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October 3, 2012

How to Advocate the Capitulation of a Revolution Without Actually Using the Word “Surrender”

September 8, 2012

A few days ago, the Open Democracy website published an article by “Rita from Syria”, a Damascus based Syrian activist. Titled “The FSA: how to lose support and alienate people in no time“, the writer bemoaned the growing trend towards the militarization of the initially peaceful Syrian Revolution. Civilian activists now feel increasingly insignificant and sidelined, unable to shape events. Syrian towns and villages that shelter the Free Syrian Army suffer under increasingly bloody reprisals and punitive assaults by the Assad regime. The FSA is accused of “miscalculations”, and challenged to “win back its credibility”.

The most telling sentence in the entire article is a quote from “Raghda”, a woman who recently lost her job at a publishing firm; “I just want to continue my life. I don’t see an end to this armed conflict. I agree with the rightful demands of the opposition, but if this means bringing a halt to my life then I will stand against them”

Which is as close one can get to advocating capitulation, without actually using the word “surrender”

Let us be clear on one thing; Assad cannot win this fight. He cannot defeat a guerrilla movement that has spread to nearly every single village, town and city in the county. The FSA, with little to no outside support, has managed the grind the region’s largest military into a stalemate. Whereas in Hama this time last year, twenty tanks were sufficient to bring the entire city to heel after the massive demonstrations in the Orontes Square, now those same twenty tanks are the regime’s loses on a good day.

So what’s a tin-pot dictator to do? What every tyrant on the ropes has done; go after the segment of ones opponents lest able to defend themselves. Just as Hitler desperately tried to knock the British out of World War 2 by indiscriminately pounding London with V-1 and V-2 rockets (thereby killing more civilians in England than his army managed to do on the field in the European theaters of war), the regime’s policy and actions has been to subject areas sympathetic to the FSA to the maximum amount of suffering and bloodshed as possible.

If Assad cannot beat the FSA’s soldiers in Aleppo, his airforce bombs their home towns from the air. Eventually, the logic goes, the misery of the civilian population will be so great, that they will discourage or actively deny the FSA shelter and space for movement. In the case of the recently unemployed Raghda, that seems to have worked. The only way the FSA can lose this fight is if enough of the Syrian population become convinced that the losses and suffering are too great, and the prospects for overthrowing the regime too remote.

In any war, the resilience of the societies engaged in war matters as much as the number and quality of arms those societies deploy. Long before Hitler got around to invading France in 1940, a defeatist mentality had already taken hold of much of French political society and its upper military echelons. The Battle of France had been lost long before the first German tanks broke through the Ardennes.

Rita is correct when she writes “FSA leaders should take heed that a guerrilla army can only attain success if it is mindful of its relationship to the people”. However, laying the blame at the feet of the FSA is misplaced, even if it is convenient from Rita’s point of view. No army in the world can protect every civilian center if its opponent engages in a deliberate policy of targeting those areas. It is the FSA’s job to wear down as much of the regime’s military machinery as possible, and it is the civilian opposition’s job to make sure that the regime pays, in terms of political and popular support, as a result of any disproportionate and indiscriminate retribution by the Assad army against the civilian population.

Or maybe scope of responsibilities isn’t so clear cut in the minds of the revolution’s civilian activists. To quote Rita’s article;

“Armed with a deep conviction in our revolution rather than any heavy weapons, the embryonic FSA used to keep watch in the alleys and alert us to the coming of regime forces and the shabiha.”

Alleys. Alleys and side-streets. Defectors, risking their lives by carrying arms to defend a 15 minute demonstration in some alleyway or side-street, the end result of which would be a few minutes uploaded to Youtube or some material for Al-Jazeera to stream. Amazing that the FSA waited so long and so patiently before concluding, correctly, that the regime was never going to fall through flash demonstrations in some darkened neighborhood corner. The civilian activists had plenty of time to make some tangible headway, to provide some accomplishments to justify the thousands of dead, thousands more wounded, and untold tens of thousands of disappeared and imprisoned.

