The decrease in violence, especially in opposition-controlled areas, due to the implementation of the US-Russian-led cessation of hostilities, was accompanied by a return of scenes and activities that had not been seen for a long time. Protests against the Syrian regime, like those that used to occur at the beginning of the Syrian revolution are back strongly in most of these areas, and many activists believe that the revolutionary spirit has risen from the ashes.
The most remarkable feature of these demonstrations was the complete absence of the black or white flags that carry religious significance, and the dominance of the Syrian independence flag, which had been adopted by the Syrian revolution. The protesters called for the fall of the Syrian regime andend to the “Russian occupation.” A protest in the village of Darkoush, however, also called for the withdrawal of Jabhat al-Nusra from the village, and the banishment of all military presence.
The new protests represent the revival of a revolution that many people had thought was completely suffocated by the near five-year war. It seems that the five-year anniversary of the Syrian revolution is a turning point in its development. However, one should pause and rethink the mistakes that activists made over the last five years, and the ways in which these mistakes contributed to the rise of the armed Islamist factions who stole Syrian people’s dreams, and used them to serve their own agendas.
All activists, especially those still inside the country, should reconsider the ways in which they dealt with the revolution’s goals, slogans, and activities. It is not sufficient anymore to stick to the old, general principle of bringing down Asad, and believing that all will be fixed as soon as he is out. Old mistakes should not be repeated. Activists, for example, should voice their objections against the Islamist groups, and not worry about clashing with them anymore. The principle of “Let’s get of the Syrian regime first, and we will deal with the rest later,” is what opened the door for the Islamic State, the Caucasus Emirate, Jund al-Aqsa, Jabhat al-Nusra, and others to rise to power. Such principles turned the people’s revolution into a regional war.
The resurgent revolution and its activists should also draw a clear line between Syria, the modern state that is governed by the concept of citizenship, and Syria, the Islamic Ummah that relies on Jihad. We are talking here about moderate Islamic opposition groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Faylaq al-Rahman, and al-Ajnad, which are predominantly Syrian in form and ideology. These groups should completely eliminate any jihadist ideology that they carry, fully engage with the principles of the Syrian national project, and, militarily, join the Free Syrian Army. Until they do this, these groups are a third, major internal threat, after the extremist Islamist groups, and the Asad-Russian occupation.
It is time for radical changes, because if the today’s revived revolution fails to address and move beyond its mistakes, it will inevitably die forever. It is time for bravery and truthfulness, and it is time for revolutionary activists to play the role that they abandoned long ago. It is time for these activists to restructure and restore their revolution, and be in charge again.
It is time for the revolutionary leaders, and particularly the political leadership, to reclaim their revolution that was high jacked by extremists and black-flaggers. They should also engage people again to help lead this revolution— it carries all the hopes and possibilities of those who have been dreaming of freedom for nearly half a century.