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Toward an Anarchist Policy on Syria
western asia | imperialism / war | policy statement Monday September 09, 2013 00:13 by Christy Alasdair - First of May Anarchist Alliance
At the moment, the Middle East (taken broadly, that is, the area from North Africa to Pakistan) is the part of the world experiencing the greatest political instability and undergoing the most rapid change. At the center of the turmoil is Syria, now in its third year of civil war with no sign of any resolution in sight. Given the centrality of Syria to global politics, it is essential that anarchists understand what is going on there and develop a critical attitude toward the events that are unfolding. Unfortunately, we are not experts on the history and current dynamics of Syria and of the Middle East as a whole. The following theses are therefore presented with humility. We would greatly appreciate input from others, particularly those with greater background in the area, especially anarchists living in the region, in the development of our position.
Syrian banner, “I am truly free when all human beings, men and women, are equally free.” – Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin. Man, Society, and Freedom (1871)
Toward an Anarchist Policy on Syria
I. IntroductionAt the moment, the Middle East (taken broadly, that is, the area from North Africa to Pakistan) is the part of the world experiencing the greatest political instability and undergoing the most rapid change. At the center of the turmoil is Syria, now in its third year of civil war with no sign of any resolution in sight. Given the centrality of Syria to global politics, it is essential that anarchists understand what is going on there and develop a critical attitude toward the events that are unfolding. Unfortunately, we are not experts on the history and current dynamics of Syria and of the Middle East as a whole. The following theses are therefore presented with humility. We would greatly appreciate input from others, particularly those with greater background in the area, especially anarchists living in the region, in the development of our position.
II. International and Historic ContextIt is impossible to understand what is going on in Syria today without some knowledge of the international and historical context in which the events are taking place. In very broad strokes, it is worth mentioning:
A. The ebbing of the power of US imperialism.
The United States became the hegemonic power in the Middle East during the 1950s, taking the place of British imperialism, whose weakness had been revealed by the events of World War II and the immediate post-war period. This hegemony (which included the colonial powers of Western Europe as junior partners) was occasionally challenged by the Russians (then in the form of the Soviet Union), who sought to intervene in the area by supporting nationalist, anti-imperialist forces.
These forces often took power through “national revolutions,” usually military coups led by junior officers, who, once in power, tilted toward, and received aid from, the Soviet Union. Such regimes included Nasser’s in Egypt, a similar one in Syria (which from 1958 to 1961 was united with Egypt in the so-called “United Arab Republic”), and one in Iraq. When Nasser died, he was replaced by Anwar al-Sadat, who eventually (in 1979) signed a peace treaty with Israel and aligned Egypt firmly with the United States. In Iraq and Syria, a series of military coups brought to power strongmen, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez al-Assad in Syria, respectively, who sought to play off the USSR and the United States, while generally leaning toward the Russians. In Iran, a secular nationalist, Mossadeq, was overthrown by US-backed coup in 1953, which brought to power the very pro-West Shah. He was overthrown in 1979 and replaced by a Shiite theocratic government (still in power) which has generally opposed both the US and the Russians. Despite all this, the overall power of US imperialism, based firmly on Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and after 1979, Egypt, was never seriously threatened.
Today, however, US imperialism is in retreat, as the economic crisis of 2008 has exposed the underlying economic and social problems of US society. Meanwhile, there is no country which, at least as of yet, has the power to take its place. Although Chinese imperialism, the international extension of the state capitalist system in China, is increasing its penetration of many areas of the globe (including the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Africa, and Latin America), it is not yet capable of taking the United States’ place as the hegemonic power in any one region, and certainly not in the Middle East. This weakening of overall imperialist domination, combined with the effects of globalization on the countries in the area, has inspired political and social forces among the middle classes to seek political power for themselves. These groups, including militant Islamic organizations and pro-Western liberals, have managed to assume the leadership of much broader social layers who have been plagued by rampant unemployment (particularly among young people), decrepit housing and urban infrastructures, inflation, and the other results of uneven economic growth. The results of this complex social process have included the recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and the revolution, now taking the form of a civil war, in Syria.
B. The decline of the West.
The longer range historical context in which the events in Syria and the Middle East as a whole are taking place is the global decline of the West, that is, the waning of the international hegemony of the European nations and their offshoots. This hegemony was rooted in the explosive economic expansion that began in Western Europe in (roughly) 1500, based on the development, first, of mercantile capitalism, and then, 300 years later, of industrial capitalism. This dynamic growth was an international phenomenon, resulting in the emergence and spread of what became known as Western imperialism. While this imperialism met with comparatively little resistance from the indigenous populations of the Western hemisphere, who succumbed rather quickly to military conquest and, even more so, to diseases for which they had no immunity, it was not so fortunate elsewhere in the world. This was especially the case in the Middle East, where highly cultured, technologically advanced civilizations had existed for many centuries. Here, European penetration was only partial; entire countries, including Afghanistan, Persia/Iran, and Turkey, were never fully conquered by Europeans/European-Americans. The result, for several hundred years, was an unstable stalemate between the ruling (landlord and capitalist) classes of the West, on the one hand, and the ruling elites of the Middle East (however we might define them, e.g. semi-feudal, bureaucratic, Asiatic-despotic) on the other.
In fact, the conflict between the two regions goes back even further. Specifically:
C. The problem of imperialist imposed national identities.
It is important to remember that one important outcome of this centuries-old conflict, and particularly its more recent developments, is that many of the existing nation-states of the Middle East are artificial constructions. When it became clear that the multi-ethnic (Turkish-dominated) Ottoman Empire would collapse after World War I, the British and the French, in the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, drew largely arbitrary lines on the map to demarcate modern national states (where before there had been only historical/geographical regions or administrative divisions). They then parceled out these states to themselves, (e.g., Lebanon and Syria to the French; Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq to the British). The result was that, in contrast to Europe, where nation states (and corresponding nationalities) had centuries to take shape and be consolidated, in the Middle East (and in the Balkan Peninsula, which was under Turkish/Islamic rule for centuries), the process of nation-building had to take place very rapidly, in a haphazard fashion. It is largely because of this that, aside from the conflicts among the states in the area, many of the states comprise what should be seen as “imperialist imposed national identities.” In these countries (e.g., Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine), people define themselves as much, or even more, by sectarian considerations (e.g., whether a person is a member of a Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Druze, Christian, or Jewish community) than by nationalistic commitments to the nations of which they are a part.
