Wednesday, March 26th, 2014
Do Syrians Want To Fight Until Victory or Do they Want a Ceasefire?
by James McMichael [email@example.com]
for Syria Comment, March 26, 2014
A recent survey results show clear-cut differences between the views of civilians and those of rebel fighters with regard to the war and the political future of Syria. Simply put, civilians want a negotiated peace as quickly as possible, while rebel fighters are determined to fight on for military victory. Moreover, civilians want a postwar government with limited religious influence, while rebel fighters want a religion-dominated postwar government. The survey results also contradict some existing theories as to the nature and origins of the war. Three researchers, Vera Miranova, Loubna Mrie and Sam Whitt conducted surveys of civilians in rebel held areas and rebel fighters in Aleppo during August-September 2013 and Idlib during November-December 2013. See the Voices of Syria project.
Civilians and rebel fighters were asked to select the best from several options with respect to negotiating with and fighting against Assad. “Continue fighting until Assad defeated” was selected by an overwhelming majority of 89.29% of rebel fighters but by only 36.36% of civilians. Conversely, “Immediate cease-fire to begin negotiations” was selected by 45.45% of civilians and by a mere 3.57% of rebel fighters. If the “civilians” could be represented in peace negotiations, then perhaps a result different from Geneva II could occur. However, while the views of rebel fighters and the external opposition are heard by Western and Gulf governments, the views of Syrian civilians apparently are heard by no one outside Syria.
Civilians and rebel fighters were asked how large a role religion should play in future Syrian politics. Of civilians, there is nothing approaching a majority position and 39.3% favor a very important role, 22.2% favor a not very important role, and 6.2% favor no role at all. Of rebel fighters, a majority of 53.3% favors a very important role, just 13.3% favor a not very important role, and none favor no role at all. It appears that, if civilians determine the nature of a postwar government, then it possible that a balance might be struck between religion and secularism in government. In contrast, if rebel fighters prevail as to the form of postwar government, then theocracy seems to be in store.
The view that the war is a political revolution appears to be incorrect. Rebel fighters were asked their main reason for joining rebel groups. Revenge against Assad was given by 46.3%, support for the group’s goals was given by just 18.5%, defending their community was given by 13%, and defeating Assad was given by 11.1%. With a majority of 57.4% fighting against Assad, and just 18.5% fighting for their group’s goals, the rebel fighters care whom they are fighting against, but are quite unconcerned as to what they are fighting for. This indicates that the war is not a revolution seeking a new political order but is, instead, an identity-based civil war like Biafra, Northern Ireland and past and present Iraq.
One explanation that has been offered for the 2011 uprising, aside from emulation of the Arab Spring in other countries, is economic deprivation caused by a moribund economy, a high birth rate, a bloated public sector, and a multiyear drought. The survey results rebut that hypothesis. Rebel fighters were asked their pre-war occupation. Pre-war, 35.59% of rebel fighters were students, 27.12% were professionals, and just 13.56% were unemployed. The ranks of the rebel fighters were not filled by the economically deprived.
Although not discussed above, the survey results provide extensive information as to the social effects of the war. Those social effects are, in a few words, physical, personal, economic and psychological catastrophe. This catastrophe goes a long way toward explaining the civilian preference for a negotiated end to the war as quickly as possible and aversion to fighting on for military victory. If only Secretary Kerry and his counterparts in Europe and the Gulf were aware of and amenable to the potential for peace in bypassing the rebel groups and external opposition and providing to Syrian civilians the means to become the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrians. However, nothing of the sort appears to be on the diplomatic agenda.
A few caveats are necessary. Security concerns prevented the researchers from using certain sampling techniques. The surveys were limited geographically. The total sample size was just 150 individuals. No margin of error is provided. Nevertheless, these surveys are an important advance in understanding the nature of the war, the prospects for peace, and the possible forms of a postwar government.
The researchers report as works in progress three papers analyzing their survey results. These are sure to be of value to those trying to understand Syria.
- It was not possible to use standard survey sampling techniques.
- The limited geographical area.
- The sample size was just 150 individuals.
The research interest was rebel held areas and the surveys were conducted accordingly.