The revolution in Syria is now in its second year and questions are being raised about the likelihood of its success. Syrian activists attest that the persistence of the revolution against all odds is proof that it cannot be defeated. Their detractors argue Assad’s continued grasp on the country supports their argument that he is too strong to be removed. The international community is similarly divided with most Arab and Western countries saying Assad’s fall is only a matter of time. Meanwhile Russia, China and their allies insist Assad is here to stay.
The Syrian revolution has evolved over the past year from a singular protest in Damascus’ traditional Hamidiyye Market spreading to cover almost every square mile of Syria’s land. The rising number of defectors has also led to the creation of the Free Syrian Army whose self-proclaimed priority is to protect protesters from the regime’s violent oppression.
The increase in defections is helping the FSA become an independent actor in the Syrian opposition. The media’s thirst for blood also helps the FSA grab more of the Syria headlines than the peaceful protests ever did. As a result many observers have taken to measuring the success of the revolution in terms of ground held by the FSA, or lost to Assad. This overshadows many of the accomplishments of the revolution.
What’s happening in Syria is a popular revolt and by no means a military conflict. The Syrian people are protesting because they desire to practice their right to self-determination. The Assad regime had imposed on its subjects a seemingly convenient formula, which can easily be summarized by “do whatever you want, just don’t threaten the regime.” Any dissenters were promptly silenced in a mysterious yet public manner that spelled out the consequences for speaking up. This culture of fear ruled Syria for five decades.
The Syrian Revolution is changing the psyche of most Syrian people, dissenters and supporters alike. In the few cafes that are still open in Aleppo and Damascus customers openly discuss the crisis in Syria, often omitting discreet terms. In March a group of youth, regime opponents and supporters, gathered in Damascus to participate in a convoy delivering aid to Homs in a sign of solidarity with those affected by the regime’s onslaught. The convoy was prevented from leaving Damascus and the youth responded by staging a sit-in. In June of last year Assad hosted a delegation from Jobar, a Damascus neighborhood that was among the first to revolt. One of the participants leaked his notes from the meeting. They revealed that the guests openly talked back to the president. The leak alone is an act of defiance unheard of before in Syria.
“The wall of fear has been broken” may sound to many as a hollow statement however it is the most significant realization of the past year. This small development is changing the very nature of the relationship between the Arab people and their governors.
Assad’s obsession with his military (the security solution) will be his demise. The army is behaving as a foreign occupation force rather than “Guardians of the Homeland” as they are called in Syria’s national anthem. It is being used as a tool to punish the people rather than protect them. Slowly but steadily Assad is losing his grasp over everything in the country. He is neglecting everything other than the military, leaving local governance to activists. Revolution councils are increasingly responsible for managing all aspects of civilian life.
Assad is on a path with only one logical end. His. The army, like civilians, require services to function properly. Soldiers are already being sent on missions without rations. As they become more dependent on the revolution councils they will defect in larger numbers. Assad will lose his only card.