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Bearing the burden of a revolution

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Mohammad Fadhel Al Obaidly

Advisor, Public Opinion Research Center

Tag: Middle East Security
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When a revolution lasts too long, the rebels may well forget why they 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?

Defeating Bashar Al Assad and his Syrian loyalists militarily is possible, but the price will be exorbitant and the long range consequences inconceivable and certainly tragic

Toppling the dictatorship and building a new Syria is also possible, but it will take a long time. The cost of this change is inevitable, but it will undoubtedly be less 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, not answering this question of goals 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 has been 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 regimes propaganda aimed at conveying one message to the world: Muslim extremists are 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. The longer the fighting continues without agreement on goals, the more it looks like a proxy war.

The suffering of the people will continue. If people know exactly why they are sacrificing their lives and bearing the burden of a struggle, they will accept the price. However, if the goal is vague, they will raise their voices which they are beginning to do, 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 have 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 stop 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 Im fighting for their freedom.

Syrian people have the right to know why they should pay the price of this revolution: 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 the Syrian opposition and rebels bear responsibility for accepting this interference.

So, as the fighting continues, many wonder why, when the regime offered dialogue, the opposition never tried to test the regime's intentions? Why have those who support an armed struggle never spoken about a political one? Hence many wonder: Who can dialogue on behalf of the Syrian people? What are the peoples' expectations?              

Originally Published in Gulf News January 20 2013

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