Opinion: Homs, Syria’s Martyr

Now that Syrian government forces have entered Homs—the cradle of the Syrian revolution and a model of justice and freedom whose people have made supreme sacrifices for the sake of the Syrian uprising—some frank remarks must be made.

Over the past three and a half years, the population of Homs has spared no effort for the sake of all Syrians, doing everything in their power to help win the battle for freedom. Despite the losses and the suffering inflicted upon its people during the two-year siege, Homs never hesitated to shoulder the burden of the revolution. We should not forget that those who left Homs had stood out against Syrian government forces for two years, fighting under extremely harsh conditions from which many died of hunger or fled.

Many will say the regime has managed to crush the Homs rebels. Certainly, the Syrian government has for a long time been trying to enter Homs. But the city remained steadfast, driving the Damascus regime to despair. No wonder the Bashar Al-Assad government regarded Homs as its main—and for a while, sole—source of danger, laying siege to it before any other city, dropping tons of explosives and emptying the city of its people. While the number of rebel fighters has dwindled over time, the residents of Homs never hesitated in displaying their legendary heroism and bravery.

On the other hand, among the reasons that led to the rebel withdrawal from Homs are the divisions within the opposition itself, unpatriotic allegiances prevalent among its ranks, the personal considerations of rebel leaders, international and regional interference in the affairs of the revolution, and the opposition’s lack of plans to direct and protect the revolution against the government’s tricks. This is not to mention the lack of a unified, national army, fraying social solidarity, the participation of foreign fighters, the absence of organization, the failure to take clear positions towards the revolution on the part of the democratic opposition, and the apathy of large segments of Syria’s intelligentsia—who refrained from filling the political vacuum produced by the opposition’s partisan attitudes.

The role the opposition has played in the fall of Homs is not insignificant. Rather, it represented the other face of the Syrian regime. We have tolerated our mistakes for a period long enough to supersede all the acts of heroism Homs had demonstrated. If they truly want to keep territory, the rebels must learn the political and military lessons of what happened in Homs by building effective military bases and solid political structures to enable them to win the battle. The reason why victory has not yet been achieved is because the opposition have neglected the basics of success and waged battles among themselves.

What will happen after Homs? Will the rebels achieve victory with the right policies and through fostering national unity? Or will they be defeated as a result of chaos, political and military divisions, and the lack of an independent decision-making capacity?

Opinion: The Battle for the Coast

The battle for the coast is different to the other battles raging on our soil in Syria. In some areas, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other rebel factions are fighting a regular army dominated by a specific sectarian and religious group. This does not mean the FSA is fighting a specific sect or religion, but it does explain why the fight against the regime’s army has not turned into a civil war. The battles we are now witnessing are a struggle marked predominantly by their opposition to a totalitarian power rejected by wide segments of Syria’s diverse society, including Alawites, Christians, Druze and Ismailis, among others.

The situation along the coast is different, because of the dense Alawite population and the large number of people from other religious communities who have fled their homes. More than a million of them are now scattered across the coastal region. They stand as additional evidence that Syrians are not killing each other; rather, the people of Syria continue to coexist despite the difficulties they are facing, rejecting the government’s efforts to push them into a state of estrangement and hostility. These reasons render any friction in the coast potentially explosive and likely very bloody. In other parts of Syria, the battle is not directed against a certain demographic. However, on the coast any miscalculation or confrontation between people from different sects may lead to a national catastrophe that could eventually take the form of a long-term civil war. All of the atrocities and war crimes so far committed by the regime, its allies and the militants following its course, will be nothing compared to what might happen here.

Here in the coastal region, it is crucial that the rebels differentiate between civilians and the government. Civilians must be spared from the battle against the regime and its institutions, otherwise we all run the risk that unarmed civilians will be targeted. Civilians should never be harmed, even if they are loyal to the government. This war against the regime requires patriotism and a humanitarianism that respects and safeguards civilians’ lives, property, dignity and freedom. The rebels must differentiate between the people and the regime; through their actions they must convince non-combatant Syrians that the battle is not against them and that the future Syria will be as much theirs as it is the rebels’.

A guarantee to that effect should be given by all factions in the opposition in the form of a binding national charter to be supported by the FSA and other armed opposition factions, including the Islamist ones. Islamist rebels do not have the right to stoop to the level of the regime, and neither should they accept violence being committed with sectarian intent. They must declare that the new Syria will be as diverse in religious and sectarian terms as the old Syria: The new Syria must accommodate all Syrians regardless of their color, gender or birthplace. They also need to prove this intent during their battles against the regime. The coastal region is extremely sensitive after years of being under the regime’s sectarian policies, such as the disproportionate appointment of people from certain demographics to the military and security institutions. Such policies have given the false impression that the regime and these sects are one indivisible whole.

