repel the Syrian street. It is burning for change and reform, but not with oppositionists like these.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Wow...that was just plain awful. I love Akhbar, but this is damn close to an apologist piece I can read on SANA. Do I need to quote you back your notable "benefits of the doubt"? Brother, there will be none of the things promised if the current structure remains in place. You know that. I agree the so-called opposition in the SNC leads a lot to be desired. Some are indeed pawing at the regime to reap financial rewards. Others seem lees intent on a genuine revolution than a simple turning of the tables. However, you have just planted a pile of horse manure and told me it was potatoes. Perhaps you should be reminded that Assad is lying...he is a liar...he will lie to get the street to go back to being sheep...but there are no more sheep (except in Damascus and Aleppo...lol) there are only lions....they don't hang in Istanbul, they are all over Syria...and the hunt, my dear editor, will not be swayed by heartfelt pleas for a "new direction"...it will continue.

Thanks to all for their work!

Given the less exciting analogy you gave about horse manure, one is tempted to observe that it is clear from which trough you drink?

If you read the staple diet of news provided by the Information System in the West, you would essentially be drinking from the trough of the Muslim Brothers "National Council" and its offshoot, the 'Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.' Our Information System editors seem to think that the history of humanity never saw a more accurate and objective source of news than this 'telescopic' source for counting the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime thousands of miles away, at times before they happen, if they happen!

Similarly, your comment seem to suggest that any solution to the crisis in Syria that departs from the wishes of your Islamist "National Council" and its US, British and French backers is a none-settlement. In which case one wonders just who you are, and why are you so concerned about Syria to wish anything but peace and tranquility for those courageous people?

Today they are busy working for the collapse of the Arab League mission. Note the news their masthead himself was told to state to a Saudi newspaper about the "difficulties of the Arab League observers in reaching Homs," when they have yet to arrive to Damascus airport, never mind the story about the assassination of one of them yesterday by your favorite impartial source, Al-Jazeera!

The regime committed many atrocities. But the hands of your friends, the Islamists National Council are just as bloody. They 'steadfastly' not only refused to talk to the regime to resolve the crisis in a peaceful manner, but to other opposition groups, whose sense of democracy and freedom put to shame the Muslim Brothers and their benefactors!

Sadly, their violence, through the 'Free Syrian Army' gang will only increase, using Turkey as a springboard. The increase is correlated with the increasing impossibility of achieving their goal - that of taking over Syria with their pre-Islamic ideology. In the event, they began to reversion to their older habit, the one they mastered in the 1980s, of killing innocent civilians - like those who died on Friday by the homicidal bombers!

You really ought to be careful when picking up potatoes!

Marc, you are repeating propaganda - i.e. propaganda by such proven truth-lovers as USA rulers, Saudis and their lackeys. I would NOT call you "brother" because my brothers are more critical regarding what imperialists and their helpers say.

By the way, what about Saddam WMD and his ties with Al-Qaida? We were told about it by USA government, were we not? Now another USA government tells us that war against Iraq was still OK, so WHO is lier here?

very convincing especially with the statement about no more sheep (except in Damascus and Aleppo ...lol). That was definitely an LOL moment. So the regime is still standing thanks to the presence of sheep in Damascus and Aelppo.

Beautiful, Absolutely Beautiful, you have hit the nail on the head. Burham Ghalioun and the SNC failed the Syrian people and are not worthy of our support. They have absolutly neglected the minorities,( Christians, Druze, Alawit/ shiite) and the only group (kurds) that they attempted to wooo, in fact don't trust them either because of the SNC's closeness to the Turks. Why is the opposition attempting to cater to the west and the Gulf Countries when they have no legitimacy with the syrian people. Burham ghalioun has failed and now his group are finished.

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