The Libyan and Syrian revolutions are relatively close in age, with a time difference between them of less than a month (17th of February [Libya] and the 15th of March [Syria]). The revolutions share roughly the same grievances and likewise demands for freedom and justice, with differences in the details, the nature of the two societies, and the method of totalitarian rule. The first [revolution] has almost succeeded, whilst the second continues to resist through various bloody methods of repression.
In Libya, Gaddafi resorted to repression immediately, without any attempt to wrap it up in political initiatives. Instead, he asked his famous question to the demonstrators: “Who are you?” He described them as rats to the very end, and the rebels responded with arms until they surrounded Gaddafi in Tripoli, and forced him out.
In Syria, the regime resorted to armed force wrapped up in a political and media discourse talking about insurgents and terrorists, and promises of political reform. However, the people did not buy this, because they did not see anything on the ground except bullets, and their trust began to wane. Despite this, the Syrian revolution has remained entirely peaceful, with demonstrators insisting on the peaceful nature of their protests.
The biggest difference between the two cases is that in Libya, protestors found that figures within the regime were angered by Gaddafi’s method of responding to the demands of the people. They broke away from him and tendered their resignations, declaring their affiliation to the rebels, led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former Minister of Justice in Gaddafi’s government who became leader of the Transitional Council. The Council’s leadership based itself in Benghazi, becoming a symbol of the revolution and a wise voice in difficult circumstances. Abdul Jalil was not alone; there was an army of officials, diplomats and military leaders, including Abdul Fatah Younis, defecting and joining the revolution. They provided it with momentum, supplying it with men experienced in government, and with knowledge of its inner corridors. The Syrian revolutionaries are less fortunate than their Libyan counterparts; for a Syrian or Damascene Abdul Jalil has not shown up so far. No government official or member of the senior leadership in the country has resigned expressing outrage about what is happening, or concern for the path taken by the country. Six months of uprisings, demonstrations, and more than two thousand people killed, alongside those injured and detained, and there has not been a single voice of opposition from within the regime, which is puzzling. It is as if everyone has agreed to drown together on the sinking ship. Is this out of fear, or is anyone waiting for the right moment?
By questioning the whereabouts of the Syrian or Damascene Abdul Jalil, this does not mean I wish the Syrian revolution to take the armed path of the Libyan revolution. The conditions of each society are different to the other, and the rebels in Libya had no other option, faced with extermination from all types of weapons. NATO had to undertake air cover to protect them; otherwise they would have been bombarded by Gaddafi’s warplanes.
However, there is no guarantee that Syria won’t follow the same path if the stalemate continues. Protestors and whole cities are rising up, finding nothing in front of them except tanks, the Shabiha, and a regime whose friends and allies such as Iran have begun to distance themselves, and call on the regime to respond to the legitimate demands of its people. Turkey declared that it has lost confidence in the regime, and now stands with the people. Meanwhile, the Arab states have finally tried to intervene but it is too late, the door is locked and no-one wants to hear from them.
If there are those [inside the Syrian government] waiting, then this is the right moment to put pressure on the regime from within. Or, if the regime wants to save itself and its country, then it must take serious steps to convince the people that the path is clear for change. This could include the appointment of an opposition or independent figure, respected by the people, to head the interim government with full powers to implement accountability, change, and supervise the transition to a democratic system, as demanded by the people.