In light of such complexity, I have always expressed reservations about the term “the battle for the coast.” I thought it unnecessary to open a front along the coast; rather, the battles should take place in other parts of Syria. Winning our battle with the regime in areas beyond the coast would not have the catastrophic impact on the Syrian revolution that a victory on the coast could. Fighting in parts of Syria without this history will not lead us into an unprecedented civil war, which could happen if there was a concerted effort in the coastal region. Fighting for the coast will be a long, expensive, drawn-out battle, and it will make it easier for the regime to manipulate people’s emotions and stoke hatred, embroiling them without much effort in its criminal war against their fellow Syrians.

In other words, victory cannot and should not be in the coastal region. The struggle against the regime should also go through two stages. First, the battle should spread to the rest of Syria in order to undermine the regime’s ability to continue fighting. Doing so would protect the coastal region from the regime’s evil policies. Second, the people of the coastal regions should have a role in the struggle against the regime, and when signs of its collapse appear, they will be enough to convince its supporters to abandon it. Those signs will be so clear that the regime’s supporters will see their participation in the patriotic political process as being necessary to enable them to express themselves and voice their demands in the manner they choose.

Until this happens, rebels should refrain from attacking the coastal region. But that doesn’t mean we should hide and avoid addressing the people of the coastal region with a patriotic discourse based on reconciliation and respect. However, the regime should be prevented from recapturing liberated areas across Syria.

Liberating the coast would be a grave mistake that could plunge Syria into the abyss, leaving nothing intact. Such a civil war would very much reduce the chances of weakening, and eventually toppling, the regime. Instead, it will destroy what is left of our afflicted country.

Opinion: It is time to take a stand

Vehicles drive past a flag of the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fluttering at the entrance to the city of Raqqa, eastern Syria, on October 4, 2013. (REUTERS/Nour Fourat)

The Syrian situation is deteriorating quickly, for reasons that include the intervention of strangers in the conflict, an intervention which was not desired by the Syrian people, who were seeking to deliver their demands to the president, demands for freedom after 50 years of Assad’s Ba’athist oppression.

The irony is that the deterioration of the situation is not caused by the shortage in numbers of those who are fighting the regime, but by the foreign fighters who entered our country and fundamentally changed the identity of the revolution with their extremist beliefs and extreme cruelty, which has persuaded many people who were demanding freedom that the Assad regime was better than the revolution.

This is because the rise of the extremists will lead to a rule by parties which claim to be Islamists, which promises people nothing more than murder and mayhem if they rejected their rule, which they say will be an Islamic caliphate. This is despite the fact that those who will rule will be strangers to the Syrian people and deny them their rights, just like they were denied by the eras of decay which Arabs and Muslims have endured.

I will go ahead and name the party I am talking about: it is the fundamentalist group which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Its Baghdad-born Iraqi leader announced the abolition of the Syrian national state, and its replacement with an entity with no identity, which is no more than a vague fundamentalist entity that is trying to take the title of a state. It is not a state by any measure, and not Islamist by any true standard. It is also not established yet, whether in Iraq or Syria, and one of its first achievements was to impose a punishment of 70 lashes against anyone who did not mention it by its correct title, or called it by the acronym “ISIS.”

This entity is tasked with destroying the revolution physically by killing freedom fighters, and morally by smearing the spirit and letter of Islam, and by taking actions which are totally inconsistent with Islam’s tolerance and acceptance of others, its moderation, and its constructive, civilized message.

The leaders of ISIS received their education and ideological upbringing in one of the Islamic world’s most deprived areas, speaking in spiritual and religious terms. Throughout the modern era, it has denied debate on Islam’s tradition of moderation, and adopted the worldview which refuses to recognize that current, existing Islamic societies are actually Muslim and refuses to accept Muslims who reject their ideology and theories of governance. Instead, it focuses on the “ignorance” of our societies and the inevitability of the Islamization of Muslims—according to their narrow understanding—and leading Muslims into an inevitable civil war after designating the majority of them as ignorant people who deserve to be killed.

Indeed, the followers of this movement did not leave undone a single deed harmful to Islam and well-suited to making the Assad regime look good in comparison. The coming days will show that they have killed more Syrian Muslims than those killed by the regime in the areas under their control, areas which were liberated by the Free Syrian Army only for ISIS to take them over and establish a regime which is more authoritarian and brutal than Assad’s.

This situation not only threatens Syria and its revolution, it also threatens the Islamic faith and the world. It threatens Muslims, both as individually and collectively, and threatens to end God’s gift of unity between all faithful, taking us back to the dark ages which were awash with the blood of innocents, whose needless killing was forbidden by God.

