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[by Lara Keller last updated 13th May 2017]

Why You need The Syrian Revolution

The Syrian Crisis is both a “profound political” and “serious humanitarian” crisis. The issues of religious extremism, diplomatic relations, militarism and sectarianism are all secondary. Most of the debate in the West about Syria inverts the order of these issues.

The “political” crisis is that a people rose up against a brutal self-serving regime in 2011, as part of a movement of deep political frustration with dictatorship that broke out into the open and swept across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The Syrian protests demanded an end to dictatorship by the Assad clique, and rule by a genuinely representative government. The regime chose to continue its fundamental policy (of the last 47 years) that responds to any serious dissent with torture and murder. The difference this time was the scale. This political policy response by the Assad regime is the centre of the Syrian Crisis.

It is a “profound political” crisis because all ideological movements are exhausted. After the Second World War latent racism, post-colonial insecurity and the Cold War fight against Communism gave cover to Western democracies lack of genuine support for the spread of democracy. After the end of the Cold War Extremist Islamism partially took the place of Communism. It has lost its potency however, because it has been unable to hold state power, as would be expected from a reactionary backward-looking movement.

Malicious claims about the inevitable extremism and sectarianism in the armed Syrian Opposition can only be partly explained by fear of Islamic Extremism and unconscious racist ideas about the alleged backwardness of “Muslims”. Similarly on a different part of the political spectrum, an idealistic commitment to pacifism and opposition to militarism and imperialism, are grotesquely still being used to oppose Western support for an armed opposition fighting an unquestionably ruthless sociopathic neo-colonialist Assad Regime. Western intervention in the MENA and elsewhere, is treated as a failed immoral homogenous block. No effort is made to differentiate, or work out how some types could be successful.

There is something very strange happening here in the politics of the West. Surveys of public opinion show that believe in democracy is in long term decline.  [20] Support for the hard-left and the far-right is increasing in Europe and the US. It is evident that a lack of believe in representative government in the West by ordinary people is equally important in explaining the lack of interest in supporting the struggle for representative government in Syria and elsewhere.

The true narrative about the intrinsic illegitimacy of Assad regime and the daunting courage of Syrians who have stood up to the regime, has not emerged in popular discourse, because there is little interest in the corollary of supporting the Syrian Revolution. A criminal clique centred on Hafez Assad took over Syria in 1970 in a military coup. They have used fear and corruption to rule the country in the interests of this gangster clique ever since. Elections are rigged, media censored, dissent crushed and critics tortured. The Assad regime responded to mass peaceful protests in 2011 with utter brutality that forced the Syrian Opposition to take up arms. [25] The armed Syrian Opposition have received comparatively little help and some hindrance from the West. The importance of a still minority Extremist Islamist armed opposition has been enhanced by the generous flow of resources from regional autocracies as part of a counter-revolutionary policy.

It is a humanitarian crisis, because over the last six years the Assad Regime has been responsible for approximately 95% of the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. The regime has tortured to death tens of thousands of people. It has thrown millions into poverty and forced them to become refugees or live under siege. A generation of children have had their lives permanently blighted. There are many hundreds of thousands of seriously disabled people as a result of the regime’s war. [30]

The same reasons that this is a “profound political” crisis, also mean that optimism is pointless. The Assad Regime is supported militarily by Russia and Iran, who in turn are supported financially by China. None of these regimes have the popularity of an ideology to defend, which would prevent them from eventually slaughtering or displacing most of the Syrian population. The Assad Clique have for 47 years treated ordinary Syrians as scum who deserve to be tortured and murdered if they exercise their basic dignity to dissent. The status of the Assad Clique in a gangster’s culture where status is everything depends on the crushing of the Syrian Revolution. They have no other ideology to limit the scope of their brutality.

Putin wants to be enforcer in chief to the world’s dictatorships, and needs the success of putting Assad back on his complete Syrian throne. Not dealing with the Syrian Crisis means it will be replicated elsewhere. The balance of power is shifting from hypocritical democracies to blatant dictatorships. These dictatorships are no longer confined in their choice of international partners by the remnants of the ideology of the Cold War. If Putin succeeds in Syria in using genocide as a tool of political control then he will be able to apply this option elsewhere. He will have the advantage of a lack of domestic Russian public opposition.

Even at the height of the Cold War, the genocide that killed two million Vietnamese over twenty years, was eventually brought to an end by domestic US opposition. Claims of a similar US culpability for the more recent Iraqi Genocide are exaggerated, because the Saddam Hussein Regime and the Iranian Regime were equally active actors in this tragedy.

If Putin and Assad win in Syria, then Western influence will suffer a sharp decline globally. Putin will be handed an unrestrained tool to extend the network of the world’s dictators dependant on Russia and China.

Optimism in regional powers is equally pointless. Both the Iranian “Shia” regime and the “Sunni” Gulf Monarchies especially Saudi Arabia are interested in the failure of the Syrian Revolution, and certainly in the failure of representative government. They have public stances that demand they take sides in an artificial “Sunni v Shia” conflict, but both know privately that they cannot push the other too far.

