After five months of protest, it’s time for revolutionaries to reconsider the nature of their revolution and reassess their methods while reasserting their commitment to nonviolence and toppling the regime.
Reports of mass executions and Hama City in Al-Nasr Square and the Baath Neighborhood, and of destruction of whole neighborhoods, including those of Al-Hamidiyeh and Al-Qousour. 40 people have been confirmed dead.
After months of protest and violent crackdown by Assad loyalists, individual acts of vendetta and retributions, perpetrated by inhabitants of certain rebellious communities, are beginning to take place more frequently now. The Assads and their supporters and propagandists will now use these acts to lend credence to their erstwhile assertions of armed gangs’ involvement, embellishing them all the while with more lies. This is indeed typical of their strategies. Through their actions, their lies become self-fulfilling prophecies that can later be used to retroactively lend credence to their lies and justify their illegal actions. Some international experts and journalists who fell into the trap of believing Assad lies would find “pleasure” in this situation as well.
But the truth of the matter should not evade us: after months of violent crackdown against unarmed protesters, of snipers shooting people, including children and teenagers, in the head, of mercilessly torturing detainees, sometimes to death, of invading cities with tanks and indiscriminately shelling residential neighborhoods, of using state-run media and its satellites in the private world to incite to violence and stoke the fires of sectarianism, some reaction of the same nature by inhabitants of protest communities is to be excepted.
Still, we should not be blind to certain facts related to this situation, including: 1) many of the earlier reported incidents of violence allegedly perpetrated by protesters have never been supported by any evidence, despite the fact that the regime had ample resources to provide such evidence, 2) the regime and its propagandist have repeatedly been caught lying and making up stories, and 3) many of the recently reported incident may still be fabrications, as the controversy surrounding the river dumping video indicates. We have challenged the regime repeatedly on its inability to provide supporting evidence to back its claims, but since its claims are often false, fabricating evidence might be its only logical recourse. As such, an increase in reported incidents might indicate more an increase in fabrications rather than a real increase.
Be that as it may, Syria’s protest leaders, opposition activists and dissidents condemn these acts whenever they take place both in public statements circulated on the internet and published on their websites, as well as during their interviews with regional and international media. Protesters and activists as well condemn any sectarian references or calls to violence by any figure claiming to represent their movement. Meanwhile, regime spokesmen, who openly called for “killing all protesters,” like Talib Ibrahim, continue to represent the regime in local, regional and international media, and get star treatment in regime sponsored events.
There is indeed a qualitative and not simply a quantitative difference between the protagonists on either side. There is a right side and a wrong side to this conflict that are still clearly delineatable. We should not lose sight of that, say by issuing statements condemning violence on “all sides.”
From now on, however, it is clear that the protest movement will become saddled by violence: the regime and its death squads on the one hand, and fringe elements on the other. The only logical option for the protest movement at this stage is to continue to distance itself from the fringe elements, condemn their violence, and hold on dearly to its peaceful strategies in the face of increasing provocations from the regime.
The Revolution cannot be handled as a short-term necessity anymore, and should be approached as a more ambitious project that needs to be sustained on the longer run. The protest movement needs to be treated now as a “total revolution,” one that seeks to replace the entire existing political culture and structure from the grassroots upwards, without having to go through that transitional phase that was envisioned earlier where a combination of civilian and military elite take over the leadership of the country for a short-period of time until new constitution is approved and free elections have taken place. In this new scenario, the transitional phase is already under way, and the revolutionaries themselves are the transitional leaders.
The role of traditional opposition figures and movements will be marginal, and restricted to an advisory capacity. After all, they did not start the Revolution and have so far failed to provide a leadership and a vision that can appeal to the protesters. The main reason for this failure seems to lie in their inability to understand that theirs could only be a supporting role to the emerging leadership, and that trying to assume a more primarily role, even if for a purportedly transitional phase, made them appear as potential new usurpers of popular will rather than legitimate representative thereof. They also failed to understand that their inability to connect to the grassroots over the last few years signify the growing irrelevance of their ideologies, political philosophies and institutions necessitating a major review and overhaul on their part. Instead, they looked at the Revolution as an opportunity to reassert the relevance that they long lost through a process of imposition from the top. In other words, traditional opposition figures and movements wrote themselves off with their actions just like the Assads did with theirs. Now the revolutionaries have to posit an alternative to them as well. Obviously, this requires time, and this is why the revolution should be tackled as an ongoing long-term project.
Indeed, even the over-arching political vision for the Revolution and for a post-Assad Syria, and the institutions responsible for its implementation have to come from the grassroots now. Recently, Iceland put together its first ever constitution using the internet, Syrian activists could and should do the same. The question of communal rights be they religious, sectarian, national or tribal in nature, can be discussed through a variety of online forums where experts can offer their suggestions based on their knowledge of situations and experiences in other countries, and put the issues up for general discussion point by point before taking votes. The idea is to talk openly about sensitive issues, make the dialog as inclusive as possible and keep it alive as long as possible before moving on to the voting phase. Concrete ideas are bound to emerge down the line as institutions take shape around the processes of online dialog and coordinating the day-to-day operations and activities of the Revolution.
In this scenario, the old idea of splitting the army becomes irrelevant. The army should now be treated as part and parcel of the Assads’ system of oppressions and control, just like the security apparatuses and the emerging loyalist militias. The goal should be to sap the strength of all these institutions of oppression through prolonged wide-spread protests until available resources become insufficient to sustain them as viable institutions. Sectarian loyalties notwithstanding, limited resources will translate into limited support and limited ability to function. Activists acting outside the country should lobby for a stronger international sanction regime capable of putting the squeeze on these specific institutions, as well as their domestic, regional and international affiliates and backers.
The strategy for now should be to focus on organizing smaller protests throughout each major protest community and throughout the country and to keep them happening on a daily basis, so as to disrupt the normal operations of state institution and of daily life in general. Combined with strikes, boycotts of official and loyalist institutions and businesses these smaller protests can be far more effective than organizing Tahrir-like events in the coming days. In many ways, this is already taking place, but the revolutionaries need to embrace as their modus operandi in itself and not keep dreaming for going for that being moment. Syria’s big moment will be very different than putting together a million-man march in the Omayyad Square. That could happen after the fact, that is, after regime-fall, but it is not a necessary step towards bringing about the fall of the regime as so many seem to think.
Lawyers, doctors, engineers, farmers, small business owners among other socioeconomic groups who are sympathetic to the Revolution should now form their own nation-wide independent unions and networks, even if on a virtual basis to begin with. The point is to form a parallel form of governing every aspect of our lives, even as the Assads and their apparatuses of oppression look on.