Today, ISIS kills individuals and groups using fatwas which God had nothing to do with, like the one issued by one of their scholars after he was asked about the ruling on the killer of an innocent person. The ISIS scholar replied: “He will receive his dues from God because he killed his victim believing he was guilty, but God rewarded him because He knows he is innocent, and therefore, the mujahid receives his reward because he helped the victim receive God’s justice.” This judgment is nothing but an open invitation to kill people indiscriminately, in the name of a religion which forbade killing and raised the status of a human being, making him God’s successor on earth.

Staying silent on these judgements is no longer possible. A stance by our religious scholars and clerics must be taken to uncover the aggression of these extremists against the righteous religion which God bestowed on us as Arabs and Muslims. Otherwise, we will fall victims to our ignorance and regret it when it is too late, when the oppression of Assad has been replaced with the darkness and oppression of his agents, who fight the Free Syrian Army and kill the best of its men, and assault those who originally organized the revolution, deluding themselves that they can cover their crimes by hiding behind a religion which has always condemned their kind.

The defenders of Islam’s moderation and its respect for humans and their dignity must speak loudly against the distortion practised by the murderers of ISIS, who kill Muslims and other believers under the guise of a religion which was brought forth by God to protect them.

Opinion: A Shower of Spokesmen

We, the Syrian people, have grown accustomed to seeing the Ba’athist regime speaking for us, without anybody authorizing it or assigning it the task. We have also grown accustomed to seeing it blame us for its own stupidity and malpractice, although we have long been the victims of its terrible oppression. The regime claims that it is not the one that is making the decisions or issuing the statements, but that it is the Syrian people who are doing so. This became the status quo over nearly half a century, where any Ba’ath Party member, no matter how minor, became a spokesman for the party, and by proxy the entire silenced people of Syria. The punishment for speaking out during this time was severe—even deadly.

While any government with a sense of self-esteem and respect for its people would assign an official spokesman to express its opinion on important issues, any and all Ba’ath Party members could claim to speak on behalf of the country. These “spokesmen” would come out and confidently state: “Our noble people want this or that.” These party members spoke as if they had conducted in-depth polls and investigations into what the Syrian people wanted, closely analyzing their results based on systematic and scientific rules to reach an informed conclusion.

The Syrian public was completely absent during the ghastly Assad era, and this led to a proliferation of politicians and officials speaking on our behalf. Prompted by an overwhelming desire to confuse the general public so that they would be unable to see what was in front of them, the Ba’ath Party would always issue varied and contradictory statements on any and every topic. Today, precisely the same thing is happening with the Syrian revolution, with various “spokesmen” and officials claiming to speak on its behalf.

The presence of these “spokesmen” reflects a dilemma the revolution has been facing from the beginning—a problem that has remained unsolved until today. The problem lies in a lack of a centralized leadership or a comprehensive plan to end the ongoing struggle in Syria and provide an objective approach to the country’s future. Those involved in the Syrian revolution should adopt a singular approach in terms of conduct and vision, working together to fulfil common goals within an agreed period of time. The Syrian revolution lacks suitable leadership and experience; this is why the Syrian revolution has become embroiled in a maze of contradictory viewpoints. In this case, it is no wonder the Syrian revolutionaries are divided, for the groups and movements they belong to are similarly divided and follow different viewpoints and ideologies, playing on the general public’s sentiments and interests to attract supporters.

The Syrian people have likely been led astray by these movements and organizations, failing to understand the reality on the ground. The people are confused because they rebelled for freedom, justice and equality, and they have now found themselves falling under the pressure of organizations that reject freedom and even consider it to be against Islam. The second issue is that the groups and individuals that originally spoke up for freedom are retreating and withdrawing in the face of these divisions and this violence. The Syrian people’s struggle against the regime has shifted into an international conflict whereby the people’s bravery has been buried under international disagreements and political considerations.

The outside world is benefitting greatly from the complete paralysis in the internal situation in Syria and its failure to live up to the expectations of one of the greatest and most courageous revolutions in history. Thus a serious phenomenon with dangerous results has emerged. This phenomenon has seen a proliferation of people speaking on behalf of the increasingly divided Syrian revolution. This is a phenomenon that has a number of dangerous repercussions, including increasing the state of despair among the Syrian rebels and the opposition, while also causing large categories of Syrian men and women to disavow the revolution and view it as a futile attempt that will have a very high cost. As a result, revolutionary organizations that had previously enjoyed mass support, playing a vital role in the continuation of the revolution, are finding it increasingly difficult to survive.

