Today marks the end of the 17th months after the start of the events in Syria, or what is now largely called “The Syrian Crisis”, as opposed to the original romantic name, “The Syrian Revolution”.
Last week also marked one year after the US president Obama called upon Assad to step down (on Aug 18, 2011). These two occasions call for a quick review of the current situation of this crisis or revolution.
Since the beginning of the events in Syria, Fridays where the days chosen by the opposition to show their presence, with demonstrations starting in mosques after the Friday prayer. Yesterday, Friday, August 24, 2012, was a perfect example of how demonstrations subsided massively in favor of armed attacks. The main “revolution” page posted what can only be described as a few pathetic attempts to gather demonstrators. Videos (shot in Homs, Aleppo countryside, and Damascus countryside here) showed only small numbers of people demonstrating in side roads away from major squares and streets. This even applies to the video from Aleppo countryside, where SFA supposedly have great support.
This decline in demonstrations has been evident for almost a year now. Trying to explain this, opposition activists blamed the shelling sometimes, and the “brutal attacks” by the Syrian army some other times. Yet, these activists could not so far show a single evident that a demonstration was bombarded or attacked by the military, compared to hundreds of videos showing clashes between the army and the armed rebel groups.
It is worth mentioning that the opposition never succeeded in organizing massive demonstrations, apart from the ones in Hama last year, which managed to gather tens of thousands every Friday for about two months. Opposition activists promised that they will occupy all the main squares in the country in the presence of the Arab League Monitors last year, but failed (see our report here). Then promised the same thing when the UN monitors started working in the country, and failed as well.
After months of denying any armed elements in the uprising, the Syrian opposition decided to embrace the term “Syria Free Army” back in July 2011. The announcement of the armed insurgency was practically a political step, not a military one, as armed attacks happened before this announcement, and continued to happen after it. The real nature of SFA was discussed in several reports on Syria Tribune, such as here, here, and here. But what has this “army” accomplished in 13 months after it was formally announced?
A joke in Syria says that the only lesson SFA leader Ryad Al Asa’ad attended in military school was the tactical withdrawal lesson, as this seems to be the only thing SFA is capable of doing. The term “Tactical Withdrawal” was used every time SFA lost a battle with the Syrian Army, or in better words, every time it had a battle with the Syrian army, as the result was always the same. SFA lost its stronghold in Baba Amro, Homs, all its locations in Damascus countryside, the attack it launched on the capital (that was called the “Damascus Volcano”), and many other positions in the country. Every time SFA lost a position, it would call what happened a “tactical withdrawal”.
A pattern can easily be noticed: Rebels secretly infiltrate an area over the period of weeks, declare their presence, attack local police centers, hide in civilian neighborhoods, perform ethnic or sectarian cleansing attacks claiming they are attacking spies or Shabiha, then “tactically withdraw” once the Syrian Army starts its operation in the area. Time spans may differ from one area to another, but the sequence is almost always the same. The question is: Why would an “army” repeat the same “tactical” mistakes, over and over again? Why would an army losing every single battle still repeat the same tactics in new places? And more importantly, why would it subject civilians to war atrocities and displace many of them while claiming to defend them? SFA still does not have a single win to brag about after one year of its announcement.
Relationship with civilians
Replacing protesting with an armed insurgency cost the opposition much of its already weak support it had among Syrians. Atrocities committed by SFA against civilians played a major role in this, specially lately in Aleppo, where the real face of rebel groups was revealed. SFA started its presence in Aleppo by killing tribal leaders in the area, which was followed by tens of videos showing executions of civilians under the pretext of being Shabiha, mostly in brutal ways (See here, here, and here, for example. NOTE: Graphic content). Moreover, opposition rebels performed some disturbing public executions, such as the one when they threw postal workers from the roof in Aleppo neighborhood (see the video here. Graphic content).
In addition to these actions, other factors played a role in compromising the image the opposition wanted to project for its rebels. The most important of these factors is the increasing number of non-Syrian fighters joining forces with the opposition, which turned Syria into a global Jihad magnet (Even media channels that sympathize with the rebels couldn’t hide this fact anymore. In fact, the opposition moved from denying the presence of foreign elements to applauding it). Another factor is the suicide attacks, or, as shown in the latest NYTimes report, the forced suicide attacks.
In addition to this, sectarian violence has reached unprecedented levels by opposition rebels, especially after the bombing of a Shiite holly location in Aleppo, and the questionable Fatwa issued by a group of opposition scholars, stating that it is OK to crucify “Shabiha” after killing them, to film the killing and post it on social media, and to kidnap relatives of “infidels” who work for the army or the security forces, even if they were not military themselves.
This meant that the already weak support for opposition rebels is not likely to increase. The Guardian reported that SFA works “despite” not being liked by civilians in Aleppo. This only confirms what we said before, that using the term “liberating Aleppo” by the opposition only meant liberating it from its own people (See interview here).
Unity and unified goals
In 17 months, the Syrian opposition failed to show the minimum required unity and coordination. Several attempts were taken by “sponsoring” countries to unify the opposition, in Turkey sometimes, and under the Arab League umbrella some other times. But all attempts failed. Even main stream media known to sympathize with the opposition expressed frustration over this (please see here, here, and here).
This division is not anymore between the two main opposition groups, SNC and The Coordination Committee, but extended to within SNC itself, which suffered serious feuds among its components. The opposition does not seem to be able to agree on some serious issues, such as how to topple the regime, what will follow after the regime is toppled, and how to manage the current crisis until the regime is gone. This poses some serious questions as well: If the opposition cannot unite itself, who then is managing the bloody insurgency on the ground? And what is the effect of this situation on the armed rebels? And how can the opposition or the countries backing it control violations against civilians committed by their armed groups, if they cannot define a political leadership for these groups, not to talk about a military leadership? One last question: With the increasing evidence that the armed groups are controlled by Islamic fundamentals, how can the opposition reassure minorities in Syria that their safety and freedom will be guaranteed should the regime be toppled?
This poor image of the Syrian opposition and its armed rebels poses some serious questions about why NATO countries keep publically supporting this insurgency. NATO countries keep inciting the rebels to reject calls for dialogue by the government, despite their claims that they support peace and unity of the Syrian people (please see our editor’s comment on this in this interview). Planning to use Chapter VII to make the rebels win only shows how much these countries care for the Syrian people and its prosperity.