A fate worse than Assad

The original Syrian revolutionaries wanted freedom and an end to grinding poverty. Four years later, groups such as the IS, who rule with a warped religious ideology, are the only apparent alternative to Assad.

The only constant through four years of war in Syria is the call for the toppling of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

But in that time, the moderate Syrian rebels who fought for the end of Assad’s rule have been sidelined by the extremists of the Islamic State group and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.

These armed groups, who support the establishment of an Islamic state based on fundamentalist Sunni values, would be the apparent masters of Syria should Assad fall.

It has become as the regime falsely claimed from the outset of the uprising. So how has regime propaganda become reality?

At the beginning of the revolution protestors chanted: ‘Only God, Syria and freedom.’

On freedom

One of the first ideas protesters embraced was “freedom”. At the beginning of the revolution they chanted “only God, Syria and freedom”, a variation on the regime’s slogan “only God, Syria and Bashar”.

The poorer sections of society joined the uprising demanding not only democracy but improvements to living conditions, healthcare, employment, housing and education.

However, the selfishness of opposition parties and the middle classes soon became evident. They tried to monopolise the revolution’s goals and limit them to embracing freedom and overthrowing the regime, without proposing an alternative system that reflected the demands of the poor.

Those demands were soon silenced as protests turned to violence, and violence turned to all-out war between opposition and government forces.

A fate worse than Assad

Fast-forward four years, and one must ask whether the ascendant Salafi forces have the capacity to solve the original demands of the people.

These forces would seriously limit freedom as they impose their religious ideology. Their authoritarianism is not only manifested in the political sphere but in all social spheres.

They oppose political, intellectual and cultural activities that do not conform to their narrow interpretation of religion.

Under their control, women and religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities are banished from public life, and society is governed by medieval rulings and an ignorant, narrow-minded and literalist culture.

One must ask whether the ascendant Salafi forces have the capacity to solve the original demands of the people.

Assad’s current regime is more desirable than the one proposed by those whose ideology is rooted in the Middle Ages.

In addition, cutting poverty means changing the economic model but these forces lack the vision to do so. Their focus is on implementing sharia and collecting religious taxes.

The only hope for a new, better Syria, are the groups who have been marginalised by the Salafis. But they suffer from a lack of funding and are constantly under attack. At the same time, the youths that started the revolution are either displaced, dead or in prison.

This makes the slogan of toppling the regime frightening –  because the only alternative at the moment is even worse.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition

Source: al Arabi al Jadeed

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