III. The Syrian RevolutionA. The Syrian revolution broke out in March of 2011, as a largely spontaneous movement among the middle and lower classes of Syria, primarily young, and primarily, although not exclusively, urban. It began in Dar’a, in southern Syria, and for many months grew in militancy, size, and scope on a non-violent basis: sit-ins, mass demonstrations, and land occupations. Its main demands centered on the immediate needs of the people, primarily for jobs, and the need to set the stage for a transition to a more democratic political system after three decades of a brutal dictatorship under the Assads.
B. The Assad dynasty was established by Hafez al-Assad, who rose to power through the Syrian Air Force, the Syrian wing of the Arab Socialist Ba’athist Party, and the government. Involved in several coups, through which the Ba’ath party (in 1963) and he himself (in 1971) gained full power, Assad served as Minister of Defense, Prime Minister, and, ultimately, President. (Although, under the constitution promulgated by Assad in 1973, the president is elected by the Syrian population every seven years, there has usually been only one candidate on the ballot.) Upon the elder Assad’s death in 2000, his son, Bashar, stood for election, won, and was reelected in 2007.
Although the Syrian government is technically a republic, it is actually despotically ruled by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, which heads an alliance of six other parties in the Progressive National Front and dominates the country’s rubberstamp unicameral legislature. (“Ba’ath” means “resurrection” or “renaissance” in Arabic.) The party, with branches in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, was founded in 1947 by secular members of the middle classes as an expression of Arab nationalism and was embraced by junior military officers, including the elder Assad, in the 50s and 60s. Among the central aspects of the Ba’athist program were/are: anti-Zionism/anti-imperialism, secularism, socialism (meaning state ownership of much of the economy, central planning, and [essentially] one-party rule), and a commitment to a vaguely-defined “pan-Arabism.” Despite this program, the Assad regime bases itself internally on the members of the Alawite sect of Islam (an offshoot of the Shi’a), to which the Assads belong. Most members of the government inner circle, as well as occupiers of leadership posts in the Ba’ath party and the economy, are members of this sect, which has thus been elevated into a privileged stratum that rules over a majority (76%) Sunni population.
C. Domestically, Assad sought to secularize and modernize the country by, for example, granting more rights to women, expanding education, and building Syria’s infrastructure through public works projects financed by the Russians, other Arab governments, and international lending agencies. He also ruthlessly suppressed opposition by imprisoning, torturing, and killing dissidents, and, in 1980, by crushing a Muslim Brotherhood-organized uprising and slaughtering up to 25,000 people.
D. Internationally, Assad, as mentioned above, aligned himself with the Russians and sought to present himself as anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian, and a leader of the Arab world. As defense minister under a civilian Ba’athist government, he presided over a war with Israel (the so-called “Six Day War”) in 1967, and after seizing full power in 1971, another conflict (known as the “Yom Kippur War” in Israel and the “Ramadan War” in the Arab world) in 1973. Both of these resulted in substantial victories for Israel and a significant expansion of Israeli-occupied territory, including the Golan Heights (which had previously been under Syrian control), the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula (which was eventually given back to the Egyptians). In the face of the Israelis’ overwhelming military superiority, Assad shifted his attention to Lebanon, intervening in that country to defend Palestinian guerrillas and non-combatant refugees from periodic Israeli invasions and to maintain Syrian hegemony over the sect-divided nation. Ultimately (in 1982), Syria occupied the entire country, an occupation that ended only in 2005. Assad’s involvement in Lebanon (both directly and through its sponsorship of the Shia-based Hezbollah militia) thus served as a kind of proxy war with Israel, while he accepted a de facto military truce with that country.
In fact, for Assad, Syrian national, and even narrowly Shi’a, interests always trumped pan-Arabism. Thus, when he perceived those interests to be threatened by the Iraqi regime of fellow-Ba’athist (but Sunni), Saddam Hussein, Assad supported (Shi-ite, non-Arab) Iran in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-89), and in 1990, the US war against Iraq. Later, Bashar Assad opposed the US invasion of Iraq, which led to the imposition of sanctions by the United States and its allies. Domestically, Bashar attempted to continue the modernization of the country by, for example, loosening up government control and allowing private enterprise in banking and other sectors of the economy. More recently, he tried to achieve a rapprochement with US imperialism, by, among other things, withdrawing from Lebanon. Two results of these policies were a drastic increase in corruption and an intensification of the desire of the Syrian population for greater political freedom.
E. While the struggle in Syria began on a non-violent basis and eventually mobilized significant sectors of the Syrian people, the aggressive, extremely brutal response of the government forced the opposition to arm itself. One result of this has been the militarization of the struggle. This has forced the unarmed masses of people to the sidelines (and into refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon) and turned what had been a popular revolution into a civil war between the Syrian government, backed by the Alawite minority, on the one hand, and opposition militias, supported by the Sunni majority, on the other. Despite great odds, including brutal aerial bombardment and the likely use of chemical weapons on the part of the regime, the rebel forces, eventually and for the most part organized under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, put the regime onto the defensive and forced it into ever-smaller pieces of territory.
F. Unfortunately, the militarization of the struggle and its protracted nature have increasingly internationalized the conflict. At first, this was largely a question of outside commando forces, such as the Sunni fundamentalist militia, Al Qaeda in Iraq, joining the fighting on the side of the rebels. Somewhat later, the conflict on the border with Turkey wound up drawing a response from the Turkish military. Meanwhile, as the Russians have stepped up their military aid to the Assad regime, the Israelis, concerned that missiles being sent to the government might wind up being used against itself, launched missile strikes into Syria. Most recently, Hezbollah, worried about the eventual defeat of its Syrian patron and a victory for the Sunni majority, has sent its own well-trained military forces into the fray. Their presence, it seems, was crucial to the recent government victory in retaking the border town of al-Qusayr from the rebels.
