Syria’s Activists (I): Rethinking Revolution

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An armed Syrian rebel, who has found refuge in the mountains close to Al-Janoudia village, in Idlib province in northern Syria, sits on the ground as he rests into an old store house on 17 March 2012. (Photo: AFP - Giogos Moutafis)

By: Ernest Khoury

Published Tuesday, March 20, 2012

After one year of intensive work on the ground, some of Syria’s opposition activists are convinced it is time for an appraisal and overhaul of strategy and tactics in dealing with media, foreign support, and internal political organization.

Damascus – Winning the trust of young Syrians organizing the peaceful or military campaigns against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is not easy. This is not surprising given that many of them have been detained for days, weeks, or months for participating in the uprising.

But when the suspicion is finally broken and trust is achieved, it becomes possible to listen to those who are creating the news, not those who speak in their name. They are willing to offer their appraisal of the first year of their “new life,” as some like to call it, that started on March 15 of last year.

The young men and women active in Damascus and the area surrounding it agree on a number of very general points. Based on discussions with the activists, they can be summarized as follows:

– The world does not support Syria. They merely talk and make declarations.

– The positive aspects of keeping the internal opposition without a known political leadership outweigh the negatives.

– The blood and suffering of the dissidents has not been employed properly, internally and externally.

– The media performance of the youth of the Local Coordinating Committees (LCC), the Syrian Revolution General Commission, and the Supreme Council of the Revolution has varied greatly.

– The international and regional situation has not, and will not, allow for an external military intervention, at least in the near future.

– The military performance of what has become known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has fluctuated depending on the area. In any case, the military command needs an overhaul, leading to unification, organization, financing, and arming.

This runs counter to the call for the unification of the opposition, seen by many activists as an excuse for the Arabs and the West who are unwilling and ill-prepared to do anything against the regime now.

Activists acknowledge that everyone is aware that the opposition’s veterans, inside and outside Syria, are not ready, in any form and at any price, to work together in a united framework. The reasons cited are numerous but many are personal.

– The Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia proves that the Syrian National Council (SNC) is considered by many to have expired politically. Many also mistrust the internal opposition, despite deep respect for those whose collective time in jail totals a few hundred years.

The opinions of both peaceful and armed activists vary, and are sometimes contradictory. Nevertheless, they are in agreement that the situation is leading toward popular resistance and a long war of attrition.

The positions and proclamations of some activists in the LCC and the FSA may seem simple and unrefined. After all, many of them were not involved in any social or political work before 15 March 2011. Nevertheless, there are signs of a remarkable and analytical political awareness.

When asked about the SNC’s (and other members of the opposition’s) calls for external military intervention, opposition members repeat one question: “Can’t the opposition understand that the West, the Arabs, and Turkey are powerless to intervene militarily?”

Activists say there are thousands of reasons as to why these forces cannot intervene in Syria. One is the global financial crisis. Another is that France, the US, and other countries are preparing for upcoming elections. There is also a fear that the Syrian crisis will affect the internal affairs of its neighbors and that a civil war might sweep the whole of the country.

When asked about the Russian position, opposition members say it is unfortunate that the SNC is not aware that foreign intervention in Syria is impossible, at least in the near future, while they continue to demand foreign military assistance.

Activists also have their own ideas on what the SNC should be doing. Many in the opposition say that the SNC should mobilize to unite military and civil actions inside Syria. They argue that the SNC should provide supplies, organization, and financing in an effort to stop the current abuses that are keeping many people away from participating in the uprising. Activists say many people are afraid to participate in the uprising and either stay out of the matter entirely or affiliate themselves with the regime as a result.

The activists also demand all types of support for the revolution. But they claim that supplies that eventually reach opposition members carry with them several burdens. First, they admit that some arms and ammunition actually do make it there, but through individual dealers. In some areas, the price of a bullet is 100 Syrian pounds ($1.30).

When some fighters occasionally receive rusty and useless weapons, they point out, the weapons are almost impossible to transport beyond the border regions. Checkpoints between different provinces, cities, and even neighborhoods are very strict.

