Civil Movement vs. Free Syrian Army
The Out of Towner
“There is the fear that they won’t drop their weapons, once the regime will be toppled,” admits Shadi Abu Karam, an activist from Sweida, based in Beirut. At the same time, he notes that “many civilians took up weapons to defend themselves and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is still protecting demonstrators.” For example, Tareq Abdul-Haqq, a 27-year old from Jisr As-Shughur (Idlib), joined the armed resistance to ensure his safety while filming protests. “Many Syrians accept to join religious fundamentalist Phalanges, not because they share their beliefs, but due to the violence suffered by their families,” explains Hervin, a 27-year-old Kurdish activist travelling back and forth between Beirut and Damascus to deliver “revolutionary” funds. “I am completely against the FSA, for the Syrian army it is enough the excuse of one armed person to justify repression in its most violent forms.”
On his side, Tareq does not believe peaceful movements can play a role in the current phase: “Today, I cannot demonstrate without taking care of my safety. We know the Ba’ath party, which took power in Syria through a military coup d’état (in 1963, ed.), and we don’t wish history to repeat itself,” replies Hervin, hinting at how Rima Dali, the Syrian prime mover of the peaceful movement ‘Stop the Killings’, has been supposedly ordered by the FSA to avoid spreading her ideas in the areas controlled by revolutionaries.
“It is true that we entered the phase of weapon supplies to the FSA, which can now rely on a more advanced arsenal,” explains Rami Suleiman, a Damascene activist in his thirties, “but the civil movement are more successful in Damascus and Aleppo: there you cannot launch the kind of military operations seen in the deserted countryside… What you want to do in Damascus, shelling the Mezzeh highway?!” Rami rules out the possibility of the FSA overthrowing the regime, claiming that it does not possess an effective artillery for long-distance confrontations: “You can hit checkpoints, carry out assassinations, win thousands of battles, but not the war.” If armed struggle is not the way to make the revolution succeed, what is the peaceful movement capable of achieving?
“Numerous traders in Damascus and Aleppo found themselves helping Syrians displaced from Homs, thus developing forms of solidarity,” points out Shadi. During the nationwide general strike of traders on 28 May, the Trade Chamber of Damascus was not able to force shops to open. This appears to be a crucial shifting point if we remember how Hafez Al-Assad was able to stifle a similar initiative in support of the Islamic uprising in the 1980s by co-opting the head of the Trade Chamber of Damascus, Badraddin Al-Shallah.
According to Shadi, the peaceful movement is affecting average citizens, who do not join demonstrations. But it is frustrated by the economic crisis, the incapability of the government to restore stability with its bloody means, and ongoing conscription that is leading to the continued slaughter of the youth. Nevertheless, Rami is aware of the strategic deficiencies of the movement and the need to proceed by “small steps” towards the final aim: the occupation of Syrian squares. “Small steps means demanding the naming of ten streets of Damascus in memory of the martyrs of the revolution, so that everyone, whether neutral or loyalist, would keep in consideration their names.” On the contrary, Tareq from Jisr As-Shughur belittles the importance of attracting the so-called “silent” components of Syrian society: “After such a long period of time, anyone silent in front of the crimes perpetrated by the regime is to be considered a loyalist.”