Syria’s Revolution: An Interview with Ammar Abdulhamid

What are the main debates in the opposition over strategy and tactics, including armed struggle?

Most people still favor unarmed struggle, but, by now, the majority have reconciled themselves with the need for resorting to some orchestrated defensive tactics in order to protect pro-revolution communities from the activities of Assad death squads and loyalist troops, which at this stage include ethnic cleansing.

Describe the Free Syrian Army.

The driving force behind the emergence of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is actually the civilian population that realized that a measure of armed struggle is needed in order to protect themselves and their communities from the crackdown championed by loyalist troops and militias. They are doing so, however, in cooperation with the increased number of defectors from Assad’s armies who are trying to provide an element of professionalism to the movement. The high-ranking generals who fled to Antakya, Turkey, are trying to provide for a command structure using the legitimacy acquired from their ability to provide advice and material support to the groups on the ground.

The greater the level of international engagement with and support of the FSA, the greater the possibility of providing an effective command structure for the local resistance groups inside the country which will empower them to provide effective leadership of the transitional process ahead.

What does the opposition want from the West and why hasn’t the West been more materially helpful to the opposition?

I think it’s best in this regard to review our Six Point Plan, which I drafted myself following conversations with representatives from all major opposition coalitions.

Why should the world support the Syrian opposition’s struggle?

Besides the geopolitical gain of weakening Iran’s grip over the Middle East and containing its rise as a major source of instability there, there is the added humanitarian advantage of preventing a rapid balkanization of our troubled region. The Assads are driving the country and the region to the brink of implosion into warring ethnic enclaves. The world needs to stop them and to help the Syrians in their search for alternatives.

What do you think is likely to happen in Syria?

Irrespective of my wishes, the inability of the Obama administration to move quickly on this matter has allowed for the situation to turn into a proxy war involving all major regional players as well as Russia and China. This is going to be a longer-term struggle and the humanitarian cost will be too high. I will keep up my activities meant to support the local resistance and empower the more pragmatic and representative elements to emerge as the true leaders of Syria down the road, but this will not be an easy task.

We were let down by the leaders of the international community and the leaders of the traditional opposition, not to mention our intellectual elite, and it’s clear by now that we have no true friends. Still, we have no choice but to soldier on, as we transform from a protest movement into a more complex resistance and liberation movement.

(For more on Ammar Abdulhamid: he is a liberal Syrian pro-democracy activist whose anti-regime activities led to his exile in September 2005. He currently lives in the United States. He is the founder of the Tharwa Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to democracy promotion, and is a fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He writes Syrian Revolution Digest, a blog dedicated to following events and monitoring trends related to the Syrian Revolution.)