G. Although from early on, the United States has verbally and diplomatically indicated its support of the struggle against the Assad regime, it is not clear how much this policy has been motivated by a serious commitment to the rebels and how much by the need to protect its image as the promoter of bourgeois democracy, both in the region and internationally. The US ruling class has always been extremely wary of mass struggle, large numbers of lower class people mobilizing to fight for their needs. Such masses can easily “get out of control,” that is, fall under the influence of “irresponsible” forces, abandon non-violent struggle, and threaten political overturns that are inimical to the US’s imperialist interests. For this reason, the US almost always prefers to see very slow, very moderate, and very peaceful political change, preferably under the tutelage of one or more outside (read “imperialist”) country. This is the case even when, all other things being equal, the US imperialists would prefer to see a pro-Western, democratic regime in power in Syria in place of the unpredictable, and often anti-US, Assad dictatorship. Along with the war-weariness of the US population and the fiscal need to cut the US military budget, it is this that explains the tepid, vacillating nature of the United States’ response to the Syrian struggle. Probably most important in hindsight, the US, fearing the escalation of violence (and worried about weapons getting into the hands of fundamentalist militias), hesitated to supply arms to the rebels, let alone take stronger measures, such as establishing a no-fly zone to protect the rebel forces from Assad’s aerial bombardment. Meanwhile, the Russian, the Iranian, and the Chinese governments have had fewer scruples, using their diplomatic leverage to support the Assad regime and, at least in the case of the Russians and Iranians, supplying armed forces and weapons to the Syrian military. The result is that the United States now finds itself behind the 8-ball. As we write this, the Obama administration, citing the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons as its rationale, has decided to send some weapons (mostly small arms and perhaps some anti-tank guns) to the rebels. This is not likely to make much of a difference to the outcome of the struggle.
H. To make matters worse, the struggle in Syria now seems to be spilling over into Lebanon, as Shia militias there (perhaps under directive from Assad) have begun firing into Sunni communities, with Sunni militias returning fire. There have also been exchanges of gunfire across the Syrian-Israeli border. One possible result of all this is that the Syrian struggle, which began as a popular rebellion against a brutal dictatorship, may escalate into a region-wide conflict, a proxy war in which the major powers line up behind the opposing (sectarian) forces. Such an escalation, if left unchecked, could threaten an even bigger conflagration.
IV. Our PositionIn light of this complex and rapidly developing situation, what position should anarchists take?
A. Our own view is that we should see the conflict in Syria as still being predominantly a popular revolution in which the majority of the Syrian people are fighting against an arbitrary dictatorship. The overthrow of that regime would be a victory for the Syrian people. It would also create a situation which, however temporary it might be, would give the Syrian workers and peasants, as well as consciously libertarian forces, the opportunity to pursue the struggle for real freedom. We advocate this position in spite of the fact that the United States and its allies in Western Europe and elsewhere have given diplomatic support, humanitarian aid, and now arms, to the rebels. While we never feel comfortable being on the same side as the United States, we do not see the rebels as mere proxies for the imperialists, under their control and dependent on them financially. Particularly because of the hesitancy of the US to get involved and despite the presence in their ranks of Syrian and foreign Islamic fundamentalist militias, the rebel armies still appear to be independent, popular forces and therefore worthy of support.
B. Yet, in supporting the Syrian rebels, it is important to clarify what kind of support we are talking about. As far as we can tell, the leadership of the struggle in Syria is made up of a combination of pro-Western liberals, moderate Islamic organizations, and fundamentalist Islamic militias. (And as the fighting continues, it is likely that the fundamentalists will increasingly dominate the rebel coalition. Some of these forces are fiercely authoritarian and would be even worse than the Assad regime in whatever area they could establish power) None of these forces in any serious sense represents the people. In other words, rather than aiming at a revolution that overturns hierarchical power relations and establishes the democratic, egalitarian rule of the lower classes, they aim simply to set up some kind of traditional, class-based government — a US-style bourgeois democracy, a moderate Islamic regime, or a fundamentalist theocracy — while maintaining the existing class structure of Syria intact. Thus, while we favor the overthrow of the Assad regime, we do not wish to spread illusions about what the opposition leaders’ goals are, what kind of societies they wish to establish, and whom they really represent. The tactics we advocate of independent intervention and tactical blocs enables us to do this.
If anarchists had a significant presence in Syria today we should simultaneously attempt to coordinate our activity (including military actions, if we had fighting forces) with the political organizations and armed forces of the other anti-Assad organizations, while carrying out our own independent propaganda and agitation among the lower classes. This propaganda and agitation would explain that, while they, too, should be fighting alongside the bourgeois forces that are currently leading the struggle, they should have no illusions in what those forces represent. Instead, they should utilize the struggle to organize to take power for themselves, that is, to set up popular councils and other mass democratic structures to run their communities, the enterprises in which they work, and Syrian society as a whole. Thus, assuming that the rebel forces are victorious against Assad, we and the popular classes would be in a strong position to continue the fight for a true social revolution under whatever transitional government is set up in the aftermath of the armed conflict.
C. In sum, what we are proposing amounts to seeking to establish a tactical bloc with the other forces involved in the struggle against the Assad regime while maintaining our own independent organizations and carrying out independent activity to foment anarchist revolution. This includes exposing the bourgeois, non-popular nature of the groups with whom we are in a temporary alliance.
If we do not advocate this approach, or something like it, we are left to choose (and perhaps to vacillate) between two other policies, neither of which is satisfactory. One would be to give full (military and political) support to the rebel forces, which runs the danger of spreading illusions about them, thus disorienting the popular classes in the aftermath of the military struggle. The other would be to adopt a “plague on both your houses” approach, which would mean attempting to remain neutral between the pro- and anti-Assad forces and allowing the military struggle to play out without anarchist intervention. At least at this juncture, we should prefer a policy that would enable us to intervene in the struggle on the side of the anti-Assad forces, while continuing to advocate and organize for an anarchist revolution.
D. For those of us far away from the frontlines, the same general approach applies.
First, we should attempt to alert our friends, family, co-workers, and comrades to the important struggle underway in Syria. We should promote and circulate anti-authoritarian news coverage, analysis, and requests for solidarity, especially from anarchists and anti-authoritarians in Syria and the Middle East. We should argue against those activists who uphold the Assad regime as some sort of principled anti-imperialist force or unselfish friend of the Palestinians.
Where possible (and feasible, given our small numbers and competing priorities) we should join protest movements and solidarity campaigns in support of the revolution in Syria. Anarchists should be constructive participants in these movements while also advocating our specific concerns and vision. While defending the rebels right to obtain weapons by any means necessary, we should expose the motives of, and argue against any reliance on the U.S., other Western powers, or the rich Gulf states. We should oppose authoritarian fundamentalism, particularly the reactionary sexist and sectarian politics, while also defending the rights of religious Muslims to organize themselves and participate in the movement.