A military aspect of a society only rises in prominence above that of the civilian, when the latter proves utterly incapable of meeting the challenges of the day. If the civilian activists feel sidelined, it is because in the 20 months of the revolution, they have in all honesty provided next to no tangible accomplishments on behalf of the revolution.

The Assad regime is one that has, as the most recent ICG report stated, mutated into little more than a militia. It doesn’t care for the loss of its border points with Turkey, or the loss of the areas in the north east of Syria to Kurdish control, as long as Assad’s core constituency retains power in the ever decreasing areas still under their control. Do the civilian “no arms lets turn the clock back to when we were demonstrating in the side streets” camp have ANY plan or solution to deal with such a regime? Not likely, if present perceptions of the SNC are anything to go by.

What exactly is required of the FSA? To lay down their arms? And will that turn to clock back to the days before the Dar’a protests? Anyone who thinks is is incredibly naive. A regime that triumphed through the use of terror and brute force will feel that the same formula is an acceptable one to apply to maintain power. Periodic mass arrests and show trials will be the norm. Towns and cities that were most prominent in the revolution will be neglected economically, its people cut off from government jobs. Every once in a while a staged car bomb will go off, to keep people on edge and remind them of the ever present danger of a return to the “bad old days” if the regime wasn’t around to “maintain stability”. And in thirty years’ time, little Hafiz will take the reins of power. But hey, at least Raghda got to “live her life”.

Which is the part of the article I personally find most disgusting and reprehensible. Saying that one is for the revolution as long as it doesn’t get in the way of one’s work, career, dates, love-life, TV-shows, is akin to saying that one would like to compete in the Olympics, if it wasn’t for all the hard training required.

Yep, I’d like to buy a house, if it wasn’t for the mortgage payments needed.

I’d like to go to Harvard to study medicine, but damn those SATs and entrance exams are a real roadblock.

I’d looooove to live in a democracy, as long as someone else is doing the heavy lifting and suffering, and a civil and free society is handed to me on a silver plater. Oh, and someone else can vote for me and keep the vigilance and sense of civic responsibility required to maintain any democracy.

One would have thought that the revolution would have at least freed us from the idea that we are entitled to the best the world has to offer without the need to put in any effort. Sadly, we are not all Al-Assads and get to inherit a country from our daddies. To say that one is against the revolution because it has gotten in the way of our lives, is tantamount to surrender. Our will has been broken, the price has become too high to pay. Brute force and tyranny have won, and just as long as the tyrants leave us to return to our miserable existence, we will soon forget the more than 20,000 Syrians whose lives were cut short, or the thousands of wounded and crippled, or the hundreds of thousands of refugees for whom returning will never be an option. People for whom carrying on with their “interrupted” lives is not an option.

If the civilian activists feel impotent, it is because for many months they acted like they were impotent, with only the FSA between them and annihilation at the hands of Assad’s shabihas. For how long was the FSA expected to carry and babysit an ineffectual civilian movement. No one wants to turn to arms as a first choice, but the Syrian Revolution found itself doing so as a result of the situation forced on it. For over a month, Baba Amr in Homs was subjected to massive artillery and tank assaults. The world community yawned a collective yawn and changed the channel. Were it not for the FSA, non of the 24,000 civilians who made it out, or the well known media personalities and foreign journalists trapped inside, would have come out of there.

If the civilian activists want to regain leadership of the revolution, then it is about time they did something to earn the mantle of leadership. The British did not whine and blame Churchill for the destruction wrought by Hitler’s bombers on their cities, and as a result their “finest hour” has become the stuff of legend.

The only way Assad can win this war is if we hand him victory. I myself spent ten days on the edges of Baba Amr while the army pounded the area. My close family has lost two homes, completely destroyed in the fighting. I have relatives who were and are imprisoned. Several distant family members were lost to us. I know full well the burden of taking on a vicious, unrestrained and barbaric regime. If the civilian activists have a better way than the one the FSA is pursuing, no one will be happier than me to hear it.

