If we listen again to the speech delivered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on March 30, 2011, as the Syrian revolution was first erupting in Daraa and Houran, we might think that he is talking about things happening today. We get this profound feeling that it was meant for the country to reach this level, or that what was a remote threat back then is actually happening today.
However, the pertinent question is: Was the development of events after the eruption of the revolution inevitable, or did things evolve in this direction because of emerging acts or factors that changed the course of the revolution in Syria and in the region?
There are few clear milestones in everyone's minds — for instance, the impact of the Libyan developments on the situation in Syria. Generally speaking, the Libyan model created some sort of illusion in Syria that arming the opposition and providing it with air cover — through a UN Security Council decision to impose a no-fly zone — would help the country get rid of the Syrian regime. But in Libya, the no-fly zone was a form of support for the battles happening on the ground, without the direct intervention of foreign land forces. In other words, the revolution [in Syria] would only triumph through war.
The Libyan model affected the Syrian revolution in its details as well. As calls were made to hold a national dialogue in Syria during a conference held in the Sahara Hotel [in Damascus] in July 2011, the National Transitional Council of Libya was established and recognized by foreign countries as the sole legitimate representative of the country. This had also led some spectra of the Syrian opposition to believe that they could establish a similar body, which would also be internationally recognized and would serve as a cover for the war.
In fact, back then, the Syrian opposition was no longer interested in being united as much as it was relentlessly seeking to be politically and internationally recognized so it could enter the war on the ground. Meanwhile, the Syrian authorities were pushing in that direction by arresting those who wanted a political solution, while some symbols of the Syrian state were attempting to support this endeavor.
Then Tripoli fell. The bloody end of Moammar Gadhafi and his regime thwarted all efforts to contain the spread of violence and sectarianism in Syria, as unarmed Arab and international observers were sent to the country. The situation in Homs — a city of historic sectarian pluralism — escalated, while the fighting intensified. The Syrian National Council (SNC), which is a branch of the opposition, started raising slogans such as, “[We want] the fall of the regime, with all its symbols and pillars,” instead of taking over power in cooperation with the military institution.
Thus, the parties who sided with the existing power and did not show solidarity with the revolution for various reasons had no choice but to fight until the end. Back then, all demonstrations stopped and the daily death toll rose to unprecedented levels in the ranks of both parties. In fact, the regime and regional powers (especially through their media) contributed to fueling the conflict, gradually shifting to fierce armed confrontations.
The six-point peace plan of the joint UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan managed to alleviate fighting for only a few weeks. However, while solutions were being sought at the international level (the Geneva I conference at the end of June 2012) and at the opposition level (the Cairo conference in early July 2012), the fighting was escalating and shifted from a local armed conflict to an all-out war across Syria. People were very much affected and angered by the massacres committed in some towns. A few people drew attention to the fact that the battle to liberate Aleppo and its countryside was launched just after the completion of these two conventions aimed at finding solutions.
The battle seemed to be aimed at radically changing the reality on the ground that led to the conferences of Geneva and Cairo, making any solution that resulted impossible. It is clear that what was called the Syrian crisis had shifted from a revolution against an authoritarian regime to a conflict between two groups with different ideologies and supported by different foreign powers, which provided them with funds and arms, and by foreign extremist fighters.
The US-Iranian dialogue about Iran’s nuclear program also had repercussions on the Syrian situation. It is worth noting that the chemical attack in Ghouta coincided with this dialogue. What is even more surprising is that the Russian-American agreement took place swiftly to remove the chemical weapons in Syria. This changed the pace of the conflict. No settlement was to occur without the removal of the chemical weapons. This was perhaps the reason behind the Geneva II conference at the beginning of this year. The conference was not intended to find a solution but rather for the two conflicting parties to take a stance along with their respective supporting states.
Moreover, it should be noted that the crisis of Ukraine and Crimea, and its repercussions on US-Russian relations, did not change much in the Syrian equation.
The problem continued to be intractable, given that the parties of Geneva II undermined the Syrian people, who grew tired and seek any solution to stop the killing. Today, the conflicting parties are not being supplied with additional arms, but there are no new negotiations on the horizon.
Today, there seems to be an effort to open the doors for the coastal battle, which pro-opposition states were trying to prevent a few months ago. The sectarian tension will escalate through social media, only pushing any solution away and setting the stage for further group migrations and the division of the country.
It currently seems inevitable that Syria will be divided and fragmented. Syria has embarked on a path that cannot be stopped, as Syrians are sectarian by nature, as many describe them. Their Sunni rhetoric is rigid but used to hide behind moderate speeches. Some claim they are violent by nature, but their violence was repressed, and their sense of belonging to Syria is fragile.
However, there is nothing inevitable in history. What is happening today is not the result of the madness of the authorities or the weakness of the opposition symbols alone. This is happening because both regime and opposition have become prisoners of an old logic of radical changes. Both parties refuse to yield to the other. Both have lost their popular support. The majority of the Syrian people want one thing: an end to this chaotic war. They want to end the destruction of the country, as well as the starving and displacement.
The question that needs to be posed: Who will have the courage to stand up against the parties destroying the country for the sake of their homeland and people? Who will prove that the majority of Syrians are not sectarian by nature, as many malicious sides have claimed? Who will prove that the Sunni Islam in Syria is tolerant and true, and is a far cry from extremist Islam? Who will demonstrate that Syrians do not like violence and that the Syrian identity is strong because it represents a country with a great heritage?
This initiative will not be launched by the Syrian regime or the current opposition. This initiative will come from among normal Syrian citizens, such as the lady who set herself on fire before her children in an angry gesture over the fate of Syria, to awaken the minds of people who are suffering everywhere. This initiative should come from among the fighters who have become aware that they are pointing the gun at their family and their own people, and that their enemies are actually their brothers.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly