Following the terrible attack on the gas station in Raqqa, I was invited to talk about the development of the resistance, and a way forward in Syria. [see my article for reference: Eighteen Months Later. Understand the Formula to a Solution in Syria.]
See below for full transcript:
Helicopter gunship bombing in Syria’s Hama region by the Assad regime earlier this month was followed last week by warplane attacks on a crowded gas station in northern Raqqa Province near the Turkish border that reportedly killed or wounded more than 100. And the continuing calls for peace by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other international leaders seemed ever more hollow, especially to opposition forces and their supporters around the world.
Among those supporters is Sarab Al-Jijakli of the Syrian Expatriates Organization and co-founder of the National Alliance for Syria. He first appeared on this show back in March, last week issued an 18-month status report on the revolution, and a formula for the way ahead. And FOR YOUR EARS ONLY, Sarab Al-Jijakli joins us again now. Welcome back to the program.
Thank you for having me.
Sarab – To begin, we have to ask you. If you think the prospects for additional U.S. aid to the opposition in Syria has been dramatically reduced by the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya, where the U.S. had such a big hand in assisting the overthrow of Muammar Ghadaffi?
It’s a good question…I think in general the embassy riots over the past week and a half have pushed the United States towards an isolationist reaction, especially within the context of the upcoming elections.
But I think its also important to note the differences between US involvement in Syria and that of Libya. I think in Libya obviously it was very assertive. In Syria, I think you can sum up the entire position of the United States as: delayed reactions, some sanctions, verbal support for political opposition groups, some non-lethal aid, but nothing really tangible that’s impacting the realities on the ground in Syria.
So at the end of the day, to your question, I think it might influence the discourse on Syria, however as it relates to what’s happening on the ground and the killing and slaughter that’s perpetrated by the Assad regime, no I don’t think it impacts it that much.
Of course the first factor in your formula for the future in Syria is homegrown civil resistance. And you say there’s actually more cohesion and leadership than may be apparent to outsiders, in large part thanks to the Internet, Talk about how technology helps the Opposition.
Sure, its, you know the formula is grounded in, a couple of factors right – civil resistance, homegrown civil resistance, mobilizing the entire population so that Assad can no longer rule, plus militarized resistance usually under the banner of the FSA plus some outside support will equal the downfall of Assad.
And I think, to your question of technology, its done amazing things to facilitate and help activists organize on the ground a couple of different things; one is coordination – local coordination, which is all grass roots connecting across villages, connecting across towns, and leveraging communication mechanisms and technology to ensure that there’s more cohesion and coordination across relief efforts, civil resistance etc.
The second thing is documenting regime crimes. Everything – every single crime this regime has perpetrated over the last eighteen months is documented, there’s a video on YouTube covering it. And this is why the regime has been so demonized in front of the world, because we see the crimes taking place as they actually happen. In the opening to the segment, you talked about the gas station attack by an Assad MIG that killed over seventy people yesterday. Well, we saw the video of that a couple of hours, even less than a couple of hours after the incident actually occurred, basically shot by local civil journalists recording everything.
So, technology has been huge. It has been key to ensuring one, that what happens in Syria is coordinated but also what happens in Syria is shown to the outside world.
I liked your point too that opposed to being leaderless there is a kind of ever shifting degree of leadership in part to bring more people into the action and in part for self-protection.
A lot of the leaders in Syria, people ask where they are. One of the things that is important to note, is that most of the civil resistance activists don’t want to be knows. As you know, Syria has been ruled through the ‘cult of personality’ for over forty years and a lot of what’s happening today in Syria is a reaction to that. So by no means do we want to have one figure lead us forward. We want the Syrian people and all the talent we have in Syria to coordinate everything and push us forward. And that’s where leadership lies, among the people themselves who are organizing town by town, village by village, city by city and ensuring that the entire population is involved in resisting.
Quickly, let’s shift to the military factor—and what you say is the changing composition of the Free Syrian Army, initially mostly defectors from Assad’s forces.
Sure, sure. Early on – overwhelmingly, for the first six months of the revolution everything was civil resistance. It was basically a manifestation of popular expression through strikes, protests etc. As the regime became more brutal, we saw many Syrians pickup arms to resist attacks on demonstrators and really that was the purpose of what became the Free Syrian Army – was initially to protect demonstrators, to protect the civil activists from attacks by the regime.
This has obviously evolved as things have become more brutal and as Syrians realized their needs to be some sort of a deterrent to the Assad regime. And we’ve seen the FSA grow from just small little networks to larger networks really under the organization of provincial councils, military councils that have adopted a franchise name, which is the Free Syrian Army. So its not that the Free Syrian Army is one organization necessarily, but it is a network of local brigades connected through provincial military councils all sharing an important symbolic name to lay the foundation for alternative structures to Assad’s army.
And so its extremely important we see the development of this new institution in play, and its not perfect, obviously, but its something that’s maturing and developing as this revolution continues.
Sarab Al-Jijakli of the Syrian Expatriates Organization and co-founder of the National Alliance for Syria.