Posted by Ehsani on Friday, February 10th, 2012
Syria’s Opposition Must Find a Different Way
By Ehsani for Syria Comment
February 10, 2012
As the death toll mounts on the streets in Syria, it is important to remember how we got here. Damascus has decided to reassert control over its restive cities by using the full might of its military. This should not come as a surprise to observers and policy makers. Indeed, the surprise is that the government has taken this long to order its offensive.
In the first three months of this crisis, it is fair to suggest that the opposition was largely peaceful. By the summer of 2011, this was beginning to change. The uprising was morphing into an armed resistance as weapons started to surface on Syrian streets. The defining moment was at the beginning of Ramadan. Contrary to consensus opinion, the government was not deterred by the start of the Holy month. Hama was stormed and taken back from the opposition to the shock of the region. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made its first defining public comment on Alarabiya Television Channel immediately following Hama’s fall to the government, after withdrawing its ambassador from Syria.
Since Hama, Syrian opposition members have begun increasingly to call to demand weapons and a military response to overpower the regime. For the next 6 months, Syrian streets and neighborhoods became armed enough that the mighty Syrian army had to think twice before entering the developing mini enclaves ruled by the opposition within its cities. Not surprisingly, taking up arms suddenly became the accepted modus operandi of the opposition and the uprising. Those cautioning against such strategies were referred to as ignorant or regime supporters.
Young opposition activists who followed the advice to arm and fight the regime are now being left to fend for themselves against the military Goliath of the Syrian Army. As I wrote following my return from the country, many assured me that the armed forces were yet to use more than 20% of their capacity. As I listened to pronouncements by opposition leaders about the necessity to arm, I could not help but wonder what would happen when Damascus would unleash its full military might. We will now find out.
While Rastan, Homs and Zabadani were becoming hell for its residents, I was dismayed to see that the so-called brains of this revolution were landing in Doha airport. The purpose of the meeting is of course to focus on “the situation on the ground in Syria” and find ways of “helping the rebels”. How infuriating to see men in suites sit in the comfort of Doha hotels instructing the poor men, women and children of the restive neighborhoods of Syria on what they should do next. The fact is that since the first calls to arm the population, the brain trust of this revolution sent the people of Syria into a kamikaze mission. Did anyone really think that the Syrian army was going to be defeated at the hands of poor young men with Kalashnikovs?
Sadly, following the double veto at the U.N., many capitals have announced that they are willing to further arm the rebels. This is a travesty. The fact is that no amount of arms in the hands of such untrained rebels will come even close to defeating the Syrian army. This insanity must stop. The Syrian National Council and regional powers must come up with a different strategy if they truly care about the Syrian people who are now dying on the streets and in their homes. Some have argued that had it not been for the veto at the U.N., the Syrian army would not have responded this way over the past 48 hours. This is false. The decision to storm Homs and Zabadani was made before the vote. The central government decided to restore its control over all its cities before a Syrian Benghazi could be established.
At the beginning of this crisis, I was skeptical that the opposition was as armed as the government media claimed. By the end of Ramadan, I had no doubt that armed elements were indeed committing violence against government forces and others. This was confirmed to me by a first-rate reporter who has spent months in the most troubled cities and neighborhoods of Syria. This is not to give a pass to the government. It is the stronger of the two parties, and it must assume most blame for the violence. The leadership has been very consistent in its defiant attitude. In spite of this, many still speculate that the President will soon step down or leave the country. Such false signals have convinced those taking up arms that their strategy is somehow working and that a “win” is around the corner. This is regrettable and dangerous.
Those of us living in the comforts of the West are only too familiar with how politicians in democratic countries compete over their “records”. My wish is to see the Syrian opposition begin to discuss President Assad’s record on the economy, the public sector, illegal housing, the environment, health care, education, the media, and individual liberties. Instead, we seem to hell bent on steering our country straight into an iceberg with 23 million on board.
The Syrian National Council and many Arab and International policy makers who are now pontificating on Syria’s future were nowhere to be seen in 2007, when the President’s second 7-year term began. We have gone from being in a coma to calling for the downfall of the regime and even the hanging of its leader. This is insanity. The Syrian National Council must call for all rebels and opposition groups to stop arming themselves. Instead, it should declare that the opposition set its sights on 2014, when President Assad’s second presidential term will come to an end.
What is needed is a smart and innovative strategy that helps spare lives but effectively convinces the leadership that the old ways of doing business are over. Popular efforts must be spent in writing a new constitution, a bill of rights to calm minority fears, and an economic plan to reassure the business community and workers alike. The standard of living of most Syrians is appalling, so is the education level and health care system. The opposition must channel their energies towards such topics rather than the senseless calls to arm the rebels in what is clearly a suicide mission.
To be sure, the opposition if anything is likely to go in the opposite direction to what I am suggesting. Just this morning, a young member of the opposition (Mr. Mohammad Al Abdallah) is calling for Mr. Ghalioun to step down accusing him of failing to do anything while Homs residents are being slaughtered. While his anger is understandable, he offers no precise prescription of what to do next. I am not sure how you make a revolution and succeed in toppling this regime peacefully. Perhaps Mr. Abdallah can nominate a Syrian Ghandi for the next phase of this country’s future.