Assad gives a Gaddafiesque interview to Barbara Walters, and gets offer to host his own talk-show on Comedy Central, sending Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert into fits of angst and consternation.
Wednesday 7, 2011
In his interview with Barbara Walters, Assad said: “We don't kill our people...No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person." I think we can all safely agree with that. And the evidence of Assad craziness is to be seen all over Syria.
For while eyes are focused mostly on the city of Homs and surrounding areas (and rightly so as this Sky News report demonstrates http://youtu.be/Jwcn7qPk_tE), we cannot forget, not for a second, that open warfare is also taking place in the Provinces of Idlib, Hama, Deraa/Hauran, Damascus, Deir Ezzor and, yes, even Aleppo.
Indeed, on December 7, clashes between insurgents and loyalists in various locations in Idlib today left close to 40 loyalists dead, a dozen armored vehicles destroyed, and a truck-load of surface-to-air missiles was said to have been confiscated by the insurgents. More than 150 soldiers are said to have defected to join the ranks of the insurgents.
Meanwhile, loyalists pounded several communities throughout the province including the City of Saraqib http://youtu.be/9xAP9Xo1pCI , http://youtu.be/8vDqbHDXnLg , http://youtu.be/YOimfPmpChk , http://youtu.be/FtMtleNK1TA
The town of Da’el in the Deraa/Hauran Province also came under fire earlier today http://youtu.be/jzYXVHhPfO8
And yet, peaceful demonstrations are still taking place throughout the country. The people taking part in them might be fewer, but they are more defiant than ever. The decrease in number is attributed mostly to the onset of winter. People are fighting on two fronts now: attempting to secure the basics, including bread and kerosene, while keeping the momentum of their 9-months old protest movement.
A woman in Houleh (Homs Province) cooking the family’s only daily meal. That’s what daily life is like for many Syrian communities today http://youtu.be/gdYButl6XYw
OPPOSITION TRAVAILS CONTINUE
Leaders of the Syrian National Council finally met with Col. Riyadh Al-Ass’aad, leader of the Free Syrian Army, in the Turkish city of Antakya on November 28. The meeting, which has been a main demand of protesters and independent dissidents for many weeks now, ended with SNC leaders pledging to support the FSA so along as the latter adhered to a strictly protective mandate and refrained from carrying out any attacks on security headquarters and pro-Assad militias.
From an academic standpoint, this seems like a very positive development. But the revolution is not proceeding in the halls of academia, and in the real world where it is unfolding, the results were mixed. The outcomes were not planned while taking realities on the ground under consideration as SNC leaders continue to pay greater deference to what they are being told by their international interlocutors than to what they need to do to consolidate and expand their appeal on the ground.
The international community wants the SNC to prove its leadership credentials by establishing rapport and exerting influence over the FSA and its leader, that’s understandable, and represents a popular demand as well as far as the protesters as concerned. I have pushed for this repeatedly as well, as followers of this blog must know. But there is something more important that both groups need to do before scurrying to appease the international community and satisfy its conditions. Indeed, they both need to consolidate their legitimacy on the ground first.
What difference can the SNC make if it gets international recognition and loses its legitimacy among the protesters? And what difference can the FSA make, if it fails to get all the emerging paramilitary groups to accept the authority of its Military Council and its leader?
By making international recognition its number one priority, and for all the success they had in this regard, not least the recent meeting with Mrs. Clinton, the SNC has been continuously losing legitimacy on the ground. It has failed to expand its membership as promised and failed to clearly embrace the demands of the protesters who want nothing from the SNC but to be a mere amplifier of their demands. While this stance might seem a bit unreasonable or impractical, the protesters are simply wary of usurpers, and they don’t want to help set up another group of leaders who refused to be accountable to the people. This was not an opposition made revolution, and it will not become an opposition led one that easily. The push-pull dynamics between people and Council are proving equally frustrating.