As in all the movements we participate in we should advocate for grassroots democracy, direct action, and solidarity with other struggles and oppose hierarchal control, legalistic strategy, and protective isolation. In all our work we should seek to make anti-authoritarian revolution a pole of discussion, action and interest.
E. Increasingly, what is missing is the independent, self-organization of popular resistance. This is what made the Arab Spring and had an effect all over the world. Without an independent expression of this popular resistance, we fear the energy of the past 3 years will be channeled into military or fundamentalist approaches. Across the region, from Syria to Egypt, the radical and democratic currents from below have not been able to sustain themselves because of the inability to articulate and gain wide support organizationally and politically.
If the Syrian rebels become dominated by authoritarian fundamentalist forces or if the struggle does, in fact, turn into a region-wide conflict between forces backed by the United States, the European nations, and Israel, and those supported by Russia, China, and Iran, we might have to consider adopting an alternate position. But, for the moment, and based on the information we have, this is the position we should advocate.
F. At the moment we publish, there has been a dramatic urging for attack on the Assad government after recent chemical weapons use in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. All sides are in dispute over responsibility for the attack, with the Assad government blaming the rebels and the rebels and the US blaming Assad. With the limited information we have, we think it quite likely that Assad was responsible. Nonetheless, we think it is a mistake to call for or support military intervention–either limited or broad–by the US or its allies. Any air strike by the US or its allies will only serve to disorient the popular Syrian revolution, shifting the centrality of the uprising from domestic opposition to that of a Western imperial effort. The US/Western aim, obviously, is to control and limit the revolution, make sure any new government follows pro-Western policies, and that power will be in the hands of pro-Western elites and not the people. In place of calling for or relying on Western intervention, the rebels should be demanding arms with no strings attached, should militantly oppose intervention in Syria under whatever pretext, and should resolutely resist efforts by outside forces to exert any kind of control over their revolution.
First of May Anarchist AllianceSummer, 2013
This document was drafted, discussed and collectively approved by the members of First of May Anarchist Alliance. September 6th, 2013.
PDF version available HERE
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It is good to start discussion about Syrian revolution from anarchists perspective, it's just a pity that this discussion after being neglected for more than 2 years and just the threat of US intervention push people to think a bit more about what's going on without any serious afford to obtain information from the ground. All discussion was/is until now under heavy influence of Syrian government's propaganda and the Western official narration. But maybe would be better, before publishing such a self-confident statement as above, to try to go through the official narration and really got some information. There is a lot of things to argue with that statement, but I will limit myself now to the most important aspects. First. What is lacking, is not self-managed movement in Syria, but its recognition by the World.
Actually the very heart of revolution are local councils/commeetties and the great majority of them based on ideas of Syrian anarchist, Omar Aziz. Second. About what leaders of the revolution are you speaking about. About SNC? SNC just call itself the government in exile and has almost no support on the ground. One of the main struggle of activists in Syria is not allowing to divide people and not taking any political decision by any self-claimed leader. Third. Jihadist are not in opposition bloc and people are struggling to kick them out from areas taken by them. There are constant demos blaming them as contr-revolutionary and persuading their own political goals. Fourth. Talking about international anarchists going to fight in Syria is ridiculous, and show a total lack of respect for people risking their lives in Syria. The truth is that anarchists just don't want to go there, and actually, until now, didn't do anything at all which far away for giving their lives. For more information you can follow the blog of Syrian anarchist Darth Nader http://darthnader.net/tag/syria/ , Syrian revolutionary opposition blog http://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/ , and the blog of Tahrir ICN https://tahriricn.wordpress.com , if, after the lecture someone would not believe in self-management of Syrian revolution, it's not my fault.
I am a great admirer of Tahrir ICN. Thank you and all who work on that project, it has been an important contribution to the struggle. Also thank you for the response to our organization's statement "Toward an Anarchist Policy on Syria".
A couple quick points to keep the discussion going:
- You are correct that we are still too ignorant of the actual horizontal self-organization and libertarian practice that is happening on the ground - we are trying to educate ourselves and have promoted the writings that we can find on our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/1MayAA and elsewhere. Still, the threats against it and the authoritarian competition is significant. We cannot assume that self-organized expressions of struggle will maintain their character in the face of repression, prolonged civil war and imperialist intervention. We also must not overstate the strength of explicitly anti/authoritarian and libertarian organization on the ground.
- We do not disrespect the Syrian anarchists (far from it), nor do we propose international brigades to Syria (we do not support or oppose that tactic on principal, its a matter of conditions, resources, and capabilities) that would be primarily the call of Syrian anarchists. Instead we talk explicitly about what anarchists in the US and elsewhere could do to advance the struggle.
First of May Anarchist Alliance
w to divide people which serve the most Assad, imperialists, jihadists. That is also why anarchists active in Syria do not push their agenda, focusing just on keeping self-management, not to be another ones who destroy solidarity of people. Not to be another sectarian factor. Of course political, class, religious differencies are and after Assad will start a political competitions of so-called leaders, but this will be after, and the tactic of anarchists/antiauthoritarians will be different, but for now, the most important is not to destroy of solidarity of the people.
(sorry, by mistake I posted just the end of my comment before)
Maybe my answer was to hard but I respect your effort.
It is truth the powers around the popular struggle are too strong for people to overwhelm them. Mainly in military terms. Independent battalions just do not have enough weapons to fight Assad supported by Russia and Hezbollah, and well equipped and trained jihadists supported bu Gulf countries. First just few FSA battalions accepted the aid from Western countries, and this countries check well to whom their provide support and for sure not to battalions who are firmly for real revolution. It is important to underline that FSA is not a monolith organization and many battalions just took this name but are independent, apart of many local autonomous groups. But even though some battalions received the aid, it was just symbolical with light weapons who cannot change the situation on the ground. The lack of arms was the first reason why fighters lost a lot of areas for Assad.
Yes you are right, we have to be aware about the threat for revolution, but should be more concentrated on popular struggle and local councils. Focusing just on imperialists/islamists makes unbalanced image of situation were local struggles seem to not important. We should start from presenting this local struggles and other powers just as a threat which is faced by any revolution. Because finally, doesn't matter who will win the war, this revolutionaries will stay and continue their fight in any situation. So doesn't matter what will happen in Syria, this people will be ones who will conduct long-term ongoing struggle.
