The Growing Challenge to The Syrian Regime and the Syrian Uprising

This is a useful article in two ways – first because it discusses the
challenges to the Syrian revolution from reactionary Islamist extremists
trying to hijack it, but more importantly because he shows tons of
evidence for the fightback against this trend from within the
revolutionary forces, examples of which “abound” he says.

It is indicative of the true state of affairs in Syria that anti-Assad
fighters react against the attempts by Salafists to impose their own
dictatorship by comparing them to Assad, rather than by turning back to
Assad, as some of our lefty friends, who are impressed when capitalist
tyrants get some battlefield victories via the use of scud missiles,
aerial slaughter and importing foreign death squads, would prefer to

However, this very fact mkaes me wonder about the point of Haddad’s
questions, where he keeps asking should supporters of the Syrian
revolution simply ignore these reactionary trends just because we
understand it is the fault ot the regime’s relentless repression that
they have arisen, and that reactionary phenomena always arise in
revolutionary situations. Of course “we” shouldn’t, whoever “we” are,
but it is precisely his evidenced below that shows the Syrian popular
uprising is not ignoring it at all.


The Growing Challenge to The Syrian Regime and the Syrian Uprising

Jul 01 2013by Bassam Haddad

[“Syria is for the free, not for Zawahiri and not for Bashar”]
It was bound to happen. And we are simply witnessing its tip: growing
opposition to the militant opposition, on similar ethical grounds used
to critique the regime.

First, some basic related observations are in order.

The following video was uploaded by Syria – Civil State on June 18,
2013. The clip shows a protest in Raqqa, Syria in front of the
headquarters of Jabhat al-Nusrah (JAN) where protesters are calling for
the release of prisoners that have been imprisoned by the takfiri group
affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The clip shows many angry protesters chanting
against Nusra, and decrying that their actions are “in the name of
Islam.” Notably, at the two minute mark, the protesters begin chanting,
“The Syrian people refuse to be humiliated,” one of very first chants of
the Syrian uprising.

[Protest in Raqqa against Jabhat al-Nusra.]

Such juxtaposition of words, critiques, and positions have become
increasingly visible and ubiquitous in areas where JAN and like-minded
groups have dominated.

This comes at a time when Raqqa has been experiencing tension and
increasing public mobilization against Nusra and other militant Islamist
factions. After Syrian rebels seized Raqqa in early March, 2013, and the
city was declared totally liberated of Syrian regime forces, many
reports started surfacing that Raqqa was now being ruled by militant
Islamist groups such as JAN. Civilian resentment against Islamist rule
in Raqqa has been growing as activists in Raqqa strive to provide
alternatives and organize independent coalitions. The popular resentment
against JAN in Raqqa mirrors a trend occurring in other regions under
rebel control in Syria as well. For example, in Aleppo, protesters
gathered in front of the house of a 14-year-old boy who was executed by
takfiris for making a joke referring to the Prophet Mohammad. The
protesters chanted “What a shame, what a shame, shabbiha have become
revolutionaries,” comparing the infamous paramilitary groups loyal to
Bashar al-Assad to the armed rebels who executed the boy.

Other examples abound, as some of these images attest.

[“We used to ask what branch imprisoned the detainee? Now we ask which

[“The Sharia Committee = The Air Force Intelligence.” Signed,
Revolutionaries of Aleppo. The Air Force Intelligence
is one of the most infamous and despised branches of the Syrian regime’s
intelligence services]

[Protest by a Kurdish committee in Syria. Sign on the left reads: “The
Sharia Committee is Assad rule in the liberated areas.”
Sign on the right reads: “Freedom to our detainees in the cells of the
Sharia Committee.”]

[Graffiti in Aleppo: “Revolution of breaking heads.” A hammer that reads
“the people” breaks the heads of a Salafi and a chauvinistic rebel.]

What Might Lie Ahead

[What follows is not a reduction of the uprising’s problems to one
factor. It is a conscious treatment of one factor among many]

The growing power of a particular exclusionary strand of Islamists is
beginning to be felt more markedly throughout various Syrian towns and
city quarters. Aside from analyzing the causes–which have as much to do
with the regime’s repression as other external factors–it is not a
phenomenon that can or should be dismissed simply by understanding how
it originated and developed: it is a reality that “revolutionaries” for
a better Syria must contend with sooner or later, one that is a mixture
of homegrown origins and foreign origins with ample power and finances,
thanks to Qatar and, to lesser extent, Saudi Arabia. The fact that part
of the outcome back-fired or was unintended-notably, the nature, level,
and breadth of the radicalization-is besides the point.

