There is no justification in saying that after more than a year and a half of killing and bloodshed, the Syrian regime has failed to realize that it does not govern on behalf of the people. This regime has been aware of this even before the revolution began as confirmed by attempted coups, assassinations and imprisonments, as well as the revolution of Hama in 1982. For more than four decades, political language had no role in relations between the regime and the Syrian people. The only language dominant in this relationship was and still is the language of violence and blood. Contrary to the regime's assertion of restoring calm through decisive and minimally invasive action, it still proceeds to govern, but against a backlog of blood, injustice and oppression. Thus the illusion that Assad's troops are restoring calm exists only in the imagination of a regime that has lost its political sense. Note that the revolution is not in fact supported by any real military support from Arab and non-Arab opponents of the regime, but only sumptuous political support and limited financial support. Even Syrian refugees who fled the horrors of the "security solution" suffer greatly, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon.
On the other hand, the regime enjoys political, financial and military support from Iran, as well as from the Lebanese Hezbollah and from Russia and China. However, all this support is of no avail. It is already beyond the Hama phase, where the regime at the time was able to settle the matter to its advantage. The regime may discover that force is still a part of the equation until it is drained from the support of its allies in Tehran, who now find themselves under tight sanctions that come face-to-face with two imperatives: An enriched nuclear program, and the survival of the “axis alliance.” The dilemma, however, is neither of these two imperatives can exist without each other, and such is most likely the real reason behind leaving the revolution to its capabilities so far.
How has Syria reached this current predicament? This has greatly to do with the fact that Syria, like the rest of the Arab countries, is still living in the throes of a pre-state status. This is greatly ironic, as Syria’s history of urbanization, cities, and the state is dated and Syrians boast much about this history without exceeding any limits of pride. Yet, the current revolution points to a different historical shift. In Syrian history, the names of many of the events, ideas, leaderships and homelands stand out; nowadays, Palestine, the Syrian Baath Party and the Revolution come to the forefront. So what combines Palestine and the Syrian Baath revolution? Firstly: The Levant region, known for its long history, complex social structure, confused culture and strategic location. All the discourses that have found place in the Levant, including Islamic, Leftist and Baathist— reflect the confused political culture of this region: Confusion between Islam and Arabism, between nationalism and sectarian affiliation, between national ambition and the reality of overlapping dependence on family and community, and between yearning for liberation from colonialism and the dream of political leadership that defends community rights and family prestige. All this belongs to the pre-state phase and combines three elements. Secondly: The suffocating stalemate that sparked the revolution, visible to all, which the regime has since expanded. Neither the capacity of the revolution can bring down the regime, nor can the regime and its enormous military capability — relative to that of the revolution — crush the revolution. Usually, political stagnation and deadlock in major conflicts, such as the Syrian revolution, are the result of the balance of military power on the ground, but the balance of military power in Syria these days tends to benefit the regime in a clear and flagrant manner. Regardless, there exists a devastating stagnation, indicating that the system has lost all elements of non-military power, including public support, legitimacy and regional and international protection. The regime depends on the idea of a coalition of minorities, internally and regionally, known as the “resistance alliance", but it is not more than a transparent cover for its policies and options that have nothing to do with the resistance. On the other hand, the stalemate within the Syrian crisis relates to the political and moral responsibility of the regime and the outcome of the matters. The regime is the stronger party, controlling the resources of the state and it was the regime that initiated a grotesque security solution when revolution broke out in Deraa. Doing so indicates the regime’s assumption of being able to nip the revolution from the beginning, as was done in Hama in 1982. Yet, the solution lacked decisiveness and the revolution became elusive. When protests began to widen, the regime could have accommodated such events by taking initiative and replacing the security solution with a real political solution, but, as we saw, the regime, with its sectarian structure, security nature, close regional alliances, proved unable to offer realistic, non-cosmetic reforms. While the revolution wants to overthrow the regime, the system remains adamant on staying at any cost. The last to realize the impasse was representative of the Arab League and the United Nations, Lakhdar Brahimi, who stated that the situation in Syria no longer requires reform, but rather real change, which would not be possible with the survival of Assad and the other leaders of the regime who put Syria in its current predicament.
What most importantly and dangerously combines the aforementioned three elements nowadays is that they are all victims of a devastating idea that began in the Levant and spread to the rest of the Arab world. It is the idea and the illusion of “liberating Palestine prior to deciding the fate of the state leading the liberation.” The Palestinian issue is, by and large an Arab issue, and it has a great historical symbolism in Arab conscience, but transforms from time to time into the ransom of all causes and that the Syrian regime no doubt uses as a cover-up. Since 1948, Arabs have rushed for the liberation of Palestine, only to fail again and again. Not only did they fail in the option of war, but also in the option of negotiations and peace. All these indicate that the Arabs were not prepared, neither intellectually nor politically, to manage such a conflict.
Liberation can be achieved either through a genuine liberation movement or by a real state, or a combination of both. This is what has been lacking in the Arab experience, especially in the Levant. There was a liberation movement, but there were no state. Instead, there was a shabby political system combined of factionalism and tyranny. The movement aligned with tyranny, and each offering what it has to the other, without being dominated each other. The clan and the community continued to maintain their privileges, especially those with high political connections. But Arab-Israeli conflict is a conflict of countries and wills; It was not alike on the Arab side. The conflict transformed with time to be a cover for group interests, for aspirations of an individual for leadership, and for minority coalitions. Accordingly, Palestine became a justification for despotism and inheritance in Syria under the slogan of “resistance and opposition”. In that regard, it is striking a coalition in a religious state that adopts the sectarian “Welayat-e faqih”, with a supposedly secular state rule in the name of the Baath Party. On the surface it appears to be a political alliance, but at the roots it is a sectarian alliance for political purposes. Overnight, the “Baath’s” nationalism and secularism – together with the leftists and Nasiriyah – was a cover for factional struggles in Syria stretching from the late forties to early seventies. With the control of power by the Alawite officers in Syria, the Baath Party eroded and was replaced by the slogan of resistance, originally a Baath slogan itself.
What are the implications of all of this? It is that history repeats itself, Syria today is back to what it was as a city of conflict, after attempting for three decades to be merely an edge it it, rather than a cause for it. This time around, the nature of the conflict has changed. No longer do the military, the elite of the cities, or the parties monopolize the political conflict. The Syrian revolution began in the countryside and crawled to the cities entering through the wide spectrum of people: The farmer, the liberal, the Islamic, the student and the worker. There are no longer strong parties or influential political leaders, nor leftist or nationalist theories and seminars that attract people. Change is the motto of the scene, and it's the minimum requirement for everyone. The regime is alone observant to its old motto of "resistance." Hafez Assad re-build the regime in the abyss of the conflicts of the last century, and re-built it again after his 'corrective' movement. The problem that faces his heir today is that, despite his education, he is not yet aware that the events in Deraa were the first indication that the regime established by his father has exhausted and expired. Everyone was aware of this, even the Palestinians within Syria and beyond. It is only Bashar Assad, and those around him, that remain insistent on killing and bloodshed.
The writer is a columnist at several Arab publications. This article was published in the Saudi-based Arab News on Oct. 1, 2012