First, I would like to start this post by wishing all a serene Passover and Easter. May we all celebrate next year in a Syria liberated from tyrants.
OK, so it seems that we have two different points of views on 7ee6an, both expressed eloquently and with passion and both defended and criticized strongly. At risk of extreme over simplification, the first idea may be summarized as arguing that armed resistance only aggravates the regime and provides it with excuses to inflict more violence and horror, not to mention being a failure in comparison with the “more effective” national scale civil disobedience, which should be pursued at all costs towards bringing down the regime. The second argument, and again risking oversimplification, stresses the right of people for self defense, and highlights that the regime’s use of force is independent of the level of violence exerted by any armed faction in the revolution, which in turn if sufficiently armed, will exact punitive blows at the regime’s barbarity, especially in enhancing the odds for further defection from the ranks of forces under its control.
To me, such discussion justifies all the efforts that went into launching and maintaining 7ee6an and the hard work we all have done so far to ensure a quality of discussion that distinguishes the contributions to this blog from hysterical rants of absurdity. This discussion reflects the ongoing mental anguish many among those supporting the revolution are going through. I myself continue to have hard time making my mind regarding which option to support. But given both tracks of thinking it would seem that the advocacy for a full scale “non violent” civil disobedience, by its nature and intellectual grounding and legacy does exclude an armed resistance track of the revolution, especially if it calls for halting any plans to arm the FSA. On the other hand, the presence of armed factions, especially one borne, as the argument goes, to protect peaceful protest, does not exclude the preparation for and the carrying out of “non-violent” actions and strategies with increasing organization all the way to the desired nationwide civil disobedience. It does however complicate that strategy and makes pursuing it much harder.
The Assad regime has pursued the “violent” option with vengeance and brutality from day one. It may now tolerate a few non-violent demonstrations here and there primarily as a matter of setting priorities in terms of sequencing its wanton destruction of the country and scheduling its next bombardment target. Those arguing for full exclusion of armed opposition, and for starving the FSA should be mindful of the slogan “الأسد أو نحرق البلد ” (Assad or we scorch the country) painted by the regime thugs and soldiers in every place they scorched and advertized on the walls of their headquarters and even public busses. In this slogan, the regime loyalists, which are part and parcel of the regime, declare their adherence to the Assad’s cult. The adherent of this semi religious cult are now drunk with blood and smoke after a year of relentless efforts to remove all traces of scruples that may inhibit further brutality and barbarity on their side. They need no excuses to exact their violence, which has been proven time and again as an inherent part of their cult and of the fabric that binds the regime. The shelling continues throughout the country despite of the absence of any armed resistance in most areas being shelled. Snipers, who according to loyalists on other blogs are to be excluded from Annan plan since they don’t use heavy weapons, continue to terrorize innocent civilians in many Syrian streets and the list of their victims continues to increase. Terror in regime torture dungeons never stopped and will never stop, even with the presence of international monitors, and demonstrations in Aleppo and elsewhere continue to be suppressed with increasing brutality and use of live ammunition contrary to the earlier “appease Aleppo” approach. The number of victims of regime brutality has not gone down with many murders occurring in areas where FSA is either none present or has not been very active.
All of this should put to rest the notion that the presence of FSA as an impetuous for regime violence. Violence is the hallmark of this regime with or without FSA. Such violence has been extended beyond destruction into deliberate theft and looting of areas invaded by regime forces, as happened to many areas in homs including those with large presence of certain minorities. The regime propagandists and shrill shills persistently claims that these thefts and destructions are the work of FSA or “islamist”, “saudi” funded “mercenaries. But I have strong evidence that would put the hysterical defenders of the regime to shame, if they know any, which is unlikely based on their continuing mental and ethical degeneration. Fear for the safety of friends whose homes and businesses in Homs have been ransacked and looted by regime forces is the only reason I am not sharing these evidence, which I hope to be used in a court of law in the near future.
