Could political violence coexist with a democratic project? This big question has been raised for decades by the progressive democratic movement in Latin America, and we are obliged to pose it strongly in the Syrian case. We see with our own eyes the counter-revolution at the hands of most Islamists and some neo-liberals in the war is no longer primarily about democratic change, except in public relations and the media.
It is not possible to say that the language of non-violence and peaceful civil struggle was embedded in the political discourse in the region, although Moncef Marzouki and I had earlier defended the idea of civil resistance as the most important weapon to overthrow the dictatorship in the Arab world since the end of the ‘90s in our articles and studies, which sought to take their place in the political and human rights movement. Moncef Marzouki’s books (“Second Independence” and “Until the Nation has a Place in this Time”), In “Short Universal Encyclopaedia”, and my book “Civil Resistance”. The bestowal of the Damascus Spring Forums and the magazine “Mokarabat” were serious and genuine attempts to instil the concept of peaceful democratic struggle. This project was shared with Islamic pioneer writers, one from the Saudi Arabia represented in the writings of Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid and the constitutional reform movement of that area, as well as Jawdat Saeed who stood shouting in Damascus in the very last editions of the magazine “Mokarabat” before what is known as the Arab Spring which anticipated history and geography by saying “science and reason will win”, and as Batslav Havel said, “if science and reason are not contaminated by resorting to muscle”. This notion is apparent and invisible at the same time, and the prophets were all considered to resort to violence, even in self-defence and unforgivable disbelief it is a great injustice. Even in self-defence it is an ambiguous problem, so the Brotherhood which resorted to violence explains that it was self-defence. It becomes difficult for us to understand that if we defend ourselves, we are giving leadership to violence, for this the son of Adam said to his brother: “if you open your hand to kill me, I will not open my hand to kill you”.
All the philosophy of humankind is in this position, and all the prophets. The Quran says we will endure the harm that comes to us; their God revealed to them that they will perish the oppressors … from here; I said that the war is dead and cannot be practiced except by the ignorant and malicious, who exploit the ignorance of the ignorant. It is injustice in this field that does not remember the position of Dr Mohamed Ammar, a co-founder and leader of the National Coordination Body, and the relationship between violence and politics in the same place in 2010 when he said: “Whoever believes that governing can be created by force did not sniff the smell of politics, and he will never sniff it either. When the military reach for power, it will not be able to maintain governing without the military, and then you will become their hostage, and hostage to their power.
The picks “are unfit to sit upon” says Toynbee. This situation is not a politics, but the cancelation of politics and devoted to her absence in the interest of violence. Politics in technical terms is closer to mental effort rather than muscular effort, but until now we were not able to manufacture a mental climate that allows us to review and reconsider, and look forward to new prospects in work. We are still haunted by pain of the past and the costs of violence that the regime was not the only power involved in, even though she has exercised the worst and exploited the situation to punish everyone, but we have to admit that we have not been able to create a clean environment producing politics, and excluding violence and the military.
Channels promoting sectarian hatred did not realize the meaning of its fatwa given in jihad, and many in the opposition did not observe that the cover up of the policy of random arming would target major revolutionary values of the civil movement in Syria, before targeting the dictatorial power, and surprisingly the peaceful principles shifted from being seen as high principles to being an accusation, and three no’s that were adopted by the National Coordination Body (no to violence, no to sectarianism, no to foreign intervention) were marked out as complicity and weakness in the face of dictatorial power. The most aggressive and instinctive feelings in the Syrian citizen were harnessed when he faced the most important instrument of authoritarian repression in the Arab Peninsular in an operation to push him towards a war to kill the project of the revolution, and to smash the legitimate aspirations of the citizen in a democratic civil sovereign state, in broad daylight.
Despite the community retreating shattered and torn by the cancerous security system in the country, and despite the wide consequences of the distribution of the phenomenon of a decline of engagement with public affairs, in protest or out of fear or a decline, the banner of the democratic opposition remained the most powerful. The unanimous opposition agreed since the open confrontation of the Damascus Spring that the “Assad family” would fail to achieve either of the two tasks of the modern state, even in part:
– Ensuring the equitable distribution of chances, opportunities and minimum civil rights.