It is very difficult to find a way out of this quagmire of contradictory rhetoric and discourse, which has undermined what remains of our revolution. This contradictory discourse has become the daily bread of the Syrian revolution, and it is also a means for those with ambition to climb the ladder to wealth and power. These revolutionary climbers are ultimately harming the Syrian people’s revolution with every disingenuous statement they issue. They are adopting accusatory and eliminatory discourse towards others, and their ultimate goal is to preserve their share of the spoils.

The proliferation of Syrian spokesmen has ultimately caused the Syrian revolution to retreat. It is thanks to these spokesmen that the revolution and the revolutionaries have become immersed in an ocean of contradictory rhetoric that will ultimately throttle and crush it.

Opinion: The Great Bear slips up again

Russia has started to pay for the catastrophic mistakes it made in Syria, defending the regime of a criminal who guaranteed himself certain defeat. How did Assad manage that? He placed himself in a bloody confrontation with a people who were determined to get rid of him, while he made the perpetuation of his rule–which is contrary to nature—his only objective. That objective convinced him that a minority could forever use oppression to enforce its rule over a majority that rejected it.

From the beginning of the struggle, Putin’s Russia adopted a vision that saw the Syrian issue as a conflict between fundamentalist Islam and the last of the secular regimes in the region. It did not acknowledge any legitimate demands from an oppressed people, the acceptance of which would have changed its challenged the theory of fundamentalism, whether Islamist or secular. It ignored the blatant fact that Syrian people went out to demand a political system based on citizenship, the rule of law, democracy and freedom. Notably, they didn’t take to the streets under the leadership of a party or a political or sectarian movement, whatever their identity.

By failing to acknowledge the desires of the Syrian people, the clever men of the Kremlin committed a mistake they will be unable to rectify. Even if the Syrian people forgave them their mistake, they could not build normal relations with the new Syria in one day. The Russians have lost the illustrious relations they have had with the Syrian people for more than 60 years, and they have wasted the confidence the Syrians afforded to Russia above all others. They committed themselves to a regime rejected by its own people—a regime that oppressed its people more than any oppressive regime ever known to Arabs.

Russia could have taken advantage of its relationship with the regime’s army and security to stop the destruction of Syria and the killing of its people in massacres that have shocked the world. Instead, Putin welcomed them with glee, as if they were charitable actions taken by a sympathetic regime against a group of monsters and predators who deserved to be killed and crushed.

Putin’s Russia has lost in Syria, because it overlooked the fact that the Syrian people will defeat the Assad regime. But we must still ask if it has won instead among Arabs, in the Middle East, or internationally.

First, Russia failed to understand what was going on in Syria. It did not understand the American–Israeli strategy, and so it felt confident in Assad’s eventual victory and rejected all that the Syrians tried to draw its attention to repeatedly. They didn’t account for Washington and Tel Aviv protecting Assad as long as he continued to destroy the Syrian state and society and eliminate Syria from the power equation in the region. It did not realize that the destruction of Syria, which Russia supported and which used its arms, would represent a permanent source of shame to Russia and a reason to achieve the opposite to what it wanted. The only result has been the rise of fundamentalism on the corpse of democracy.

However, Russia continued to fight alongside Assad, unwittingly contributing to America’s efforts to turn Syria into a hotbed of tension. America has managed to make Syria into battlezone that is attracting its regional and international adversaries, and it is now able to pick them off without sacrificing a dollar, a shekel, or a single American or Israeli soldier.

Now, Washington is taking away Assad’s chemical weapons and it has become clear that the Assad regime has had no objectives in the last half-century apart from remaining in power. Russia’s Putin has been forced to play the role of a broker who could not save Assad, and thus Washington forced him to do what the US and Israel wanted.

America is now beginning to achieve its second objective: to place the Iranian nuclear dossier under its supervision. If it doesn’t get this in the next few weeks, it will tighten its siege of Tehran and escalate its pressure. The US will focus on beating Iran down wherever it has influence, in Syria and elsewhere, while Russia stands helpless—just as it was unable to stop Assad from being forced to hand over his chemical weapons. It will have no option other than to face its strategic defeat in Tehran tomorrow, while still looking back at its strategic defeat in Damascus yesterday.

Putin’s Russia will remain in the position of someone who makes defensive reactions. The strategic equation will remain in the hands of America and Israel, and victory will be theirs. This is true not only because of their abilities, available options, and well-considered policies, but also because of Russia’s and Iran’s involvement in the Syrian crisis. That involvement is weakening them strategically.

