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    Middle East
     Nov 7, '13

Darkness rising in Syrian opposition
By Samir Nazareth

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

The latest reports on the Syrian tragedy suggest the fundamentalists are gaining the upper hand - not only are they acting like a black hole, drawing in secular rebels, they are also using drugs to fund their war.

There was an earlier time when the saga of the internal strife in Syria was different, as seen in the various email petitions and updates sent to millions of people by the Syrian opposition at the time.

The struggle, now spiraling into uncontrolled violence, was quite

different then. In 2011, an email petition for donations towards Syrian activists was sent which had the following lines: "The Syrian regime is laying siege to whole cities, and is willing to annihilate them to crush the peaceful democracy movement. ... [D]espite this unimaginable terror, the Syrian people refuse to be silenced, and are committed to a non-violent path out of this nightmare."

However, as events worsened on the ground the contents of the petitions and news began to change. These not only reflected the altering scenarios but could also be seen as the changing position, if not hardening stance of the petitioners. These examples from January 2012 appeared on their website:
"Helping incredibly brave Syrians document regime abuses and broadcast their footage to the world media. But now our network of peaceful activists is disappearing. If enough of us urge the EU to enforce tough sanctions and an arms embargo now, we can help fracture the regime, encourage defections in the army and sustain demonstrators risking everything.

"Six hundred and seventy Syrian students currently study in UK higher education institutions. Many have been threatened by their universities with immediate expulsion - some have already been expelled - if either they or their sponsors can no longer pay for their tuition fees, due to the conflict in Syria."

And then, as we come into January 2013: "In two days, donor countries will meet to finalize plans to give $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Syrian people suffering inside Syria and to refugees. This would be great news, but all documents show that 500 million of these dollars will be managed by government ministries. It would be an outrage to even consider giving Assad ministries control of this aid package.

"Driven by Assad's terror machine, 2.5 million Syrians have fled their homes, 65,000 have been killed, and everyday we hear stories of rape and child torture."

What we are reading about is the spread in collateral damage. Activists within Syria disappearing, then students studying in the UK sponsored by the Syrian government or by their families finding themselves cut-off from their funding.

The deliberate use of terms like "Assad's terror machine" vilify the government of a nation which was, until recently, recognized by all countries and seen as a progressive state. The message in the petition indicates in no uncertain terms who the bad guy is and thus what needs to be done with him.

The last example which is about aid, begs the question whether those living in government controlled areas are going to be left high and dry when it comes to access to humanitarian aid. Even if it goes through agencies would the government permit these aid agencies to function everywhere?

Do these petitions support something as simplistic as supporting a group of people claiming to fight for democracy against a supposedly authoritarian state? Is a subjective moral compass guiding the petitions which support these groups and helps them in their fight against the state?

In this context, one needs to question the silence of the monarchies of the Arab world and the archaic monarchical systems of the Arab world, where peaceful protest is dealt with a heavy hand. What is astonishing is that though both the autocrat and the monarch use almost similar tools to keep control, one continues to be treated with kid gloves while the other is overthrown.

In Syria, when the petitions began to bolster the efforts of the peaceful activists was there a realization that there would soon be non-peaceful "activists" who would come from other parts of the region and espouse concepts like jihad? Was there an appreciation of the possibility that in the process of trying to get rid of Assad, there would be use of chemical weapons - allegedly by both sides?

Did the impact of petitions during the Arab Spring which is supposed to have helped in deposing entrenched regimes result in a similar tactic being used in the case of Syria? Conventional wisdom suggests that no two situations are the same, no matter how similar the circumstances and the ingredients that go into making it; and, more importantly, no matter how much we wish it to be so.

The following suggestions would seem idiotic but they do serve a purpose: start a petition demanding the fundamentalists get out of the fight. Maybe they won't but the world would realize that there is a real chance that rebels aligning with al-Qaeda could form the next government and it may not be in the best interest of the people and the region. Another petition should be to the Free Syrian Army and others asking them to lay out their plans on how they would protect the rights of the minorities and other citizens, if they win their battle. This petition would start a discussion on respect, rights and equality - which is what this fight is about.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Samir Nazareth is a commentator based in India. He can be contacted at samirnazareth@hotmail.com

(Copyright 2013 Samir Nazareth)

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