January 5, 2012

Syria’s Revolution Nearing Next Phase

Only two weeks have elapsed since the Arab League entered a new phase of counter-revolution in Syria. After months of indecisive action, the League eventually hammered out an initiative to remove Bashar al-Assad’s regime "at the lowest cost.” In addition to the holding a national dialogue with Syria’s varied opposition, Arab League monitors initiated their mission on December 22nd to oversee the withdrawal of military forces and release of political detainees.

These maneuvers, in theory, will enable mass protests to catalyze the regime’s downfall.

Parts of Syria’s opposition and skeptical observers can accept the fact that demonstrations are intensifying in the League’s presence. A boost in raw energy has intrinsic value during revolution. They also find common ground with those willing to “give the League a chance to fail” - few actually believe in the League’s sincerity. Too much deception has already occurred in front of its monitors, who are subsequently backed by cautiously supportive officials in Cairo.

The League’s monitors insist that their mission isn’t to prevent violence, only to document and report its sources to international bodies. This position stands on quasi-valid ground, as chaperoned monitors cannot be expected to confront armed soldiers. Yet the League’s overall proposal, coupled with a discredited mission chief and 100+ deaths since his arrival, has projected an aura of complicity with al-Assad’s regime. “Today was very good and all sides were responsive,” Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi remarked after arriving in Homs.

Nor do many protesters and activists believe that the League’s monitors are digging deep enough to document Syria’s abuses. Daily violence consumed at least 30 people on Wednesday and Thursday (according to Syria’s Local Coordination Committees), a pattern that is bleeding al-Assad’s trickery into the mission’s image.

"The observers are going to areas known to be loyal to the regime," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Associated Press. "We are not seeing the release of detainees or the true removal of a military presence from the streets. Army tanks have been replaced with police armored personnel carriers that still have the capability to shoot heavy weaponry."

Oppositional sources also warn against painted military vehicles and government forces operating in civilian vehicles. One activist in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr uploaded a video of League monitors standing in front of dirt barriers, with armored vehicles positioned close behind.

The League’s tour on Homs’ main prison unfolded in similar fashion: deception by al-Assad’s regime, initial compliance from the monitors, and hard-earned exposure by the opposition. Prison administrators attempted to steer the monitors away from political detainees only to be “greeted with chants of ‘freedom, freedom,’ and "the people want the fall of the regime.” The League’s team was eventually allowed access for presumably limited interaction.

Local activist Abu Rami further cautioned, "The security forces moved some of the detainees but the numbers are so huge they couldn't move them all. They moved some detainees to military bases and moved away the ones who are in bad health."

The number of political prisoners arrested since March is estimated between 25,000 and 100,000, and reports continue to conflict over their release.

For now the Arab League’s counter-revolution is progressing roughly as planned - gradually weaken al-Assad and maintain control of regime change - but blatant interference may trigger the next phase of Syria’s revolution. The two general positions breakdown into exploiting the mission or rejecting it entirely. Choosing the latter, Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander Riad al-Asaad recently gave the League’s monitors “a few days, or at most within a week” before he made his next move to “surprise the regime and the whole world.”

On Wednesday he slammed the League’s mission as a "mockery" with "no teeth.”

"We prepared ourselves for this stage," the defected Colonel said from his quarantined base in Turkey. "We can't force him off with the peaceful demonstrations, so we are going to force him by arms to leave. We don't believe in the Arab League mission in Syria. I think they are covering the regime and blocking any international intervention to help the Syrian people... We are preparing for big operations and have no faith in Arab League monitors or their useless mission.”

al-Asaad accused the monitors themselves of witnessing government assaults and "not doing anything about it.” He also lobbied for UN monitors to replace the League’s mission and assume the overall political lead in Syria.

Whatever the FSA’s nominal general decides to do, he must realize the necessity of coordinating all operations with Syrian’s highest oppositional authorities. Many members of the National Council (SNC) haven’t hidden their opinion of the League’s mission, condemning its inaction and fraternization with al-Assad’s regime, but Burhan Ghalioun spends time on both sides of the fence. The SNC’s chairman believes, perhaps erroneously, that "even the Arab League has no illusions about the regime's ability to meet its commitments.”

However the end result remains unchanged: allow the mission to fail under al-Assad’s weight: "It remains politically, morally and psychologically useful.”

Ghalioun’s strategy to exploit the League makes sense through the eyes of oppositional leadership - for the time being anyway. Casualties and incidents between the League and al-Assad’s regime could pressure the opposition to align with al-Asaad’s thinking. Conversely, the FSA commander lacks uniform support amongst the SNC and LCC - he’s also suspected of exaggerated his force of 20,000 - and going off on his own agenda is the quickest way to end his campaign. Not only will coordination generate a buffer between al-Assad’s “terrorist” propaganda, a revolution’s military arm loses its function when detached from its political leadership.

For his part Ghalioun addressed these concerns during an interview with BBC, saying, "We are in continuous discussions and whenever they take strategic discussions we are consulted.” The SNC, NCC, LCC and FSA must attempt to sync as closely as possible in order to maximize Syria’s revolution.

Despite the public confidence of its officials, the Arab League has scheduled an emergency session on Saturday to discuss its mission’s future. Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jaber Al Thani conceded “there are some mistakes,” arguing that “they tried their best. They have less experience.” He indicated that UN assistance has been requested. How much impact Syria’s opposition and Western powers will have remains to be seen, but the League’s “mistakes” are piling up to an unsustainable level up - its mission will end one way or another within 1-4 weeks.

Syria’s opposition must be ready to politically attack at any moment.

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