B. V. DOLGOV
Candidate of Historical Sciences
Center for Arab and Islamic Studies IV RAS
Keywords: Syrian crisis, patriotic opposition, armed Islamist opposition, Western goals, information war, political solution
The Syrian crisis, which began in March 2011, has taken on the character of a global conflict, in which the interests of both States representing regional centers of power and great Powers collide. At the same time, external support for the armed Syrian opposition, represented mainly by Islamist groups, and the presence of thousands of jihadists from all over the world in their ranks stimulated the emergence of a hotbed of radical Islamism in Syria. This, in turn, contributed to the formation of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) here and in Iraq and its expansion in the region.
The Syrian crisis can be considered as a specific, special part of the"Arab Spring". Social protest, which was the initial stage of the "Arab Spring" in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain, was caused by internal factors, the socio-economic crisis, corruption, police brutality, the nepotism of the ruling elite for decades, and the lack of real democratic freedoms with ostentatious "facade democracy".
At the same time, in Syria (as in Libya), although there are less internal problems, the main reasons for the ongoing crisis are external factors, namely, the support of the armed opposition by external forces that are trying to use the Syrian conflict to achieve their strategic goals.
SYRIA BEFORE THE 2011 CRISIS
It is necessary to emphasize that the socio-economic situation in Syria before the conflict began in many ways differed for the better in comparison with such countries as Tunisia and Egypt, and could not by itself cause an internal social explosion and armed confrontation. The unemployment rate, although it rose from 8.4% in 2010 to 15% in 2011.1, was nevertheless lower than in Tunisia and Egypt, where unemployment, especially among young people under 30, reached 50%.
The trade union movement was quite developed in Syria. Trade union committees have operated (and continue to operate in wartime conditions since 2011) in almost all public and private sector enterprises, including agricultural ones. Their employees receive trade union social protection. Moreover, thousands of production structures of small and medium-sized businesses were created in Syria with the support of the state. For example, in the Aleppo area, there were small businesses and workshops for tailoring modern fashionable clothes under Western licenses, which, as a rule, were worked by members of the same family. This solved the problem of unemployment, which by the beginning of the 2011 crisis was one of the lowest in the region and even lower than in the same period in such EU countries as Spain, Greece, and Portugal, where it rose to 25%.
For comparison purposes. In Egypt, as the Egyptian Ambassador confirmed at his press conference in Moscow in July 2013,
40% of the population lived on an income of less than $2 a day. In Syria, moreover, the percentage of unemployed graduates was much lower than in Egypt and, especially, in Tunisia. Inflation fluctuated within 4% 2 in 2010.
The quality indicators of Syrian society also differed for the better in comparison with other countries affected by the "Arab Spring". For example, the educational level of the Syrian society is quite high -the percentage of literates among people over 15 years of age in 2010 reached: 86% - for men and 73.6% - for women. The life expectancy was 70 years. Thus, the situation in Syria before the outbreak of the internal conflict could not be defined as a socio-economic crisis.
At the same time, it should be recalled that after the left wing of the PASV (Arab Socialist Renaissance Party) came to power in 1970, Syria was proclaimed a "socialist people's democratic state".3
In accordance with the doctrine of building "Arab socialism", which was proclaimed by the PASV, measures were taken in Syria aimed at improving the socio-economic situation. So, for example, free education and medical care were introduced, and an agrarian reform was carried out, as a result of which the material prosperity of Syrian citizens increased. This was especially true for the peasants, who made up the majority of the population at that time. A price level acceptable to the majority of the population for food and basic necessities was established.
Bassam Abu Abdallah, a professor of political science at the University of Damascus, a prominent member of the PASV party, who is currently a member of the Syrian Parliament, told the author of these lines that he was born into a poor peasant family with many children. Only thanks to the social and economic reforms of the PASV, which changed life in Syria, did he "go from a peasant to a parliamentarian" 4.
At the same time, it is obvious that a situation in which one political force has been in power for decades and enjoys all the privileges of power can contribute to the development of corruption, nepotism and abuse of power structures. This situation also leads to the fact that those in power are excluded from the pressing problems of society, are unable or unwilling to act in the interests of the majority of the population.
