May 19, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8759

In Syrian Opposition, Despair And Self-Blame After Nine Years Of War In Syria

May 19, 2020
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 8759

As the Syrian war marks its ninth year, the atmosphere among circles identified with the opposition is gloomy, due primarily to the decline in its strength and influence as most of Syria is taken over by the forces of the regime and its Russian and Iranian allies. Moreover, the opposition has recently lost control of dozens of the towns and villages in its remaining strongholds in Aleppo and Idlib provinces in the northwest of the country, after intensive attacks over several weeks by the regime army with assistance from Russia, Hizbullah, and other pro-Iran militias, that continued up to the March 5, 2020 Russia-Turkey ceasefire.[1]Additionally, for many years the Syrian opposition, which comprises many organizations and institutions, has been deeply divided, making it very difficult to present and achieve unified goals and plans on both the political and military levels.

Against this backdrop, and to mark the ninth anniversary of the outbreak of the Syrian revolution which occurred on March 15, Syrian writers identified with the opposition have been publishing articles criticizing the opposition leadership and its failure to achieve the goals of the revolution, first and foremost to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and establish a democratic state. Several writers accused the leadership of submission to foreign elements and bemoaned the lack of a united and independent leadership, while others expressed despair and doubt about the wisdom of continuing the military confrontation with the regime.

The ninth anniversary of the Syrian revolution (Source: Al-Arab, Qatar, March 17, 2020)

The following are excerpts from these articles:

One Of The Reasons For Our Failure Is The Proliferation Of Opposition Organizations Representing Various Countries – Not The Syrians

Many of the articles attributed the failure of the Syrian revolution to the involvement of many Arab and foreign countries in waging it, as made possible by the rifts between the opposition forces and the absence of a central, independent institution to lead it. They criticized the political opposition for its failure to represent the interests of the Syrian people.

For example, Syrian journalist and author Maher Sharaf Al-Din wrote: "The revolution in Syria was harmed by the 'leadership' improvised in accordance with the interests of the countries that interfered [in the crisis], and not in accordance with the interests of the rebelling people, to regain its rights, [and to make] its voice [heard]. Every council, coalition, or authority that was established was merely a reflection of the influence of the [interfering] countries, to the point where the opposition institutions could be called a 'parliament of the interests of the countries [interfering] in Syria'...

"Every country has a representative in the opposition institutions, and the paradox is that the smallest part of this representation was from the Syrian people whom these institutions presumed to represent. This part [representing the Syrian people] shrank daily, every time [a new opposition organization] was formed, until, recently, it reached zero.

"Under the motto of 'political reality,' the chameleon [i.e. the opposition] changed its color 100 times to adapt itself to the interests of the country under whose orders it operated that paid its salaries and provided donations... The opposition's political activity was damaged by these functionaries whose pockets were filled with money to buy off their consciences. This systematic corruption spread across all sectors of the rebels – military, media, rescue, and more.

"The big mistake, in the beginning of the revolution, was that the Syrian opposition elite did not take the reins of the initiative in order to coordinate among the various branches. The close contacts between the opposition's political elite and its economic elite could have ensured the consolidation of a longed-for national [opposition] institution that would be inclusive and free of the agenda of the countries [interfering in the crisis]. Since the revolution broke out, there was a substantial group of businessmen who could have ensured the independence of the opposition's political activity by funding its political conferences and meetings and paying the salaries of its leadership so as to assure their independence and their full dedication to the revolutionary activity. This lost opportunity did not last forever. Had the opposition seized [this opportunity] at the start of the revolution, the [interfering countries] would have been unable to conduct these manipulations of the process of the revolution in any assembly of the 'oppositions' that were neither national nor revolutionary..."[2]

The Disorganized Formation Of The Opposition's Military Sector  Opened The Door To Greater Foreign Intervention