Supporters of the argument against arming FSA and/or other rebel forces also have their own strong case in Idlib’s country side to add to Baba Amr story book. Idlib’s country side has been turned into a wasteland by the regime’s “scorched country” policy presenting a serious refugee crisis internally as a slightly lesser one externally (yesterday more than 2500 refugees from Idlib’s country side crossed the border to Turkey). The presence of refugees, especially children from Homs and other areas is exacting its toll on the people, and at the same time is (also not addressed in Anan’s plan) will compound the situation
The slogan “Assad or we scorch the country” should not be taken lightly. It is a well known slogan of Assad forces from days of the dynasty founder. It has been demonstrated repeatedly and the fact that it continues to be ignored by regime propagandists (even those pretending to be intellectual peace loving) removes any pretense to ethical grounding on their side and shows clearly that they do concur with it despite of their claims that “they are not pro regime” and that they “have some criticism of the regime”. But more important is that it tells of the mentality of the hard core loyalists. While to the ignorant shabeeh or loyalist it may simply be the result of decades of brainwashing and propaganda aiming to replace the national identity with Assad cult, it is an existential reality to the real power centers behind the regime. Many of the wealthy elites of Syria owe their wealth and privileges to the Assad clan (which includes non family members across all sects). As a class, they may have members with conscious who now side with the revolution, yet as a class, their loyalty and interests will continue to be vested in the system of corruption and coercive terror that is founded on disregard and contempt for the masses (as argued by Yassin Haj Salih in the article linked by Zenobia). There is no point in pursuing their support for the revolution, for they are part of the problem and of the regime’s power structure. Members of this elite now hide sometimes behind secularism and others behind law and order in their opposition to the revolution in both its armed resistance and non-violent form, but they know that if the regime is gone, they are to follow even if national reconciliation is to commence. Their participation as partners in the economic crimes of the regime make many of them complicit in the civil right violations and graft and intimidation against honest members of the business community in Syria and such crimes are bound to be investigated and/or exposed during reconciliation. I am eager to hear the opinion of most esteemed Son of Damascus on this point and would love to be corrected if such is possible.
Getting back to topic, given that violence was the regime’s option and strategy, it could be argued that the question is not whether FSA has caused damage to the revolution in the sense of justifying the regime’s brutality and mayhem, but that whether the current starving of FSA can have adverse effects on the revolution, and whether a regime so attached to violence can be realistically overthrown by non-violent means such as civil disobedience.
To answer this question one has to recognize that even Sharp himself warns that civil means do not guarantee success. This is perhaps most clear in Syria, where for months, the revolution maintained a non violent character, and where such character remains to date the most obvious of the revolution that is being put down with a combination of physical brute force and hysterical media campaign by the regime and its unholy band of partners and supporters (internally and externally). Then, one must also consider that unlike other countries, the size of the “government” remains huge in Syria, which complicates civil disobedience efforts as the regime has used the “state” to its advantage and has mobilized its human resources into its campaign of terror against Syrians. It is well known that many workers in regime factories have been mobilized into the regime’s gang squads “populist phalanges” either because of the bonus and high salaries received by shabeeha or because of the utter reliance on state salaries by these workers and through coercion. The presence of the baath party and security informants in every juncture of the Syrian state will continue to greatly frustrate efforts towards wide-scale civil action in government structure unless the power of these security agencies is first weekend significantly and unless the baath party members and security informants involved in the suppression are made to fear for their own safety if they continue the practice. In all cases, their coercive capacity should not be underestimated and their ability to maintain the critical functions of the regime running will continue to be a problem as long as the regime has the financial means of supporting them. To that effect, we must also consider the rumors that the regime is negotiating billions of dollars worth of bonds with the Chinese and Russian governments and with the Iranian regime. It should be made loud and clear to all that all dept incurred by the regime as of March 2011 will be uncollectable in hopes that such continuing financial infusion will be stopped by rational policy makers who will eventually recognize that this regime has no viable horizon to lead a healthy Syrian recovery capable of paying such wasteful dept.
An added complexity is the tragic level of unemployment in the country, which when coupled with the deliberate destruction of ethos over forty years, will sustain the regime with a supply of willing militia, again as long as the regime is capable of providing financial means. Needless to say, the added bonus of looting and unrestrained power given to regime forces will probably reduce the regime’s financial by allowing the thugs to obtain directly from the people what they have not been receiving lately from their employer. Looting, ransom, and graft are now the primary compensation mechanism for shabeeha in areas where the regime continues to exercise some control. This is not only consistent with “Assad or we burn the country”, it is part and parcel of that policy.
In summary, the Assad regime, knowing well that national scale civil disobedience is a serious threat to its survival has opted from day one to convert the struggle into an armed warfare that could be dressed in sectarian language. It has made its fall a considerable security risk by forcing the people to take arms to defend themselves and thus create a fear of undisciplined armed insurgents trough a combination of false flag operations and media hysteria along with excessive brutality to further entice more young people into carrying arms. The results of this strategy include a preview of “Assad or we scorch the country” ideological underpinning of the regime and its supporters and the conversion of swaths of the country into ungovernable areas wastelands.
