Syrian Revolt Losing Support of Syrian Civilians

Rebel Violence Drains Support of Fellow Syrians

Stephen Starr

Sep 13, 2012 12:35 AM GMT+0200

As the deadly on the U.S.
consulate in Benghazi,, show, sometimes armed and violent
rebels who help to oust a dictatorship can later become
destabilizing forces who kill with impunity.
Although is different from Libya for numerous
reasons, Syrians may be thinking about this latest turn of
events as they watch the violent changes in the revolt in their
own country.
The rebel bombings that hit important military and security
compounds in the heart of Damascus in recent weeks have served
as one more immediate sign that the Syrian government is
crumbling. The, which claimed responsibility,
delighted in the operation’s success.
But many local Damascenes looked on in horror. Even though
a majority of middle-class Syrians don’t like the regime of
Bashar al-Assad and are appalled by its violence, they draw a
line when they see the rebels’ own appetite for guns and
killing. After 18 months, the revolt has left many young urban
families disillusioned and exhausted. “Revolt fatigue” has set
in among those who have done well under Assad.
Millions of must plan their day around the
electricity schedule: charging mobile phones and laptops, taking
hot showers and watching television -- all have to be mapped out
in advance because of outages. The checkpoints and blast
barriers in the calm areas of central Damascus and Aleppo have
created traffic jams where once there were none. Traveling late
at night has become too dangerous. Food is much more expensive.
Aleppo’s Shift
Although foreigners can be outraged that people would get
upset over small inconveniences, given the suffering and
atrocities caused by government forces, it is striking that a
“silent majority” in Damascus and Aleppo is blaming the rebels
and the uprising.
At first, “Aleppo witnessed an amazing number of civil
disobedience and popular movements that included unions,
lawyers, doctors, engineers and university students,” said Fadi
Salem, a Syrian academic based in the gulf region who visited
Aleppo recently. But that support fell away when violence came
with the flow of armed rebels to the city.
“The population was not ready for this,” he said. “The
armed rebels are mostly not from the city itself. They don’t
have organic popular support.”
The lack of local support played an important role in the
government’s defeat of the rebels in parts of southern Damascus
in July when insurgents promised a “Damascus volcano” that would
blow the regime’s authority away. Today in Aleppo, residents are
fleeing the areas where rebels have taken up positions, leaving
the fighters in control of empty neighborhoods and destroyed
homes. For many residents, who protested against the Assad
regime peacefully in their streets and alleyways for more than a
year, the revolution has been hijacked. Will the fighters
welcome the residents back after
The city’s residents, like other Syrians, may have earlier
dismissed the state propaganda claiming that “armed gangs” were
responsible for the protests and trouble-making. Now as they
listen to the sound of machine-gun fire and shells landing
around their homes on the outskirts of Damascus and Aleppo, the
government’s claims ring true.
The Free Syrian Army and the protesters are united in their
primary goal -- to overthrow the Assad regime. Where they differ
is over the means of doing so. While rebels took up arms because
they saw no alternative, the of the revolt risks
splitting resistance to the Syrian government.
Of course, this is what the Assad forces want: to divide
the opposition and to make everyday life so difficult for
Syrians that they yearn for life before March 2011, when all was
calm. They have succeeded in convincing many minority
communities and the nouveau-riche families of the major cities
not to support the rebel movement and to sit tight.
Power Struggle
The growing fracture between protester and rebel is
important because the inevitable fall of the Assad regime will
see a grab for power that could lead to a new catastrophe.’s insurgent leaders -- those who have risked their
lives -- will probably seek to lead a post-Assad government. So,
too, will the traditional opposition, which includes members of
the Syrian National Council and other groups based inside Syria
and overseas.
On the ground, the peaceful protesters and other urban
residents see how the regime has succeeded in blaming extremist
Muslims for the “crisis” (it has outlawed the use of the word
“revolt”) as an obvious attempt at driving a wedge between
Syria’s Sunni population and the nation’s minorities. A vast
majority of protesters and rebels are, but that’s
largely because Sunnis make up about 75 percent of the country’s
population. Minorities haven’t generally participated in the
revolt, fearing ostracism in their communities. The government,
controlled by Alawites, has that group, as well as
leaders from other minority religions.
The yearning for peace and calm was obvious in
recently where I spoke to a family of five refugees who had just
fled the fighting in Aleppo.
“We want electricity, water and bread -- we are not
interested in politics,” said the family’s 30-year-old
matriarch. “If it could happen, we would like things to go back
to the way they were before the uprising. At least with Bashar
we had stability.”
As the violence increases, support for this view grows. The
rebels, bombing targets in Damascus and attacking Assad’s troops
inside Aleppo’s historical citadel, think they are winning. In
reality, they risk losing the Syrian people, and that bodes ill
for everyone.
(Stephen Starr is a freelance journalist who lived in Syria
for five years until last February. He is the author of “Revolt
in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising.” The opinions expressed
are his own.)
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