We cannot agree with the widespread opinion expressed by some experts and the media that the Syrian leadership is completely dominated by representatives of the Alawite community. That's not so.
First of all, it is worth recalling that Asma al-Assad, the wife of President Bashar al-Assad, is a Sunni Muslim. She comes from a prominent Sunni family of cardiologists from Homs, who had friendly ties to the Assad family.
Many Syrian entrepreneurs, particularly in one of the most developed economic centers of Syria in the Aleppo region, are representatives of the Sunni and Armenian communities. Representatives of all faiths were granted access to the Syrian officer corps. A prime example of this was the Minister of Defense, General Daoud Rajha (who died as a result of the terrorist attack on 18.07.2012 in Damascus) - a Christian. The Syrian intelligentsia, including media workers, are also represented by various nationalities and faiths. For example, the current head of the SANA (Syrian News Agency)office in Moscow - Kurd, Deputy chairman of the Union of Writers of Syria-a Palestinian Christian.
"THE SYRIAN SPRING"
It should be noted that in the 2000s, the Syrian leadership tried to solve the problems that were brewing in society. This concerns, first of all, measures to democratize economic and socio-political life, called the "Syrian spring".
At the initiative of President Bashar al-Assad (b. 1965), who assumed the highest state post in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez al-Assad, a policy of "openness and transparency" was proclaimed, aimed at democratizing political life. A number of measures were also taken to develop a market economy, which contributed to the expansion of private business participation in the economic, financial and banking sectors.
* Alawites - a branch of Shiite Islam that emerged in the tenth century AD. It is an eclectic mix of elements of the Shiite faith, Gnostic Christianity, and pre-Muslim cults and beliefs. Alawites reject many of the precepts of Islam, revere Jesus Christ and a number of Christian saints, and celebrate some Christian holidays. Encyclopedic dictionary, Moscow, Nauka. 1991.
At the same time, it is obvious that stimulating the free market, along with a certain positive effect, has its negative results. Namely, the increase in unemployment due to job cuts resulting from the privatization of enterprises and the increase in their profitability, higher prices and, as a result, an increase in the number of poor people in the process of stratification of society, leading to increased social tension, which also took place in Syria.
In the wake of the policy of openness in Syria, independent socio-political organizations - "national dialogue forums" - began to form. In total, more than 20 forums were created in Syria in the 2000s, which were attended by hundreds of representatives of the Syrian intelligentsia, mainly creative and humanitarian. Forum leaders such as Riyad Turk and Riyad Seif, who took liberal-democratic positions, tried to turn them into political parties.
Forum participants wrote petitions and appeals to the authorities demanding further democratization (for example, the well-known "Petition 99"), which were usually published outside of Syria. Public and political figures who professed leftist and socialist ideas also created their own forums. For example, Khalil Matouk, who shared the positions of the Syrian Communists, formed the Forum for Culture and Human Rights.
Representatives of the Kurdish community began to declare the need to grant them greater rights. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, whose activities were banned after they organized an armed rebellion in Hama in 1982, has also been revived.5 In 2002. They held their congress in London and issued a proclamation calling for a political struggle against the regime.
In the United States, Syrian-born businessmen Farik al-Ghadiri and Abdel Aziz Muflat formed two parties in order to create a political opposition to the Syrian authorities.: The" Syrian Reform Party "in 2003 and the" National Democratic Renaissance Party " in 2005.6 However, all these organizations did not enjoy any mass support, since their ideological platforms - liberal-democratic and Islamist - did not have a significant influence in Syrian society.
Independent forums also began to sharply criticize the period of President Hafez al-Assad's rule, as well as the current regime, which negatively affected the possibility of dialogue between the opposition and the authorities. For example, Ali Abdallah al-Ahmed, a representative of one of the opposition groups headed by the well-known liberal opposition figure Georges Kilo, said in an interview with the author that the Syrian opposition missed its time when it was possible to implement political reforms to democratize the state system. The oppositionists were carried away with harsh criticism of the regime, and internal struggles related to personal ambitions prevailed among them. According to him, "no one will listen to them now, and the fate of Syria is decided on the battlefield." 7
Bashar al-Assad, in response to opposition petitions, stated that Syria will follow the path of gradual reforms and democratization, but will not comply with the demands of individuals who do not represent the opinion of the majority of the people.
