Is the Conflict in Syria Really a Civil War?

The civil war that Syria's regime sought to foment as a deterrent to outside intervention has failed to materialize, writes Michel Kilo of As-Safir. One reason is that the regime has no supporters among the people and is waging what can only be described as a conventional war against them.    

al-monitor Soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad travel in a Syrian Army tank in al-Arqoub neighbourhood, after clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and regime forces in Aleppo city on Sept. 23, 2012. REUTERS/George Ourfalian Photo by REUTERS/George Ourfalian.

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syrian crackdown, syrian conflict, syrian, civil war, assad regime, assad

Sep 25, 2012

Recently, many people have been talking about a civil war in Syria. Many analyses and estimates have been presented concerning the identity and nature of what is going on in our country. Syria has the misfortune of having a regime that tries to establish a link between the country’s very existence and the regime’s own illegitimate existence.

Even experts are uncertain of the nature of the conflict, which has been going on for more than a year and a half between citizens who were, at the beginning of the uprising, unarmed and strongly against arming, and a regime that has thousands of modern tanks, heavy artillery and fighter aircraft capable of shelling.

This is a regime that uses force in a gratuitous, unwarranted and excessive way against citizens whose president said — in his first speech regarding the crisis — that their demands for rights are legitimate, yet at the same time welcomed what he called a "war" and threatened them with it.

Confusion about the diagnosis of what is happening in Syria lies in the structure of the Syrian regime on the one hand, and the uniqueness and seriousness of the popular revolution on the other. It also stems from the severely conflicting Arab, regional and international interactions and entanglements in Syria. It lies in the policies and wagers adopted by both of the parties to the conflict, ever since the very beginning of the crisis.

On the part of the regime, these were based on a scheme it has meticulously implemented and whose strategic purpose is to convert a peaceful and social revolution aimed at bringing about freedom, equality and justice for all Syrians into a sectarian fight that ruins their ranks and involve them in an armed fight against each other.

For their part, the people focused their demands on reforms to change the regime. When the latter confronted them with violence, leading them to lose hope in any change or halt to the systematic murder, people called for the overthrow of the whole regime and its replacement with a democratic one.

Given that most of those who follow the events in Syria do not support the violent attitude adopted by the regime toward the peaceful and legitimate demands of the people, these people have held the regime responsible for leading the country and its people toward a war.

This situation could escalate, resulting in any of a variety of bad scenarios. These observers believe that the regime took a gamble and purposefully provoked sectarian and regional conflict, based on natural or manufactured disagreements and differences plaguing Syrian society.

During the past half-century, the regime built upon these differences a distorted political structure that turned the slogan of freedom into a generalized tool for suppression; the slogan of Arab unity into vertical and horizontal splits and cracks aimed at smashing Syrian society and preventing it from mobilizing sufficient forces that could enable it to rebel against the status quo.

This structure turned socialism into a tool that impoverished the majority and enriched a minority that has everything and that increasingly puts the country's wealth into its pockets.

In order to prevent surprises, this minority prepared a repressive, divergent and updated apparatus that is ready to move in all directions and against other potential adversaries. This apparatus includes so many members that it can be deemed an armed group and a factional alliance. This makes it an aggressive army ready to attack citizens getting increasingly deprived by the day.

The homeland (of these citizens) only provides them with slavery and exclusion in the worst sense, setting death as the only way to achieve a freedom that seemed very far-fetched because they themselves seemed far from sacrificing their lives in order to achieve freedom.

Given this environment, it is only natural for those following events in Syria to say that what is currently happening is a civil war, or at least a conflict that will eventually lead to a civil war.

Has Syria actually entered a civil war? Is what is actually happening in Syria the civil war that the regime wanted, in order to scare the world and deter direct intervention aimed at stopping its struggle against the majority of the Syrian people?

It should be noted that the regime has sought to achieve the civil war through the first threshold: a sectarian war that should break out in specific areas. Chief among these areas is the city of Homs and its direct vicinity, in a bid to increase tension among Syrian citizens in the remaining cities through explosive reactions that allow each and every one of them to assess those who are similar to them and who subsequently deserve to live, and those who are different from them and who should be subsequently killed.

