Syrians will soon mark a year since uprisings began in March 2011, and the violence only intensifies. Continued shelling by Assad’s forces in the city of Homs have brought life to a grinding halt, and bombings on Wednesday morning in the city cost the lives of dozens, including two Western journalists. Despite the regime’s increasing brutality, civic uprisings are expanding, providing the most significant way forward.
By Yazan Badran
Syria’s revolution is a month short of its first anniversary. Over the last year, the political and social landscape of the country, more or less ossified since the mid-1980s, has been completely shattered. The Syrian regime, and especially the man at the center of it all, has decided to fight until – most probably – the bitter end. Yet, after 11 months, only one recognizable pattern stands out: the more ruthless the means used by the regime to suppress the uprising, the more it spreads.
The regime’s brutality also brings a more rapid disintegration of the social and economic fabric of the state. Such disintegration certainly hurts the regime, but it also prolongs the conflict and the crucial transitional period following it. The most serious aspect in that disintegration is the militarization of society as whole, and the revolution in particular. Violent resistance, a natural response to the regime’s brutalization, has become the single most contentious and polarizing topic amongst the revolutionaries themselves. Such mass militarization of society is dragging the revolution into a war it cannot possibly win without direct foreign assistance and intervention; a contentious and uncertain issue in and of itself. But more importantly, it ushers Syria into a full-blown civil and sectarian war.
The image is even more grim on the political side. The regime seems to have locked itself into a very narrow corner without leaving any room for political maneuvering. Having tied its political fate to Russian support, the regime has ceded any power of initiative it may have had only a few months ago. The organized opposition has also failed to take advantage of the regime’s predicament and to seize the political initiative. Continuous power struggles between the different opposition factions and lack of political vision has left Syria’s opposition on the sidelines.
The solution to the Syrian crisis seems to be, more than any other time during the revolution, at the mercy of regional and international geopolitical interests, rather than Syrian ones. The stalemate, nonetheless, is anything but rigid. The geographic spread of the revolution and the fierce resistance put up by activists on the ground leaves room for more fluidity. Last week, as the savage bombardment of Homs intensified and added to the increasing sense of frustration and helplessness amongst activists and protesters, a breakthrough in the civic movement happened in Aleppo. Syria’s largest city, viewed as dormant for the best part of the revolution, seemed to have slowly started to join the rest of the country in increasingly regular demonstrations. A few days later, Damascus, the capital and another city that had seen little action, saw its biggest demonstration to date.
The thousands that flocked to Mazzeh last week not only took the regime by surprise but also seized the initiative in favor of more civic action after the regime’s brutality seemed to have taken that option completely off the table. But what’s more important is that it greatly lifted the morale of the activists and the protesters following the extremely harsh past few weeks. It also spurred them to more action, and the following day saw large parts of the city locked in strike. On Tuesday, students of Aleppo University marched in the thousands and occupied several faculty buildings until they were dispersed by live fire.
While a low level guerrilla struggle, through the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other guerrilla groups, seems inevitable in the face of the regime’s brutal suppression, the real way forward lies in the escalation of civic action while simultaneously pressuring the opposition to assume its responsibility in presenting a clear and unified political vision and voice for the uprising. Activist networks have developed rapidly in terms of their mobilization power and coordination since the early days of the revolution.
These makeshift revolutionary structures have been the main driving force behind the heroic resistance we’ve seen over the course of the last year, and they will be responsible for delivering the revolution to a safe exit. A better-organized FSA can keep pressure on the peripheries of the regime, but it is the civic movements that are active in dense urban areas that have the chance to truly strike it as its core.
Yazan Badran is a Syrian blogger based in Japan