The Syrian crisis began with activists calling for a "day of anger" in early February 2011, but this call was not heeded by the Syrian public. This was followed by a call for another "day of anger" on March 15, 2011, coinciding with a flare-up of the situation in Daraa. A number of Syrians responded to this call and they went out in peaceful protests, according to the opposition, that were met with force by the government, which talked about acts of sabotage taking place at the hands of protesters. This resulted in a number of casualties. The opposition accused the government of killing protesters, while the government announced that there were armed elements who had killed demonstrators and members of the police and security forces.
The opposition stressed that these protests were a spontaneous popular movement against tyranny and oppression. Ghassan Yassin, a journalist and political activist, told As-Safir, "We want to get rid of an oppressive regime and build a state that respects freedoms and is dominated by a culture of citizenship, where the law is applied [equally] to everyone." Urwah al-Ahmed, another political activist, agrees with Yassin. Ahmed said that his participation in the "revolution" came from a desire to begin a process of political change after a civil law constitution was ratified. Moreover, he seeks economic change that will bring the state out of the crisis of corruption and "mafia-ism" regarding the monopoly on investment.
As violence began to escalate, the Syrian state announced the existence of extremist groups working to undermine security and establish Islamic emirates. On April 21, 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad lifted the state of emergency and a law was adopted to regulate demonstrations, but the unauthorized demonstrations did not stop.
In June of 2011, defected Lt. Col. Hussein Harmoush announced the establishment of the "Free Officers' Movement." And a month later, defected Col. Riad al-Asaad announced the establishment of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). This was the beginning of the so-called "militarization of the revolution," which opponents of the Syrian authorities disagreed about.
This militarization, although some justify it under the pretext of self-defense, is the worst thing that happened in the history of the "revolution." This is because it opened the door to whomever wanted to intervene and determine the fate of the revolution, Ahmed said. Speaking to As-Safir, journalist Slyva Correa said, "I once chanted 'the FSA represents me,' but today I regret that." She added, "Militarization was a ploy that the regime dragged us into, and some opposition forces contributed to this." Yassin said, "Most of the major military formations [began as] small groups formed to protect peaceful protests, and then to attack military and security sites belonging to the regime."
The announcement of the militarization of the revolution was preceded by armed attacks on police stations and security centers in the Daraa province during the month of March. These attacks led to the death of some security men and members of the army. This was followed by an armed attack on a military housing complex near Banias, in addition to an armed attack in early June on a security headquarters in the town of Jisr al-Shughour.
Less than a year after the outbreak of the crisis, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri announced his support for the Syrian "uprising," confirming the presence of elements of his organization in Syria. Al-Qaeda was not the first jihadist organization to intervene in the Syrian crisis, as it was preceded by Jabhat al-Nusra. This was followed by the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The intervention of these organizations in the Syrian crisis led to mixed reactions from supporters of the "revolution".
Correa holds the Syrian state fully responsible for the entrance of these groups, as it "failed to protect its borders." Meanwhile, Ahmed noted that these organizations "do not have the same objective for the revolution as the Syrian people. They have their own goals that are not affiliated with the goals of the revolution." As for Yassin, he said he welcomes anyone who comes to Syria to support the Syrian people in their "just" cause.
The differences between the political opposition forces intensified, and fighting broke out between armed factions and groups. Correa attributes this to "money, media and politicized religion, besides the inability of the political opposition to form domestic support institutions and effective local administrations." Ahmed said that the covering up of mistakes is what brought the "revolution" to its current situation, saying, "Some thought that covering up mistakes would hide them, but it rather helped to spread them." As for Yassin, he admits that there have been violations on the part of the opposition, and attributes them to the difficulty of establishing a strong domestic "entity" because of the increasing "criminal nature of the regime" and the longevity of the conflict. He added, "There are no conflicts in the true sense of the word, except between rebel fighting formations — whether FSA or mujahedeen — and ISIS's terrorist gangs."
