By Oula Abdulhamid
Velvet revolutions are desirable, but a revolution, by its nature, is an extreme solution to an extreme situation. Revolutions often turn violent, igniting civil wars and attracting extremism – whether in individuals, ideologies or agendas – overwhelming moderate voices, the voices of reason.
This is our story in Syria today. The new hegemonic power emerging on the scene is political Islam in its most radical manifestation. Unless we can identify the reasons for this development and find ways to address it, the possibility of a return to peace and stability in the country and the achievement of communal reconciliation while respecting the democratic aspirations of the people will be next to nil.
The ongoing radicalization of Syrian rebels is in no small part a product of the violent crackdown initiated by Bashar Assad’s regime. It sought from the very beginning of the revolution to eliminate the young and moderate leaders of the initially nonviolent protest movement through detention, assassination and dislocation.
By embarking on a violent campaign against the early protesters and their host communities, Assad created an environment of anger and despair that by its nature was conducive to the emergence of extremist elements. The regime, as it has done since the 1970s, ensured that chaos would survive. Previously, it had done this regionally in such places as Lebanon and Iraq, but it now applied this in Syria. Hundreds of extremists were released from regime prisons, and Assad exploited the negative consequences to his advantage, re-engaging with the international community with Russian and Iranian backing.
The negligible support that moderate rebels received from the international community, often in the form of nonlethal aid such as communications equipment and night-vision goggles, at a time when Gulf donors were busy supplying cash and weapons to more extreme factions, proved another crucial factor in the ongoing marginalization of moderate elements from the scene, allowing for the effective hijacking of the revolution by extremists.
The choices confronting pro-democracy activists are now harder than ever. Discrepancy, confusion, loss and a deep sense of betrayal tend to color the view of most at this stage. What is happening in their circles is not a clash of ideas, however.