That’s one of the main reasons why protesters turned to the Antakya-based FSA for more than just protection, hailing Col. Al-Ass’aad and his officers as heroes, and dedicating a whole week to endorsing them. But that was done only inasmuch as the Colonel and his men were willing to follow the protester lead and adopt their demands. By agreeing to restrict the operations of the FSA to a defensive role only, and refraining carrying out attacks on loyalist militia targets, the Colonel made a political concession that might seem wise, but is bound to complicate his mission immensely: the mission of providing structure to a nascent and extremely atomized movement.
For the FSA is a not a centralized entity, and, in reality, Col. Al-Ass’aad has nothing to do with most operations that take place in the name of the FSA, except for those carried out by defectors crossing borders from Turkey and Lebanon into Syria. In most other cases, decision-making is left to local commanders, who may or may not be affiliated with the FSA, and their units. Credits are given to the FSA only after the operations are carried out.
As such, Col. Al-Ass’aad promised something that he could not actually deliver. This might undermine his position on both the international and domestic front.
Indeed, clashes between pro-Assad militias and who can only be as insurgents at this stage continue to take place on a daily basis, and new military units and groups, are showing up every day, and the FSA has its work cut out for it in order to bring them it to its folds.
This clip shows (Dec 6) the formation of a new fighting unit in South Idlib Province, dubbed Osama Bin Zaid and led by Lt. Zuhair Shaikh http://youtu.be/2fv537Y-ehw But it seems that members of this unit had previously been acting under a different name when they were part of the FSA’s Abou Al-Fida Brigade. In this older clip, we can indeed see the same commander we saw in the earlier clip announcing the formation of a new unit under the Aboul Fida Brigade http://youtu.be/CbVy1Fja-l0 In other words, we have defections within the ranks of the defectors, that’s how complex things are.
This clip shows the formation of another armed group in Hama Province (December 6) http://youtu.be/XU9OkBXNA_8 And another (December 6) http://youtu.be/Mk-MFNaX6t4 The speakers in both clips don’t mention the FSA.
Here we see an announcement regarding the formation of the Khalid Bin Al-Walid Division, complete with affiliated units, under the leadership of Major Ahmad Bahbouh http://youtu.be/YzJp85C98CA The goals: protecting unarmed protesters and targeting loyalist militias wherever they are. The demands: Arab League should refer the Syria file to the UNSC so that international monitors are sent in suspects are referred to the ICC. The announcement ends by calling on locals to join the movement. Again, this is how the situation is devolving.
Thus, only two weeks after celebrating the Free Syrian Army, the fledgling institution is at risk of becoming completely irrelevant to developments on the ground, just like the SNC.
But losing the ability to provide structure to the various political and military groups on the ground is an extremely troubling development, which could pave the way towards faster descent into anarchy and mayhem.
The lack of a coherent vision and plan combined with the unwillingness to rise above ideological differences, personal egos, and academic considerations is undermining the ability of the opposition to rise up to challenge of leading the revolution, not to mention the transition to democracy.
The SNC needs to up its game by finally announcing its basic structure and vision during its upcoming meeting in Tunisia scheduled for mid-December. And after that, all opposition groups need to start working on transition planning.
For this reason, I offer the following notes on transition by way of jumpstarting the conversation, instead of just complaining about the lack of conversation on this issue. There is nothing too complex here, after all, I am not exactly an expert on these issues, what I am is a citizen and an activist who wants to see some movement on the right tracks for once. Indeed, over the next few weeks, I will be working with a number of international organizations and experts as well as Syrian colleagues on coming up with a transition plan: we will exclude no one from the conversations, irrespective of any ideological or personal differences, we just hope that all will participate, and that by publishing some of our notes, and interacting with a larger crown, a debate on the issues among all Syrians will take place. This revolution has to be about visions and ideas as well, not just debate about tactics of violence and nonviolence, who’s in and who’s out, and what council to support or not support.