How does this play out with respect to civil disobedience? The following concept was presented in a recent off-line discussion with a journalist friend who is heavily engaged in non-violent movement in Syria: Let us consider those disaster zones where the regime has shelled the area forcing most if its people out, or where the regime has confronted both civil action and/or the presence of FSA with its standard barbaric brutality. In the end, these have become no-regime zones in the sense presented by Azmi Bishara who argued that the regime’s need to push its tanks into the streets of Syria is by no means a victory but a defeat. Areas with tanks, soldiers and regime thugs are areas where the regime is not functioning as the money and graft generating scheme it is designed to be and where the regime’s claims to equating itself with the state are shown as farcical joke. They have been turned, by regime’s action, into rebellious areas where normal life is no longer possible due to murderous snipers and raids by regime thugs. As a result, swaths of several cities have in fact turned into a situation resembling the effects of “civil disobedience” in terms of halting of productive life and making these areas increasingly ungovernable by the regime’s representatives. In essence, these areas are under control but ungovernable, which is similar to the practical result of civil disobedience, but with more distinguishing characteristic of resistance against a foreign occupation than those associated with combating a dictatorship or a repressive regime. After all, only foreign occupiers have used “scorched earth” policy on such a large scale.
The centrality of the Assad figure to the regime has caused many in the opposition to receive the Annan proposal with lukewarm suspicion if not outright rejection initially. The absence of a clause stipulating the departure of Bashar al Assad or the delegation of authority to a vice president have been the primary reason for such initial rejection. However, cooler heads are prevailing, especially after the strong language from the former Secretary General regarding the continuing violence and his ability to extract a time-table from Assad. Mohamad Al-Abdallah wrote on his FB page an outstanding short article in support of the Annan’s plan. His basic premise is that Annan is no Dabi, and the UN is not the AL. If the plan is to be implemented, then the regime will risk major demonstrations throughout the country. If the regime falters as everyone expect the pathological liar Assad to do, then the regime would have squandered the last opportunity for political solution to the crisis, a solution that was supported by both China and Russia. The regime’s failure will put the two countries in a very awkward situation in the Security Council when it will have to decide on further action against Assad and his gangs. Pessimist argue that the regime will resort to playing the “negotiation game” and will initiate, as expected, false flag operations and explosions, particularly in areas with sectarian tension in order to justify its continuing military operations. This may have already started with an unknown group threatening a large number of explosions in Aleppo. It is also expected that the careless and callous regime will redress its army and security forces in civilian clothes giving an impression of a “loyalist” demonstrations and continuing to conduct arrest and intimidation campaign at lower intensity.
It is incumbent on all armed-resistance groups to agree to the plan and to declare a halt to all operations as of April 10. However, it is also no wonder that shrill shills on SC are now propagating hairsplitting interpretation of what “heavy weapons mean” and whether the April 10 deadline is deadline for full withdrawal or for starting the withdrawal with open ended process. This in itself is a sign of things to come and it shows that the regime and its supporters continue to think that they can outsmart the world with their pathetic sophistry aiming to drag thing long enough for them to reestablish a pre March 2011 conditions.
The Annan plan also requires a huge effort on the civilian side of the liberation campaign. Names of all detainees and missing persons must be collected meticulously and the regime’s security apparatus must be exhausted with constant demands for their prompt release and for information on those missing. Furthermore, the anticipated negotiation must be viewed not as negotiation to end the liberation campaign, but as negotiation for the departure of the regime and its symbols and for transfer of power to a legitimate authority. Such would require mass mobilization of demonstrations, especially in Damascus. The negotiators must be very careful not to view the negotiation as a trial of the regime but primarily as a hostage negotiation with a well armed brute who has taken the entire country hostage and the primary objective is to separate the brute from his victims while at the same time maintaining bereaved parents of those who were executed by the brute thug under control so that they do not complicate the situation further. It is also important that no media frenzy against international observers be conducted by the opposition. They should be approached by the liberation movement with respect, honesty, and truth, and not with contempt and derision.
Of course, the above assumes that the regime will allow the plan implementation to reach that stage. According to the plan, negotiation is not the first step. The regime has to withdraw fully, release all political detainees and allow for demonstrations to take place unmolested. With these conditions, it is well understood why Mohammad Al-Abdallah wrote: “this is a very good plan, and the worst thing about it is that it will not be implemented”. How can it be when “Assad or we scorch the country” is the operative slogan of the regime and its supporters. In the end, if they try to keep this more fundamental and the only promise they seem intent on fulfilling, one would hope that the world, including the regime’s friends will take other actions.
Yassin Haj Salih, in a recent article wrote about the “Assad or we scorch the country“: “in reality presents two choices of destruction of Syria. The first is the destruction of the country through living under Assad with no dignity, freedom, and opportunity, and the latter is the physical destruction of the country. In both cases, they are choices of destruction. Regime shills should take note of what they are defending before they shout that the revolution is destroying the country. This is a revolution and a liberation movement to build a country and to take it back from those who shamelessly proclaim their intent to burn it.