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Bearing the burden of a revolution

Unfortunately, the opposition is not only divided over who represents the Syrian people, but also over the goal of the uprising

Gulf News

When a revolution lasts too long, the rebels may well forget why they had sparked it in the first place! The question dangling over Syria right now is: What is the goal of this revolution? Is it the military defeat of the regime or freedom and real democracy for all Syrians?

A military defeat will mean a tragic fate for Bashar Al Assad. It is possible but at an exorbitant price, maybe beyond imagination.

Toppling the dictatorship and building a new Syria is also possible, but it will take a long time. The cost of change is inevitable, but it will undoubtedly be lesser in the second option. Many will argue that the revolution in Syria has reached the present stage because of regional interference. However, Syrian rebels should have a clear answer to this question: What do we want?

While the fighting continues everywhere in Syria, this question turns the whole scenario into one of visual deception. It is true that the opposition is gaining ground, but what should that lead to? What next? Some will suggest that the armed struggle will continue in order to liberate all Syrian land — down to Damascus or Qardaha, the hometown of the Al Assad family. If this is the case, then we are talking about the first option.

Unfortunately, the Syrian opposition is not only divided over who represents the Syrian people and has the right to speak for the rebels, but also over the final goal of the revolution. This was the main obstacle from day one of the revolution. And while the first protests in February 2011 were purely civilian and the demands were just freedom, the regime’s propaganda was aimed at conveying one message to the world: Muslim extremists were behind the protests. Actually the regime was inviting Al Qaida, and they have never been late. When some rebels took up arms to defend their hometowns and families, it was just a matter of time until the uprising turned into an armed one.

As a result, the civilian dimension in the Syrian uprising has gradually faded away. Now, the uprising is a special case — it is not like the Tunisian or Egyptian model or even the Libyan model. While Arabs and the world were united against Muammar Gaddafi, the Syrian regime can rely on solid support from some key countries.

Turning the civilian uprising into an armed one might not have been a mistake, but turning the struggle into one between Sunnis and Alawites is deadly. And with the growing fears about Islamists among the rebels, the Syrian opposition is getting more and more fragmented and paralysed. As the fighting continues, the results on the battlefield never cross the lines of a proxy war.

The suffering of the people will continue, but there is deference when the people know exactly why they are sacrificing their lives and why do they have to bear the burden of this struggle. In this case, they will accept paying the price. However, if the goal is vague, surely they will raise their voice — which is already happening, as reports emerge of wrongdoing by some rebels. These might be isolated incidents, but their recurrence and growing indications of factional ambitions in liberated areas has given credence to these voices.

During the Italian occupation of Libya, the late Libyan rebel leader, Omar Al Mukhtar, was asked why he did not end the suffering of his people and stopped a hopeless fight against the Italians. He replied: “Yes they are suffering, but none of them told us to lay down our arms and stop the fight because they know that I’m fighting for their freedom.”

Syrian people have the right to know why they have to bear the burden of this revolution. It should be clear why they have to pay the price: Is it for democracy, justice, equality and dignity or for an Islamic state or to divide Syria into sectarian states?

It is true that regional players have interfered in Syria, but it is also the responsibility of Syrian opposition and rebels, for they accepted this interference.

So, as the fighting continues, many wonder why, when the regime offered dialogue, the opposition never even tried to test its intentions? Why those who support an armed struggle have never spoken about a political one? But again, many will wonder: Who can speak on behalf of the Syrian people? And what are their demands?

Mohammad Fadhel is a Bahraini writer and media consultant based in Dubai.