If the Assad Regime is removed, then optimism about an easy path to a post Assad Syria is also pointless. Growing poverty in Syria before 2011 combined with a kleptomaniac self-serving oppressive regime was a key driver in the 2011 protests against the regime. Syria has few natural resources, an increasingly difficult climate and a population that has doubled since the 1980s. There is also a strong counter-revolutionary movement in the MENA, centred on Saudi Arabia and Iran. Any post Assad Syria will have to deal with well-funded Extremist Islamist groups that will attempt to inflame sectarian divisions. It will also have to deal with a persistent strand of Kurdish ultra-nationalism.

Stability will depend on a new government that is both representative of all the diverse mixture of the people of Syria, but which can also deliver physical and humanitarian security without corrupt abuse of power. This requires local and national democratic institutions that oversee the provision of physical and humanitarian security. This requires a professional armed force with a central command structure. This requires professional national organisations that can provide humanitarian resources of food, health services, shelter and education. Therefore this requires that the Syrian Revolution integrates after successful negotiations with existing Syrian government structures and elites that are not close to the top tier of the Assad regime. Therefore this process requires continuing support from the West and regional powers after Assad is removed. Optimism, lack of external support and a well-resourced counter revolution could easily create a more extreme Libyan style post dictator disaster.

Longer term success of the Syrian revolution depends on rebuilding and extending the Syrian Economy. This requires investment from the West and regional powers, combined with preferential trade deals that allow Syria to increase its exports, while protecting domestic industries from overwhelming competition. Trade relations that are balanced positively taking into account the relative strengths of economies, stimulate mutual demand without creating unsustainable debt. Lack of commitment to making the Syrian Revolution successful in the broadest sense, will lead to more disillusionment than the post revolution Tunisian economic stagnation.

Ordinary People in the West rather than Western Elites will benefit from effective support for and the subsequent success of the Syrian Revolution. The root of the malaise in Western democracy is a self-sustaining declining faith in representative government. There is a subsequent self-sustaining decline in what people think that societies acting together can achieve.

There are no problems, including existential environmental problems that representative government cannot solve. Existing democratic institutions are not working, which is a result of the stagnation that occurs when the struggle for representative government is seen as a destination rather than a continual process of change, innovation and improvement.

We need the example, the experience, and the knowledge that will flow from a successful Syrian Revolution.

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[20] Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa, “The Signs of Democratic Deconsolidation,” Journal of Democracy, January 2017. There is a sharp decline in those responding “essential” to the statement “live in a country that is governed democratically” across age groups in the West. In the US for example, approximately 75% of those born in the 1930s against 30% for those born in the 1980s. The authors give this stark timely advice: “In countries where populists are already in power, by contrast, those citizens who retain a deep commitment to the core values of liberal democracy must recognize that their countries’ past stability is no reason for complacency.”

[25] A series of essays on the history and nature of the Assad regime. How Hafez Assad created a coup-proof regime dedicated to amassing power. How Bashar Assad failed to reform Syria and used barbarity to suppress demands for representative government.

[30] Adam Taylor’s article in New York Times from March 2016 is a good introduction to Human Rights in Syria. The Syrian Network for Human Rights attempts to document all human rights violations by all parties to the Syrian Crisis since 2011. Their methods are conservative, and produce a significant underestimate (see The Syria Campaign have used SNHR figures to present a summary of who is killing Syrians In the period March 2011 to March 2017 the regime was responsible for 92.2% of civilian deaths. The regime was responsible for 99.2% of cases of torturing to death. It killed in this way 12,882 people. According to SNHR between December 2012 and March 2016 there were 169 cases of the use of chemical weapons, 167 by the Assad Regime and 2 by ISIS ( See also: The Assad Regime is overwhelmingly the source of human rights violations in Syria. It should be treated as an extremist group, with an absolute ban and blockade on the supply of weapons to the regime. According to The Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) “It is estimated that the loss [of life in Syria since 2011] has reached about 470,000 people in 2015, or about 1.9 per cent of the total population.” This estimate is based on direct violence and the increased number of deaths due to the deterioration in living conditions and lack of access to services (see ). In a 2015 report SPCR stated “This means that 11.5 per cent of the population inside Syria were killed or injured due to the armed-conflict” (see  According to the UN there are currently 5.05 million Syrian Refugees living  in camps in neighboring countries and 0.94 million asylum applications in Europe [date 12/5/17]. There are 7.6 million internally displaced persons in Syria according to the UNHCR. According to an SCPR report from 2015 poverty among Syrians is soaring (see “As the armed conflict continues, along with the economic recession and destruction, the overall poverty rate is expected to reach 85.2 per cent by the end of 2015 compared to 83.5 per cent in 2014. Moreover, 69.3 per cent are living in extreme poverty, unable to secure the basic food and non-food items necessary for the survival. About 35 per cent of the population fell into abject poverty being unable to meet the basic food needs of their households.” An updated summary of humanitarian statistics are given at:


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