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Regime and opposition: throwing the dice for Syria’s future

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How is it possible for those who have lived in the lap of opportunism and are by nature predatory suddenly to transform themselves into honest revolutionaries.

Rita from Syria
10 December 2012

In the countryside east of Hama – the heartland of the uprising against the Syrian regime, Abu Nawwar a leading security official in the region, was kidnapped by members of an FSA battalion. He was released unharmed after 12 hours, suffering only the ignominy of having been captured in the first instance plus the loss of his car.

According to local residents from his village, Abu Nawwar's tight interlocking relations with each of the parties to the armed conflict and the overlapping interests of their respective leaderships meant that he didn't have to pay a single penny to be set free. After less than a month, he was appointed as mayor of an important province – a post with wide-ranging powers and considerable influence.

The week before, three officers from a security centre in rural South Damascus were on their way back to the capital when a group of combatants stopped them. They were taken to a nearby farm where they were interrogated. The Alawi officer was executed while the others were detained and tortured. As a response, regime forces imprisoned dozens of women and children from the same area as hostages.

Firas, one of the kidnapped officers – himself a Christian – lost all hope of staying alive after watching his colleague killed before his eyes. However, a compromise was reached between the FSA combatants and the security forces, so that the officers and the civilians were released at the same time. The compromise was mediated by a senior pro-regime figure widely understood to be a corrupt member of the ministry. 

These incidents may well be individual or limited, but they contradict declarations made by the FSA leadership, which denounce every kind of communication or dealings with the regime. At the same time, for the majority of fighters on the ground, having any official or even unofficial channels of communications with the regime's security apparatus is enough to de-legitimise any opposition group – as was the case with some members of the national coordination committee, along with many other traditional opposition figures who maintained now ‘suspicious’ links with the regime.

But how is it that the FSA accepts deals with the regime from their leaders of the militias, but won’t tolerate the slightest sign of any such communication in the lower ranks? Is it all about keeping people’s loyalty intact? Mohammad, a combatant in Al-Forqan battalion, south of the capital, considered this a natural outcome of the complicated situation in Syria: "we have many detainees and hostages in the regime's hand, and we can't sacrifice them all so we are pushed to concede. Exiled opposition leaders are not living the war but rather a luxurious life. We are not to be compared!" Despite what he said, Mohammad went on to deny any kind of connections between his battalion and the regime.

We have here in front of us a paradox. So, is the FSA practicing this policy of double standards for political or authoritarian reasons?

We can look at this issue from two different perspectives. First, certain leaders in the FSA are exploiting their powers for the sake of personal interests; disregarding their own statements or the principles that the FSA was founded on. This is an inauspicious omen heralding a type of corruption which could easily continue after Assad's fall, under new names and guises.

The second possibility is that it is a strategic necessity to have such connections with the regime, especially where kidnapping and hostage exchange is concerned. In this respect, these dealings are more to do with the what is happening on the battle front than normalization with the enemy. In both cases, transparent investigations need to be carried out in public; providing clarification. 

The same seems to be happening on the part of the regime, with lots of innocent people being detained by the security apparatus on trumped up charges. Some officials have climbed their way up to positions of importance despite their well-known connections with the revolutionary fighters. If anything this shows the fragility of the ideological masks worn by both sides. Alarm bells also sound as some segments of the FSA leadership begin to veer away from the principles of the revolution.   

Similarly, there has been increasing chatter about the nomination of many of the high profile defections from the regime as part of the forthcoming transitional government which is being established by the so-called ‘united’ opposition. Whether true or merely a rumour, the news has been met with much indignation by the Syrian street who deem the entire farce as wholly unacceptable. How is it possible for those who have lived in the lap of opportunism and are by nature predatory suddenly to transform themselves into honest revolutionaries. Can they be trusted to build Syria anew or will they fall back on what they know – how to plunder. Old habits die hard.

There is something new in the air; like the smell of jasmine in the spring, an overwhelming optimism about Assad's imminent downfall has permeated right across Damascus. Even his supporters feel the same – especially in the light of a succession of victories achieved by the FSA in the battles of Darayya and Damascus airport.

However, the de-throning of Assad doesn't necessarily spell the end of the battle, but it will mark the start of a long weary road to weed out corruption. In a future Syria, the presence of mutual interests between those who fancy themselves as opposition leaders and regime remnants will threaten our dream of truly attaining democracy and equality.

There are no borders to separate wealth from power and politics. When the time comes we must be vigilant. The coinciding interests of remnants of the regime and so-called opposition figures cannot be ignored. Such an alliance may come about thanks to opportunists on both sides along with the absence of a constitutional reference point.

Families of martyrs and displaced Syrians will struggle to find meaning for their loss if all we achieve is the continuance of the corrupt practices of the old regime but this time dressed in the garb of the people's revolution.

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