– The provision of basic freedoms necessary for enrolment in the modern era.
The inclusive solution for all Syrians in the face of dictatorship lies in building a pluralistic democratic civil state that respects the fundamental rights of individuals and groups. It was not hard for the civil movement in the first months to interpret these basic principles in each poem and song and slogan and logo.
Within nearly half a century, the authoritarian power ensured that the judicial character was crushed, and it killed moral character and abolished the peculiar quality of the human being. However, systematic trashing of the communities’ capability turned the region into a soft belly in the era of globalising martial law. Is it possible in such a situation to face the threat of foreign intervention and make internal democratic change with the peaceful civil movement, which started from Dara’a?
I repeat, and say for the umpteenth time, yes, and yes. The remaining of the dictatorship is no longer a major cause to defend the national project, because sovereignty and legitimacy were beaten to the core by removing the political power from the community. Therefore it is no longer possible to defend the status quo as a guarantee against the external threat, because this situation is the basic cause for making the external threat exist.
The vast peaceful civilian movement has risen despite its spontaneity and weaknesses of pushing hundreds of thousands into public affairs, which allowed for resurrection of the spirit of the opposition political movement and the silent community or those who are forced to refrain from public affairs. This movement succeeded in being an attractive hub for the majority of Syria covering the geographical, sectarianism and nationalism map. Perhaps the most important decisions such as lifting the State of Emergency and the adoption of the principle of changing the Constitution were a direct meaning of the word ‘public achievement’; the summit of power, albeit nominally, was forced to defer to them. But the iron fist of the security services and octopus-type militarization of society formed a strong barrier in the face of a smooth transition from an occupied authoritarian power to a transitional authority, which accommodates the rest of the state in confronting the unhistoric replacement of the state with the military security authority that did not accept a historic settlement between the need for coherence of the state and the country in the kiln of human dignity and freedom.
We are not disclosing a secret when we talk about the family tree of the Syrian opposition, which has based its political perceptions on three facts since 1978:
First: the need to rely financially and morally on a State or external parties and in the external media in an experiment of the militant vanguard of the Muslim Brotherhood, also militarily which was demonstrated by its alliance with the Iraqi regime and the other parties in the ‘80s, and the movement of some opposition after the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri to strengthen themselves through the theses of American bullying (democratic, civilized and human rights defender …) in the face of the Shiite Iran Crescent (pastoral, rural, Safavid, al-Batini, al-Ravdi..), not to mention the regional representatives of U.S. policy. The Islamic Erdoganic movement has given this approach a cultural incubator and local policies which eases the staleness of pro-Israelis and Islamophobia, and allied septic regimes. The “Justice and Development Party” offsets European extremist parties who refused Turkey’s accession to the European Union by curvative steps that meet in Ankara: NATO and the orientation of the neighbouring Islamic countries. With this emerging, it is no longer strange to appeal to NATO, and some even issue Takfiri fatwas against those who truly reject the military intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(sic!).
Secondly: the semi-permanent confrontation between the national political project thesis – democratic/civilian – which is a distinct feature for toppling the dictatorship on the one hand, and a thesis that talks about the necessity of having a broader front to topple the regime regardless of the political and constitutional perceptions and the programmes for Syria of tomorrow in consideration that the ballot box is the master of this perception on the other hand. This confrontation has played a significant negative role in addition to the purely personal problems which deprived the opposition of having a common minimum programme which is capable of destabilizing the focal points of the authoritarian ruling system.
Thirdly, the reliance of not a small trend on the tactical, Machiavellian and opportunistic concept of political and civil action with all the consequences of that in the collective consciousness of the public, which needs great values and lofty goals and a new morality in public action. Even though these practices were understood before the outbreak of the intifada/ the revolution, it has become part of the counter-revolution which did not understand that the revolution is not just a change in the balance of regional, partisan, sectarian power, but is a project of re-building humanity, society and the state.
