It is hard not to be pessimistic about the Syrian crisis and it is better to get ready for the worst to come. When U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who was assigned to reach a resolution, leaves his job on the ground and visits refugee camps in Turkey, then this proves he has run out of ideas and is just doing his best to look like he is trying.
And when Saudi Arabia does not attend the meeting held by the foreign ministers of the quartet proposed by Egypt, then this means it lost hope. If the purpose of this quartet is to talk Iran into changing its mind, then it is absolutely hopeless. Iran is with the Syrian president in the same boat even if they end up drowning together. And if the purpose is reaching a solution and succeeding where Friends of Syria, the Arab League, and the United Nations failed, how is this possible with Iran on board?
The fact that this quartet is still in place even after both Egypt and Turkey made sure it was a failure is in itself a reason for pessimism. This failure is not attributed to Saudi Arabia’s absence, but to the Iranian “farce.” First, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard admits to the presence of its operatives on Syrian territories to aid the regime, yet he claims they are not involved in any military actions. Then an Iranian official denies this altogether. Then Iranians launch a ceasefire initiative from Cairo provided that support to the Syrian opposition is halted and a dialogue to introduce democratic reforms in Syria is initiated.
Since we are up against a long battle, it is useful to establish a comparison between the situation in Syria and the Afghani jihad especially that the two are becoming more and more similar. Syrians are afraid that their struggle could be eventually “Afghanized” and this would mean they still have a long way to go. Afghani jihad against the Soviet occupation lasted for 10 years followed by two years of struggle with the Soviet-supported government then a civil war that many believe is still ongoing. This translates into 33 years of suffering. The Syrian revolution is still one and a half years old and there is no hope it would end any time soon.
Guerilla war can last for years and Lebanon is the ultimate proof. One day the Free Syrian Army seizes control of, for example, the Saladin neighborhood in Aleppo and the next day the state army takes it back and so on. This is how guerilla war works. There are also several militias fighting the regime. This is a source of concern for the supporters of the opposition. That is why they had to refrain from supplying certain important weapons like MANPADS that are necessary for facing regime aircraft targeting civilians for fear they would fall into the wrong hands. American apprehensions in particular prevented the provision of 100 missiles supplied by Gulf nations to the revolutionaries. The US needs guarantees before allowing those missiles to reach the revolutionaries and this is impossible in a country that has totally spiraled out of control and that is enmeshed in an armed struggle.
Sometimes strategic experts tend to think romantically as if they are witnessing a conflict for the first time whereas they can simply go back to their old files and have a look at the ugly aspects of the Afghani Jihad and which are being repeated now in Syria:
- Every attempt at uniting the revolutionaries will create a new entity. Some members of the old entity, the Free Syrian Army, would refuse to join the new one, the National Army. So we end up with two entities, each of which is surrounded by scores of brigades with mixed allegiances. Meanwhile, other international parties involved are not sure which of the two they should support.
- Syrians are not like the French. They would not all rally around one De Gaul. They are rather like the Afghans. They all believe they are leaders.
- Reports coming from inside Syria are always contradictory and exaggerated especially when they involve getting money and arms.
- The most active on the media level are not necessarily the most effective on the ground. Therefore, the parties with the largest number of clips on You Tube are not necessarily the more powerful in reality.
- Mediators are as fully acquainted with the Syrian scene as they claim to be. This would make them support the parties they know of and overlook those they do not know of, hence putting their objectivity to the question and bringing upon themselves accusations of creating rifts among the revolutionaries or even conspiring against the revolution.
- Revolutions are made by honorable freedom fighters, but they are also manipulated by opportunists and offer a fertile soil for allegiance shifts. Even criminals can benefit from revolutions.
- The idea of uniting all revolutionaries inside Syria is extremely romantic. Coordination sounds more realistic and it is now made possible through the advanced communication devices supplied by the US and France. It is difficult to unite the revolutionaries because they come from a wide range of backgrounds. The military come from different army units while the civilians are comprised of students, farmers, and laborers. Some are religious while others are not; some are into politics while others just want to get rid of or retaliate against the regime. Gathering all those under one leadership would be extremely difficult.
- It is not true that the Muslim Brotherhood is the biggest faction in the Syrian revolution and the opposite is also not true. Nobody knows the truth and it is impossible to know the exact numbers before free and fair elections are held in Syria. That is why speculations about this should not in any way affect decisions certain countries make in relation to supporting the revolution.
- The theory that one single “banner” would make it easier to get money and aid is not viable and history has proven this to be impossible.
The Syrian revolution has so far managed to exclude al-Qaeda. Even Salafi groups that receive funding from non-governmental bodies in the Gulf resisted the temptation of subscribing to al-Qaeda’s ideologies. But Syrians are getting more and more frustrated and this was made clear when the refugees hurled stones at Lakhdar Brahimi.
For Syrians who are being killed on daily basis, diplomacy has become equivalent to procrastination. Feelings of anger are piling up inside them as they see the world abandoning their cause. This, together with the afore-mentioned Afghani aspects, creates a fertile soil for extremism. Fear of this scenario makes several parties hesitant in supporting the revolution and ending the battle not realizing that they are escaping from something that they are actually encouraging through their passivity. But they shouldn’t be surprised when they hear the first declaration by Abu Omar al-Najdi announcing the unification of Jihadists from Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and Palestine under the name The Unified Jihad Front.
I imagine Najdi telling his companion Abu al-Nasr al-Makki that this name is not good enough to express their ambitions. “We need to look for another name that reflects our common aspirations,” he would say, surrounded by a group of enthusiastic youths who come from all over the Arab world. They would all be gathered in Aleppo, the land of the great Jihadist epic they are impatiently awaiting.