Therefore, activists say the suburbs of Damascus and the center of the capital will not be able to receive weapons as long as Lebanon’s eastern borders with Syria are heavily secured. If weapons and ammunition go to Idlib on the Turkish border, the eastern region close to Iraq, Deraa through Jordan, or some areas in Homs near Lebanon’s northern borders, it is likely that they will stay in these areas.

Militarization and Desertions

The armed groups loosely referred to as FSA faces an army of about half a million regulars, 100,000 special forces in 17 security agencies, and an innumerable number of “eyes” (spies) and shabbiha (regime thugs).

When asked about the efficacy of arming the FSA and providing them with external military support, many of those who have participated in FSA operations concur that the regime will not give any concessions except by force, or at least heavy pressure.

They say that nobody will venture to finance or arm the opposition in this atmosphere of military disorder. There needs to be a clear hierarchy under a political leadership that is able to control the spread of weapons, so as not to repeat the Libyan experience later.

Similarly, some say that none of the vital demands (such as the no-fly zone) of those who believe in military action will be met if the opposition remains amateurish and susceptible to entering into a civil war against minorities.

Those activists are also convinced that large scale mutinies in the army, involving many soldiers and high ranks, will not happen unless they are reassured that there will be some parity (with the regime’s forces).

Many activists also say that future deserters should have guarantees that their families will be safe and secure in buffer zones or outside the country.

Speaking of military actions, many activists concede that desertions are still below the expectations of the opposition. Some military battles were fought by a small group of deserters compared to a majority of local civilians who carry light weapons, with minimal knowledge of how to handle them. They know what they learned during military service, which is mandatory in Syria.

Activists also suggest that militarization was forced on the opposition by the regime. They claim it was necessary to act to stop the killings. Violent resistance was the last thing most activists wanted, but they claim that there was no other option.

When asked about current calls to return to the slogan of “peaceful” revolution, many activists see this as mere theorizing. They say that such actions can only lead to more sacrifices and people dying in vain.

Guerrilla Warfare and the Prospects of Settlement

Civil activists and those connected with military actions against the regime admit that the balance of power between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the regular army is still unequal.

The FSA is simply a broad banner for groups of deserters and civilians who have joined them. Stuck in their region or front, they are isolated from any type of centralization or coordination of orders, supplies, or arms.

The activists stress that war of attrition and guerrilla warfare will hurt the regime the most.

Opposition supporters who are not active on the ground disagree. Their peaceful protests are now limited to meetings, discussions, readings, and theoretical groups.

They have information that Russia is “cooking up” a new resolution.

There might also be a serious initiative in coordination with Damascus calling for a transfer of power based on the Yemeni model, from within the regime of course. This would be coupled with real security, political, economic, and legal reform, which will not be nominal as is the case is today. This will happen when the military movement is crushed completely.

Neither the military nor civil opposition are willing to retreat. The regime will not make any concessions unless everything calms down.

Ultimately, activists say that even in the case of a settlement and transfer of power within the regime, it will be difficult to convince the guerrillas to participate in the political process.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


I propose a slight modification to this article, a modification that would explain the failure of the military opposition. Take "FSA" and substitue N (from NATO) and substitue it for for S in FSA so that we have now FNA. Or , FQA ( Free Qatari Army) or FSA ( Free Saudi Army). Now you can see why the FREE SYRIAN PEOPLE (FSP) CANNOT POSSIBLY ACCEPT THE FNA.

Thank you. I got it. Those activists are the same as SNC.

They WANT NATO/GCC to bomb Syria

They do NOT admit that not too much support from the population for their wish of foreign bombs is NOT because people are afraid of "regime", but because they are afraid of bombs (see Libya)

They do NOT admit that there are foreign terrorist murdering Syrians.

They do NOT condemn murdering civilians, including children by FSA.

They do NOT admit the sectarian violence by FSA.

In short, they are lairs and lackeys of NATO/GCC.

I hope there are OTHER opposition in Syria, but it seems the author was not able to speak to them, or just not interested.

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