What could Russia do other than accept defeat when Tehran consents to its own downfall the way Damascus consented before it? It will only be left with disappointment at Putin and his failures, and it will have to leave a region it entered in the 1950s while trumpeting its promises of liberation and progress. Russia has now been pushed out of the Middle East by the Americans and the Israelis, because it despised the Arab people and ignored their interests and desires. Russia tied its fate to trivial oppressors who never objected to becoming no more than minor servants of America and Israel’s plans and strategies.

Russia has carried out some truly stupid policies, which Washington deliberately lauded as very smart, policies, in order to make Putin’s fall more painful and more costly—as we can see today.

Opinion: Will it be a case of déjà vu for Rouhani?

By electing Rouhani—a friend of Rafsanjani, a moderate, and a reformer—as Ahmadinejad’s successor, Iran has placed itself at a difficult crossroads. It has made a political choice with complex dimensions. Perhaps it wanted to help itself end an extremely costly situation that it found has become too difficult to manage. Iran is, after all, placed in a difficult economic situation that also restrains its regional choices. Its war against the Syrian people in particular has caused severe losses, amounting to the billions of dollars, spent on funding a war waged by a tyrannical regime against a Muslim population. Additionally, there is the human cost of this war—grave by any standards. There is evidence that when the Free Syrian Army destroyed a military convoy in Ghouta, capturing 20 officers and soldiers, among them were 17 Iranians.

Rouhani’s election and his attempts to restore his country’s relations with the West, and the US in particular, raises a number of questions. It could appear that the Iranian leadership, or entities within it, decided to confront the changes in the region by changing its domestic and foreign policies after it found itself mired in problems it cannot solve.

Many will feel that America succeeded in pushing Iran into a confrontational position with the Arabs and the majority of the Muslim world, involving Iran for the first time in a Sunni–Shi’ite struggle, starting with its direct involvement in the Syrian war. One has to also look at the involvement of Hezbollah, which has exposed itself as a fundamentalist group and has gone into a foreign country and killed Arabs and Muslims in defense of an abhorrent sectarian regime.

Questions can be asked about whether the Iranian leadership has discovered that it would lose its strategic balance if it lost Syria, a pivotal base beyond its borders. It lacks the ability to retain Syria in the face of major powers—the powers who decide the type and dimensions of the conflict in Syria, from which they also benefit.

Iran itself is increasingly drowning in the mighty waves, enduring financial and human losses, without being able to inflict any harm on the US or Israel or even kill a single solider from their armies.

Has Iran realized that the conflict being waged in and against Syria is altering the region’s strategic picture and will have a severe impact on the Iranian regime, exhausting it economically and isolating it socially, forcing it to adapt its policies and decisions?

Iran’s potential stances could help establish better conditions for a solution to the Syrian crisis, allowing it to have a say in the solution before it becomes a purely American–Russian one, with no room for regional and Arab states. That will likely happen if Iran envisions a role along with the two major superpowers—the US and Russia—who are working towards a political solution. If Iran agrees on the eradication of chemical weapons, as several entities and observers predict, it would be the country’s first step in this direction.

Until recently, Iran’s image did not reflect the impact of the Khatami Administration’s reformative policies, because at that time the military and security services—which are deeply enmeshed with the power structure—undermined him and likened his presidency to a summer cloud in the Islamic Republic’s lifespan.

Years later, however, it has become obvious years that Khatami’s policies have left a lasting mark on society and made a significant contribution towards the eruption of mass demonstrations against suspected vote-rigging in the presidential elections of 2009.

Many will wonder if Khatami’s experience can be repeated under Rouhani—in the sense that the military–security apparatus will again succeed in sabotaging his anticipated reformative approach—leaving Iran unchanged in confronting the violent storms in the region. However, some might speculate that the supreme leader’s overt criticism of Rouhani’s recent visit to the US are the first signs of his failure.

Rouhani’s election raises all of these questions and potential outcomes. Iran’s complex and interlinked problems advance all of these possibilities. However, this does not necessarily mean that developments will lead to rational choices being made.

The return of sectarian totalitarianism exposes its indifference to reality and its reliance on its own ideological fantasies, which it defends strongly. But Iran will not remain isolated from the changes sweeping the region.

Rouhani’s election could be the beginning of an Iranian endeavor to establish a secure place for itself in a profoundly changing world, a bid to survive the storms that swept away regimes as powerful as that of Iran. Those same storms have been trying to demolish the Syrian government for more than two years, fighting, with Iran’s help, an unarmed nation, but failing to oppress or break it.

Iran should read these signs and start to understand their meaning and take the necessary measures to meet the requirements for abandoning many of its positions and policies. If Rouhani’s administration is a repeat of Khatami’s experience, it might be said that history is repeating itself. However, the first time will be described as a disaster, the second a mockery.

