Three years and several months into the start of the Syrian revolution, there ought to be some kind of critical review of the past stage, in all its positive and negative aspects. This step will enhance and consolidate the positive points and overcome and address the negative ones, especially considering that the latter have accumulated over time and are now casting a shadow on the scene as a whole.
Former Syrian National Council Chairman Abdulbaset Sieda looks back on the state of the opposition in the country more than three years after the outbreak of the revolution, and offers advice for the future.
With the emergence of the Syrian National Council (SNC) on Oct. 2, 2011 as the first national coalition to comprise political, revolutionary and social forces of various Syrian components, there was an intensive move toward regional and international action and decision-making centers in order to explain the motives, goals, dimensions and implications of the revolution. The results have been encouraging and promising, but we failed to follow up and build on them. Also, dealing with the Arab and international media outlets — in spite of the many gaps — was active and influential, but not up to the required level, particularly with the Western media.
Meanwhile, we communicated with many of the Syrian communities in various parts of the world. But we were not able to find the regulatory frameworks and mechanisms to invest in the many outstanding energies and experience of our communities in dealing with the world and Arab public opinion, in terms of parliaments, governments, political parties, civil society organizations, international organizations concerned with human rights, relief and health issues, in addition to the various forms and levels of media outlets.
On the other hand, there was keenness on having closer ties with those in [refugee] camps despite the weakness of capabilities. We have visited most of them, encouraged educational efforts and offered some limited aid. The feedback of the residents in the camps we visited was positive. However, we were not able to build the frameworks and mechanisms that were supposed to regulate and develop our relationship with the camps by adopting them as a key channel of communication with the interior. Moreover, we did not build an ongoing and interactive relationship with them by holding dialogue meetings that would help us exchange information, ideas and experiences that would eliminate the confusion, promote confidence and develop realistic recommendations and proposals that would benefit the revolution.
As for the relationship with young people at home, it was different in the beginning. This was reflected in the size of their representation in the SNC and the support that was provided to them in organizational, informational and even relief domains. The results in this context were useful and tangible. However, we have failed to follow up on the matter, not to mention that some intruders have intervened and the revolution took a militarized turn, increasing the pace of armed action. All this has dispersed efforts [to build communication], followed by a state of inertia and apathy, which turned later on into admonition, if not separation.
However, if we addressed the nature of the relationship with the forces on the ground, we ought to mention the intensive efforts we have made in building a real relationship with them, in order to unify the authority to which they should answer and to cause the military leadership on the ground to commit to the decisions by the political leadership. Nevertheless, we have failed to do so for many reasons, including poor capabilities at all levels. As the revolution was increasingly militarized, things slipped from our grasp, in light of the poor communication between the political and military leaders.
What made matters worse was the interference of amateurs, who were dealing with the most dangerous matters with the mentality of contractors. Most importantly, we have neglected almost completely the political, intellectual and human rights awareness among fighters on the ground. This has created a major emptiness, especially in light of the harsh conditions of war and its repercussions on people’s psychological state, which extremist groups of all stripes have taken advantage of so as to tip the balance in their favor.
Moreover, we have also neglected our relations, as politicians, with journalists, intellectuals and artists. We have been busy with our daily business and political routine, which distanced us from journalists and intellectuals, who have become alienated and limited their efforts to individual projects with limited possibilities.
Some of them only expressed critical points of view that are mostly right and target those who, based on preludes we won’t discuss, are leading the revolution. As a result, inputs were dispersed and scattered instead of being united and focused in order to produce special media, intellectual and artistic efforts that rise up to the level of sacrifices and aspirations of our people. These efforts have been important and will remain so on all levels to develop the ideas and values of the revolution and embody them, better yet, to immortalize them in special artistic works that nurture the moral and spiritual characters of our youth and children and rekindle their trust and hope in the future. Without such efforts asserting that the next regime will outdo the former one intellectually, morally and aesthetically, we will experience emptiness that will be exploited by the forces of darkness and oppression.
The current situation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is a tough and complicated one par excellence, due to several interweaving factors and to the interaction of regional components with international interests and inclinations. However, the personal factor remains the cornerstone that determines the Syrian revolution’s aspects. This factor won’t play its normal role unless we overcome the negative points, some of which are mentioned above. The required capacities and abilities to achieve this are present, but we need the will and suitable mentality to understand what is required, with all its ramifications. This mentality should boycott monopolization inclinations and the crippling egotistic or factional efforts, and assert that the Syrian national project that is made up of everyone and for everyone is all-inclusive.