Revolution #261, February 26, 2012

From A World to Win News Service

Syria: the rise of counter-revolutionary forces among the opposition

February 20, 2012. A World to Win News Service. Following is an edited version of an interview with Hassan Khaled Chatila, a Syrian revolutionary living in Europe. Although we have done our best to faithfully represent his views on the questions addressed here, they remain his own.

The balance of forces among the opposition now favors counter-revolutionaries, because [under current circumstances] the militarization of the movement against the regime favors international interference. Alongside the unarmed protests in the streets there are now significant armed actions. But there has not been much change in the political consciousness of the mass movement, which remains a spontaneous revolt whose unifying goal is the fall of the regime. Now street slogans call for armed action to achieve this.

The head of the Free Syrian Army [formed by officers and soldiers who left the regime's armed forces] has been calling for foreign intervention since early on. It's not clear who they are. It seems that the name actually covers several armed groups aided and sheltered by Turkey. Because there is no real organization and little political unity among these army deserters, they often act more like armed gangs, carrying out looting and rape. The FSA [claims its purpose is to] protect demonstrations in the cities from government attack. Their tactics are bad – they shoot at government soldiers who return fire and kill civilian protesters. Their real strategy is to militarize the clash between the movement and the regime so as to provoke foreign intervention.

Politically and ideologically the mass movement is not mature enough to achieve a democratic and nationalist state, because of the absence of a revolutionary left. The reactionary forces among the opposition seek to bring to power a military regime that could be even worse than Bashar al-Assad. In Egypt, the U.S. wants the army to protect the state and keep peace with Israel. The issues in Syria are more complicated, because of its relations with Iran, Turkey, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. wants the forces backed by Saudi Arabia to dominate in Syria and keep politics out of the hands of the people, who tend to support the Palestinians and the resistance to Israel, and are generally anti-American – much more so in Syria than in Egypt. Because of its relations with all those forces, Syria can play a key role in the region.

Since the death of [Egyptian President] Nasser in 1970 and the defeat of the Baathist left [associated with Nasser] in Syria around that time, Saudi Arabia has come to be the predominate country in the Arab world. [The weakening of the Saddam Hussein regime and its fall with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion accentuated this situation.] Bashar's father, Hafez, had good relations with the Saudis in some periods, though later they cooled. Both regimes want to avoid war with Israel and the U.S. Rami Makhlouf [Syria's wealthiest businessman, a cousin of Bashar and pillar of the regime] is infamous for having once said that Syria's stability requires a stable Israel.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), an organization of opposition forces in exile in Europe, the U.S. and Turkey, wants to be recognized as the representative of the people. It has no presence in Syria. Its chairman, Bourhan Ghaion, is a French citizen and teaches at the Sorbonne. Its spokeswoman has long worked for the European Union. Their official programme calls for the fall of the regime, a democratic republic and no political confessionalism [politics organized by religious groupings]. Its main forces comprise economic liberals, other secular forces and the Muslim Brotherhood. They are very actively soliciting foreign intervention. Their representatives are going from capital to capital to bring about foreign military intervention but they do very little inside the country.

The SNC has issued statements condemning the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hezbollah, and calling for a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian problem.

Some Muslim Brotherhood members seek what they call a "civil state," a deliberately vague formulation that doesn't make clear whether that state would be Islamic or secular. In other words, all citizens would be equal, but it seems that they would not accept a constitution that does not define Sharia [Islamic law] as the source of all law. So there are significant differences among the members of the Syrian National Council.

While the SNC is backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and, implicitly, Europe and the U.S., it has no control over the Free Syrian Army.

There is also the non-revolutionary Syrian left, which is still seeking "a solution with and through" the Assad regime. This means change from above, not below. Their goal is to be part of a new government. Their influence among the people is limited, especially since they are widely reviled as agents of the regime. The various Local Coordinating Committees include people from the more revolutionary left and Arab nationalists.

The "Friends of Syria" meeting to be held in Tunis on February 24 may be very significant. [This entity is being built on the model of the "Friends of Libya” under whose auspices NATO intervened in that country. In the present case, the purpose is to bypass the need for a UN Security Council resolution to authorize foreign interference in Syria.]  It was called by France’s President Sarkozy and backed by the [pro-U.S., Islamic-led] Tunisian government. There seem to be some differences among these "friends" about which Syrians to invite.

Opinion in the street is constantly changing. Some people carry banners hailing the SNC and calling for foreign intervention. In contrast, the February 17 demonstrations were called "the Friday of Resistance," with the view that the people should rely on themselves.

The opposition to the regime from within Syria's "political class" has come to be divided between a left that emphasizes the political and social rights of the people but is cut off from the masses, who have no confidence in any of the traditional political groups, and a neo-liberal right that demands foreign intervention. Both favor globalized economic development in Syria and both fear the people.

The divisions among the people on religious/ethnic lines have been exaggerated abroad. There are people from all the religions and ethnicities on both sides. The February 17 "Friday of Resistance" brought several welcome developments in the capital. They hold the potential for bringing about another reversal in the relationship of forces between the armed opposition forces and the people’s movement.

[Until now, the anti-regime movement has not shaken Damascus and Aleppo, as it has poorer provincial cities. Protests in Damascus have mainly been confined to the less well-off, mainly Sunni suburbs. The anti-regime protest that broke out in a popular suburb of Damascus on February 17 spread to Mezzeh, an area of government and corporate offices and residences not far from the presidential palace. Alawites make up a large percentage of the population of Mezzeh – and the regime has drawn much of its core support from Alawite clans. Assad's troops killed three protesters in a small demonstration in Mezzeh on Friday. The next day, after their funeral, a small march swelled into at least many hundreds as men and women from the neighborhood joined in.]

If the people were left to themselves, I don't think there could be a civil war among the people. But the situation is complex, and foreign intervention could lead to a reactionary, ethnic/religious-based civil war. In that case, Syria could explode, with enormous consequences for the surrounding countries where all these ethnicities are represented.

As of now, no one in Syria today has a real revolutionary strategy. Activists are doing everything on a day-to-day basis.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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