Syrian society has stood in the face of authoritarian brutality which necessarily results from every violent act expressed verbally and with weapons. This has given a lie to Newton’s law that for every action there is an equal reaction, in force and opposite direction. With popular insistence on the supreme values of the revolution which rejects revenge and demands judicial and social justice, considering equality between Syrians in the differences in their approaches, their teams and denominations and cells is a basis of Republic citizenship. But bleeding wounds are widened, and the role of the external and media are inflated, and the Syrian issue is converted day after day into regional and international strategies for power and influence. Not far away from all this, the political finances, media recruitment and trade of misery which is exercised by parties who have lived outside the country, sometimes for three decades, has made them see the state authority and army as a gang or sect, and they see what is happening now as an opportunity to exact revenge for the past defeats that the revolutionary new generation does not make reference to. It is even a chance for non-Syrian Takfiri movements found in Syria to have a place for jihad against Shiites and Nusayris, and Maji. This foreign component summarized the voice of the revolution in counter-revolutionary slogans and transferred its political frontage which was accepted by Western and Gulf leaders with five-star hotels, conferences, and the corridors of political networks – financial/media … made the cloning of the Libyan example acceptable to sectors of public opinion involved on the pretext of destroying the dictatorship and rescuing the revolution, depriving the popular urban movement of the frameworks and rich energies capable of improving their performance and delivering Syria to the shore of salvation from corruption and despotism.
The political authority gave the worst of what it had in the first six months of the popular civil movement, and achieved in its violent and repressive policy the transition process in society from the peaceful confrontation of the violence of the authority, to fall into the quagmire of authoritarian domination itself. This means the transfer to the field which the dictatorship has mastered in confrontation. It could be argued that the month of Ramadan in August 2011 was the month of the transition from self-mobility to a mobility influenced by the media and foreign virtual worlds, and the pace of the social movement changed to the mobilising pace of the external world. The call for foreign intervention, and sectarianising and militarising the conflict were raised by dialectical relations in the face of no’s of the peaceful revolution which rejects these three interventions. We should not be surprised by the statement issued on 10th August that fully reflects the counter-revolution which put 3 yes’ confronting the three no’s of the National Coordination Body … so began the specific decline in demands for civil democratic change in front of big slogans ostensibly catastrophic in reality … the slide into armed confrontation happened and demands for a Syrian Revolution to became a beacon for peoples and nations disappeared.
We were and we still rely on the independent Syrian revolutionary … some slip towards financial dependence and media and political subordination. The way of salvation is no longer popular and Syrian, and NATO became al-Mahdi al-Montaza or the saviour for all who shifted from being merely a power of support for a popular revolution, to becoming commanders and only legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.
We soon realized the seriousness of this slide. From here we went early to the Arab League and agreed with the National Coordination Body to bring the parties closer into dialogue with political opposition at home and abroad. After 38 days of dialogue with the Syrian National Council we achieved a great victory for the starting values of the revolution, and its basis in the agreement was not perfect but it proved to be a gathered focal point for the idea of defending the homeland, citizenship and refusing outside interference, and rejection of sectarianism, and it considered civil resistance to be the finest way to reach a peaceful transition to democracy. At this important juncture, the inflated and influential foreign role rose up, which did not allow for this agreement to live more than twelve hours, but more than that, it succeeded in mobilizing the mob against the agreement which turn into a leprosy that they avoided far and wide. After that, it was no longer surprising that the reins of Syrian political expression were held outside the country with promises of the humanitarian corridor sometimes, and no fly zones and safe havens at other times. The floatation process began by leaps and bounds for militarization and the Free Army, so that it became difficult for any Syrian political party by its own strength to respond to the requirements of a war that marginalized the revolution and which necessarily marginalised the vast majority of groups within it. Unfortunately, foreign political elites fought using armament and internationalization of the battle, so armed factions confused the concept of the State with the Syrian army which became replaced by Assad’s or Nusairi army (by ideology), and removed the differentiation between regional and international conflict and Syria and the conflict between the forces of societal, political and civil change on the one hand, and dictatorship on the one hand.
