These words resonate today in the everyday lives of Syrians. The massacre of demonstrators by security forces continues despite formal acceptance of the Annan plan by the regime and part of the opposition represented by the Syrian National Council (SNC). The latter was recognized by the international community as the principal legitimate representative of the Syrian people at the second “Friends of Syria” conference in Istanbul on March 31, 2012. This recognition is not unproblematic because much of the population and opposition inside the country are not represented in the SNC.
In Syria, far from major international conferences and declarations, the courageous struggle of the Syrian people continues every day against the criminal authoritarian regime. Across the country, protests and resistance continue. Meanwhile, the repression is increasing, and even outside its borders with Syrian troops firing into a refugee camp in Turkish territory, killing two Syrian refugees and wounding several others, including a Turkish national. This follows the shooting of a Lebanese cameraman on the Syria-Lebanon border just days ago and incessant shelling of civilians in the last week.
Istanbul conference and the Syrian National Council
The Istanbul conference has not brought anything new to the Syrian people, many Syrian citizens actually mocked the conference as having no positive outcome for the people. In a demonstration in Dael, in the province of Deraa, protesters brandished a large placard on which was written “Friends of the Conference of Syria: will this be April 1st of fools?”. Many Syrians have expressed their disappointment towards this conference, which was already done in previous meetings.
US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke in favor of “non-military” aid such as communications equipment and medical equipment to the Syrian revolutionaries, demonstrating the lukewarm response of US representatives. It is necessary to repeat the following reality: no state has an interest in the fall of the Assad regime, or rather the collapse of the pillars of the Syrian state. The Assad regime has avoided clashes with Israel for nearly four decades, while crushing resistant and progressive forces who were trying to emerge on the regional scene. For its part, Israel, via Ehud Barak asked Obama and the United States to relieve the pressure on the Syrian regime. Also, the Syrian revolution should not be seen as separate from the uprisings that led to the overthrow of other regimes in the region. These changes, with their specificities, are reduced too quickly by the media to the results of elections, while the cycle of socio-political conflicts is far from over.
The failure of the SNC is obvious. It failed to help the Syrian people in their revolutionary struggle against the Assad’s dictatorial regime. The SNC has never suggested ways or an effective strategy to strengthen the people’s movement inside the country. The dependence of the SNC to the Western imperialists and their allies in the region are the main reason. Therefore, the leaders of the SNC have readily accepted the Annan plan, imposed by their supposed allies of the “international community”, the United States specifically.
In addition, the SNC has been used by Muslim Brotherhood – which controls the SNC with the liberals close to the US – to rebuild its structure currently lacking today in Syria. They were accused of using funds from the SNC in Syria through their control over the commission of humanitarian aid to rebuild a popular base and militia inside the country after three decades of exile.
The SNC has failed to be inclusive and integrate the other components of the Syrian opposition, while having an authoritarian attitude in its management of events. At the Istanbul conference, the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic National Change (NCC) – a group of Arab nationalist, Kurdish and socialist parties, and a small group around the intellectual Michel Kilo. A known opponent, the lawyer Haitham al-Maleh, withdrew from the conference from the beginning. He criticized the SNC for not respecting the other components of the opposition by imposing, without prior exchanges, its own agenda and procedures. He had also resigned from the SNC on March 14 with two long-time activists, Kamal al-Labwani and Catherine al-Telli.
The Kurdish National Council (KNC), gathering the Kurdish political parties, slammed the door on the Istanbul conference as well, denouncing the absence of the Kurdish issue in the sessions and programs offered by the SNC.
The extension of Burhan Ghalioun at the head of the SNC on no democratic basis has also been the subject of debate and discussion in the past. The mandate of Professor Ghalioun was indeed imposed by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is satisfied with the way Ghalioun has gotten closer to Western governments and the Gulf countries and therefore political interests of the Islamist movement. It is also an “acceptable face” in the eyes of the West and secular Syrians, according to former Secretary General of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Ali Sadr al-Din al-Bayanouni.