Otherwise, talk of the FSA laying down its arms is just a not-too-thinly-veiled plea by those whose will have been broken, for the revolution to surrender. I don’t judge people harshly if they feel they cannot carry the burden anymore, everyone has their own circumstances and pain-threshold. But I at least expect them to have the self-respect and decency to call what they are asking for by its proper name; capitulation and surrender to the Assad tyranny. 


Syria’s despair has a glimmer of hope

Phil Sands

A fighter injured in the Arqub neighbourhood of Aleppo is taken to hospital as violence in the city intensifies. Activists say with skill and a large slice of luck Lakhdar Brahimi has a chance of breaking the cycle.

DAMASCUS // Amid universally low expectations that United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi can bring peace to Syria, some grassroots activists nonetheless say he may yet help to steer the country out of a deepening crisis.

The veteran Algerian diplomat replaced Kofi Annan, who resigned in “frustration and disgust” in August. Mr Brahimi described his task as almost impossible and said only last week there was “no prospect for today or tomorrow” that the civil war would end.

But a month after his appointment some activists say that with skill and a large slice of luck Mr Brahimi has a chance of breaking the cycle of violence.

“The situation on the ground is so dire that this might help him make a breakthrough. Even a small one would be important,” one said.

The activist met Mr Brahimi last month during the envoy’s fact-finding visit to Syria.

At the time it had been reported that Mr Brahimi had a meeting with the officially tolerated political opposition, figures with little credibility inside Syria who are widely seen as regime proxies, condoned by the authorities to show the outside world Syria does tolerate dissent.

While in Damascus however, the UN envoy also met well-connected grassroots activists involved in protests and medical relief efforts.

“If Mr Brahimi can help reduce violence – we are no longer even talking about a complete halt, just to scale it back – then he might be able to make some progress,” the activist said.

“He needs a quick win to show his credibility and to give the opposition faith that his process and methods will work. If he can reduce violence and get meaningful numbers of political prisoners freed and returned to their families, that will give us a narrow platform to build on,” he said.

Mr Brahimi was appointed special envoy to Syria after Mr Annan’s six-point peace plan collapsed. Under the terms of that agreement – signed up to by the president, Bashar Al Assad, and opposition factions – both sides were required to observe a ceasefire, political prisoners were to be freed and negotiations were to begin.

The ceasefire lasted a matter of hours and, despite the presence of UN observers, none of the six points was implemented.

Since the Annan plan failed, violence has only intensified, with air strikes, artillery bombardments and street fighting now routine across much of the country.

Rights groups say upwards of 30,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March, most of them civilians, and the UN says more than 2.5 million Syrians need humanitarian aid.

According to the activist, Mr Brahimi made it clear the opposition would have to make concessions if the bloodshed were to end.

“I told him we realise that,” the activist said. “It will not be easy to convince the street that it needs to compromise after so much suffering, but if we get some progress on violence and prisoners we will have a window of opportunity and we can at least try.”

That window would not stay open indefinitely, the activist said, suggesting concrete progress needed to be made before the end of the year.

Anti-Assad campaigners who met Mr Brahimi also agreed to a political process without pre-conditions, the activist said. Many opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council and the rebel Free Syrian Army, have insisted Mr Al Assad’s removal would have to come before any talks about a political transition can take place.

“We need to find a rational, realistic way to bring about political change,” the activist said. “We are open to a transitional government as long as there is a clear timetable and as long as it involves real presidential elections, monitored independently by the United Nations.”

A political analyst in Damascus said the rapidly worsening situation might work to Mr Brahimi’s advantage.

“This crisis was never going to end until it had reached every corner or every house in Syria and we are now at that point,” the analyst said. “It is a small chance but if Brahimi can put together the right deal, with the right international backing, a political transition could happen.”

However. another opposition figure in Damascus dismissed suggestions such a deal could be struck, and said both the fractured opposition and Syrian regime were pretending to cooperate with Mr Brahimi without being willing or able to commit to even small compromises.

“The equation that got us to this point has not changed, the opposition will not stop until Assad and his regime has gone, and the regime will not leave until it is physically forced to leave,” said the dissident, who was recently freed from jail.

“The latest UN peace initiative will fail, we are heading into a full scale civil war and there is no end in sight,” he said.


See also this article from the National

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