In these moments of transformation, the regime walked on unilateral resolution methods which it called reform, the same discussion with itself, in the drafting of a new constitution. There is an Arabic phrase – Halima returned to old habits – as did the regime in what it called elections, and it issued a number of decrees and decisions which have not been implemented because it is scrawny and infertile, for example such as, but not limited to, each of the Presidential amnesties that were tragedies and farces because they did not include the most important symbols of the peaceful civil movement at the time.
We hear every time a sentence that the peaceful movement did not give a result and so the movement was forced to become militarised. After sixteen months of armed confrontations it is our right to stop for a moment to consider the outcome of the human and material cost:
More than 50, 000 people dead (only 20% of them before armed confrontations), more than 250, 000 injured, 35,000 missing, 32% of the health infrastructure has been destroyed completely, 93 villages and areas completely destroyed, and more than 2.5 million people displaced, more than 480,000 thousand refugees … and economic losses of 160 billion dollars … we stand today in perhaps the most difficult stage in the history of the political formation of Syria after independence. The regime can present to us daily “victories”, and some would tell us about the control of the 60 – 80% of Syrian territory, and Jabhat al-Nusra does not execute people to register its conquests which makes it the best armed and organized, and makes some secularists defenders of its project!!! For others that is the price, whatever price is necessary to get rid of the dictatorial regime because of the cost of its survival. We could hear a member of the opposition who said: “We must be ready for the demolition of Damascus if it is needed to get rid of Bashar al-Assad.” It is noted that the speakers in arms and fighting, violence and power rarely speak in the political transition to democracy in Syria.
We cannot describe what is happening honestly without delving honestly and deeply in words and terms such as death squads or Shabiha, functioning militias and the nature of non-government arms in Syria, absenting the underlying problems that gave birth to the revolution such as the economic, social and political marginalisation and political desertification project of the regime, and systematic assassination of opportunities for the civil political community to mature and become capable of facing the tyrannical octopus of corruption in the country, and new forms of corruption that were born of arms and money and political dependency … sketching the capabilities of the local peaceful ways of protest and general strikes, to civil disobedience which is capable of paralysing the means to defend the security and military dictatorship regime in front of the civilian powers inside the country. So there is no surprise in the absence of the ability of large sectors participating inside and outside the country to absorb the difference between the authority, the regime and the state, and the poorest classes do not utter words such as construction, development and employment, and the right to work and social justice, and the ease of accusation and defamation of democratic forces who have struggled for decades against dictatorship.
Many populists have fallen into the illusion of “Syrian is beautiful no matter what”, and so did not work on bringing the revolutionary compass to its place, and they did not emphasise the main goals and tasks which are not yet achieved. Instead, they ripped off the home front for the revolutionaries; also, the means to protect civil peace in the revolutionary situation has been disparaged, as is the Syrian chromosome against armed civil conflict. A state of national nihilism was reinforced amongst liberal, political and religious circles abroad especially in relation to the negotiations on the Golan Heights and outside military intervention, and a very negative picture of the opposition was presented to Arab public opinion, which does not distinguish between independence and dependence in the political decision-making. The speech calling for support for increased militaristic and foreign intervention was grown to weaken the consciousness and ability of the revolutionaries to disengage with mechanisms to kill the revolution. There is no doubt that the responsibility lies on political leadership and the “sovereign” leadership in the regime and the opposition. The deliberate prevailing ambiguity about the meaning and building of international protection, reading of the humanitarian corridor like an adolescent, the ease of handling of the opposition’s propaganda with Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations and its consequences, is a cosmetic and decorative “NATO” intervention in a blur of deliberate interventions since the founding of NATO, and last but not least, the tragic situation of the victims of repression and brutality of the security and military made many of them hostile to the parties that will help them survive.
We can say on the outskirts of the second anniversary of the 18th March 2011 that the authority had failed in its military security choice, and did not provide necessary reform, safety and security in Syria and failed to provide the minimum ability for more than a quarter of the population to have a life, and has founded in conspiracy and terrorism the justification for this catastrophic failure.
