The Last Ramadan of the Dictatorship
It is difficult to conduct an opinion poll in a country like Syria, but it is easy to say that less than ten percent of Syrians were following the vote on the Western draft resolution regarding Syria, in the Security Council. While the eyes of the society most associated with the movement of change were directed towards Damascus and Aleppo, the wider humanitarian and survival situation for the society did not even allow people to keep track of the media. One revolutionary in Daraa province said to me on his satellite mobile phone: “I have seen in recent weeks cases of amputation of the hand and foot more than fifteen times, because of the absence of specialist surgeons and places worthy of the name ‘surgery’. We lack doctors, we lack medicine and we lack food. Indiscriminate shelling around us has made us inevitable creatures of death. Me as a fighter, I have chosen this for myself, but the number of fighters compared to the total number victims is less … not because they are cowards, but because the shelling is blind and is designed more to terrorise people than to face the insurgents. The human being is the cheapest thing in Syria today; food and energy like gas and diesel are rare and are absent completely from some areas; people cut trees and use dried animal dung for cooking food; the price of ammunition is mythical, and medicine is increasing in price; human beings are the only cheaply price commodity. I tried to pass some news to the Gulf satellite channels, but it seems that the issue is not important for them. They want news to fit their media’s policy; they are looking for a massacre. We as human beings have not been slaughtered yet; we no longer deserve even a small report about our situation.”
The operation in Damascus last week was not well thought-out in the military sense. It was a proactive operation of what became known as an escalation in the military and security by the Authority, designed to face the collective expressions of struggle associated with the rituals of Ramadan, these expressions which, despite the army entering Hama, Deir Al-Zour and Abu Kamal last year, played a key role in the transformation of mobilisation from weekly to daily in the past year. However, the building of the National Security in al-Raoda which is old and modest and the least protected of all security branches, was soon to become top of the news in the media. For the first time since the beginning of the Revolution of Dignity, the official Syrian media and al-Manar television of Hezbollah were the two that achieved the news scoop! But it did not exceed the words ‘breaking news’. One of the television stations tried to broadcast old images in place of this operation, and after minutes they found the pictures from a bombing in the al-Latamna neighbourhood of Hama a few weeks ago. Some of them did not respect the picture of the martyr, Maan Aloudat who was assassinated by Security Services on 8 August 2011, saying his is the corpse of the Minister of Defence. With the exception of these two fabricated incidents, there were no pictures or film.
A Doctor who lives at a distance of tens of meters from the building told me that he had not left his home on the morning of 18th July, and did not hear any special sound that day. From outside the building everything was normal. Two years ago, in the same month, Major General Hisham Bakhtiar summoned me to this same building. I carefully observed the building inside and out. It can be said that the building is a Party headquarters or the headquarters of a Government department, but it is difficult to say that the building can ensure protection to those who meet inside it. Is this building the traditional place for a meeting of the crisis cell which led one of the fiercest battles against social mobility and even the society?
I do not know if the mystery of July 18th will become a subject of a transparent investigation, and there is no doubt that the number of those who claim to have carried out this “special” operation will exceed five parties. But the correct principle remains in the large security files in Syria until today, that “one who knows does not speak and the one who speaks does not know”. The essential conclusion is that the apparent cohesion of the summit of power does not mean much in any estimates, in relation to the future life of the regime.
Popular committees belonging to the Democratic Union Party oversee the security and management, and even supplies, in “Ayn al-Arab” and several Kurdish towns in north and north-east Syria. Manbej and many villages and towns north of Aleppo are controlled by local groups calling themselves the Free Army without necessarily communicating with leadership in Turkey, and there are many groups brought together by the name “al-Qaeda” that entered in the last ten days from Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon as revealed by media sources from Saudi Arabia. Filtering power in the administrative and military sense occurs rapidly, but is there a gap between those who advocate a security policy solution as a necessity, and confrontation with institutions of the State that are necessary to minimize the chaos and the economy of violence? There is no doubt that the coming hours will determine the speed at which the foundations of the old regime will fall, which will reflect directly on the scenarios for the transitional era. We cannot say that both of the media stations which lead the campaign to overthrow the system – Aljazeera and al-Arabia – have any positive role at this level. The important thing for them is the fall of the regime, and after that they will have talks about every incident in its time.
There is no doubt that the external eyes, which began some time ago to prepare the research and plans that was called ‘The Day after’ will find themselves very far from the ground. Even the decisions of the Syrian opposition in Cairo earlier this month called for support for the Free Army and armed resistance, and forgot to claim the support of civil resistance and the formation of popular committees and citizenship structures which would be able to reduce the chaos of violence, organized crime and jihadist organizations that are contaminated religiously and ideologically; this way forward would be defended by a collection of Democrats defending the “National Covenant” document which is not acknowledged by extremists.
Despite all these earthquakes in Syria, the security and military authority is still following the same policy, leaving non-strategic areas in a state of chaos and starving the economy, controlling the main roads and sources of energy and special weapons, and pushing the armed groups to remote towns that are easily shelled away from the media and witnesses. This policy is no longer able to cope with everyone who wants to face military confrontation and a military solution. Despite the absence of central and joint planning and cooperation between the parties fighting against the regime, it is clear that they control one after another of the many areas, and thus create a state of confusion and chaos in the armed forces accompanied by defections of a large number of soldiers and junior officers, but also withdrawals of the army in several regions with consequential chaos in security.
Is it possible to talk about a political transition with minimal losses in this volatile situation? There is no doubt that the most extremist parties that were mobilized in recent days will be left with weapons as the only way of expression, at least in these days; there is no doubt also that there are many who want to see a Syria infected and weak. The echo of the rest of the voice will not be heard unless the owners of the military option are convinced of the need to maintain Syria away from civil war and division, which requires historical consensus between the sectors that think of human beings, society and the State from within the ranks of the armed opposition, the military institutions, and the political movement that are committed to the democratic civil sovereign State.
Haytham Manna 29 July 2012