Counter-revolutionary forces have pushed revolutionary aims into near-oblivion

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It’s been over four years since the beginning of the revolutionary processes in Syria and the wider region, and their initial objectives (democracy, social justice, and equality) never seemed more distant than today.

In Syria, and as a result of the regime’s military and political actions and war against the popular movement and civilians, we are witnessing a humanitarian and socio-economic catastrophe. Towns and cities are being destroyed, and half of the Syrian population has been turned into refugees inside Syria or in neighbouring countries.

On the political level, the Bashar al-Assad regime, assisted by its Russian, Iranian and Hizballah allies, as well as other militias, is still in power and has accumulated significant military victories with significant advances on the ground since 2014, including the recapture of the city of Homs in May 2014. The overthrow of the regime is very much a distant prospect today.

That is strengthened by the apparent desire of international and regional powers to stabilize the region and put an end to the revolutionary processes on a regional level. This is being made under the cover on the “war on terrorism” and the threat of the Islamic State group (IS, formerly Isis). Such propaganda is taken up by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s dictatorship in Egypt and the reactionary monarchies of the Gulf, while finding increasing echoes within Western countries, who are in turn adopting and implementing   repressive measures, supposedly to cope with the extremist threat in Europe.

Regional alignment against revolution

We can also see that relations with the authoritarian regime of Sisi in Egypt are normalizing at a fast path following the business deal between France and the Egyptian regime regarding the sale of the military planes Rafale, in addition to the other contacts concluded by various French companies with the regime.   In the case of Syria, while in the past the solution of an authoritarian regime without Assad and with some sections of the Syrian opposition, not representative of the popular movement on one side and on the other side linked to the Western governments and Gulf monarchies, was favoured by the various international and regional imperialist forces, these latter forces today seem increasingly to agree that Assad could finally stay and be an ally in the so-called “war against terrorism”; the most important objective being the fight against IS.

This was illustrated with the visit of the four French deputies to Damascus in February 2015 or with the global trend of articulating that the priority is to defeat IS, meaning that an alliance with Assad is not excluded. Then you have the declarations of UN special envoy De Mistura, who proclaimed Assad as part of the solution to end the conflict in Syria. Even US Secretary of State John Kerry recently said that although Assad has lost any semblance of legitimacy, the US have no higher priority than disrupting and defeating IS, a view echoed Friday by CIA chief John Brennan.

This is also the framework within which the international military intervention – led by the US and Western governments and with the collaboration of some Gulf monarchies – against IS and other militants such as Jabhat al-Nusra (the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate) operates. The intervention was not planned to assist the Syrian revolutionaries in their fight against the Assad regime. Similarly, there is still a refusal by the various so-called “friends” of the Syrian revolution to help politically and support militarily the democratic and popular forces in Syria, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurdish PYD, which fought and are fighting the Assad regime and the reactionary Islamic and jihadist forces.

This process of rapprochement with the Assad regime is occurring while Islamic fundamentalist and jihadist forces have continued to attack democratic components of the FSA, the Kurdish military forces, and democratic activists who refuse their authoritarian practices and domination. These groups have concentrated their military efforts on conquering the “liberated areas” of Syria, in which the Assad regime is not present, despite still maintaining some military confrontations with the regime in some areas.

Counter-revolutionary putsch

Syria is the more acute and violent situation in terms of the clash with counter revolutionary forces, which have characterised the political scene of the region for the past four years.

These counter revolutionary forces consist of the representatives of the former authoritarian regimes on one side and Islamic fundamentalist and reactionary forces in its various components from the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizballah to Jihadists on the other side (These forces are of course not similar and major differences exist between them, but they share a common counter revolutionary position against the popular movements and the objectives of the revolution).

The relations between these two counter revolutionary forces have been characterised by strong opposition and clashes, as we have seen in the repression of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt since the summer of 2013 and the overthrow of Morsi or in Syria with the military confrontation between Assad military forces and various Islamic jihadist and fundamentalist forces.

However, these relations can also be characterized by collaboration or at least by mutual agreement on some points. The best example of this collaboration is currently in Tunisia with the new united government composed of Nidaa Tounes, which represents the interests of the former regimes of Bourguiba and Ben Ali, followed by the reactionary Islamic force of Ennahdha. In addition to this, we should remember that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the fall of Mubarak has maintained good relations and even worked with the leaders of the army until the fall of Morsi in July 2013.

They have not hesitated to praise the role of the army as “protector of the nation and the revolution” several times before the overthrow of Morsi. When the Muslim Brotherhood dominated the parliament and occupied the presidency they did not challenge the political and economic power of the army, and they did not condemn the army’s repressive role against the Egyptian people’s movement.

In Syria, we should remember that hundreds of members and many key leaders of Islamic fundamentalist and jihadist groups have benefited from the amnesty granted by the regime at the beginning of the revolution, an amnesty that overlooked democrats and other revolutionaries who continue to languish in prison.

The Assad regime also did not systematically fight them, as exemplified in Raqqa, the city occupied by IS, which was spared from bombings since its occupation until the US bombings in August 2014. The Assad regime has concluded various oil deals first with Jabhat al-Nusra and then IS since 2013. Moreover, these fundamentalist and jihadist groups have benefited from financial support from private networks of donors in the Gulf monarchies who wanted to transform the popular revolution into a religious civil war.

A common goal  

These two counter revolutionary actors share a similar political project: the goal is to limit and suppress civil, political and socio-economic rights, while seeking to guarantee the capitalist system of production and continue the neoliberal policies that impoverish the popular classes in the region. Similarly, these two counter revolutionary forces will not hesitate to use a political discourse seeking to divide and antagonize the working popular classes on sectarian religious, ethnic, gender, regionalist bases, etc.

This is despite using a different political propaganda, with representatives of the former regimes presenting themselves as the defenders of modernism, as the saviour of the unity of the nation and champion of the fight against “terrorism”. The reactionary and fundamentalist Islamic forces present themselves as the guarantors of the Islamic religion, morality, authenticity of Islamic and Arab identity, while making the link with the Islamic “Umma”.

The main problem in Syria, and elsewhere in the region, has been that some among the democratic and progressive oppositions have chosen to support one of these two counter revolutionary forces, presenting them as the choice of the ‘the lesser evil’. This actually represents the road to defeat and the maintenance of an unjust system in which the popular classes in the region live.

The role of a popular and democratic opposition is not to choose between different factions of the counter-revolution that are supported by various international and sub-regional imperialist actors. The role should be to build an independent front from reactionary forces based on democratic, social, anti-imperialist principles and opposition to all forms of discrimination while working for a radical change of society in a dynamic from below in which the popular classes are the agents of change.

In Syria this means to act on two levels. First, on a humanitarian level, it means to do whatever is possible to ease the suffering of the majority of the popular masses so that they are able to regain their capacity to organise and continue their struggle for liberation and emancipation. Foremost, this means the fast return of the refugees to their homes, the lifting of the starvation sieges on “liberated” regions, an end to the bombing and destruction of towns and cities and the liberation of tens of thousands of prisoners.

Secondly, on a political level, it means to gather and assist politically and economically all the democratic and popular organisations that constitute the popular movement within and outside of Syria and that still try to maintain the initial objectives of the revolution.

Joseph Daher

article first published in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed: http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2015/3/14/counter-revolutionary-forces-have-pushed-revolutionary-aims-into-near-oblivion

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