But there is also another thing. It is very important now to keep revolution popular, not political, not to allow to divide people which serve the most Assad, imperialists, jihadists. That is also why anarchists active in Syria do not push their agenda, focusing just on keeping self-management, not to be another ones who destroy solidarity of people. Not to be another sectarian factor. Of course political, class, religious differencies are and after Assad will start a political competitions of so-called leaders, but this will be after, and the tactic of anarchists/antiauthoritarians will be different, but for now, the most important is not to destroy of solidarity of the people.
I am based in Montreal, Canada. We have a few problems here in regards to organizing solidarity with our fellows in Syria.
1) the Syrian community - more than in Toronto, there is a community in Montreal. It is apparently mostly the more wealthy and through connections with that wealth, loyal to the regime. By speaking with a couple members of this group who support the popular movement, I have learned that they feel like a minority even within their own circles of families and friends. There is a group of student-age Syrian-Canadians who organized small protests almost a year ago in support of the uprising but they do not have strong connections to the rest of the protest community in Montreal. One person who I think may be of a liberal politics, has been featured in the corporate media here in regards to two issues: a) a lobbying effort to Canada's conservative foreign minister (John Baird) to supply humanitarian aid around $1 million but this was cancelled at the last minute due to concerns about the recipient organisation being too young; b) after an anti-Assad protest a group of 4 or 5 youths waved the 3-star Syrian flag at a larger group of pro-Assad protesters up north at a bus stop who then attacked them, beating them and stabbing one youth. This attack was well known and I think has made many cautious about public events. Subsequently, the small anti-Assad protests have asked for protection from the police, which if known will not at all be welcomed by anarchists and the militant community in the rest of Montreal (conflict with the police has been very high during and after the student strike of 2012).
2) The student strike of 2012 was a period of civil unrest in the province of Quebec and took up tremendous resources from the movement here. Thousands and thousands of dollars in legal costs and penalties were paid and are still outstanding. This made collecting money very unsuccessful. Everyone is asking everyone for money and most people have none. Additionally, we all have some charges or fines we have to fight in court, taking away the ability/will to extend ourselves again even in a small way (protesting and even postering will get you arrested now in Montreal).
3) Since the sanctions by the Canadian government on the Syrian government, there has been little economic interests here in Canada to protest against. Sunoco has an operation in Syria's northeast but that has been shutdown. Protesting Sunoco would be popular as they are a player in the tarsands oil operations that environmentalists and Native movements in Canada and America have been very active in protesting. Lacking a clear economic interest to protest, there was some consensus that fighting capitalism here as we have been doing is the only way to go forward. I disagree slightly.
4) Like elsewhere in North America and Europe, there is very little knowledge of the uprising in Syria. I have done my best to spread media from anti-authoritarian sources but one person can only do a little. The influence of left-nationalists here who take all the regime propaganda as truth is also strong. With the threat of a US attack, far-rightwing conspiracy theory media has become popular amongst Leftists much to my vocal displeasure. I think this is the main front for now to work on as described in the policy proposal above.
With that in mind, perhaps we can compile a reading list to educate our comrades on the struggle in Syria and then bring this information to the wider public? I can start with the articles I have read in the last few years but some help from Tahrir-ICN would really help.
In general, I think anarchists need to be organizing internationally more, that is why I strongly support the manifesto of the Tahrir-ICN group. Perhaps getting contacts around the world to agree to affiliate with this group?
I was delighted to see that, finally, an anarchist group in the global north has made a serious attempt to make sense of what's happening in Syria and clearly state its position on the Syrian revolution. I really like, and mostly agree with, the statements expressed in the 'Our Position' section at the end, but I have quite a few issues with the preceding introduction and background sections. So here are a few comments in the spirit of your invitation for “input from others, particularly those with greater background in the area, especially anarchists living in the region”, and in the hope that this will contribute to a more informed discussion among anarchists and a better understanding, position and action on Syria.
Perspective and language
Before I start, I have to say I find the term “anarchist policy” rather weird. Since when do anarchists have policies or use this loaded, state-linked word? Wouldn't 'position' or 'perspective' be a better alternative?
The same goes for the use of “resolution” in “Syria, now in its third year of civil war with no sign of any resolution in sight.” I will come back to the issue of describing what's happening in Syria as a 'civil war' later. For now, I just want to point out that the use of such words as 'policy' and 'resolution' would put off many anarchists – certainly myself – even if they are meant as a 'neutral' description of events. This is because such words might (rightly) be interpreted as give-aways of buying into or internalising a statist, realpolitik perspective that does not obviously fit in well with anarchism.
To illustrate my point, here is an example from the statement: “It is impossible to understand what is going on in Syria today without some knowledge of the international and historical context”. I would have liked to see something like “local socio-political dynamics” listed among the factors, i.e. something that is related to people's agency, from a grassroots perspective, not just big geo-strategic considerations linked to foreign powers. I will have more to say on this thorny issue shortly.
The historical background(s)
I do not mean to be arrogant or dismissive, but I have to say I found your historical background rather poor and misinformed, brushing over complicated events and reducing them to simplistic, often mainstream versions, while omitting other important events or factors, and even getting some facts wrong. You do admit that “[you] are not experts on the history and current dynamics of Syria and of the Middle East as a whole.” But spending so many lines trying to give a certain version of history does inevitably shape readers' understanding of what follows.
For example, the Iranian Shah was not simply “overthrown in 1979 and replaced by a Shiite theocratic government.” For two years before then there had been a mass, diverse popular uprising that was eventually hijacked by Khomeini. Similarly, Hafez al-Assad did not become president of Syria through a normal “military coup” in 1971. It was an “internal coup” by the British-backed right-wing faction within the Ba'th party against the more left-wing faction backed by the French. And his son, Bashar, did not “stand for election, won, and was reelected in 2007.” He was brought back from abroad after his father fell ill and his elder brother died and was appointed as president by the ruling inner circle after the constitution was hastily changed so as to lower the minimum age for presidency candidates from 40 to 34, which was his age at the time.
On the history of the Syrian regime, Hafez al-Assad did not only “ruthlessly suppress” the Muslim Brothers in 1980. There were many other ruthless and bloody campaigns of repression against leftists as well, including the mass arrests, torture and killing of members of the Communist Labour League and other radical militant leftist groups – whose members, by the way, included many Alawites, Christians, Kurds, etc.
