By Armenak Tokmajyan
Syria has entered a difficult historical era since the rising up in mid March 2011 in Daraa. Many things have been changed so far: on the social level, people are now used to live violence and fear in their daily life. In short, they lost the sense of safety. On the political level, the government is preoccupied with the domestic issue, whereas the country’s economy is in decline. Nevertheless, Syrian Authorities still have the upper hand.
In this undeclared ‘Syrian war’, almost everything is allowed. Indeed, Syrians are facing a cruel reality; neither the regime is able to crush the opposition and, at least, brings the old stability back, nor the opposition is strong enough to impose a change. Moreover, talking about a compromise will be a waste of time because of the increasing polarization of the conflicting sides. Accordingly, and because of this uncertainty, the country is seeking its way to chaos.
Gene Sharp, the 83-year-old scholar and professor of political sciences, the author of the famous book called “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, offers 198 peaceful methods to topple dictatorships. As the Voice of America reports, Prof. Sharp had inspired many Arab youth before they spring up to topple regimes in the Arab world1. Concerning Syria, did the rebels read Gene Sharp? Have they tried to implement his methods?
Today Syria’s choices are limited. It is not a choice of “good” or “bad” rather; it is between what is “bad” for Syrians and what is “chaotic”. It is obvious that the Syrian regime committed many mistakes in dealing with the current crisis. Nevertheless, what the opposition is offering is far less professional.
Four ‘mistakes’ committed by the Syrian Regime opponents
If we analyze the Syrian case keeping in mind Sharp’s framework2 for liberation we will obviously see crucial ‘mistakes’ made by regime opponents. Syrian opposition at least fell into four essential mistakes that will most likely lead the country to a chaos rather than a democracy.
Syrian opposition foremost mistake was when they armed themselves. Thus, their peaceful demonstrations turned into an armed rebellion. In his book, Prof. Sharp writes, “By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority”3. Throughout his theory, he tries to explain that any opposition should address authoritarian regimes’ weak points rather than the strong ones. In the Syrian case, regime’s strongest institution is the military. In this regard, Prof. Gene lately said, in an interview with channel 4 news, that… “[I]t is “suicidal” for Syrian protesters to fight the government’s army with weapons.”4 If the rebels aim to build a democracy and not a chaos they should have set a strategy for their revolution. The later issue is the second dilemma that I would like to discuss.
The opposition operates without setting a grand strategy that seeks to build a democratic Syria. At the end of the day, toppling Syrian regime and dividing the country will produce neither democracy nor freedom.
Since March 2011, the opposition did not offer any dependable post-Assad plan. This means that the opposition does not have any post Assad vision, if the Assad is not a good choice for Syria then what do they offer?
This problem deepens the fact that there is no unified and organized opposition5and this is the third dilemma. The political wing is not acting simultaneously with the military wing(s). Moreover, each wing itself has no unified leadership. Concerning the armed opponents, it is obvious that there are many groups – originally Syrians or non-Syrians – who follow different agendas and operate according to their own plans and short strategies that will not necessarily lead to the fall of the regime rather, it necessarily means that the post tyranny era – if the Assad was gone – will be a mess. Gene Sharp puts like this “The result of such failures to plan strategically is often drastic: If democrats do not plan strategically they are likely to fail to achieve their objectives.” The opposition, however, used some Sharp’s methods such as strikes, boycotts…etc that weakened the regime in some places. Nevertheless, they did not continue in this strategy and hurried to take arms though it was possible maintain the nonviolent manner as it happened in Yemen.
The fourth critical issue is the foreign aid and intervention through its various types. After a year it became obvious that the regime is not likely to fall without foreign intervention. But on whom the Syrian opposition should rely?
In my opinion there are two kinds of foreign actors: first Western powers that most probably follow its interests in the region being based on the simplest principle of the International Relations, indeed. Second: Arab influential actors such as Qatar and KSA who build their foreign policy towards Syria based foremost on personal interests then on religion and finally state interests. Both kind of foreign actors share one factor which is the careless attitude from the humanitarian situation in Syria.