We can also say that armed opposition supporters had failed:
1 – to make the politician a leader of the military
2 – to liberate the factions of unilateral sects
3 – in unifying vision and action strategies.
Therefore they brought out the worst example of those who calculate that violence is a means of salvation.
There is fear of exaggeration in every audio-visual display of the Syrian situation, and the field is influenced by the wishes and policies of the “editorial board” which brings us back to all those who sit on the observation terraces to identify their camp. These were in the past few months more than half of the people of the country constantly. They alone have the self-determination of the future of the revolution, the country and the people. The central fear of the organisational or personal self-image was not present as much as the fear of the systematic demolition process, consciously or unconsciously, for the revolutionary ethics and high values have borne the Revolution at every turn. We have established our conviction that it is necessary to clarify the boundaries between peaceful democratic civil projects and any form of armed conflict, and sectarian mobilization and political and financial dependency. I did not, and will not stop talking about the risk of abolishing differences between the revolution and war, between the tools of the revolutionaries’ speech and the regime, between belonging to the democratic future of Syria and carrying the legacy of the authoritarian era .. it is easier to turn the revolution to an internal war and a regional war which means giving the security authority that delves in crimes against humanity a balloon of oxygen prolonging its life, and re-enrolling the three memberships of the city, the minorities, and the civil revolutionary movement back to square one.
Syria today lives in a state of torn society and identity crisis as a result of authoritarian propaganda that classifies as a betrayer, terrorist and conspirator all those opposing the dictatorship, and the violent propaganda that labels all those who do not support the war to liberate Syria from the gangs and the Assadi army and Shabiha as betrayers. As I mentioned before, we were under the hammer of weakening national sentiment, and now we have the anvil of weakening Revolutionary sentiment every time we voice an opinion or criticism, or talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the political and armed tools against the political dictatorship.
How can we prepare for the culture and practices of democratic institutions in the prevailing status we have of exclusion and eradication?
In modern history, no state exists where gnarled violence gave rise to a democratic system … and we do not have a single case of a military victory in a similar situation that did not carry viruses of the spectrum of extremism, eradication and revenge. We have warned and continue to warn of the repercussions of violence on social cohesion and civil peace, and the unity of Syria. It is clearly visible that the project of political violence does not represent an expression of class status, or national demands or democratic aspirations. Political violence in Syria is pushing a thoughtful and deliberate social mobility towards sectarianism and factionalism and extremism as a custodian of death, murder and revenge.
So do not kill the civic, democratic dream in broad daylight. The first condition for the restoration of the country’s political and civil cohesion from our point of view, lies in the agreement of all parties on reducing the violence and the addressing the military solution as an end in itself and for itself. The fight can cover the civil movement that fills the media landscape and daily living standards … but it cannot replace a political solution. Generalising and the dominance of violence in the country today is not only an additional source of breaking social, economic, environmental and humanitarian capabilities remaining in the country. It is a case of a direct confrontation with the civil democratic project for Syria tomorrow. Sad to say, it is no longer a local and Syrian issue with the transformation into regional instruments of a significant number of the parties to the conflict. From here, it is necessary for the permanent members of the Security Council to reach a historic settlement, and through an international conference for Syria to then impose a transition program towards a democratic state upon the parties who believe in the possibility of a military victory in the regime and in the opposition.
We as Syrians today desperately need wide meetings for anyone who wants to get out of this dirty war, and necessary alliances that achieve minimum coordination between the components of civil resistance and democratic forces for change in the country in order to defend the rights of marginalized human beings and a threatened homeland, and the defiled security and the absence of citizenship. From here we insist on gatherings whenever there is an opportunity to piece together voices in serious constructive dialogue in every initiative we have. The world does not stop with those who launch a cry and wait for watery skies, but laying bricks tomorrow in wise and calm steps enhances democratic, collective, inclusive dialogue in transparency, honesty and concern for human dignity and the homeland and the earth.
Thanks a lot for Sheila Mosley and Khalaf Dahowd for this excellent translation of the Arabic origin