Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Unification, Pluralism and Foreign Intervention in the Syrian Revolution - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

Pessimism has prevailed over those monitoring Syria’s revolution from the outside over the past few days, for two reasons: Firstly, the failure of the Arab observers who entered Syria to persuade the Syrian authorities to stop the ongoing bloodbath. Secondly, the difficulty in reaching an agreement between the Syrian National Council (SNC) (a broad spectrum alliance of Syrian opposition blocs formed more than 3 months ago) on the one hand, and the National Coordination Committee (NCC) (a small dissident party existing both inside Syria and abroad) on the other. It is worth mentioning that article 3 of the Arab Initiative stipulated that opposition blocs should come together and collectively lay out a program for democratic political transition, pressure the regime by producing a clear replacement for its security solution, and form a cohesive political party to cooperate in leading the peaceful transition process, should the the Arab Initiative succeed.

A representative of the NCC said that the document, agreement or program initialled by both the chairman of the SNC and the NCC leadership – amidst the presence of members from both sides and after difficult negotiations lasting a period of 35 days – did not win the approval of certain parties in the SNC, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. There were three reasons for this lack of approval, according to what was said by some on television: Firstly, the agreement rejected the principle of foreign military intervention without clarifying how else to protect the civilian protesters, a demand that is already several months old. Secondly, the agreement did not outline the overthrow of the regime as a primary target. Thirdly, the agreement neglected to praise the actions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and only highlighted the honourable soldiers who refused to open fire on the protesters.

In truth, all the above sticking points – which are miniscule in comparison to the horrific atrocities that have been committed in Syria over the past ten months – suggest a lack of sincerity on the part of the parties involved. They also evoke the presence of a desperate culture that existed in the bygone era, with the radical, ideological Islamic, pan-Arab and leftist movements.

During the first three months of the revolution, all Syrian opposition parties – under the pressure of the foreign conspiracy theory imposed by the four-decade old ruling regime – used to commence their televised addresses by rejecting the idea of foreign intervention, with regards to the Libyan case and the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi. However, this rejection is now of little significance, because of two conflicting occurrences: Firstly, the increase of suppression, bloodshed and intimidation on the part of the regime to unimaginable proportions, to the extent that foreign military intervention has become a much cherished hope, and secondly the desire to create safe havens and zones free from aircraft or heavy weaponry, as the minimum requirement for the protection of civilian protesters. Thus, those who objected to the aforementioned agreement [between the SNC and the NCC] argue that the rejection of foreign military intervention, without another option for the protection of civilians, goes against the wishes of the Syrian population.

However, arguing for or against foreign intervention is irrelevant at this point, because the Americans, the Europeans and the Turks say that military intervention in Syria (even for the protection of civilians) is not something that they are considering. This is not only because of what happened in Libya, but also because of Syria’s location adjacent to Israel’s borders, and the presence of parties in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon which could intervene in a more overt and bold way if the Turks or NATO stepped in. Hence, [during the negotiations between the Syrian opposition groups] there was no need for the NCC to raise patriotic sentiments, and there was no need for the Muslim Brotherhood and others to try and please the revolutionaries. What was required was to think clearly and rationally about how to protect civilians in coordination with the Arabs, who have signed a protocol that has not been honoured. Foreign intervention should never have been a sticking point, as most probably, the Arabs would try other means to pressure the Syrian regime into complying with the protocol.

As for the other two points of dispute, namely declaring the overthrow of the regime as a target, and secondly acknowledging the FSA to be a revolutionary force, I doubt that sincerity and reason were used by either camp. The NCC can no longer insist on negotiating with the regime, having tried and failed. Moreover, there is no point in insisting that defectors from the army should be considered the legitimate force in Syria, whilst the rest (around three-thirds) of the army are deemed illegitimate. Nevertheless, we appreciate the nobility and courage of those who have rebelled against the regime, and we remain baffled by the dormant majority in the military and security services who have witnessed the extraordinary bravery of the young protesters and the handful of armed revolutionaries that are defending themselves, their families, their mosques and their villages.

These major national and strategic issues should not be hampered by petty disputes and media score-settling while a revolution is going on. We could expect such behaviour in a country with conditions such as Lebanon, but not in the circumstances of countries such as Syria, Iraq and Palestine. Furthermore, the view from outside is also important, because it shows the extent of appreciation towards this historic circumstance. The Muslim Brotherhood were highly appreciative during the early months of the revolution, but now, after the successes they have achieved in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, the Brotherhood have been exposed once again to the lustre of power and popularity. The General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt says he is now preoccupied with something even more important than the Egyptian presidency, namely his responsibility for the Umma and the Muslim faith. This suggests he is mounting the pulpit of the Prophet (PBUH), and therefore we say: “Admonish, therefore, for thou art but an admonisher; Thou hast no authority to compel them.”

What Burhan Ghalioun did [by forming the SNC] was and still is necessary. This is not because of Haythem Manna and Hassan Abdul Azim’s positions, nor their calls, because they are now redundant. Both have been exposed by the protesters within, before being unmasked by the secularists and leftists abroad. Nevertheless, it is imperative to maintain cautious, accurate, and committed to the very end for two reasons: Firstly, there are worried people in Syria who have not yet taken part in the revolution, but are not against it. Secondly, there is increasing support among the Arab people and the international community, both of which are increasing their roles to support the Syrians and give them the upper hand over their murderous regime. There are large groups within Syria, and even larger ones across the region and the outside world, which have begun to carefully observe what is happening in Yemen and Syria, particularly following Egypt’s parliamentary elections and the behaviour of Libya’s armed militias.

The Syrian revolution has and will cost around 10,000 deaths, along with extensive damage at the hands of the regime, and not Israeli invaders! In order for it to succeed, it is now incumbent upon the revolution’s political leadership to reach a consensus over its platform. This will require arduous work and could even be exploited by veteran strugglers who have become power seekers, like some of the newly transformed revolutionaries. But these facts do not make the reaching of a consensus any less necessary or less urgent. The revolutionaries do not form one cohesive category, and neither do the regime’s supporters. Contributors vary in their degrees of contribution, yet this does not undermine their rights to participation and citizenship.

Some views are treated with deference because they belong to veteran protestors, and some are treated with the same deference because they are the views of the new revolutionaries. And there is a third category whose views should be taken into consideration simply because they are Syrian citizens. We, as Arabs, should have our views and interests treated with respect. We will no longer accept bargaining over the rights of any Syrian citizen. Or else why did the Syrians rise against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, who has only protected the rights of his closest relatives? Divine wisdom prevails over the affairs and matters of mankind.

Radwan Elsayed

Radwan Elsayed

Dr. Radwan Elsayed is a prominent Lebanese intellectual and a professor of Islamic studies at the Lebanese University.

More Posts