Middle East

Win or lose the war, Syrians gained their freedom in 2011

Earlier this year, author Nikolaos van Dam gave a lecture at the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue in Vienna, titled: “Foreign intervention in Syria: Isnt it time to admit that the war against the Syrian regime is lost?”

I share many of the ideas highlighted in this thoughtful lecture, particularly that the opposition has been much less effective and professional than the regime. Many of us on the revolutionary side have tried to push for more efficiency and professionalism, seeking to strike the delicate balance between being revolution and realism.

What was striking about van Dams logic, however, was the presumption that after suffering a severe loss of lives, along with damage to infrastructure and property, the opposition had to admit the end of the revolution. The assumption was that if the opposition had been more modest in its demands, the regime would have acted reputably and eschewed bloody, revenge-driven policies.

Brutal torture

This logic overlooks the fact tens of thousands of Syrians are being subjected to torture and agonising death in President Bashar al-Assads detention centres. If this is not enough to highlight what awaits the "surrendered revolutionaries", one could have a look at the Caesar files, which reveal the scale and scope of these policies. In addition, countless Syrians who fled the war and the regime are pursued for arrest or execution by Syrian regime forces.

I agree with van Dam that on any meaningful level, it was nearly impossible for the revolutionaries to achieve victory with their modest military means when they were up against regime firepower reinforced daily by Iran and Russia.

Most revolutionaries had to choose whether to die fighting or surrender to a filthy detention cell with dozens of other prisoners of conscience

But even if the demands for regime change had halted at any point over the last seven years in an attempt to stop or to reduce casualties on the opposition side, Assad and his allies would never have allowed for any meaningful political solution. Assad, with the enormous support he is receiving from his allies, has had no reason to engage in negotiations, neither with international players nor with Syrians.

In addition, the regime was, and is, not being challenged internationally by any powerful player, particularly after US President Barack Obamas red line was breached with impunity. For the regimes policymakers, any meaningful negotiations would have exposed their own wrongdoings before their supporters and the international community.

Most revolutionaries had to choose whether to die fighting or surrender to a filthy detention cell with dozens of other prisoners of conscience, where they would fade away under savage torture and starvation.

Political mistakes

Was the opposition genuinely ready to start serious talks? In fact, the opposition walked into negotiations in different stages with an open mind and high hopes. I know this because I was there. Unfortunately, the regime delegations turned these negotiations into a circus.

There's no question that the opposition made many political mistakes, but none of these justify the regimes bloody policies. Its possible that if the opposition had been wiser, some international players might have acted differently vis-a-vis the Syrian conflict – but I do not believe that halting the revolutions demands would have stopped the global community from turning a blind eye towards Assads unspeakable massacres.

Syrian rebels demonstrate their fighting capabilities in the northern city of Idlib in October 2016 (AFP)

Many, including myself, believe that the decisive moment of the revolution occurred in 2011, when the people of Syria took to the streets all around the country, chanting slogans of freedom and dignity.

At that moment, Syrians had won their freedom. Who would have imagined, a decade ago, that Damascenes would march spontaneously in the citys commercial heart, calling for freedom and integrity? Who would have dared to think that residents of longtime Baathist zones would rise up against the regimes injustice and cruelty?

The victory that the Syrian revolution achieved was a moral triumph. The image of the regime being the guardian of the state fell when it lost the battle of respect and decency, and when it was no longer in control of the minds of the Syrian people.

Why rise up?

So what is the point of revolting against a bloody dictatorship if you do not necessarily have the means to win? What is the point of rising up when it causes the countrys human rights situation to deteriorate even further?

It is important to note that the Syrian revolution cannot be measured by a normal political yardstick. It is a truly exceptional manifestation of a moral stance against evil tyranny.


Syria's war is far from over

While the Assad government was tolerated between 2000 and 2011, the truth is that most people, Syrians and non-Syrians alike, have had no idea what this regime is made of. Many Syrians and outsiders thought that Assad would be different from his father, and that the regime would eventually adhere to the voice of truth, justice and reason. Part of this optimism was likely derived from the fact that many younger Syrians had no memory of Hafez al Assads Hama massacre.

But once the Syrian people started to cut loose from the regimes grip, all hell broke loose.

The path forward

The uprising has changed Syrians forever, replacing their indifference with awareness and the search for a better future. To lecture them now, saying that the game is over and the axis of evil has won the battle, is to simply preach against the nature of history and against all moral and ethical principles.

It is important to remember that the regime and the Russians are relying heavily on psychological warfare, seeking to weaken Syrians, especially in besieged areas. The poorly equipped revolutionary institutions lack the experience and the means to mount organised campaigns, particularly in the media and on social media.

But at the academic level, and despite the fact that many writers are influenced by the regimes and its allies arguments about fighting terrorism, this is still an open battle. In the end, it is highly unlikely that the regime will win.

– Mohammed Hosam Hafez is currently the head of QCM Institute for Consultations, Studies and Training in Istanbul. He was a member of the Syrian opposition negotiation delegation of 2014 and the head of the legal bureau of the High Negotiations Committee in 2016-2017. He was a Syrian diplomat who served in Tehran, London and Yerevan and worked as a lawyer registered in the Damascus Bar Association.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Syrians stage an anti-government protest near the southern town of Daraa in April 2011 (AFP)

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