Syria: revolution and imperialism

Article published in December 2011

The Syrian National Council, far from defending the Syrian people against the Assad regime, relies too heavily on the recognition by imperialist powers.

The popular movement is ongoing in Syria, where daily demonstrations are held throughout the country in the face of brutal repression. The Syrian National Council has taken over a ‘general strike’ initiative, initially called by groups inside the country, and publicized it under the banner of “strike for Dignity”.  

The “Strike for Dignity”, launched on 11 December, has been widely supported in protest strongholds around the country. Activists say security forces have tried to break strikes by force and threats. The municipal elections organised on 12 December as a way to divert people from the protests were a failure.

But the policies and declarations of the SNC have a raised number of questions. Firstly, the role and the actions of the SNC these past few months have not been to strengthen the popular movement inside the country, but to rely extensively on the relations with imperialist powers such as the USA and France – and their allies, the counter-revolutionary forces of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The Arab League has imposed sanctions on Syria following SNC demands to further isolate the Syrian regime. The Syrian people will have to bear the consequences of these sanctions. As we have seen in the past, economic and political sanctions on authoritarian regimes have rarely weakened them. In Iraq and Iran, the opposite happened: sanctions strengthened the regimes and weakened the people.

Secondly, the SNC has continuously called for foreign military intervention, despite objections from groups inside the country such as the Local Coordinating Committees (LCC). For example, the SNC called a protest demanding a no fly zone in late October, then a protest demanding a buffer zone in early November.

Both actions show the lack of confidence the SNC has in the popular movement inside the country. They believe that the end of the Syrian regime can only result from external pressures and interventions. The only practical action taken by the SNC has been to start coordinating with the Syrian Free Army, soldiers who have defected from the Syrian army to join the revolution, in order to protect demonstrators and target the Syrian intelligence services.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) initially called for the open-ended “Strike for Dignity,” which it described as the first step in a civil disobedience campaign to bring down Assad’s regime.

Stage One would involve closing sub-lanes, a sit-down strike (showing up to work and refusing to perform any tasks), and turning off cell phones between 2-6pm. Then it would escalate, progressively, to closing all stores and shops, a universities’ strike, a transportation strike and the closure of all major road and highways between cities, a public employees’ strike, and finally the closing of all international roads and highways.

The LCCs claim “We make our revolution by our own hands”. They describe the Syrian Revolution in the following way:
“The Syrian revolution is a dignity one, a revolution of every human seeks his own decent life and free choice. It’s a renaissance against slavery; a scream at the face of humiliation started from the first day as demonstrators cried “Syrians are not to be humiliated”.

We have learned from history that it is not by relying on foreign imperialists’ powers, and their regional allies, that self determination can be achieved, but from the strength of its own people and their mobilization. For example, the PLO leadership policy of increasing reliance on imperialist powers and their allies has given the Palestinians neither independence or strength.

A recent interview with Burhan Ghalioun, president of the SNC, in the Wall Street Journal has raised more issues about the SNC and its links with imperialist powers. Ghalioun declared that a post-Assad Syria would weaken its ties with Iran, adding that Syria will cut the military alliance with Hamas and Hezbollah. The future Syria will have a closer relationship with Gulf countries.

But relations with other countries should be discussed once the regime has been overthrown and on the basis of self determination. It is the right of the Syrian people to decide what kind of relations they want with other countries.

Whereas relations with Iran are described by Ghalioun as “abnormal”, cooperating closely with France (former coloniser) and other Western imperialist countries is normal. Russia, which supports and protects the Syrian regime, deserves a “special relationship” in the eyes of the new Syrian National Council.

Ghalioun also wishes to see a closer relationship with Gulf countries which have been the centre of counter-revolution since the beginning of the uprisings in the Arab worlds, notably by intervention militarily through the Gulf Council Cooperation (GCC) to crush the Bahraini popular movement in March. But the struggle for freedom and justice of the Syrian popular movement cannot be associated with countries such as Saudi Arabia that repress their own people.

The SNC also want to put an end to the military alliance with Hezbollah and Hamas. Hezbollah’s support for the Syrian regime has been widely criticised and the party has lost a lot of its credibility among the Arab people, while Hamas has stayed silent since the beginning of the Syrian revolution.

We are seeing the contradictions of Hamas and Hezbollah in this revolutionary period, with their political interests leading them to oppose the popular uprising in Syria.

But would it be in the interests of the Syrian people to see a weaker Lebanon, or a Gaza Strip unable to resist the aggressive policies of Israel? It is the Syrian people – and not the regime – who opened their homes to the Lebanese refugees, mostly coming from regions supporting Hezbollah, during the 2006 war against Lebanon.

They have done the same for Palestinian refugees in the past. The Syrian people in 1970s, for example, opposed the Syrian military intervention in Lebanon to crush the Palestinian resistance and the left.

Does the SNC actually promote any resistance against the Israeli state? No, as we can see from Burhan Ghalioun commenting: “We are banking on our special relationship with the Europeans and western powers in helping us in reclaiming the Golan as fast as possible.”
Since when have the imperialist countries pressured Israel – their closest ally – to respect and/or implement international law or resolutions from the United Nations?  The United States has vetoed numerous UN resolutions against Israel’s international law and human rights violations for decades. This will not change in the future. The Palestinian leadership’s reliance on the ‘international community’ to reclaim its lands is a very good example of how successful such policies are.

The SNC has concentrated its actions on assuring these powers of its readiness to follow and share their political interests, in complete contradiction of the interests of the Syrian people. The SNC has little power and influence on the ground in Syria and in the popular movement. Therefore it has to rely on the recognition given by the international community.

We should instead look to the grassroots mobilisations. As the LCCs’ call for “the Strike for dignity” expresses it:
“The rebellious Syrian youth results in the Dignity Strike Invitation; an invitation that is considered a start of their actual salvation from injustice and humiliation, in addition to being the first step in an overall civil disobedience which will corner the regime in the cell of truth – sticking an expired label on its forehead and throwing it away”.

The power of the Syrian revolution resides in the Syrian people.

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