Those who remained decided to take up arms against the regime’s barbarity, setting in motion a spiral of violence. The regime began destroying areas of active opposition, resulting in the decline of the peaceful demonstration movement and the rise of the armed opposition.
With the increased militarisation of the revolution, armed factions began to seek weapons and money from regional states to confront a professional force. Assad’s regional enemies gladly contributed to further their own policies.
At this time, former prisoners of the Syrian regime, many of whom believed in violent jihad, flocked to groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, the Nusra Front and later the Islamic State group.
Foreign funding strengthened these groups as the ostensibly secular forces of the Free Syrian Army were in decline, pushing some Syrians into the arms of the better equipped jihadist groups.
|A fate worse than Assad: read the first part of Salameh Kaileh’s series on the Syrian revolution|
The youth had originally responded to regime accusations that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis ran the revolution by chanting: “no Salafis or Brotherhood, the revolution is by the youth”. But as foreign money began to influence the opposition, that chant was consigned to history.
One can also not ignore the role played by the media, with western outlets focusing on the sectarian nature of the conflict – a Shia Iranian-backed Alawite Assad suppressing a Sunni-majority revolution. The regime itself depicted the revolution as Salafi.
This portrayal facilitated the infiltration of extremist groups in the revolution who were not in Syria to topple the regime, but to establish an Islamic state. That goal would destroy the original demands of the revolution.
Not all revolutionaries have sided with the Salafis, however. Large segments of the population became refugees and many activists left the country. It is these people who need to rebuild the revolution and turn it away from the sectarianism that has derailed it.
The original revolutionaries were united by grievances over poverty, lack of democracy and oppression. The revolution should be about more than toppling Assad – it should seek to improve the economy, representation and freedom.
This requires an ideological battle against fundamentalism. We have to expose how the visions of fundamentalists contradict the demands of the population and the interests of impoverished segments of society.
|The original revolutionaries were united by grievances over poverty, lack of democracy and oppression.|
We have to demonstrate the error of joining groups that work against the aspirations and demands of their Syrian members and against the interests of the areas in which they have taken refuge.
Here we should clearly distinguish between religion and the ideology of these fundamentalists groups, and demonstrate how these groups use religion as a tool to further their interests, which stand opposed to the interests of the people.
We also have to expose the vision of liberalism that wants to limit the revolution’s goals to political freedom, ignoring the fact the economic liberalism – the belief that the “market” is king – causes its own problems of inequality and misery.
The struggle against the regime is for an alternative that meets the demands of the population. The regime needs to be replaced with a system that resolves the problems of unemployment, poverty and marginalisation as well as other social problems.