In the closing weeks of 2012 residents of Bostan al-Qasr, a neighborhood in the Syrian city of Aleppo, were attacked by fighters from the Islamist Jubhat al-Nusra faction of the opposition.
As the attack took place, members of the Free Syrian Army stood by watching. Accounts claim that live rounds were fired into the air and that a member of Jubhat al-Nusra attempted to arrest one of the locals. Why were the residents attacked in this way? They had been on the streets of their community chanting the following slogan: “kull jaysh harami, nizami, hurr wa islami”. Translated into English, the chant means “all armies are thieves: regime, FSA and Islamists”*.
This chant and the forces unified by it have drawn the only possible conclusion from the current state of play in Syria: neither the Islamists, the forces ranged behind the banner of the FSA or — most obviously — the Assad regime truly represent the wishes of the mass of the Syrian people.
The Syrian revolt began as a series of peaceful, mass demonstrations demanding the end of the Assad regime and the institution of democracy. These demonstrations were met with massive, violent reaction from the police, armed forces and special units of Assad’s notorious secret service, the Mukhabarat. Unlike the other movements that constitute the Arab Spring, the Syrian protestors were bombed by their own state into quiescence.
Now demobilised and demoralised, the unified secular democratic opposition has largely fallen from prominence. But, as the events in Bostan al-Qasr indicate, the individuals who demonstrated against Assad and the sentiments they once carried onto the streets en masse are still very much alive.
What circumstances will bring them out onto the streets once more? How can these currently atomised forces, which surely represent the best of those ranged against the Assad regime, possibly gain a footing? These are key questions for socialists and democrats looking for a way out of the rapidly deteriorating quagmire of Syria.
In January the National Committee of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty passed a resolution which goes some way to addressing this question (see here for article summarising resolution and text of resolution).
However, the resolution has one major fault. Implicit in its logical flow is the idea that Assad could play a positive role in establishing a form of “bourgeois peace” or a “political agreement” in the words of the resolution, that would in effect give secular, democratic and leftist forces room to re-group and coalesce once more.
Point 4 of the resolution says: “while maintaining our right to criticise and our political independence, we will not necessarily denounce a political agreement between the Ba’thists and the rebels that avoids the collapse of Syrian society into warlordism.”
Against the prospect of full-blown sectarian civil war, warlordism, further gains for reactionary Islamist groupings and the death and destruction that cannot but come with them, a “political settlement” would indeed be preferable — with or without the prospect of democratic forces reassembling in any peaceful window.
However, the idea that Assad and his close political clique — as differentiated from the mass of the Ba’athists — would either agree to participate in such an agreement, could be trusted to honestly participate or could participate with the consent of the mass of the Syrian people is, to be frank, fanciful.
The resolution as a whole says nothing about Assad being part of such a settlement. In fact, Assad and his clique are not mentioned at all. This is where the problem resides.
In August 2011, Solidarity carried an article titled “Assad must go now”. In February 2012 the paper carried an article titled “Down with Assad! For liberty and democracy in Syria”. Various other articles have carried the demand that Assad should play no part in the future of Syria.
The resolution and the minutes from the national committee meeting indicate a re-assessment of the situation in Syria. Clearly, the rise in prominence of Islamist reactionaries is a problem for both Syria and the wider region. When facts change, our political analysis must change. However, the one thing that has not changed is the political character of Assad and his inner circle. Dropping mention of Assad and the call for his removal is a mistake.
Just one day after our National Committee meeting, Assad gave a rare public speech re-affirming his commitment to wage war against the Syrian people.
In bending the stick to highlight the risks posed by growing Islamist influence in Syria at the expense of maintaining a clear political view of Assad, the National Committee has passed a resolution with unacceptable implications.
They should re-discuss and re-think the issues.
* See article from Open Democracy here