Other articles focused their criticism on the military opposition. Syrian opposition member 'Oqab Yahya argued that the disorganized manner in which the military opposition was formed increased the extent of foreign intervention in the Syrian revolution. He wrote: "As [the Syrian revolution] became increasingly militarized, in a natural response to the regime's unrestrained killing of activists and protesters, and following the defection of soldiers and officers from the [Syrian] national [army], as well as thousands of senior [regime] administrators who decided to join the revolution and stand with the uprising people, military factions [began to] emerge in a disorganized fashion. This created an opening for increasing intervention by elements in the region and beyond, especially in light of the immense need for weapons and gear, which prompted [the factions] to appeal to the friendly countries for help, [causing the latter] to enter the picture, each of them with its own plans.   

"This created a chaotic situation that precluded any coordination or unity. Most of the officers who defected [from the Syrian army] were sidelined or excluded from leadership and decision-making positions [in the opposition], and the sensitive positions were filled by unprofessional, inexperienced civilians, who were unable to cope with a unified foe.

"Later many negative phenomena emerged, which went beyond neglecting and disregarding the political aspect, and reached the point of espousing ideas that starkly contravened the essence of the revolution… This contributed to the ongoing series of [opposition] defeats and the success of the regime, which, relying on the Russian occupation and the Iranian support, managed to regain most of the areas captured by the factions.

"This [situation] calls for courageous [self-]examination, to identify our mistakes and weaknesses and squarely face the factors that led to the current situation. The initial mistake of relying on foreign forces led to neglecting the revolutionary forces in the field and to drawing away from the [revolution's] natural support-base. This created a rift that widened and deepened over the years, due to the difficult terms imposed by all the foreign forces, and contributed greatly to the loss of [our] national decision-making [role] and to the exclusion of the political [players] from the equation of the political solution, and also prevented a military victory."[3]   

The Revolution Has Waned; There Is No Real Progress, While The Tragedy Continues

The decline in the opposition's strength and influence led some writers to declare that the Syrian revolution has failed. Prominent among them was Hussein Al-Zou'bi, a columnist for, who complained that many Syrians insist on proclaiming, year after year, that the revolution lives on but do nothing to actually promote it. He wrote: "Each year, the Syrians seek to renew the [glory] of their revolution's early days, and stress – [using] the same words and perhaps even the same images – that the revolution continues. When I say 'Syrians' I mean those whose comments I see and read on social media, most of whom are sheltering [abroad]… During the year since the previous anniversary of the revolution's outbreak, not a thing has changed in their reality, whose connection to the actual revolution is, in most cases, merely virtual. [It is a reality in which] there is no progress except for an [occasional] change of their profile picture… and of the counter indicating the years [that has passed since the start of the revolution]. As I said, they occasionally publish a post proclaiming that the revolution continues… [but] these are hollow words… and will remain so as long as they are unaccompanied by any real revolutionary action conforming to the revolution's goals.

"The fact that the revolution has continued all these years, despite all the plotting against it, reflects how necessary it was… But, at the same time, its ongoing [character] indicates to what extent we have all failed to achieve its goals. Admitting this perhaps requires courage, for it is easier to present a thousand  reasons and excuses for this failure, but these [reasons and excuses] do not cancel the fact of this failure… Far be it [from me to advocate] self-flagellation, but I believe that, when we mark the revolution's anniversary without doing anything real, we are [merely] marking  the ongoing tragedy of the [Syrians], who pay the real price on the ground, in hunger, oppression and illness…

"For four years or more, we have not managed to form any body, institution, organization or union to raise the banner of this revolution, and if we did… it very soon evaporated, either due to a surfeit of big egos, whiners or people jockeying for positions [of power], or due to treason, selfishness, geographically-based favoritism, and other illnesses… Perhaps what we need now – after the Syrians observe a moment of silence and recite a prayer for the victims of the ongoing massacre – is a few more moments of silence dedicated to soul-searching and self-assessment, so as to promote those who deserve promotion and stop the arrogance and the wheeling and dealing. Only then will the revolution [be characterized by] ongoing action, rather than by [publishing] posts on Facebook, and nothing more."[4]   

