Against Assad and Against Intervention

Syria's nonviolent activists speak out.


There's a misleading headline at The Daily Beast this morning: "Syrian Opposition Against New Kerry-Lavrov Plan to Avoid Strike." There are indeed, as the article says, "members of the Syrian opposition who view [U.S. military] strikes as a needed boost in their two-and-a-half-year struggle against the government." But contrary to the headline's implications, they are not the entire opposition, as Rania Khalek reports at Al Jazeera:

Much of the debate over U.S. intervention in Syria boils down the conflict there to a clash between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and an armed rebellion in which al-Qaeda affiliates play a significant role. Typically ignored in that conversation are the voices of the non-violent opposition movement that took to the streets to challenge Assad in March 2011, and which has persisted against great odds.

"No matter how beleaguered it is, civil resistance continues," says Mohja Kahf, a Professor of Middle East studies and literature at the University of Arkansas and a member of the Syrian Non Violence Movement (SNVM). A network of peaceful groups remains active in opposition to the regime inside Syria, their activities plotted by SNVM on an interactive map that can be viewed online.

Although it was the activists in such groups that originally drove the nationwide uprising against the Assad regime, these days much of their activity involves triage, mitigating the impact of the civil war and building the capacity for self-governance in towns no longer under regime control….

Ending the war through diplomatic means, says [Rim] Turkmani, is the only way to weaken both the Assad regime and the al-Qaeda-linked groups because it will open up a space for the non-violent resistance that initiated the uprising to reassert itself.

It's a balanced article that quotes both supporters and opponents of American intervention (and concedes that many activists are ambivalent about the issue). Meanwhile, Truthout has published an interesting interview with the Syrian exile Nader Atassi, who lays out two ways outside military intervention could be bad for his homeland:

I think how this specific intervention will ultimately affect the makeup or dynamics of the revolution depends on the specific scope of the US strikes. If the US strikes the way they are saying they are going to, that is, "punitive," "limited," "surgical," "symbolic" strikes, then this won't leave any significant changes on the battlefield. It may, however, give the Assad regime a propaganda victory, as then it can claim that it was "steadfast against US imperialism." Dictators who survive wars against them have a tendency to declare victories simply on the basis of surviving, even if in reality they were on the losing side. After Saddam Hussein was driven out of Kuwait by the US, Saudi Arabia and others, he remained in power for 12 more years, 12 years that were filled with propaganda about how Saddam remained steadfast during "the mother of all battles."

If the strikes end up being tougher than what is currently being discussed, for one reason or another, and they do make a significant change on the battlefield, or do significantly weaken the Assad regime, then I think the potential negative effects will be different. I think this will lead to a future Syrians won't have a hand in determining. The US may not like Assad, but they have many times expressed that they believe that regime institutions should remain intact in order to ensure stability in a future Syria. In short, as many have noted, the US wants "Assadism without Assad." They want the regime without the figure of Assad, just like what they got in Egypt, when Mubarak stepped down but the "deep state" of the military remained, and just like what happened in Yemen where the US negotiated for the president to step down but for everything to remain largely the same.