Opinion: Starving to Death

Bashar Al-Assad’s army has been besieging the people in Eastern and Western Ghouta and Homs for over a year. However, having failed to break the will of the people through prolonged siege and violence, the regime has now dispatched mercenaries to these areas to bolster the blockade, until the people starve to death under continuous shelling.

According to the news coming from the besieged areas, the price of one kilo of sugar—if you can find this on the market in the first place—has jumped to SYP 3,000, compared to just SYP 169 prior to the siege.

As for the price of one kilo of rice, it has jumped to SYP 2,200, compared to just SYP 50 not so long ago. As for bread, well it has become virtually impossible to find a single loaf of bread anywhere in these areas.

A friend of mine told me that he was lucky enough to be in possession of some bread last month when he met some children with distended stomachs. The children’s mother begged him for a small piece of bread for each child, and my friend returned home empty-handed. This same friend told me of a newborn baby girl who died just six days after being born, as her mother was unable to produce even a single drop of milk to feed the baby, as she herself had not eaten for ten days. The mother died shortly afterwards.

Assad’s army, having failed to regain control of Eastern and Western Ghouta through force of arms, attempted to regain control of some villages and towns through deception and fraud. The military leadership offered to lift the siege, if the town’s defenders would just let them in. When the fighters refused the offer, the Syrian military launched a large-scale heavy shelling campaign, specifically targeting civilians. The army tightened the siege, completely cutting off these regions from the outside world. Following this, the army purchased all the food and commodities it could lay its hands on, attempting to starve the people out. This is why the price of food has increased so much, while many foodstuffs are not just expensive, they are non-existent. There is no sugar, and people are having trouble finding anything to eat or drink. As a result of this terrible situation, people are starving to death on a daily basis, with the death toll rising by the hour.

These besieged areas are on the verge of a humanitarian disaster that could claim the lives of thousands of people, whilst the world stands idly by watching the Syrian people’s misery and suffering. The international community is patting itself on the back for reaching an agreement regarding the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons. These are the same chemical weapons that he has only ever used against his own people, while the entire deal is being viewed as a victory for Israel.

The chemical weapon issue is just one side of the equation: One side ensures the safety and security of what the traitor regime used to disingenuously call the “enemy,” namely Israel, while the second side moves towards completely exterminating the Syrian people by any means possible.

This equation allowed Assad to use any and all conventional weapons in his possession against the Syrian people, safe from America’s wrath. This emphasized what Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem always said, namely that the US would not act directly against Damascus. In fact, the US’s reaction towards the chemical weapons issue has served as a tacit green light for the regime, at a time when the Assad government was losing all hope of remaining in power and considering fleeing. Many of the regime’s military and civilian leadership had already taken this step, while Bashar himself was said to be close to packing his bags.

Today, the regime is using the most horrible weapon of mass destruction: starvation. All the while, the world at large and international organizations are feigning ignorance. Everybody seems content with adopting feeble verbal stances expressing opposition of what is happening, but declining to take any action on the ground against this criminal regime, whose criminal and inhumane nature has been revealed.

The Syrian regime’s violent and aggressive nature, which can only be compared with that of a foreign occupation, has also been exposed. Assad is no true Syrian, and he is killing the Syrian people simply because they do not support him. Assad is not the true leader of Syria, and he has lost any and all legitimacy, particularly as any power that he now does hold emanates from his killing of the Syrian people, rather than serving their affairs and interests.

This policy of mass starvation will fail to break the Syrian people, who persists in their march towards freedom amidst an ocean of blood. The besieged Syrian people continue to stand tall after over a year of starvation, despite the massive death toll. The Syrian people in these two besieged districts are calling for the world to loosen the death-grip that the Assad regime has on them, saving whoever can still be saved, while not allowing negativity and defeatism to rule.

Opinion: Prospects for Syria are Growing Bleaker

The Syrian scene is witnessing significant transformations that are changing the nature of the battle raging there. This is not only because of the new armed forces joining the ones that have been fighting for more than 30 months, but also due to the new agendas that do not mesh with the ideological, intellectual and political ones Syria has grown accustomed to throughout this long struggle.

At this point in time, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is being forced out of the areas it took from the regime. With this in mind, it is possible to say that if the area extending from the Iraqi borders to the eastern part of the Syrian coast through Idlib falls into the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the nature of the revolution will change. As a result, the revolution will be limited to isolated enclaves in Idlib and Hama—the situation in both is almost normal—as well as Homs. As for Damascus, the regime succeeded in separating the city from its two Ghouta districts where it continues to murder people daily whether by artillery, rocket launchers, warplanes, or by letting its people perish out of hunger and thirst. Finally, in Deraa, the regime established a strong defense line to separate the battles in Hauran and reduce their effect on the battle of Damascus.