The fact that these individuals and groups are controlled by such reactions deprives them of any rational thinking that relates, stems from or recalls national bonds. Such reactions enhance the chances of a local war that would, in turn, pave the way for the next war, which would become public — i.e., civil — and during which citizens would rush towards ruthless fighting.

Such fighting would add diverse political, social, regional, interest-based and personal stimuli to sectarian factors. These stimuli are accompanied by feelings of hatred and fear, which lead to the severing of all kinds of national and community bonds that could contribute to curb the fighting, stop the killings or lead to reconciliation.

The plan to sow sectarian discord that can turn into a civil war did not succeed for one main reason. The battle originally took place between the ruling regime and large segments of citizens who belong to various beliefs and groups with different inclinations and interests.

Furthermore, the authority was a direct and sole party in the conflict. There was no chance for any social group to replace it, and thus start an open battle as an organizationally, politically and ideologically coherent and charged side. The fighting would be between members of the same social group against another group or groups that also belong to the lowest classes of society, which would in turn be organizationally coherent and politically and ideologically charged.

Although it is impossible to deny that there is some level of hostile organization and guidance among certain sectors of Syrian society, these cannot replace the regime. This is due to the geographical expansion of the conflict, the large number of forces taking part in it, and the direct or indirect involvement of segments belonging to all social components in it, whether through the authorities or the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

This means that (the possibility of) a civil war is a surpassed phase if compared with the ongoing mode of fighting, the methods of war being adopted and the kinds of weapons being used — namely by the regime — to conclusively end the conflict.

Civil war is a step backward compared to what is happening today. This is especially true since one of the presumed parties to the conflict is not present in most areas of Syria. Also, no direct and continuous fighting has erupted anywhere between regime loyalists and their opponents from the people, because the regime does not have supporters among the people who are willing to fight in its defense.

The regime’s party has almost withered and disappeared in most parts of Syria. Its presence has become limited to cities and regions in which it has armed authoritarian protection.

Based on the this, I think that the breakout of a civil war in Syria is, objectively speaking, difficult to predict, as it conflicts with the demographic composition of the country and the nature of the totalitarian regime in it.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the regime descended to the arena of conflict in full military and security weight after it added to its security apparatuses forces and bodies loyal to it, which would have fought a civil war on its behalf. But the regime itself prevented them from doing that when it turned these forces into a semi-official security group that launches through its leadership a war against the people, one which does not fit the criteria of a civil war.

The fighting in Syria is gradually transforming into a regular war and is becoming increasingly institutionalized and militarized. Its popular character was reduced due to the increasing numbers of citizens that have joined the FSA. Meanwhile, and since the beginning, the regime has unified its military and security forces within its combat institutions.

I believe it is most likely that Syria will not head toward a civil war, but rather the regular war will intensify with the increasing strength of the resistance and the FSA, and the weakening of a regime that has employed all its weapons and forces. The regime did so in order to conclusively end the conflict; stop the defections among its ranks before they undermine what remains of cohesion at the top of its political and military pyramid and fragment the regime from above after the growing signs of fragmentation from below, at its base; and to avoid a sudden total collapse or a possible breaking away of influential leaders from it, who would look for solutions that protect their rights within a general national framework, and which they would be part of since they contributed to achieving them.

Usually, civil wars evolve into regular wars. Since the security solution placed us since the beginning in a form of resistance directed against the ruling power and its security institutions, the situation has increasingly evolved into a regular war.

Our return to a civil war seems unlikely as long as civil war means the division of society into warring parties, each of which tries to eliminate the others. The Syrians have passed this situation. They must learn from this important fact when rebuilding the state of freedom, justice and equality.

This state will eliminate the elements of division between them and protect them within a high and inclusive national framework, which would produce an eternal civil peace, under which they would enjoy security, dignity and equality.

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