Ammar Abdulhamid may know more about Syria’s civil war than anyone else in the world. That’s no exaggeration. An pro-democratic oppositionist living abroad, Abdulhamid has functioned on a virtual 24/7 basis as the source of news and analysis about events within Syria, always trying to be honest and accurate in his assessments regardless of his own preferences. Barry Rubin, PJMedia Middle East editor, interviewed Abdulhamid on the latest developments and trends.
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Question: It now seems that the tide in Syria’s civil war is turning toward the opposition. Why is that happening?
I wouldn’t say the tide is turning, I’d say that the armed opposition is getting more organized and bold, and its tenacity, growing popularity, coupled with President Bashar al-Assad’s cruelty, are inspiring more defections and despair inside the ranks of the regime.
Also, by continuing to play on sectarian sentiments, Assad continues to find success in ensuring the loyalty of the Alawites, the majority of whom keep seeing an existential threat in having regime change take place. However, by going down the route of ethnic cleansing in the coastal and central parts, Assad and his militias managed to create an existential threat for the Sunnis as well.
Of the two million Syrians who have been forcibly displaced inside Syria by Assad’s crackdown, the overwhelming majority is Sunni. These people are angry, bitter, and radicalized, and their very lot in life at this stage is inspiring anger and hate in the minds and souls of Sunnis with whom they come in contact.
Both sides now view the situation in sectarian and existential terms. So no one can back down.
Question: How do you assess the balance in the opposition between Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, professional military officers, and moderate democrats?
By having greater access to funds, hence weapons, the Salafists have managed to carry favor with the armed groups, and they are now a dominant force. But that does not necessarily translate into political support or sympathies. The political councils that are emerging to manage the day-to-day affairs of liberated towns and villages have not endorsed an Islamist agenda, or any of the traditional political groups, be they secular or Islamist. The revolutionary scene remains pretty much an open field as far as political ideology is concerned.
Question: With the Syrian National Council (SNC) being dominated by the Brotherhood, what are the key alternative leadership groups? Are you concerned that the United States and other countries might impose the SNC on the country?
By now, and considering the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made by the revolutionaries, it is highly unlikely at this stage to expect that a group dominated by traditional opposition groups and expatriates can actually be considered legitimate enough to lead. Indeed, SNC’s credibility has long evaporated due to its inability to deliver, and, by association, the Brotherhood’s own credibility, shaky to begin with, was marred. It’s clear to all by now that SNC is not the answer for leading the challenges of governance during the transitional period.
It’s for this reason that some experts are postulating a role for the recent defector Brigadier General Manaf Tlas. But Manaf is too much of a regime insider to be popularly accepted as a legitimate leader, even for a transitional period. The best he could do is play a supporting role. The main actors have to be derived from the ranks of the revolutionary movement inside Syria. Only when such actors become in charge can the Syrian people be assured that their revolution has succeeded.
It’s good that the United States seems obsessed with ensuring post-Assad stability, but stability at the expense of liberty is a notion that the Syrian people have learned to reject. American and international officials should be mindful of that as they chart their policies.