These developments threaten to split Syria into two areas that, although one is ultra-nationalist and the other religious, are different in appearance yet similar in essence given the tyranny they are subjected to. They also threaten to fragment and tear apart the FSA and the entire civil and democratic uprising, minimizing their role in the revolution, especially if my fears of the receding influence of the FSA prove to be accurate.

Moreover, there are two worrisome phenomena in Syria: First, the media campaign targeting the Syrian National Coalition, damaging its reputation and accusing it of being a sell-out regarding its attitude towards Geneva II. Secondly, the creation of a military alliance under the name of the “Islamist Army,” with which Islamist organizations intend to replace the “National Army” or render it superfluous. In fact, Islamists consider the National Army as taking on a character contradictory to their own, believing that its existence will inevitably lead to an armed conflict between themselves and other revolutionaries. This sentiment has been echoed by the some members of the SNC, when I proposed that the legal committee prepare a decree forming the National Army.

Are we heading towards a situation where there are three anti-FSA—or anti-National Army—forces active in Syria? These forces are the regime, foreign jihadists, and the proposed Islamist Army.

Since the announcement of its inception, the Islamist army gave the impression that it aimed at blocking the formation of the National Army. On the other hand, many voices from within the FSA—which will form the core of the National Army—denied the legitimacy of its current leadership. This is not to mention the other voices denying in turn the legitimacy of any measures proposed, accusing a wide range of the SNC members of treason. These very voices take an extremely strict attitude towards the interim government, as well as rallying their supporters against it.

With these developments, the Syria political arena enters a new stage where neither the people who ignited the revolution nor those who have sacrificed their lives—whether from the civil and democratic forces or the FSA—in defense of Syrians and their values will have any role. Instead, there will be jihadist organizations that, together with their supporters, will be necessary for the survival of Bashar Al-Assad regime.

In fact, Assad’s regime has planned since the eruption of the revolution to establish organization that claim to want to replace him but in fact have not done anything apart from forcing the FSA out of the areas it liberated. The real function of these groups is to intimidate the world into accepting the survival of the Assad regime.

This scenario is not a product of my imagination. It has been implemented for months across our homeland, posing existential challenges to our people and the forces demanding freedom, justice, equality and the preservation of the unity of the state and society. Today, Syrians are threatened with a future more dangerous than anything they have ever faced.

Opinion: Defectors from Assad’s army have a lot to teach the FSA

A few days ago, I traveled to the so-called Officers Camp in Al-Raihaniya, where, for the first time since the start of the revolution, I met two of the main militant groups. The first group was comprised of former civilians who come from the Mount of the Kurds region—the birthplace of my forefathers—who are currently playing a leading role as one of the formations of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) there. The second group was made up of several soldiers who had defected from the regime’s army but who did not join the FSA. This is the case with the majority of the defectors who, after joining the revolution, were scattered across Turkey, Jordan and Egypt despite the highly significant role played by some of them, whether in the establishment or the leadership of the FSA.

As an entity, the FSA is odd and difficult to understand. You can feel that it is fully formed, but at the same time you feel it does not exist at all. The FSA has its membership, but lacks the organization of a standard army. It does not have the power to force its affiliates to carry out its orders. It lacks cohesion, and so it is no wonder that the FSA is an entity with little organization whose leaders give orders to only part of the forces under their command.

For the FSA, affiliation does not start from the top—from the leadership—and then flow down to individuals. Rather, affiliation depends on the individuals’ readiness to carry out orders, and also on their particular links with their leadership. So it is a blend of a partial, and often fragile, hierarchical leadership and, in many cases, leadership from the lowest levels, who have influence through their obedience or disobedience. Were it not for the fighters’ determination to overthrow the regime, no power would have been able to force them to fight, which is not the case in ordinary armies.

This must lead to a specific result: Those who defected from the regime’s army do not need permission from anyone to join the FSA or any of its numerous units, although having formerly held a high rank in the regime’s army could prevent them from leading certain FSA units. Furthermore, their military education has played a role in their decisions not to cooperate with civilians who formed their own battalions. And former regime soldiers who became leaders in the FSA have played a key role in keeping away high-ranking defectors, fearing that more experienced officers would take over from them, or perhaps displace them entirely.

So former senior-ranking officers from Assad’s army have been prevented from enrolling in the FSA, which has been a real detriment to the opposition forces. Now that the revolution is about to enter a stage that requires a real ability to undertake large-scale planning, systematic organization, and mobilization of scattered troops, it is necessary that those senior officers are allowed back into military work.