Finally, the 1973 “Yom Kippur War” between Syria, Egypt and other Arab countries on the one hand and Israel on the other, is known among Syrians and other Arabs as the October War and not the “Ramadan War”. This is a minor point but is one of those give-aways about knowledge and perspective.
Imperialism, nationalism and Orientalism
You argue that US imperialism is “in retreat” following the 2008 economic crisis. Many would argue against drawing such a linear causal relationship, but my main issue here is that you then go on to explain pretty much everything, including the North African and Middle Eastern uprisings and revolutions, through this global imperialism lens: “This weakening of overall imperialist domination, combined with the effects of globalization on the countries in the area, has inspired political and social forces among the middle classes to seek political power for themselves.”
As far as I understand, the North African and Middle Eastern uprisings and revolutions were – broadly speaking – triggered by varying combinations of political repression, economic deprivation and social disintegration, which made people in those countries feel more and more marginalised, powerless, humiliated and undignified. Even if they are linked to the wider processes of global politics and economics – like everything else – these are specific local dynamics that cannot be simply seen as a direct result of imperialism and globalisation.
To be fair, you do touch on the “complex social process”, though I would have liked to see more emphasis on the complexity of the socio-economic-political realities in each of those countries and the similarly complex agents and actors that participated in their recent uprisings and revolutions, not just the two loud, west-oriented voices that commentators in the west often focus on:
“These groups, including militant Islamic organizations and pro-Western liberals, have managed to assume the leadership of much broader social layers who have been plagued by rampant unemployment (particularly among young people), decrepit housing and urban infrastructures, inflation, and the other results of uneven economic growth. The results of this complex social process have included the recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and the revolution, now taking the form of a civil war, in Syria.”
I will come back later to lumping all the North African and Middle Eastern uprisings and revolutions together in one category and explaining them all using the same narrative or reasoning. For now, I just want to stress that this obsession with US and western imperialism is really redundant and unhelpful, especially when it edges on right-wing, west-centric theories of 'clash of civilisations':
“When looked at from this long-term perspective, what we see is a trans-epochal conflict between two regions/cultures/civilizations, in which, at the moment, the European/Euro-American, after centuries of aggressive expansion, has moved onto the defensive. This 'war of civilizations' remains, however vaguely, in the historic memories of the peoples of the Middle East to this day and fuels much of the nationalism and religious fanaticism that is now so prevalent throughout the region.”
Which civilisations and cultures are you talking about? Which historic memories? Would you identify with mainstream western culture? (whatever that is). If not, why should all the people of the Middle East identify with one static culture or civilisation that hasn't apparently changed for centuries? And who said this identity has always remained anti-Western? What about the pro-western liberals and the globalised youth and middle classes you've just talked about? What about all the leftists, communists, anarchists and so on and so forth?
You might have guessed where I'm going with this. Even though I'm sure this was not your intention, such simplistic culturalist views are typical Orientalism based on a typical double exceptionalism: the exceptionalism, uniqueness and uniformity of the western or European civilisation, and therefore values, which is then contrasted with the rest of the world, which is made to either fit this liberal-democratic paradigm (often as inspired followers) or seen as abnormal, backward people who hate these values and represent the 'opposite' (anti-democratic, fundamentalists, etc.).
This Orientalist world view is also where ascribing too much agency to the west comes from, and it has been dominant in much of the commentary originating in the west on the North African and Middle Eastern revolutions, albeit in various different ways, ranging from seeing the whole thing as a western imperial conspiracy to overemphasising the role of (western) social media and (westernised) youth and liberals or (anti-western) Islamist fundamentalists.
The same can be said of how you present the process of nation-state building: “It is important to remember that one important outcome of this centuries-old conflict, and particularly its more recent developments, is that many of the existing nation-states of the Middle East are artificial constructions.”
Weren't the European nation-states also “artificial constructions” forced on the people living on those lands? Can you see the Orientalist exceptionalism implied in this sentence? I can see it very clearly:
“The result was that, in contrast to Europe, where nation states (and corresponding nationalities) had centuries to take shape and be consolidated, in the Middle East (and in the Balkan Peninsula, which was under Turkish/Islamic rule for centuries), the process of nation-building had to take place very rapidly, in a haphazard fashion.”
While it might be true that European nation states have had longer to consolidate, they were no less “rapid and haphazard” at the time. Read the history of Europe and the US in the 17th and 18th centuries, or just ask locals in different regions of France or Italy, or the Irish and Scots in Britain. I could go on and on but my point is simple: nation-states have often been violent, top-down, haphazard projects imposed on people, no matter where they are, in Europe or the Middle East, and whether their borders are drawn by external or internal colonial powers. Besides, the current states of the Middle East (apart from Israel) also had long histories of nation-building (cultural, regional, Islamic, Arab, disintegration of empires, etc.) well before their current borders were drawn up by the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916. So they are not that arbitrary, at least from a nationalist point of view.
This is important because, based on these simplistic culturalist assumptions, you reach a similarly simplistic conclusion: “many of the states comprise what should be seen as 'imperialist imposed national identities'.”
On the Western obsession with Middle Eastern sectarianism
Another Orientalist view that is so prevalent in the majority of news and commentary we have been reading on what's happening in the Middle East at the moment is to explain everything through a simplistic, and often imaginary, conflict between religious sects. You seem to do the same, even though your intentions are obviously different:
“In these countries (e.g., Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine), people define themselves as much, or even more, by sectarian considerations (e.g., whether a person is a member of a Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Druze, Christian, or Jewish community) than by nationalistic commitments to the nations of which they are a part.”
There is no space here to discuss in detail the origins and development of sectarianism in the Middle East (starting with the French, British and Ottoman colonial powers' using the ethnic and religious minorities discourse and those minorities subscribing to, or using, that same discourse to appeal for protection). However, there are two important points to make here:
First, like anywhere else in the world, most people in the Middle East have multiple, co-existing identities – or identity markers, rather – that are invoked at different times in different contexts. For examples, nationalist identities and discourses were dominant in the 1930s and 40s, during and in the aftermath of independence from Britain and France; they were then extended to or replaced by pan-Arabist identities and discourses in the '50s and '60s; both sets of identities and discourses were challenged by Marxist and Islamist ones in the '70s and '80s and so on and so forth. All of these identity markers and discourses had, and still have, roots in social and ideological bases, and are today invoked by different social and political groups in the service of their political games and struggles.