Regarding the human rights violation, it is obvious that the Syrian regime commits human rights violation on various levels. Moreover, it has long and prosperous historical records in regard. Nevertheless, it is funny to hear Saud bin Abdul Aziz or Hamad bin Jasem is giving human rights lessons to Syria6. On the other hand, the western powers – Cradles of human rights – have always used this issue alongside the nuclear proliferation to interfere into other states’ internal affairs7. In short, no foreign actor will bring any benefit to Syrian people.
The Current Regime – a bad choice for Syria
If the newly shaped opposition performs as vulnerable as we described, then how does the regime operate? Does this regime represent the best choice for the Syrian people? The current ruling regime, indeed, is a bad choice for the Syrians. Nevertheless, it is still better than what the opposition offered so far.
Although Assad era created stability and economic steady and tiny growth it is still far behind Syrian resources and capabilities.
Syria lived relatively stable period after Hafez Al Assad seized power in Damascus in 1970. The new leader succeeded in pushing some important reforms though the development rhythm was slow. When Bashar Al Assad became President, there was obvious will of reform. Nonetheless, he could not implement significant changes especially in the political field because he was brought by personnel who had been signed by his father not by him. Therefore, they used to fear President Hafez but now they don’t fear his son.
One of the rooted problems in Syria is corruption that hasn’t gotten solution even under Bashar’s Rule8. However, if some kinds of corruptions are shared by the society and the political elites – such as bribery – the political corruption is mainly regime’s responsibility. In this manner I would like to refer to the corruption in the military and intelligence institutions in Syria.
Since Syria is in war, it has high percentage of military spending in the world (CIA Factbook). Significant amount of this money goes to private pockets. Moreover, military and intelligence Personnel do not really obey President Bashar Al Assad. Therefore, they have interests in the stay of this regime. In short, to end this phenomenon the regime should be changed alongside the stakeholders though it doesn’t necessarily mean that the new regime will be better.
The other vulnerable political reality is that the Syrian authorities are becoming increasingly dependent on Russia and Iran. President Bashar, unlike his father, failed to balance between main Shiite (Iran) and the Sunni (Gulf State) powers in the region. Therefore, for the time being main Gulf powers – Qatar and Saudi Arabia – are motivated against Syria and keen do destroy the regime more than any other international or regional actor9, so obviously Syrian Gulf relations are in their lowest. Consequently, Syrian dependency on Iran increased dramatically.
On the other hand, although Iran plays crucial role on Syrian Crisis but itself is an isolated state with many problems. So without Russian and Chinese support the regime would not have stood so long. Russia, a rising global power, is broadening its strategic boundary to include Syria as well, especially during this time when Syria is in vulnerable situation with no many choices. It is less likely for Russia to abandon the Syrian regimes as it had done with Colonel Kaddafi.
The other underling structural dilemma that Syria had suffered, before the new constitution, was the lack of regime continuity. In other words, there was no logical transformation of power from one president to the successor. For instance, in democracies there is logical power transformation among persons or parties through election. In Monarchies, despite its problems, the rightful heir takes father’s ‘chair’. But in the Syrian case it was not clear. Would have the National Leadership (In Arabic “Al-Kiyade Al Ketriye”) nominated non-Alawit candidate for presidency?
The new constitution – issued in 2012 – theoretically solves the problem. Nevertheless, the main problem is to implement this constitution, worthy to note that there were good factors in the old constitution that never been implemented.