In other words, it is not enough to understand that the regime and
external players have wittingly or not contributed to this phenomenon.
The proliferation of exclusionary and obscurantist groups within the
Syrian opposition is a growing reality that has irreversibly asserted
itself and is slowly becoming as much of a problem to the Syrian
uprising as it has been to the Syrian regime.

[Protesters in Saraqib, Idlib express discontent against Sharia

[Protesters in Aleppo against the Sharia Committee, chanting: “The
Sharia Committee has become the Air Force [Intelligence].”]

Those who hastily dismiss its import based on a lesser evil argument or
in favor of a gradual stage-based conception of struggle where such
groups/phenomena can be dealt with only in a post-Assad Syria are likely
to be proven quite naïve. They either have little comparative knowledge
of transitional processes in time and space, or misunderstand the
development as a necessary/unavoidable reality that is temporary. This
is reminiscent of tradition patriarchal patriotism that dismissed
struggles for women’s emancipation until the nation has been
“freed/liberated/etc”-the result has not be exactly enticing. The
proliferation of such groups and their corollary demands is not
temporary, and neither are simplistic calls for “secularism” (whatever
this means) the answer. This is more about inclusion and exclusion,
coexistence and acceptance of difference, before it is about democracy
and other liberal tropes.

Too Close to See?

Alternatively, many are solely focused on the misery that has befell
Syria to the point where such phenomena seem less pressing to engage or
even address as a priority of any sort. Under bombs, bullets, and jet
fighter missiles, not only is it “alright” to have “jihadists” fight
along our side, but “we” actually “need” them and their vigor/resolve,
regardless of the spectrum of their motives. After all, what else would
one expect?

At some level, this kind of argument that is ubiquitous in some
opposition circles (not all) is understandable. What is not
understandable is to stop at such half-baked strategic wisdom and not
rethink the question of ultimate goals and the motives of most Syrians
at the outset of the uprising.

[Sign from Bustan al-Qasr, Aleppo addressing rebels: “Have you come to
be victorious, or to dominate?”
That is, have the rebels come to help the people to victory, or simply
to control and rule the people?]

[Activist from Deir-Ez-Zor: “No to extremism. No to terrorism. Yes to a
national resistance to protect the people.”]

[“Syria is for the freedom fighters. Not for Zawahiri and not for

[Sign in Saraqeb, Idlib referring to actions of the some of the rebels
in the city:
“Masked + Armed + Raiding houses + Enemy of Freedom = He is a shabih.”]

Sooner or later, before issues of economic program, gender, rights,
social justice, and mundane politics arise, and perhaps long before the
regime is no more, this phenomenon will present itself as yet another
hurdle to achieving the Syria many dreamt of, or even pondered, as they
fought a herculean regime. When the time comes, many will revisit the
days when such takfiri groups were not yet ubiquitous but were
nonetheless encouraged or given a carte blanche based on the arguments
above. Or, such groups were forgiven when compared to the decades-old
brutality of the regime, as though revolutions are about revenge rather
than liberation.

Perhaps these groups will go away or shed their exclusionary nature
under different circumstances.


But when regional and international politics enter the scene, and when
internal confusing/vulnerability/struggles are mixed with stable and
time-tested regional and international interests of powerful
actors/states in creating a “malleable” set of leaderships in the
region, we will find that these groups are here to stay. They make for
good proxies or instruments, or worse. The faster this is recognized,
the better. The question is, who is doing the recognizing anymore when
it comes to Syria? With whom does the power of initiative lie? Which
group, institution, or state can one depend on to serve the interests of
a majority of Syrians? It is true that one cannot wait until the perfect
revolutionaries emerge to have a revolution, but what we are
increasingly witnessing today is a profound and fundamental regression
in all regards, not just a sub-optimal “revolution.”

If reasonable people can rightly assert that the Syrian regime is
something of the past because of its domestic horrors, why are we not
rejecting wholesale the repetition of such patterns today-ultimately of
exclusionary/reactionary groups-in the name of liberation? Even if some
of the answers are understandable from an analytical/explanatory point
of view, they are increasingly unconvincing politically. Time is of the
essence. Unless a more “revolutionary” attitude takes hold in Syria-one
that is focused on liberation and not confined revenge-what has been
happening in Egypt during the past year in this regard, will prove to be
a blissful picnic compared to Syria’s future, with or without this

[I would like to thank Nader Atassi for helping procure images and
videos for this post]

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