The Military Struggle Against The Regime Is Hopeless; The Goals Of The Revolution Are No Longer On Anyone's Agenda

Some of the articles expressed that the war against the regime is hopeless in light of the rebels' recent defeats in Idlib and Aleppo, in which many lives have been lost, hospitals have been destroyed and masses of people have been driven from their homes. Writer Ghazi Dahman called to on the opposition to lay down its arms in Idlib and even hand it over to the Russians, while criticizing the political opposition for failing to promote this option. He wrote: "Handing Idlib over to Russia and Iran does not mean that the Syrian revolution has been defeated. It will only be a recognition of the certain fact that the Syrians are unable to fight the [Russian] air force, which is the second strongest in the world, when it is bringing all its operative strength to bear…

"Where is the Syrian opposition [and its] esteemed officials? Don't they realize this is a completely hopeless battle ad prolonging it will not change the fact that the power-balance will never tip in the opposition's favor? Why don't the [National] Coalition [for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces], or the High Negotiations Committee [political bodies representing the Syrian opposition] demand to stop this massacre? If these people are politicians, it's time they realized that politics is the art of the possible and that they must choose between several bad options, and that their [only] option is to minimize the damage. Do they think that allowing the Assad regime and Russia to drown Idlib in blood and destruction will change the reality? Moreover, the people living in the areas under the opposition's control are the responsibility of the opposition, for they are its people and its [support] base…

"It would be a mistake for the opposition to limit its options to a military victory over Assad, or to wait for the world to pressure Russia and force it to accept a fair peace process. It has already been proven in practice that neither of these options is realistic and that common sense requires seeking other, more realistic, alternatives… Everybody must understand that the [Syrian] regime has become too weak to [really] govern Syria, or more accurately administrate it, and that, when the guns of war fall silent, it will find it difficult to drop its military mentality and adopt a mentality of development and construction… [Therefore,] handing Idlib over to the Russians may release the opposition from a difficult plight and create a different, more helpful and realistic situation."[5]

"Syrian journalist 'Aqil Hussein expressed similar thoughts in an article headlined "Why Are We Fighting?!". He wrote: "Many wonder why the [opposition] factions collapsed so fast in the rural areas of Idlib and Aleppo and why [their] front lines fell in such an unprecedented manner. But few seek sensible answers to [another] question that can  no longer be disregarded: What reasons do the armed rebels have to keep fighting?... Are we fighting to strengthen the new tyrants [i.e., the commanders of the opposition] and enrich the corrupt and the newly-arisen leaders?... Or are we fighting so that foreigners will come and take the place of the regime after we have shed our blood to eliminate its tyranny, and then we will be ruled by Al-Qaeda and its ilk, and  replace Assad with [Al-Qaeda leader] Al-Zawahiri, [the late ISIS leader] Al-Baghdadi or [the leader of Hai'at Tahrir Al-Sham], Al-Joulani?

"As the foreign and regional interference in the Syrian matter increases, and as [various] countries increase their influence on the various sides in the war, the realization has taken hold that the goals of the revolution are no longer on the agenda, and that the fighting is [only] meant to improve the bargaining position of one country, boost the future influence of another or realize the goals and interests of [a third country] in Syria. Therefore, the rebels' previous questions are joined by another: Should we fight in our [own] land for the interests of others? Naturally, the picture is not that bleak, and there are still objectives on the ground worth fighting and dying for… But the inequality in strength, abilities and arms limits the power of the moral factor [in this equation], and we can only hope that some new variable [will come along] and upend the equation that Russia is striving with all its might to establish."[6]     



[1], March , 2020.

[2], March 18, 2020.

[3] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 23, 2020.

[4], March 17, 2020.

[5] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), February 25, 2020.

[6], February 26, 2020.

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