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Fidaa Itani

The opposition and the Syrian tragedy

No one, especially the Syrian opposition, is taking any responsibility.

Syrian guards of the central market warm themselves with a fire beside a road covered in snow in the rebel-held city of Douma on January 11, 2015 (AFP Photo/Abd Doumany)

Syria’s tragedies were supposed to be mere side effects in the process of change which began almost four years ago, but today, as the anniversary of the Syrian revolution approaches, these tragedies have taken center stage. The change process is being relegated to the side effects of a conflict that is spreading, burning the region, and transforming Syria in to a host country for all manner of viruses.

 

It is difficult to distance the primary responsibility for the tragedies in Syria from the current regime. It is the fundamental reason for all suffering currently taking place and for the suffering of the Syrian people in decades past. It is the fundamental factor that has either prevented or impeded change in Syria and caused the country’s slow and listless development, which is mirrored by the change in regime oppression. It is the main reason behind a number of crises in the region. It bears the most responsibility for the backward condition of the Lebanese and has prevented them from ending their conflicts, prolonging both unseen and quite public violence. It also bears a large responsibility for the delay in reaching serious solutions for the legendary and protracted Palestinian crisis and has been heavily involved in the spread of Salafist jihadism — whether through the Bin Laden school or the Zarqawi school — in Iraq, and subsequently in Syria and its neighboring countries.

 

Anyone who wants to defend the Syrian regime must review many decades of history, from the 1960s to the present, but especially the 70s and 80s. They must also review the determined attempts by Hafez al-Assad to take control of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), even if that meant destroying what Israel could not destroy in 1982. Assad also took complete control of Lebanon and stopped all political and military movements not under his control, even when that meant three years of bloody feuding between Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.

 

Anyone who wants to defend the Syrian regime today must also review the interwoven and deceptive relations and the long dialogue sessions it held with representatives of Israeli society before repeating the slogans of resistance, steadfastness and confrontation of imperialism. They must first read hundreds of pages from the archives of Syrian embassies in Washington and “conspiring” Western states.

 

This is just one side of the picture and we can apply it to the present day. It embodies the Syrian regime’s good management of the interests of the people in the ruling classes it represents. It is a serious vision that can transform into daily action — a path drawn out by Hafez Assad, who had a strong awareness of reality and history. He was fully aware of the immoral nature of great small choices alike. His successor, Bashar, also found this approach suitable and took action to protect his own interests and the interests of his partners in the regime (both inside and outside Syria) regardless of the immorality, violence, and even the criminality of what he was doing. He manages conflict well, whether that comes from the few ideas he thinks up himself or through foreign assistance.

 

But it is the other side of the picture that astonishes: the picture of the many Syrian opposition groups — both those based abroad and those active in Syria, and at all levels within those groups.

 

While no one can expect much from the Nusra Front except that it may one day become more powerful and try to compete with its big sister the Islamic State (ISIS), we all look on in amazement at how opposition media manages to serve anything and everything except central Syrian issues; how the media can lose itself in settling scores and fostering antagonism but cannot create a public debate around Syrian issues or criticize the internal corruption in the various Syrian opposition bodies without drowning in personal disputes.

 

We can meditate on the carefully-hidden struggles between Syrian regime personalities, and we can observe how the pro-regime media has managed to convince the world that it is the only available partner in the fight against Islamist terrorism and that its secularism and pluralism are the best medicines against Western Islamophobia. Meanwhile, the regime’s army, Hezbollah and all their allies have only clashed with ISIS to “demarcate borders” between the lesser state of Syria and the greater Islamic State.

 

Conversely, the entire pro-revolution media has lost all of its battles. Throughout the past four years it has continued to fluctuate between two slogans: “help us because our cause is just” and “all opposition members are collaborators except us.” Several thousand Syrians took intensive media courses and hundreds of media outlets were funded, but the only time any developments took place in the pro-revolution media was when they could be employed to serve masked Arab and international interests. As a result, the revolution lost the image that people all over the world empathized with in 2011.

 

In the field, the Syrian revolution headed for militarization, perhaps based on action and reaction. Nevertheless, everyone in the opposition forces quickly agreed to “militarization without soldiers.” As the first commanders to defect from the regime died, thousands of Syrian officers withdrew (or were withdrawn) to officer camps, leaving ordinary citizens to be murdered whether they had taken up arms or not. The political opposition bore witness to the death of untrained fighters with unmatched coldness; it made do, as usual, with asking for weapons and international protection, and suggesting road maps that served every international interest but none of its own national interests.

 

International and regional forces in the so-called “Friends of Syria” group worked to represent their own interests, not the interests of the Syrian people, Burhan Ghalioun, Moaz al-Khatib or Ahmad Jerba. Of course, members of the Syrian opposition can be satisfied with a few thousand dollars and five-star hotel rooms in various capitals, but the struggle between Syria’s Qatari, Saudi, Turkish and other “friends,” added to the lethargy shown on the part of the United States towards the Syrian dossier as a whole, has left the Syrian people prey to death from above, whether in the form of barrel bombs or torrential rain.

 

As the idea of change in Syria has receded globally and focus has shifted, since the beginning of 2013, to Islamic extremism, one demand of Syrian opposition groups has become “support, aid, international protection, provision of refugee status.” It should be noted here that the only dream of most activists now is to acquire a refugee visa to one of a number of specific European states. Meanwhile, the political and military opposition has made the Syrian people addicted to “international aid and world sympathy.” Their only available alternative in cases of frustration is the jihadist organizations, seeing as the only national (military and political) organizations to be found are media outlets outside Syria.

 

Syria’s bickering opposition groups have reached agreement on one decision: to repeat the Palestinian experience and become scattered like the Palestinians. Even though the Palestinians have learned a lot from the crises they have been through, Syrian opposition groups insist on repeating the experience from the beginning rather than where it ended.

 

We should certainly take note of the achievements Syrian opposition groups have made in these tragic days. They have managed to turn the revolution into a collection of disparate causes and spread them out over the seasons of the year. In the summer we can follow the massacres perpetrated by ISIS and hold conferences calling for international support to exterminate terrorism. In the autumn, electoral meetings can be held that are no less sad than watching millions of Syrian living in tents. In the spring months we can talk about international collusion, the Iranian invasion and the diseases that have spread across Syria and in the areas under siege by regime forces. Only winter remains; the season of requesting extra aid for the Syrian people. Two thirds of them now live in tents in three states — Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan — as well as Syria’s border areas. Journalists are at a loss as to where conditions are worst for Syrian refugees.

 

There is a moral, historical and political responsibility for everything that is happening but it seems there is no one to bear it.

 

Fidaa Itani is a journalist based in Beirut. He tweets @Fidaaitani

Only winter remains; the season of requesting extra aid for the Syrian people. (AFP Photo/Abd Doumany)

Of course, members of the Syrian opposition can be satisfied with a few thousand dollars and five-star hotel rooms in various capitals, but the struggle between Syria’s Qatari, Saudi, Turkish and other ‘friends,’ added to the lethargy shown on the part of the United States towards the Syrian dossier as a whole, has left the Syrian people prey to death from above, whether in the form of barrel bombs or torrential rain.”