On 22 August an interview with Bashar Al-Assad was aired on Syrian TV. He assumed the people were following his every word. But they were not in the least concerned with his interview; instead, many stayed up the whole night watching the battle to liberate Tripoli. It had huge symbolism, especially for the people of Damascus. With the fall of Tripoli and the departure of Gaddafi and his family, it became clear to the people that despite the severity of losses, the fight in Libya was worth the price.
The decision by the Syrian people to march in protest was taken on the night of 17 March, the day the UN passed resolution 1973, imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. The following day there were demonstrations in Damascus, Dara’a, Banias and Homs. Two people were killed, and this effectively lit the flames of the Syrian revolution.
But our peaceful revolution received no official support from the Islamic and Arab countries. All we got were hesitant platitudes from our neighbours. Likewise, the west called only for reform, or at most economic sanctions. This encouraged Assad to increase his repression in the hope that he would be able to quell the revolution quickly.
But our revolution gathered momentum. Always peaceful, and without any external intervention it spread, with more and more protesters, cities and villages taking part. Syrian opposition figures inside and abroad worked to support the revolution through a series of initiatives, culminating in the formation of national councils earlier this month.
The revolutionaries on the ground now find themselves confronting a new reality. On the one hand we are faced with Arab silence, an ongoing regional indecision – especially from neighbouring Turkey – and the west as passive spectators to Assad’s violations. On the other, Tripoli and Libya are liberated. While Nato support was helpful, credit must be given to the determination of the Libyan people and their tactics, including armed struggle.
There is no doubt that the Syrian revolutionaries will now carry out a reappraisal of their own position; especially as we witness the daily bombardment of Homs, Latakia and Deir al-Zour; while Hama is attacked, the plains of Houran bleed, Aleppo is terrorised and Damascus repressed. The revolutionaries are now questioning the peaceful nature of the Syrian revolution – we have not until now used arms against the regime – and also re-evaluting our position on foreign intervention.
There is a consensus against any western intervention in Syria. The country has a proud Arab nationalistic character, and suffered greatly in the colonial era. The example of Iraq is fresh in our minds and the presence of its refugees a constant reminder of their tragedy. We are well aware, too, of the sensitivity of the central status of Syria in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
However, this refusal to contemplate foreign intervention has allowed the regime to do whatever it wishes, knowing it will escape punishment. In the absence of a genuine alternative, the Syrian opposition must reconsider its position on foreign intervention; it is now essential that we prepare for this eventuality before it is too late.
It has become clear to us from intelligence and political analyses that the Syrian regime is pushing the country to civil war and partition; especially after reports of the arrival of large supplies of weapons from Iran to Syria via Iraq. It seems the regime and its allies would prefer a sectarian civil war in which they would have the upper hand militarily to a peaceful handover of power.
A civil war in Syria and its potential partition is not in the interest of its people. Likewise, it is not in the interest of Arab states, Turkey or the west, because it would lead to an unprecedented chaos and uncertainty from which none of these blocs or states would be safe, particularly Turkey.
It is therefore important to find a solution that stops Assad in his tracks. Given that Syrians will continue to object to western intervention, the formation of an Arab-Turkish pre-emptive force to protect the people in Syria is perhaps the best option. It could preserve the unity of the country and prevent chaos and violence.
Syrians have risen up against tyranny and are no less determined than their brothers and sisters in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. However, they are suffering extraordinary brutality and are looking for real regional support. This is a regional necessity. The Arab spring cannot flourish without Syria, where the Arab heart lies.
By Abdur Rahman al Shami, a pseudonym. The writer is is a member of the political bureau of the Coalition of Free Damascenes for Peaceful Change.