Faced with this lack of democracy, some components within the SNC asked for an electoral college which would designate the president on the basis of a democratic vote. This opinion is particularly championed by the Islamist Imad al-Din al-Rashid, former Dean of the Faculty of Sharia Law at the University of Damascus. He founded his own group opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood: the Syrian national current. So did the group of the Damascus Declaration, led by the secular Samir Nashar.
In addition, we must remember that there are many disagreements and divisions within the SNC. This is not a homogeneous group. It includes parties on the right like the Muslim Brotherhood and personalities related to western countries such as Radwan Ziade and Bassa Kodmani, to the left with the People’s Democratic Party. A prime example was the stillborn agreement of December 31, 2011 between Burhan Ghalioun and NCC; the agreement was finally denied by the executive committee of the SNC.
The Annan Plan
The Annan plan is a victory for the regime in many ways. The plan to end the crisis of the UN emissary, approved and endorsed by the Arab League, provides for an immediate ceasefire, access to humanitarian aid for civilians, the release of arbitrarily detainees, freedom of movement for journalists in the country, and the opening of a “dialogue” between the government and opposition, but the text does not ask – you might expect – for the resignation of President Assad. In addition, the plan puts on the same level the Syrian regime and the revolutionaries by demanding the cessation of violence, while it is the repressive regime that drives the Syrians to defend themselves by arms. These points, in particular, were criticized by much of the opposition who wants the departure of the Assad clan, a transitional government, and the election of a Constituent Assembly.
The Annan Plan specifically calls for the government to withdraw its troops and to stop using heavy weapons in populated areas. Therefore, it is said very clearly that the government should first stop and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the “other side” and the mediator. Meanwhile, until April 10, 2012, the regime continues its massacre of the civilian population on a daily basis. The Syrian regime did not fulfill to the commitment to withdraw forces from populated areas.
For the Syrian regime, the Annan Plan has recognized the government’s right to “respond to violence” in the words of Jihad Maqdisi, spokesman of the Foreign Ministry. He also said that “the battle for the overthrow of the state has ended. Our objective is to ensure stability and create conditions for reform and development in Syria, while preventing some of sabotaging the path for reforms”.
The Syrian defense ministry said that it will cease military operations against rebel fighters from April 12, the day set by Kofi Annan as a deadline to halt hostilities.
The regime of Bashar al-Assad has agreed to a UN request to host a team of experts to study the conditions for deployment of a possible observer mission in the country “torn by violence.”
U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dimitry Medvedev have declared their agreement to support the Annan plan and the establishment of a “legitimate” government in Damascus, each with his own vision but not that of the Syrian people struggling for dignity and freedom. Iran has also voiced its support for Annan’s plan as long as it does not call for the removal of Assad.
For its part, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf countries have announced in Istanbul that instead of arming the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which was refused by several Western countries, they would fund the fighters and administrative structures of the SNC without specifying how and under what conditions. A significant number of theories and baseless propaganda has relayed information indicating that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are arming the FSA. This is not the case, and the latter – or more accurately its various uncoordinated components – is still under-armed and ill-equipped to face the army of the regime.
In addition, Kofi Annan warned Gulf Arab states recently that arming Syrian revolutionaries would be “disastrous” and undermine peace efforts as an extended deadline for a ceasefire approaches.
What approach to the Annan plan?
Does the possibility exist for the opposition (in its various currents) and the Syrian people to accept or reject this plan? What would the alternative be? The refusal of the Annan plan by the opposition would be exploited by the regime to blame the opposition for the continuation of violence. The acceptance of the Annan plan is linked to its application by the regime, which really is not trustworthy. It showed its disdain for all previous initiatives to end the bloody repression against the Syrian people.
The Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) and much of the opposition have also met the Annan plan with skepticism by stating that it will experience a fate similar to that of the initiative developed by the Protocol of the Arab League and the infamous observer mission presented in December 2011. The LCC also added that the regime has expressed reservations about several provisions of the plan, making it deprived of any meaning. The Annan plan, finally, gives the system more time to kill more militants, according to the LCC.
The acceptance of the Annan plan does not mean the end of the revolution or the end of the mobilization. The LCC has also said that young activists should seek to maintain the initiative in their own hands to continue to develop new methods of resistance and to implement their forces to maintain “the unity of our society, our land, and our sovereignty. “
Other opposition groups like the Syrian Revolutionary Left also insists on the continuation of the popular mobilization, while accepting the Annan plan, because the guarantee of its implementation by the regime, from April 10, is far from guaranteed, as we can see today. Tanks and the army are in fact still present in cities and have not yet been removed. It is necessary to continue to pressure the Assad regime in order to not to let it take the initiative on the ground offered by the Annan Plan.
The issue of support for the Syrian revolution and the left
The dynamics of the Syrian revolution is still misunderstood by many people, especially from components of the radical left in Europe, not to mention Latin America. The focus of the latter on the SNC and its alliance with Western governments such as France and the United States and reactionary regimes of the region like Saudi Arabia prevent them from taking into account the Syrian people’s struggle for democracy, social justice and true independence, which implies a struggle against an authoritarian regime. This regime is neither “anti-imperialist” nor “socialist” nor “secular” as some claim. In addition, the SNC has become, actually, more of an “information media center” than a group operating inside the country and playing a role in the popular mobilization. The lack of information about the real forces acting on the field is screaming out: coordination committees, some of which are clearly marked on the left. Progressive political forces are represented in the coalition Watan, encompassing 17 leftist parties playing a very important role in the mobilization on the ground far from the media coverage. There is a long tradition of Syrian leftist forces and currents. We must not neglect them. They range from communists to Marxists of various currents, to nationalists.
Similarly, convictions of imperialist interventions of Western governments, in addition to Turkey and reactionary regimes of the Gulf – wanting to place their pawns, to contain the process of anti-dictatorial revolution, and to co-opt some of the political forces – do not make sense if they are not accompanied by a condemnation, without any conditions, of the Russian and Iranian regimes that are supporting Assad’s rule. They participate actually, directly, in the repression by sending military equipment and “human resources” to assist the Syrian security forces in their criminal works. Moreover, we must not forget the nature of these regimes and how they treat and oppress “their” own people.
A mass socialist revolutionary party might not exist in Syria with tens of thousands of members, but this is something that is not unique to Syria! Similarly, there is no mass party expressing other political tendencies. The ban on political activity and the violent and perpetual repression for the past 40 years have prevented these developments.
This should not be an obstacle to support this revolution. It’s the same in terms of participation in a revolutionary struggle – especially relocated as part of the regional political situation, which opened in 2011 – whose priorities are: democracy, social justice, and true independence! We do not choose under what conditions a revolution happens, as Karl Marx wrote in his book The Eighteenth Brumaire, “Humans make their history themselves, but they do not do it arbitrarily, under conditions chosen by them: they make it under given conditions, directly inherited. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. “
But we choose if we want to be active participants or disillusioned spectators of history. We can also choose to support a grassroots movement in its courageous struggle against a criminal and authoritarian dictatorship, or take the option to remain silent about a massacre. Our desire for change can only be accomplished if we do join the Syrian popular movement and throw forces in its heroic struggle, despite the apprehensions and fears about the future and political and ideological reservations against some of the actors and currents of the opposition. Through our participation, we aim to ensure the independence of the popular movement and the objectives of a revolution that nobody wants, if not the Syrian people who are hungry for freedom and dignity. Bertolt Brecht was right to say: “He who fights can lose, but he who does not fight has already lost.” Let’s make the choice. Victory to the Syrian Revolution and glory to our martyrs!
Khalil Habash is an activist of Syrian origin, and a member of the Syrian revolutionary left (Yassar Thawri Suri)