Thus, the "Syrian spring" of the early 2000s did not develop further, which was also facilitated by the position of representatives of the "old guard" of the PASV, who resisted the reforms. The Syrian leadership also rightly feared that the accelerated implementation of radical reforms could lead to the destabilization of the regime and the collapse of Syria, as the former USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia had already demonstrated in their experience.
SOCIAL PROTESTS AND THEIR CAUSES
Protest actions in Syria began in March 2011 with demonstrations against police brutality in the small town of Daraa (50 thousand inhabitants)* , on the border with Jordan and Israel. They spread to other cities, where demonstrators demanded better living conditions and solutions to socio-economic problems. Protest actions in some areas began to escalate-
* The reason for the protest demonstrations was the arrest of several young people in Daraa and their beating by the police. According to the protesters, they painted anti-government graffiti on the walls of their homes. According to the authorities, the young men were associated with a gang engaged in drug trafficking and arms smuggling. There is also evidence from Lebanese journalists from the Al-Jazeera news agency, who left it because they disagreed with its position on Syria, presented on Euronews in May 2011, that dozens of armed militants crossed the Jordanian border into Syria from the first days of the protest demonstrations in Daraa.
get involved in clashes with law enforcement forces.
President Bashar al-Assad announced the upcoming implementation of reforms in the socio-economic and political spheres. Then there were rallies and demonstrations in support of Assad's leadership in Damascus and several other major cities. However, anti-Government demonstrations and clashes with the police continued and became increasingly violent. There was a war against the Syrian regime in cyberspace and mass media.
The most irreconcilable confrontation with the forces of law and order, accompanied by calls for the overthrow of the ruling regime, took place in those cities where opposition forces were initially represented, primarily supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements (Hama, Homs, Jisr al-Shuhur). They were actively assisted from abroad, including in the creation of armed anti-government groups.
Considering the development of the Syrian crisis since March 2011, it is necessary to note a number of trends. First, the desire of the leadership of Bashar al-Assad to carry out political reforms as soon as possible, which the opposition and Western countries demanded from him at the beginning of the crisis. Secondly, on the one hand, the activation of armed anti-government groups in Syria and, on the other hand, the strengthening of support for President Assad by the majority of the population. Third, the expansion of intervention in the Syrian crisis by external actors and the expansion of the Syrian conflict to a regional and even global scale.
In 2011-2012, the plan for democratizing public and political life proposed by the country's leadership was implemented. New laws on general elections, on mass media, on local self-government, and on political parties were adopted. Under the new law, local government elections were held in Syria in December 2011. However, due to the threat of terrorism, only 42% of voters took part in them, as PASV representatives confirmed. Nevertheless, local authorities were elected and started working. Also, new media outlets were created on the basis of the new law, along with 20 TV channels, 15 radio stations and 30 newspapers that were already in operation.
On February 26, 2012, the country held a referendum on the draft new Constitution, which was approved by 89.4% of those who voted. It abolished the article on the leadership role of the PASV party, which was present in the previous constitution, and included elements of a democratic state-political structure, including a multi-party system*.
An active process of creating new political parties has begun. So, as of mid-2012, more than 10 were registered. Moreover, some of these parties belonged to the internal, or patriotic, as its representatives call themselves, opposition, which is ready for dialogue and constructive interaction with the authorities.
The patriotic opposition is represented by a number of parties of different political spectrum - liberal-democratic, left-wing and reflecting the interests of the Kurdish community. An influential democratic party is the oldest National Social Party (NSP), founded in 1932.
Ilia Saman, a member of the NSP politburo, said that its program is more conservative than the PASV 8 program. However, there are no fundamental differences between the two parties. In his opinion, the main destabilizing factor in Syria is the policy of the United States, France and England, acting in the interests of Israel and aiming to divide Syria into 5 state entities on religious and ethnic grounds. Thus, in his opinion, it will be possible to recognize and justify the existence of Israel as an "exclusively Jewish state", as its leaders claim.