Second, this western obsession with Middle Eastern sectarianism inevitably leads to a simplistic and reductionist understanding of complex regimes and societies like those of Syria:
“Despite this [pan-Arabist and ostensibly secular and socialist] program, the Assad regime bases itself internally on the members of the Alawite sect of Islam (an offshoot of the Shi’a), to which the Assads belong. Most members of the government inner circle, as well as occupiers of leadership posts in the Ba’ath party and the economy, are members of this sect, which has thus been elevated into a privileged stratum that rules over a majority (76%) Sunni population.”
Again, there is no space here to go into the differences between the Alawites and the Shi'ites (they are not the same and don't really approve of one another as religions) or into the sectarian composition of the Assad regime (it's not just Alawites; there were many Sunnis as well in the inner circle, and some of the poorest and most heavily repressed communities were non-Ba'thist Alawites). It is important, however, to remember the following, often-ignored fact:
Since 1970, Hafez al-Assad and his regime skilfully used religious and ethnic sects and sectarianism – in Syria as well as in Lebanon – to consolidate their rule, fuelling sectarian tensions but keeping them under sufficient control so as to justify the 'need' for this rule, otherwise “things would get out of control and the country would descend into a civil war,” as we were often warned. The term 'politics of sectarian tension' can probably describe this policy better than the cliché 'divide and rule'. To give you just a glimpse, Hafez al-Assad – and his son Bashar after him – always prayed in Sunni mosques, appeased Alawite religious and community leaders, while at the same time marketing itself as a 'secular' regime.
Here is another example from your statement of the western obsession with Middle Eastern sectarianism, to which everything else is reduced:
“In fact, for Assad, Syrian national, and even narrowly Shi’a, interests always trumped pan-Arabism. Thus, when he perceived those interests to be threatened by the Iraqi regime of fellow-Ba’athist (but Sunni), Saddam Hussein, Assad supported (Shi-ite, non-Arab) Iran in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-89), and in 1990, the US war against Iraq.”
You see, this is exactly what I'm talking about. The conflict between the Syrian and the Iraqi regimes and al-Assad's support for and by Iran were, and still are, purely political (i.e. power and influence games) and have nothing to do with sects and religions. Why is it so difficult to see that when it comes to the Middle East? Don't you think it would be really absurd if someone reduced the modern conflict of interests between France and Britain to rivalries between Catholicism and Protestantism?
The Syrian revolution
You claim that the Syrian revolution “broke out in March of 2011, as a largely spontaneous movement among the middle and lower classes of Syria, primarily young, and primarily, although not exclusively, urban.”
I don't know where you got this from – I guess from (mis)representations by western media and west-oriented accounts on social media, etc. – but what actually happened in Syria, as far as I know, was exactly the opposite. And that's, in fact, what distinguishes the Syrian revolution from the (first) Egyptian revolution, for example.
The mass protests in Syria started and remained, for quite a few months into the revolution, largely confined to marginalised, neglected regions and rural areas such as Dar'a, Idlib, Deir al-Zor, al-Raqqa, the poor suburbs and slums of Damascus, etc. Apart from a few, relatively small solidarity demonstrations, big urban centres (Damascus and Aleppo) did not 'move' on a mass scale for a while. This was partly due to the reluctance of urban middle classes to side with the revolution because they still believed the regime could overcome this 'crisis', so it was safer for their interests to stay on the regime's side or keep silent. In contrast, the marginalisation, negligence, deprivation and humiliation in the rural regions had reached such an extent that people living there did not have much more to lose. This, coupled with strong regional identities that made it easier for these people to break away from the regime's discourse, meant the Syrian revolution was – at least in the beginning – an almost classic revolt by the marginalised rural poor.
To understand this, you have to understand how Bashar al-Assad's so-called 'modernisation' programme was implemented since 2000. Without going into too much detail, his economic liberalisation of the country, celebrated by the west as welcomed 'reforms', was carried out through a Mafia-like network of high ranking military and security officers partnering with big businessmen, which largely concentrated in and benefited the traditional bourgeois urban centres. Moreover, economic liberalisation was not accompanied by 'political liberalisation' that could have made these 'reforms' more acceptable by people – save for a brief period of political freedoms, known as the 'Damascus Spring' in 2000-1, which was soon heavily repressed as the regime feared too much freedom may destabilise its rule. So the picture is quite more complicated than the way you present it in your statement:
“Domestically, Bashar attempted to continue the modernization of the country by, for example, loosening up government control and allowing private enterprise in banking and other sectors of the economy. More recently, he tried to achieve a rapprochement with US imperialism, by, among other things, withdrawing from Lebanon. Two results of these policies were a drastic increase in corruption and an intensification of the desire of the Syrian population for greater political freedom.”
The same goes for what you say about the original demands of the Syrian revolution: “Its main demands centered on the immediate needs of the people, primarily for jobs, and the need to set the stage for a transition to a more democratic political system after three decades of a brutal dictatorship under the Assads.”
As far as I'm aware, the demands – or slogans, rather – were all about dignity, freedom and bread and against repression, which soon turned into demanding the fall of the regime altogether following heavy-handed repression and massacres against protesters. To understand this, you need to understand the nature of totalitarian regimes like the Syrian one, which so many commentators in the west seem to fail to really understand. When Syrians say 'down with the regime', they mean or imply political, economic and social injustices at the same time, because 'the regime' symbolises all these apparently different forms of injustice.
It is perhaps because of this failure to understand the nature of the Syrian regime that so many western commentators ascribe to the Syrian revolution 'demands' that reflect their own values and wishes rather than what Syrians themselves want and are struggling for – from traditional leftists claiming it's about jobs and workers' rights to liberals claiming it's about democracy. The same can be said of the (largely western) debate of violence vs. non-violence:
“While the struggle in Syria began on a non-violent basis and eventually mobilized significant sectors of the Syrian people, the aggressive, extremely brutal response of the government forced the opposition to arm itself. One result of this has been the militarization of the struggle. This has forced the unarmed masses of people to the sidelines (and into refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon) and turned what had been a popular revolution into a civil war between the Syrian government, backed by the Alawite minority, on the one hand, and opposition militias, supported by the Sunni majority, on the other.”