The constitutional reform was one of the initiatives that Bashar al Assad took after he promised rapid reforms. However, it does not solve the problem due to the fact that these steps should have been taken well before the Arab Spring. It is necessary to mention that western powers, such as US, usually use the naiveté of Arab tyrannies in implementing their grand strategies. Thus, if we consider that US is behind the Arab spring – as many Arab leaders claim – then why Arabs did not implement reforms well before the Arab spring? In this regard Dr. Nader Fergany wrote in 2004 in Al-Hayat daily newspaper calling “… on Arab states to reject the US project, while stressing that rejection would be in vain if they did not make a genuine effort to promote endogenous reforms”10
If President Assad had managed to draft the new multiparty law well before the Syrian Crisis he might had succeeded in summoning the Syrians in parties that adopt political, parties. Whereas now, no one believes in ideologies, moreover, people are led by religion, madness and vengeance and such dynamos will never build this country.
The last problem that I would like to discuss is about government’s tactical mistakes that mainly come from Syrian ruling elite’s non-professionalism and mal readiness. The Syrian media has always been backward, controlled and non professional, after the eruption of Syrian Crisis many Syrian channels and newspapers ‘woke up’. Until now the government has no professional and well qualified speakers who can defend government’s stand and position. Even on the academic level we cannot see any objective Syrian professors who are able to explain the situation on the media without cursing the regime or support it unconditionally.
To conclude, one can say that the old Syria has already gone, and the new one is yet to come. How will be the future of Syria depends on the transition era. This period, however, seems dark and unpromising.
Western powers alongside Turkey and Israel are satisfied by neighbouring a weak and dependent Syria. Sunni Gulf is willing to see Iran’s main ally in such vulnerable position. Russia and China are taking the chance to increase Syrian dependency on them. On the internal level, Syria is becoming a ‘heaven gateway’ for Jihadists and Islamic Radicals. If there is an actor in this discipline who is losing, it is Syria.
Armenak Tokmajyan studied International Relations and has published professional articles and research papers in local, regional and international journals and newspapers. Mr. Tokmajyan was born in Armenia however, he currently lives in Syria and works at UNHCR Aleppo Field Office. The opinions expressed here are his own.
1. Voice of America. (2011). ‘Arab Spring’ Revolutions Follow Game Plan from 1993 Book.[Online Video]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5xe5KYbPTk
2. SHARP, Gene. (2010) From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation. 4th Edition. United States of America: Albert Einstein Institute.
3. SHARP, Gene. (2010) From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation. 4th Edition. United States of America: Albert Einstein Institute. P.4.
4. “Gene Sharp, “suicidal” for Syrian to use arms”. Channel 4 News, 05 February, 2012. Available from: http://www.channel4.com/news/gene-sharp-people-power-is-syrias-weapon.
5. “Guide to Syrian Opposition” (2012). BBC News 1 March. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15798218
6. See; Whitaker, Brian (2011). Saudi Arabia’s message to Syria, decoded. The Guardian, 8 Aug. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/08/saudi-arabia-message-to-syria
7. See; FAREL, Theos (2010) Humanitarian Intervention and Peace Operations In: BAYLIS J.,Wirtaz J.J. and Gray C.S. Strategy in the Contemporary World. 3ed Ed. Oxford University Press pp. (308-328); Also see: ; Baylis J. and Smith M. (2010) The Control of Weapons of Mass Destruction In: BAYLIS J., Wirtaz J.J. and Gray C.S. Strategy in the Contemporary World. 3ed Ed. Oxford University Press pp(227-246)
8. Otrakji, K. (2012) “The Real Bashar Al-Assad”, SYRIAPAGE 2 April. Available from: http://creativesyria.com/syriapage/?p=150
9. See Khalaf, Roula. (2012) Qatar has little to lose in opposing Assad. Financial Time, 16 January. Available from: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/11a0ad34-403f-11e1-82f6-00144feab49a,Authorised=false.html?_i_location =http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F11a0ad34-403f-11e1-82f6-00144feab49a.html&_i_referer=
10. ACHCAR, Gilbert. (2004) Greater Middle East and US plan. Le Monde Diplomatique 4 April. Available from http://mondediplo.com/2004/04/04world Original Text in Arabic Available from: http://international.daralhayat.com/archivearticle/41800