Syrians have long expressed concerned over the existence of "jihadists," and wondered about the "force" that will remove them from Syria in the event of a change in the regime. Correa objects to "limiting the Syrian catastrophe to the presence of mujahedeen," saying, "The greatest danger we face is still this regime, and the fate of the Syria people depends on its departure." Meanwhile, Yassin said, "I think that a large portion of [foreign fighters] will leave the country voluntarily to another place where they can complete their message." He said that there is no problem with the foreigners staying during the "post-regime" stage, provided that they abide by "laws and regulations". For his part, Ahmed said, "Of course, they will leave when there is a national military institution — led by officers from both the regime army and the FSA — that will facilitate the task of expelling foreigners from all parties, whether they be organizations affiliated with al-Qaeda or belonging to Hezbollah."
The opposition continued with its attempts to achieve its goals, especially its main objective of ousting the regime, but the revolution has not achieved all of its objectives. Ghassan said that, in light of the war, "many of our aspirations" were not achieved on the level of "state-building." He added, "The most important thing that has been achieved, for me and for all Syrians, is that we started working on public affairs, and we became stakeholders who have an effective [role] in the present and future of Syria." Ahmed considers that "freedom of expression is the gateway to all freedoms," telling As-Safir, "If not for the revolution, I wouldn't be here freely telling you my opinion." Meanwhile, Correa said, "While our generation may not see the results of the revolution, it has given us hope that the future — no matter how harsh — will be better that the state of death experienced by Syria for 50 years."
Death and destruction are features of the stage that has lasted for three years. Some opposition members believe that this was to be expected, but they justify it for the sake of getting rid of the regime. "Anyone who had experienced the security grip knew that these chains could only be broken in this manner," said Correa. Yassin holds the Syrian authorities fully responsible for the repercussions of the crisis, saying, "We expected that this ruling junta would do whatever it could to stay in power." And Ahmed said that while he expected this to happen, he had was not hoping for it. Regarding the escalating violence, Ahmed said, "There was no doubt that eradicating a regime that has been rooted [in power] for 40 years would not be easy."
Most in the opposition hold the regime responsible. Ahmed said, "The regime is responsible, because it is the decision-maker." He added, "The revolution is a popular revolt without leaders, and thus it is characterized as random and chaotic." Meanwhile, Yassin stressed that "the revolution and the rebels did not play a role in a single [act] of destruction." Correa said, "The political opposition, including all of its components, is a certainly a partner in the situation we have reached. They have granted the regime addition life." Yet despite the bombings that the opposition has claimed responsibility for, supporters of the revolution still portray it as innocent. Correa notes, "The revolution is what liberated us, and it is completely innocent of all the bad acts some have perpetrated in its name." Ahmed said, "I don't deny the mistakes that have occurred, and still are occurring, … [but] how can we carry out a civil revolution when were do not know methods of civil protest?"
Regarding the continuation of the "revolution," Yassin said, "The revolution will continue until an alternative matures that will help us stop the war and get rid of the regime." He said, "The rebels went out to overthrow the regime as a first step on the path to building the state we dream of." For his part, Ahmed stressed that the revolution would continue, telling As-Safir: "I have never supported the armed revolution. My silence in terms of confronting it comes from an understanding of the nature of the ongoing developments. I realize that the arming [of the revolution] is what will bring it back to a peaceful revolution in the future." He stressed that a political solution is the best-case scenario for both Syria and its people, expressing his lack of confidence in both the regime and the opposition. And while Yassin and Ahmed agree on describing what is happening in Syria as a "revolution," Correa has a different view: "What we are witnessing today is not an armed revolution, but rather a conflict of international interests on Syrian territory. The overthrow of the regime, whether militarily or politically, is no longer in the hands of the Syrians." However, she emphasized that she supports the Syrians who are demanding freedom.
The crisis, whose repercussions have affected all Syrians, is entering its fourth year. And most of the opponents of the Syrian authorities are still insistent on it continuing, unless the authorities hand over power to a transitional authority with full powers. Meanwhile, the Syrian authorities are working to regain control of regions that have fallen out of their control, whether through "reconciliations" — as happened in a number of areas recently — or through military operations, as happened in Yabrud and Ras al-Ain north of the capital Damascus.