It may be true that the regime's brutal response to the early protests pushed people to resort to arms to defend themselves, but this does not mean the Syrian revolution was ever peaceful or non-violent. When people say 'peaceful' in Arabic, they often mean 'unarmed' or 'non-militarised'. The word does not have the same loaded connotations it has in English and other European languages (pacifism and all that). Moreover, the militarisation of a popular revolution does not mean it has turned into a “civil war.” We're really tired of people describing the Syrian revolution as a 'civil war'. And again, the war is between a repressive regime and repressed people, some of whom are now armed and fighting back. It is not between “the Alawite minority and the Sunni majority.” There are many Syrian Alawites who support the revolution and many Syrian Sunnis who still support the regime. Please stop reducing everything to simplistic sectarian labels. Here is another example from your statement:
“Most recently, Hezbollah, worried about the eventual defeat of its Syrian patron and a victory for the Sunni majority, has sent its own well-trained military forces into the fray.”
Before its intervention in Syrian affairs (to support the regime and its forces that were losing ground), when it was still popular among many Syrians and Arabs as a resistance movement, Hizbullah was never worried about “the Sunni majority.” Quite the opposite. Nor was the Syrian regime's support for Hizbullah ever linked to the fact that it is a Shi'ite religious movement. How do you explain the regime's support for Hamas, then? (that is, before Hamas' leadership decided to abandon the losing regime and leave Syria). But anyway, I've said enough about this issue (the western obsession with Middle Eastern sectarianism), so I won't repeat myself.
On foreign intervention
I also disagree with your analysis of why the US has been reluctant to support the Syrian rebels. A lot has been written about this issue and I do not really have the will or energy to go into it again now, especially when it's become clear now, following the chemical weapons deal with Russia, that the US is not willing to intervene in any serious way so as to bring down the Syrian regime and put an end to the conflict. I would, however, still like to make a couple of quick remarks.
I very much disagree that the US “almost always prefers to see very slow, very moderate, and very peaceful political change.” The history of the US adventures and interventions in various different parts of the world testify to the very opposite: from Nicaragua, Panama and Guatemala, though Cambodia and Chile, Korea and Vietnam, to Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor is exactly true that the US is so worried about weapons falling in the hands of Islamist fundamentalists:
“Probably most important in hindsight, the US, fearing the escalation of violence (and worried about weapons getting into the hands of fundamentalist militias), hesitated to supply arms to the rebels, let alone take stronger measures, such as establishing a no-fly zone to protect the rebel forces from Assad’s aerial bombardment.”
Read the history of al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brothers and other Islamist militant groups and how they started and who initially supported and armed them – you will come across the US in each and every case.
Like many Syrians, I share your suspicions and concerns about the intentions and consequences of foreign (state) intervention in a popular revolution. But please remember that Syrians have already experienced western colonialism and know what it means, and that they have grown up with strong anti-imperialist discourses (leftist, pan-Arab nationalist and Islamist), probably more than any other country in the region. And please remember that people in Syria are not just 'revolutionaries'; many of them are also exhausted, scared, desperate and they want to live. That doesn't necessarily mean they are pro-US.
Having said that, please let us be realistic when we talk about armed struggles. If there were other, less dodgy sources of arms and other material support available, I can assure you that many Syrians fighting today would not have had to seek help from the US and the Gulf countries and to forge alliances with 'Islamist fundamentalists' actually fighting on the ground.
Speaking of Islamist fundamentalists, no one denies that al-Qaeda-linked or inspired groups fighting in Syria, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, whose members include many non-Syrians, are becoming stronger and getting out of control. But claims that the Syrian revolution has been (completely) hijacked by them are massively exaggerated. The most accurate estimates I've seen say radical Islamists do not constitute more than 15-20% of the so-called Free Syrian Army. All these two groups have been doing recently is to wait for other factions of the Free Army to do the fighting, then go to the 'liberated zones' and try to impose their control. Both groups' initial popularity – mostly due to their charity work – is declining among many Syrians as more and more reports of their repressive and sectarian practices come to light, not to mention reports that both groups are infiltrated by the regime and are now turning against the Free Army. Indeed, there have mass demonstrations against Jabhat al-Nusra and the ISIS in the areas under there control, such as al-Raqqa, parts of Aleppo and so on.
As I said in the beginning, I do like, and mostly agree with, your position(s) expressed towards the end of the statement. I would advise all my anarchist and activist friends and comrades to read it in full before reading these comments (and I'm happy to translate it into Arabic if no one else has done so already). But here are, nonetheless, some quick remarks to stir some more, hopefully useful, discussion.
I'm glad that you consider what's happening in Syria as “still being predominantly a popular revolution in which the majority of the Syrian people are fighting against an arbitrary dictatorship” and that, “in spite of the fact that the United States and its allies in Western Europe and elsewhere have given diplomatic support, humanitarian aid, and now arms, to the rebels... [you] do not see the rebels as mere proxies for the imperialists, under their control and dependent on them financially.” This is much better, and more sensible, than the majority of what we've heard from the 'left' in Europe and the US.
I slightly disagree, however, that “the leadership of the struggle in Syria is made up of a combination of pro-Western liberals, moderate Islamic organizations, and fundamentalist Islamic militias.” This is because a crucial distinction has to be made between the opposition leadership abroad, mainly the National Coalition, on the one hand and the Local Coordination Committees and the various factions of the Free Syrian Army fighting on the ground on the other.
I also disagree that, “increasingly, what is missing is the independent, self-organization of popular resistance” and that, “across the region, from Syria to Egypt, the radical and democratic currents from below have not been able to sustain themselves because of the inability to articulate and gain wide support organizationally and politically.” There have been many inspiring examples of non-hierarchical self-organisation and solidarity in Syria, Egypt and other countries in the region in the past couple of years. They might not pass a strict (western) anarchist or activist test and might be based on traditional social networks and structures, but are nonetheless inspiring and promising, and are worth studying and learning from.
Finally, and as I said before, we have to be realistic and serious when talking about armed struggles. You cannot “defend the rebels right to obtain weapons by any means necessary,” then condemn them for their “reliance on the U.S., other Western powers, or the rich Gulf states” without identifying a realistic alternative (there is none at the moment, it seems). Asking the rebels to “demand arms with no strings attached” is not going to get us anywhere because there are no such arms (with no strings attached) in the real world. We all know that “the US/Western aim, obviously, is to control and limit the revolution.” But couldn't anarchists adopt the same “tactical” approach that you advocate regarding fighting alongside the “bourgeois and fundamentalist rebel forces” in relation to the US and its allies? I guess before we even get to this question, we have to establish who is willing to take up arms and fight and for what ends.