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Syria: the spectre of civil war

As the desire to overthrow Assad grows, the opposition has begun to consider armed conflict. A Syrian journalist warns that resorting to violence will only satisfy the thirst of a few. It is the quickest route to defeat, and likely to lead to civil war.
Kamal Sheikho
1 December 2011

Written in Arabic translated by Mazen Zoabi

Syrians took to the streets last week, in an effort named by the opposition  'the ambassador expulsion week'. According to the local coordination committee, an opposition group that formed after the 15th of March events in Syria, sixteen people were killed. The scarcity of hospitals and medical staff contributed to the rising number of deaths. As stated in press reports, Syrians have protested in 250 places across the country, with Daraa being the most active, followed by Homs.

There is talk now of an armed revolution in Syria; this stems from the transformative nature of the resistance and the desire to irrevocably alter the power balance! It is naïve though to presume that an armed uprising will be successful in toppling a regime that is known for oppression and dominance. Shouldn't the leaders who call for the militarisation of the struggle know better than to fall into the trap set up by the regime and push people's protests into a violent vortex.

Violence will make it easy to isolate the protests and to justify continuous oppression and harassment. Resorting to violence will only satisfy the thirst of a few and it is the quickest route to defeat, and is more likely to lead to civil war. The high price we will pay will be giving up on coexistence, stability, and the condition of national unity.

The truth is that it is in the interest of those who have the say over security to divert the protests from the political and peaceful route to the violent factional one. Relying solely on excessive repression in order to incite instinctual actions fuels revenge and pushes people to adopt violent resistance methods. These people do not miss a chance to boost all backward forms of struggle, breeding fundamental forces, then linking it to Salafism and Al Qaeda with the sole purpose of legitimising oppressive practices.

The Assad regime does this all in the name of national security and facing terror. The result is the subjection of Syrian society as a whole, as the revolution spirals into a cycle of further oppression and abuse. The regime has the upper hand in this scenario because it is supported by what they know in terms of security experience and this balance of power leans towards their benefit.

The head of the national council appeals to Syrians to prevent a civil war

The head of the Syrian Security Council Dr. Burhan Ghalion directed a heartfelt appeal to Syrians that oppose the ruling regime. In it he said “ the long months of systematic killing, the kindling of religious and sectarian strife amongst the sons of our nation and provoking one group against the other has weakened some of our defences in facing the dangers of sectarian division and collision. For weeks we have been witnessing kidnapping and assassinations occurring between our own people and the people of the revolution themselves. This poses a real threat to the benefits of a revolution and serves the system of killing and tyranny that lurks amongst us and delays victory.”

Dr. Ghalion added in his statement “I am addressing Homs's revolutionaries and heroes from all groups and ideologies, and call upon them to prioritise their national voice, stop the attacks, kidnaps, and revenge, and rise above the hatred in order to protect their unifying revolution. I urge them to reconsider and to avoid being drawn into vengeful acts that only support hatred instead of family loyalties which choose unity over division. We are at a crossroads. One of these roads leads us to freedom and dignity and the other to the abyss. That route can only result in the civil war for months on end that the regime will not stop short of igniting in order to abort our blessed revolution.”

It seems that talk of the possibility of civil war in Syria, has spread far afield worldwide. The American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the BBC, “I believe that with the existence of a determined and well armed opposition that is ultimately funded well, there will be a civil war.” She added, “if not organised (the civil war) by army defectors it is certainly affected by them”.

Fears of sectarian strife among opposition

Syrian opposition members are afraid of sectarian strife and the flaring of a civil war across the entire country. The National Coordination Committee, the largest opposition coalition inside Syria released a paper entitled 'uprising – revolution: dangers and change' where it stressed “that the actions of the regime have surpassed the limits of patience and endurance by committing countless atrocities, harassment, and destruction. It has abused what is holy and sacred. Several armed reactions are surfacing and are on the increase as a direct result of the continued system of relentless repression."

These reactions are being encouraged by the Syrian regime in different ways; one is the provision of weapons in abundance through the black market, which has caused much bloodshed amongst fundamentalist groups (with possible links to the intelligence services). Another way is by the defaming of the Islamic character and the provision of extra opportunities to encourage killing and intimidation, thereby strengthening the hand of the regime in convincing some people that these stories are true. Large sections of the people, as a result of these distortions, are confused about what is actually happening in the country. Lately, there have been calls for people on the ground to carry weapons and to militarise the uprising in various areas. All this hinders the goal of peaceful struggle and bolsters the chances of success of the regime's efforts.”

Pro-regime newspaper demands the recognition of the crisis and violence

Shada Elmadad, a pro-regime newspaper, beseeches President Bashar Al Assad, “for the love of the gods', to, "recognise the crisis-point which approaches and to stop the killing and violence in Syria.” The call continues, “I am a Syrian citizen afraid of the intimidation and killing that we saw take place yesterday. I am afraid of what could happen today when it comes to the distortions of fact. I am afraid of tomorrow because we don't know how we will die: will the tanks run us over? We do not know. Will we die from a stray grenade? Do not provide them with a golden excuse. Or will we die, perhaps at the hands of Turkish forces who will not stand idly by observing us from the margins? We honestly do not know. Our worry has escalated due to the newly imposed sanctions placed on us by the Arab League. It is too early to mock this initiative. We know only that that the solution is in your hands. The Syrian regime holds all the cards for a secure exit from this crisis. The Syrian solution cannot be imported and will remain solely a Syrian responsibility even though you find yourselves in an increasingly tough situation. We address you in this moment of heightened hostility on behalf of all of us, because you said that 'national security' is the title of this phase, and also because we fear that the time approaches when you will have no alternative other than to flee...”

It appears, therefore, that all parties in Syria, whether of the opposition or in the regime, are afraid of a civil war. Religious strife is increasing day-by-day with the killing taking place in the name of religion. Kidnaps multiply. Some vandals are trying to benefit from these conditions and to fuel the flames of civil war through the promotion of hatred and deceit. There has been continuous dissemination of lies about the arming of religious factions and accusations flying around that different groups are preparing for the awaited war. So we have to ask: will this Arab initiative succeed in saving Syria from a civil war?

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