At the same time, I. Saman, a native of Homs, admitted that recently there have been pockets of sectarian confrontation in Syria. This was the case, in particular, in the city of Homs between residents of Alawite and Sunni neighborhoods, which, in his opinion, represented a dangerous trend. At the same time, armed anti-government groups tried to deliberately incite sectarian confrontation by carrying out murders and kidnappings in Sunni areas and blaming Alawites for this.
To the liberal opposition
* In accordance with the Constitution in force until March 2012, Syria formally had a multi-party system and 7 political parties were represented in Parliament. However, according to Article 8, the leading role belonged to the ruling PASV (author's note).
you can include registered in January 2012. A secular democratic social movement. It is headed by Nabil Faisal, a secular Syrian intellectual, writer and translator. He is an ardent opponent of Islamic fundamentalism, a supporter of liberal democracy. The goal of his movement, as N. Faisal stated in an interview with the author, is "to turn Syria into a Middle Eastern Denmark." 9
The most influential component of the left-wing patriotic opposition is the Committee for the Unification of Syrian Communists, which recently changed its name to the Narodnaya Volya party. It is headed by Qadri Jamil, a prominent economist and professor at the University of Damascus. He represented the opposition in the commission on the creation of a new Syrian constitution. K. Jamil believes that the only way out of the crisis is national dialogue. At the same time, in his opinion, it is necessary to "purge the regime of those who are not interested in carrying out reforms, as well as purge the opposition of destructive elements." He also stated that the ruling PASV party, if it has the political will, "is able to adapt to the new political conditions and play a positive role in the country's reform" 10.
A significant opposition force in Syria, with which Narodnaya Volya has contacts, is also the Syrian National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change. It operates both inside Syria and abroad, in France, where it has its own representative office. The movement includes 13 mainly secular, democratically oriented political parties; 3 parties representing the interests of the Kurdish community; and independent activists. It is headed by quite well-known Syrian public figures-Hassan Abdel Azim and Issam Manaa. The "Committee" has its own branches in Syria, which in some regions cooperate with local authorities, in others organize demonstrations demanding that the authorities improve living conditions in specific areas, sometimes clashing with government law enforcement forces. They also act as self-defense forces, often carrying weapons and defending their neighborhoods from attacks by anti-Government armed groups.
In May 2012, Syria held parliamentary elections based on a new constitution. This was the first multi-party election in which the PASV participated on an equal footing with other parties. About 7,000 people applied for 250 seats in the Parliament (People's Council). candidates. According to the Constitution, 127 seats in Parliament are reserved for representatives of workers and peasants.
12 different political parties took part in the elections, including new ones formed on the basis of the law on multiparty system. PASV and its allies, the parties that are part of the Popular Front for National Unity coalition, enjoyed the greatest support from voters.
Of the 250 elected deputies, 209 are newly elected, including 30 women. The voter turnout, despite the call of the foreign opposition to boycott the elections, was 51.26%11. Based on the results of the parliamentary elections, some of the leaders of the internal (patriotic) opposition joined the new Syrian government formed in June 2012.For example, the aforementioned Qadri Jamil, who was Deputy Prime Minister in 2012-2014, was in charge of economic issues in the government.
The external opposition, mainly based in Turkey and Qatar, proclaims the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad's regime as its main goal. There were also armed anti-government groups operating on the territory of Syria, which coordinated their actions with the external opposition and were actively supported from abroad. The foreign Syrian opposition is represented by a number of different groups, the role and leaders of which have changed depending on the support of the leading NATO countries.
From the summer of 2011 to November 2012, the Western-recognized" legitimate representative " of opposition groups was the Syrian National Council (SNC), based in Istanbul and headed by Burgan Ghalioun, a Syrian who emigrated to France about 20 years ago. Then he was replaced by a member of the SNC leadership who lived in Turkey, Abdel Baset Sida (an ethnic Kurd), who called for foreign intervention in Syria as the best way to help the "rebels".