It is unreasonable that 80 percent of Assad’s former officers remain detached from patriotic work, whether military or political. It must be so disheartening for them to discover that they have no place in a battle for which they have sacrificed everything. Those officers did not leave the regime and its army in order to then live in tents and plastic houses, even if they were grateful to whoever offered them, for such living does not befit people from their position; it is not an honorable way to live.

The knowledge and experience of some of those officers can be rivaled only by their peers in sophisticated fighter armies. They have political insights, views and opinions that we Syrians ignore at our own peril. They are not only part of the structure of the military apparatus that of protect the revolution against whomever want to snatch it from the people—its sole rightful owners—they are also politically very knowledgeable, even if they refuse to formally turn into politicians.

Let us set aside minor personal considerations and think only of larger national considerations. Let us start by rectifying the mistakes committed in the military domain, and, if we can, also rectifying our political mistakes. If we could do both of those, our country’s tragedy would end and our people would gain their freedom.

Opinion: Why did the Assad regime use chemical weapons?

So just why did the Assad regime use chemical weapons?

A simple and direct answer to that question is that the Assad regime used chemical weapons because criminality is a core philosophy of this regime, which has ruled Syria over the past five decades according to the equation, “Either we rule you or kill you!” Today, it seems that the Assad regime is no longer able to rule, and so has moved directly to killing. This is a view that cannot be denied by anybody who has kept a close eye on what has been happening in the country over the past 50 years, and who have seen how its leadership refuse to reconsider their pro-security policies. This is an approach that they have continued to follow even after all their policies have been shown to be wrong; this has been shown following the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. The Syrian elite have upheld the criminal Assad dynasty because it is expressive of their own nature, as shown by the limitless backing they offered Bashar Al-Assad, rather than rising up against him and standing against his homicidal approach. They followed their foolish president without objection or hesitation, and now they continue to follow him towards the edge of the abyss, even though they assumed leading positions in Syria long before he was born and have taken the lead in handling Syria’s problems over the past 50 years.

In addition to this, there is also an indirect answer related to the current state of affairs regarding the struggle against the Assad regime. It is this same regime that three months ago launched its fifth strategic attack against the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The Syrian media applauded what happened, launching a campaign of lies to claim that what happened represented a pivotal victory for the regime that completely transformed the strategic reality on the ground. This includes claims of the fall of Al-Qusayr, reports of huge troop deployments around the heroic city of Homs, enforcement of a blockade on Jabal Al-Zawiya, and the recapture of Deir Ezzor and Aleppo with the assistance of Hezbollah. However, these claims were false, and the regime’s plans ultimately backfired following defeats at Khan Al-Assal, Ming Airbase and Al-Sahel.

All of this is coupled with the emergence of an unprecedented phenomenon, namely the flight of Syria’s pro-Assad elite—including the military elite—who had remained firm and unyielding over the past two years and more. However, at Khan Al-Assal, Ming and Al-Sahel, it was military officers who escaped, a new phenomenon that perhaps foreshadows a possible sudden collapse of the entire regime.

To confront this possibility, those who undertook the war against the people proposed the idea of carrying out a strike that will completely suppress the protests. For those managing this war, this strike had to be strong enough to prompt an FSA collapse and ensure the regime stays in power for a long period of time, boosting the low morale of its military. This explained the chemical strike’s barbaric nature, with the number of victims standing at 10,000, according to some estimates. According to information leaked from inside the city, the strike exterminated a considerable part of the city in eastern and western Ghouta, something that the regime saw as necessary for the success of any attacks on the FSA. For the regime, that attack was a necessity in order to regain control of eastern Ghouta—a province that had remained steadfastly opposed to the Assad regime for nearly nine months despite the deliberate systematic campaign intended to push it towards famine. The regime also needed to attack Ghouta to “liberate” it from the opposition, whose presence there was deemed a direct threat to the regime.

This criminal attack did not cause the collapse of Ghouta, despite the heavy civilian and FSA causalities, not to mention the causalities among the rescue and medical teams the Russians subsequently accused of being responsible for the attack itself.

The people of Ghouta exhibited amazing cohesion and extraordinary ability to endure pain and loss, while the entire world was astonished by the nature of the suicidal attack that will certainly have dire consequences for the Assad regime. At the very least, this chemical attack will force the opposition to rectify its mistakes that had been benefiting the regime. It will lead the international community to reconsider its calculations and confront Assad’s crimes, which have horrified the entire region and confirmed that it is a danger to the safety and security of the entire world.

The Ghouta chemical weapons attack will not stop the collapse of the Assad regime; in fact, it will only accelerate this. This horrible crime only serves to push Syria closer to the decisive moment of Assad’s fall and the people’s victory. This will be achieved by the hands of the Syrian people themselves, and they are moving closer and closer to this goal.