Syria is to be on the brink of a civil war this week after the formation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The FSA is made up of deserters from the military and numbers in the thousands. The force’s commander Adabeel battalion, Colonel Ammar al-Wawi told Al-Jazeera that their ‘only goal is to liberate Syria from Bashar Assad’s regime.’ And said that the FSA would engage in ‘military operations against anyone who targets the peaceful protesters.’
This marks an important escalation of the unrest in Syria, which up until now had largely consisted of large scale protests. Despite repeated promises not to shoot protestors and offers to lift the 48 year old state of emergency, thousands of demonstrators have been killed by the Army and security forces since the unrest began in march. The response of the Assad regime has become increasingly violent, with tanks frequently used against unarmed civilians. Opposition to the Assad regime is widespread but it is not universal. Assad still has the support of many Alawis and much the 500,000 strong Syrian Army. The formation of the FSA could therefore see Syria descend into a civil war.
In the mean time moves are being made by the Syrian National Council (SNC) to position itself as the representative of the Syrian people and future leadership of the country. Although the SNC has made an important step by opposing western intervention, its credentials remain highly suspect. Most of its leaders are unelected, self-appointed ‘representatives’ of the Syrian opposition, who have few links to the current struggle within Syria. The youth groups, who have played a central role in the uprising, are also drastically underrepresented on the SNC. It will be both a grave injustice and will reduce emancipatory potential of the uprising if the grassroots leadership of the opposition are denied adequate representation in any future Syrian government.
Worryingly the SNC also seems desperate to be viewed by the US and Europe as the sole representative of the Syrian people. What Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have shown us is that when an old regime is toppled the Untied States will manoeuvre to replace it a government subservient to it’s own interests.
The Syrian situation is a difficult one. On the one hand the Syrian opposition are faced by a regime which is determined to stay in power whatever the cost. While on the other hand the undemocratic Syrian National Council is positioning to take power, if and when the Assad regime falls.
What next for the Syrian opposition?
What is certain is that a repeat of the Libyan situation would be a disaster: a bloody civil war, followed by a country opened up to American and European economic exploitation. The Syrian Opposition must continue to contest the Assad regime, but must also build organisations outside the control of the SNC to help secure a real democracy in the long run. The Local Co-ordinating Comities which have been the backbone of the rising so far should will be an important part of this structure, and should not be disbanded if the Assad regime falls.
The Egyptian Revolution earlier this year contains important lessons for the Syrian opposition. Strikes played a key part in bringing down the Mubarak regime and also gave a central role to the Egyptian working class in the struggle. Large scale industrial actions could also work in Syria. However, the Assad regime has been much more successful at suppressing the trade union movement in the past. The Syrian working class therefore remains less organised than their Egyptian counterpart. An organised and unionised working class movement would both increase the effectiveness of the Syrian opposition and put the Syrian left in a much stronger position.
The future of Syria lies in the balance. There are many serious challenges the opposition will have to overcome, but there is still genuine emancipatory potential in the Syrian Revolution.