However, the SNA failed to reach-
to achieve the goal that was set before him and repeatedly voiced by leading figures of the West. Namely, to unite various opposition groups, seize and control some part of the Syrian territory, which would allow the leading NATO countries to recognize the SNA as a "legitimate government" and justify foreign intervention in Syria according to the Libyan scenario.
Internal strife continued in the SNA, and some members of the leadership left the SNA, including Basma Kadmani, one of its founders. Moreover, some SNA members have begun to criticize the West for "insufficient aid."
In this situation, a number of groups of the Syrian opposition, with the active support of US diplomacy and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, united in November 2012 at their meeting in Doha (Qatar) in the so-called "National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces" (NCORC). Moreover, this meeting was attended by the Prime Minister of Qatar, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey and representatives of the US State Department, on whose direct instructions the leadership of the opposition was appointed.
Sheikh Maaz Khatib, a former imam of one of the mosques in Damascus, who lived in Turkey, was elected Chairman of the NCRC. NCORC's headquarters were located in Cairo. However, after the removal from power in Egypt in 2013 of President Morsi, a protege of the Muslim Brotherhood, it relocated to Qatar. Riyad Seif and Georges Sabra, leaders of the SNA, also joined the leadership of the NCRC. In January 2015, Khaled al-Khoja, a member of the NCORC leadership, was elected as the new Chairman of the NCORC.
It should be noted that a number of opposition groups did not recognize the NCORC and did not join it. The opposition did not have any specific program for the country's recovery from the crisis and for its further economic, social and political development.
The only specific slogan that has united various opposition groups is the overthrow of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The most structured and influential of them are the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni organizations, including their radical movements-Salafis* and Takfiri**, which have their own armed detachments and carry out terrorist operations in Syria.
There were also a small number of Kurdish separatists in the opposition (the majority of the Kurdish community, however, supported the Syrian leadership or took a neutral position) and liberal democratic dissidents living, as a rule, in Europe and the United States.
Such is Radwan Zadeh, founder of the Damascus-based Human Rights Research Center. The opposition Syrian TV channel Barada (the name of the river in Damascus) is broadcasting from London.
It is also home to the Syrian Human Rights Monitoring Center, headed by Syrian dissident Rami Abd al-Rahman. Moreover, as the aforementioned Bassam Abu Abdallah, professor of political science at the University of Damascus, and representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed, Rami Abd ar-Rahman in London has neither an office nor employees (except for one secretary). How he gets information about the alleged dozens of peaceful demonstrators who are dying every day as a result of the actions of the Syrian army is unknown.
(The ending follows)
* Salafis ( Salaf-the righteous ancestor-ar. yaz.) - a current in Islam, whose ideologists advocate the creation of a Muslim society modeled on the early Muslim community of the period of the Prophet Muhammad and the first four "righteous caliphs" (al-Khulafa ar-rashidun - ar. yaz.).
** Takfiriism (takfir - accusation of disbelief - ar. yaz.) is a radical trend in Islam, whose adherents consider everyone, including Muslims who do not share their views, to be" infidels " (kafara - ar. yaz.).
1 Central Bureau of Statistics // Bulletin of Labor Force 2010. 9.01.2013 - http://www.cbssyr.org
2 The index number for September 2011. 29.01.2013 - http://www.cbssyr.org
3 Modern Syria. Spravochnik [Handbook], Moscow, 1974, p. 232.
4 Interview with Professor Bassam Abu Abdallah, 6 January 2012, Damascus. Author's archive.
5 Istoriya Vostoka [History of the East], Vol. VI, Moscow, IV RAS, 2008, P. 202.
Eyal Zisser. 6 Commanding Syria. Bashar al-Asad and the First Years in Power. London., 2007. P. 95.
7 Interview with Ali Abdullah Al-Ahmed 20.11.2015 Damascus. Author's archive.
8 Conversation with Elijah Saman 7.01.2012, Damascus. Author's archive.
9 Interview with Nabil Faisal 5.01.2012, Damascus. Author's archive.
10 Interview with Qadri Jamil 12.01.2012, Damascus. Author's archive.
11 Al-intihabat al-barlamaniyah (Parliamentary elections). 15.05.2012 - http://www.thawra.alwehda.gov.sy
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