Syria – the return of hope?

It was a remarkable sight. After five years of bombings and siege Syrians took to the streets in vast numbers to once again chant the slogans of the 2011 revolution.

Socialist Worker 388

Syria – the return of hope?

It was a remarkable sight. After five years of bombings and siege Syrians took to the streets in vast numbers to once again chant the slogans of the 2011 revolution.

The protests appeared across the country, but were most pronounced in areas that have born the brunt of repression, mass arrests and brutal siege.

The demonstrations popped up following a fragile truce that was brokered by global powers. For the past two years the revolution had become subsumed by wars fuelled by regional and global powers, as well as a confusing array of armed groups, some genuine, others proxy players for outside powers.

But under the ceasefire the revolution has flickered back to life. This is evidence of the depth and resilience of Syria’s popular uprising, and confirmation that although the country may be broken, the desire for a better future remains string.

But the forces ranged against the revolution are phenomenal.

Assad

With the backing of Russian firepower, the remnants of dictator Bashar Assad’s army, reinforced by sectarian mercenaries, have surrounded the city of Aleppo and tightened the sieges on rebel suburbs of the capital Damascus and Homs, the heartland of the uprising.

The ceasefire does not cover rebel groups such as Jabra al-Nusra and others the west and Russia consider dangerous. These groups, despite their hostility to many of the demands of the revolution, are deeply rooted in the uprising.

Many of those who first took to the streets in peaceful protests gravitated towards Islamist groups as they were better organised to resist the mass repression unleashed by the regime.

These groups have become the main target of US and Russian airpower, despite their deep hostility to ISIS.

The truce has also created a clearer distinction between the genuine rebels and those controlled by outside powers, among them various US armed groups known as the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), and ones backed by Gulf kingdoms, Turkey, Jordan, Iran and Lebanon.

These proxy groups, alongside Kurdish militias that were once part of the revolution, have taken the opportunity to step up attacks on Islamist rebels, as the truce does not cover them.

It is in these areas not included in the ceasefire that genuine rebel organisations still hold sway, but under the hegemony of Islamist groups. It is here that many of the popular committees that sprouted in the summer of 2012 have survived.

In some areas Islamists attempted to halt the protests, pulling down the revolution flag and replacing it with the black flag.

Protests

The protests, alongside the stalemate on the battlefield, provide an opportunity for the revolution to step back onto the front foot.

But it requires a radical shift in strategy. The Islamist, mistakenly labelled as “counter-revolutionary”, are unable to tap into the growing discontent in areas under regime control.

There are new rumblings of discontent among Alawis, the sect that forms the base of the Assad regime, and semi-rebellions have broken out among the Druze minority in southern Syria. But the Islamists were unable to win them over because they considered them to be apostates.

Those wanting an end to the war have come to fear the sectarian proclamations of the Islamists. This is the trap that was cleverly set by Assad when it looked like his regime was on the point of defeat.

The revolution has to win back the allegiance of the minorities as well as the Kurds, a historically marginalised section of Syrian society.

Despite coming into the streets in huge numbers in 2011, the revolutionaries refused to accept the longstanding Kurdish demand for autonomy and independence.

This failure, sold as defence of the “Syrian nation”, left the Kurds vulnerable to outside influence. Now Kurdish forces have struck up an alliance with the US in eastern Syria, and the regime and Russia in western Syria.

The failure of Islamists to decisively win the battle on the ground appears to have opened up the possibility of the more secular sections of the revolution to reappear. It is for this reason that some Islamist groups sought to snuff out the demonstrations.

With so many forces ranged against them and the continuing fear of starvation and pulverisation by airstrikes, these protests could fizzle out.

Resurrecting the central demands of the revolution requires a major strategic shift. It may seem a vague hope, but hope has reappeared once again in the street of Syria.

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