Taking advantage of the shaky truce that followed the Geneva meetings, something like a peaceful protest movement returned to the streets of Syrian cities and towns during the past two weeks. These scenes reaffirm for everyone that the Syrian revolution is peaceful and of the people. The mere fact that when people finally found some safety from the shelling and bullets, so many of them return to peaceful expression, shows who they are as a people and what the Syrian regime and its supporters took away from them.
Some armed groups who share hopes and dreams with other Syrians, and who have not been corrupted by the war decided to protect the peaceful protests. But as soon as the news spread about the resurgent protests and demonstrations, some dark, extremist groups intervened to suffocate and end the demonstrations. An al-Qaeda affiliated group that is regionally supported harassed the protesters because they carried the Syrian flag, which they consider an act that defies Islamic rules.
The methods they employ against the protesters are not any better than those undertaken by the Syrian regime. Pictures and videos of their acts filled social media websites, and led to heated controversies and accusations. While some condemned the groups’ practices and called them crimes, others tried to find excuses for the extremists.
Three years after extremist groups destroyed the statue of Abu al-Alaa al-Maarri in Ma’arrat al-Nu’maan, and with support from what is left of the Free Syrian Army in the city, the people of Ma’arrat al-Nu’maanfinally revolted against ignorance and Salafism. They protested against tyranny, whether political or under the disguise of religion. They protested against those who came from outside the country, took advantage of the current situation, and bought loyalties in times of loss and frustration.
This is a very natural scenario, if seen in the context of people revolting against tyranny. The surprise and enthusiasm that took many people means one thing: no one had expected people in Ma’arrat al-Nu’man to revolt against these extremist groups. The fact that this is a surprise is a result of five years of war, displacement, poverty, international and regional neglect, as well as an elite that has been disconnected from real people.
What happened in Ma’arrat al-Nu’man, and the fact that the voice of people has re-emerged in the public domain, even temporarily, is a major factor that contributes to rebuilding trust amongst Syrians and provides them with hope for a future that they all want. While the physical rebuilding of the country, like in many other historical scenarios, depends partially on external support, the rebuilding of communal relationships requires internal harmony.
Extremist groups were able to stop demonstrators, destroy the revolutionary flags, and oppress people with methods that went beyond those of the Syrian regime. Hopes returned to the dark caves, and it seemed that a bright tomorrow was nothing but an illusion. Some observers thought that the resurgent revolution had again been suffocated. They concluded that the extremist groups held, in addition to military power, popular support. What happened led some to proclaim the death of the revolution again. This position is actually built on a presupposition that Syrian society is not compatible with the notions of freedom and justice.
Recently, everyone was surprised when the people of Ma’ara again stood up to fight the religious tyranny of Jubhat al-Nusra and peacefully expelled their forces and then burned their headquarters. This act is a telling response to many questions about why such groups have been hosted in Syria and represents a serious call to re-examine a Syrian society that has been oppressed by a tyrannical authority, not to mention armed gangs and other dark forces. “When people choose life, they bring fate to their side.”