Akram Bunni

The Syrian Revolution and the Question of Defeat

Ten years after it erupted, opinions diverge on the extent to which the Syrian revolution has failed, and so do the answers to the question: Has this revolution been finished off, and are we now living in the climate of its defeat; or is its affliction mere fleeting setbacks and temporary blemishes whose effects can be mitigated and overcome?

Part of the explanation is in some’s evasion of admitting defeat, citing the fact that everything has been obliterated and that there are no winners or losers in a bloody conflict with a regime that has lost its legitimacy and universalism. They claim the regime has seen the pillars of its persistence wither away and is now struggling with a multifaceted governance crisis; ethical, political, economic and social. It is also understandable that the leaders of Islamist groups in the country’s northwest and the Kurdish forces in the east refuse to accept defeat, given that they managed to keep their heads intact and can continue to impose their authority and privileges on the areas they control. However, political opponents’ abstention from affirming defeat is neither explainable nor comprehensible; among them are some who are still marching in the swamp of humiliating negotiations, submitting to concessions on the Syrian peoples’ rights, which are being rolled back like the beads of a rosemary.

All of this comes amid a balance of power that leans firmly in favor of the regime and its allies, alongside a state of weakness and depravity that exposes them and their subordination to foreign powers’ dictates. Meanwhile, negotiations have not taken a single step towards a political solution or even meeting basic humanitarian demands regarding the release of detainees and clarification on the fate of the missing and forcibly disappeared! Some are still stuck by exaggerations and false bets and hopes!

On the other hand, the numbers of political opponents and Syrian activists who affirm defeat are increasing. Though few of them have adopted the use of the term defeat out of consideration for its weight and the despondency it invokes in the face of the great sacrifices of the Syrian people, the majority has begun to grudgingly admit it and is endeavoring to hold serious and bold debates to determine the reasons for this defeat. These debates delve into the actions of the party primarily responsible, the regime, which rejected all political settlements, drew various forms of foreign support and worked diligently to smear the political revolution, linking it to terrorism and dragging it toward a sectarian civil war, using the most severe methods of violence and repression and the ugliest forms of sectarian incitement in complicity with the Salafist jihadist leaders whom it released from its prisons.

The debates also look into the revolution’s abandonment of the peaceful approach and its capitulation to militarism, which cost it the public’s sympathy and major segments of the Syrian people who have an interest in democratic change who are against seeking it through force and violence. They also explicate the role of Islamic political groups and jihadist extremism, which were able to infiltrate the revolution’s ranks, tamper with its social composition and seize its principles and spirit. There is also the fact of the international community forsaking the Syrian people’s rights with its silence on foreign military interventions, failure to end the violence and protect civilians. Most significant is the pitiful state of the Syrian opposition, which failed to garner the people's confidence and lead them. Its coalition and national councils were unable to coordinate their activities and emerge as exemplars of democratic practice, perseverance and sacrifice. Instead, the opposition was mired by infighting and a pathological and harmful contestation for positions of power and privileges marked by backward behavior, narrow partisan interests, and selfishness and exclusivity, entrenching its disunity and weakness, thus its fragility and failure to hold the weight of its historical responsibility on its shoulders.

The debate about the reasons for the defeat led to a debate about the legitimacy of the Syrian people’s revolution, whether it was an option that they could have accepted or rejected or a necessary historical and moral response to a regime of tyranny and corruption that left society in an unbearable state of oppression, discrimination, and neediness. It also sparked a debate about the possibilities for the future and the options available for restoring the homeland and societal cohesion, as well as protecting the revolution’s accumulations and its people’s sacrifices.

Far from the call to continue taking the path of negotiations and clinging to the international communities’ resolutions and claims that this is the only track to staying in the political wrestling ring and forcing whatever concessions are possible from the regime, and in opposition to the call for going further on the path of belligerence and drawing more armament to confront the regime that understands no language other than that of violence- even with those carrying the weapons’ transformation into mere tools in the hands of the foreign powers that support them- it would be accurate to say that substantive agreements to confront the horrid state that Syrians and their revolution have reached are beginning to solidify.

These agreements combine, on the one hand, a focus on humanitarian issues, making substantial efforts to follow up the fate of detainees, the missing and the forcibly disappeared, and encouraging the persecution of perpetrators; and, on the other, rallying around intellectual and cultural dimensions of the revolution to promote the legitimacy of the revolution and its slogans, draw conclusions and lessons in a way that enhances society’s awareness and political engagement and prepares them for new rounds in the battle for change in a manner that incurs the least losses and degree of pain possible and, most vitally, re-instills confidence in the possibility for democracy in the hearts of the Syrians who had yearned for it at the start of their movement but did not have the conditions they needed to enable it to develop and become a choice for salvation.

Perhaps, what makes the humanitarian and cultural efforts fruitful despite the ruin and grants them the ability to ease the Syrian people’s disappointment and despondency over what happened to their revolution, is the fact that Syria will not go back to what it had been and that it will not be a hotbed of social oppression and political tyranny again- whether with its nationalist and Arab nationalist demagogic slogans or even with its religious cloak- as the door has opened to change, breaking with the past, establishing institutions and building on the accumulations and lessons of the revolution.

Those who think the revolution cannot be defeated or defaced. Throughout history, there have been many examples of genuine, legitimate and noble revolutions that were temporarily defeated; worse still, the defeat would sometimes be succeeded by a period marked by bloodshed and darkness. The revolutionary masses suffer during these periods before lessons are learned, and they rise again. The history of peoples’ struggle only ends at one period to reignite another time!