Empowering the Democratic Resistance in Syria

This very well researched report linked to below, by the Arab Reform Initiative, provides quite a thorough study on the explicitly secular part of the Syrian resistance. This itself belies claims that “there are no secular armed rebels groups” in Syria, that all are explicitly “Islamist” etc, a claim made by the New York Times some months ago in order to justify US imperialist policy of refusing to send even a few light arms to the rebels (indeed, of actively blocking their receipt of portable anti-aircraft guns). This clearly false assertion was repeated by a great many leftists, as usual not noticing that they were saying the same thing as those they thought they were criticising.

This also chimes in well with a recent report from Jane’s defense consultants which gave a break-down of the armed opposition, claiming some 30% were explicitly “secular” and/or “nationalist” (ie, generally called Free Syrian Army – FSA, and officially under the Supreme Military Council – SMC), and another 30% were “moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character”, ie the FSA-aligned soft Islamists grouped together as the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF). As opposed to another 30,000 in the hard-line Salafist, but Syrian nationalist, Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) and 10% in the two Al-Qaida groups who have a global agenda.

I write about this article and the meaning of this break-down at https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/report-on-relative-strength-of-armed-rebels-in-syria/

This report also notes that the moderate Islamist forces aligned with the FSA (ie, broadly meaning the SILF) could have been included in the report into “democratic” resistance groups, and warns not to confuse them with hard-line jihadists:

“It would have been justified to include other groups described as moderate or mainstream Islamists, who should be clearly distinguished from the extremist and Jihadi groups. They reflect the moderate Islam, which Syrians like to call social Islam traditionally prevalent among the Sunni community in Syria and therefore are part of the social fabric of the country. Some are known to be close to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The political leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to a democratic and pluralistic agenda for post-Assad Syria. This is clearly stated in the political platform of the Muslim Brotherhood published in 2004 and re-confirmed in a document published in 2012. Several conservative religious leaders have also indicated their commitment to a political system that protects the rights of all minorities. Syrians from all communities and ideological backgrounds do not question the right of these figures to be part of the political transition and to play a role in the future political system.”

It is important to understand this, so as not to crudely divide everyone in the Syrian resistance into “secular” folk that us western leftists like, and everyone else that is in some form an “Islamist”. That is liberal imperialist thinking. We need to get away from those kinds of obsessions. Especially given the nature of the revolution as arising from the marginalised rural peasantry hit by Assad’s neoliberal reforms and the masses of urban poor, often first generation from the countryside, sectors more likely to be religious to some degree than the Syrian bourgeoisie and upper middle classes, the base of the “secular” bourgeois Baath regime.

The report clearly distinguishes the mainstream FSA-aligned “Islamist” groups from the hard-line jihadists, including Al Qaida:

“Extremist Jihadi groups pose a problem of a different kind. Most Syrians see them as alien to the social and political fabric of the country. They run wild and shut down civilian life, calling for establishing an Islamic theocracy more often than they mention the fall of Assad.”

Indeed, the soft-Islamist groups – notably Al-Farouq, Liwa al-Tawheed, Liwa al-Islam and Ahfad al Rasul – have been alongside the FSA in clashes with Al Qaida all over Syria in recent months (as has been widely reported).

However, the purpose of this report is explicitly to describe in detail the explicitly secular resistance, to counter the lazy description of the whole resistance as “Islamist”. This is thus a very valuable contribution for this reason.

Clip from report:

Recent developments, have encouraged a change of attitude among liberals and among non-politicized armed groups which are generally averse to the Islamists’ political agenda. In liberated areas such as al-Raqqa, al-Tabqa, Douma, the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib province, there has been a steadily growing trend over the last year of increasing resentment among those who want a liberal democratic Syria. In the name of protecting a sacred unity in face of the regime, liberal democratic armed groups have remained discreet about their resentment and largely powerless lacking the basic means to challenge the radical groups. Many of their leaders believed that the showdown with the extremists was inevitable but considered that the time had not come for opening this second front. They thought that this could only benefit Assad and that it should be postponed until after the fall of the regime. Instead, they sought dialogue and sought a modus vivendi with Islamist groups.
The change of attitude has been induced by several factors. First, the extremists of Jabhat al-Nosra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (both offshoots of al-Qaeda) began to impose strict rules and provocative measures which alienated large segments of the Syrian population thus showing what many saw as their “true (ugly) face”. Second, the earlier successes of the Jihadis have not been consolidated and have failed to tip the balance in favor of the anti-Assad resistance. Third, the opposition, both political and military, has come to believe that the motto of unity has become counterproductive, that it has been used by the Islamist forces and their patrons as a cover to dominate the political opposition and the resistance, and that it has frightened a large portion of the hesitant Syrians sitting on the fence, thus damaging the image of the revolution altogether. Lastly, the debates in the United States Congress, the British Parliament and the European Union on the dangers related to the delivery of sophisticated weapons to the opposition for fear that the arms might end in the hands of extremists has undoubtedly emboldened some groups to come out and state clearly where they want to belong. But their message is invariably the same: if the means are made available, we will be in a position to reverse the trend on the ground.
Liberated areas offer stark examples of the unwillingness of resistance groups and of the civilian population to provide cover for the abuses of the extremists. Section IV below provides examples from the field of the clashes that are multiplying between mainstream resistance groups and radical Jihadis. These cannot be equated with infighting within an already fractious armed opposition. Rather, they are attempts to rid the resistance of alien elements who worked their way into Syria and stand as an obstacle to unifying the ranks of the FSA. These efforts contribute to the goal of re-syrianizing the movement. FSA leaders (and hopefully their foreign patrons) now understand the damage caused by the willingness of some FSA units to work with Jabhat al-Nosra and realize that this cooperation made the West reluctant to provide military aid and gave Mr. Assad an opportunity to depict the entire opposition as driven by foreign-backed extremists…..
……… The consensus among groups had so far been to protect the unity of arms, and numerous examples exist of tensions resolved through peaceful means. However, the level of resentment against Jihadi groups by the civilian population and part of the FSA has grown to the point where it became clear to many that radical Jihadis had become a serious threat to the revolution. The Sacred Union that had prevented infighting within the armed opposition is not upheld at any price anymore. It should not be seen as further division within the uprising but rather as an attempt at re-gaining control of the resistance and its original objectives. Yet it does imply a painful recognition that the conflict has become a triangular struggle involving the regime, radical Jihadis and the democratic opposition…..

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