By Michel Kilo
This is my translation of renowned Syrian activist Michel Kilo’s think piece appearing today in Arabic in the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat:
The Syrian regime used to think that keeping the major Syrian cities in check should precede reining in the country’s rural areas; that getting people off city streets would surely keep the lid on protests in medium-sized and small townships; and that stifling the uprising was only a matter of time.
The regime thought it devised the correct plan and had the manpower to see it through since people are scattered, fearful and leaderless while the opposition is divided and impotent.
The regime did not foresee surprises. It thought everything would turn out to be “hanky-dory” within days or weeks.
Indeed, the regime focused on the major cities. It started bragging that Damascus and Aleppo were free of protests and were made safe of wide-ranging popular unrest.
In this context, it is worth recounting Damascus’ true story.
Damascus’ revolt started in its eastern suburbs before spreading to its southern, then south-western and lastly west-northern districts – so much so that the city was surrounded by a ring of protests, setting it in the jaws of giant human and geographic pincers.
That’s when the regime hit back in the east first, starting with Douma. It then proceeded to deploy the army everywhere around Damascus, subduing small villages and overrunning eastern and western Ghota.
As soon as the regime boasted that it got rid of the restive ring around the capital, the inner suburbs of Damascus -- namely, Muhajereen, Ruknuddin, Barza, Qaboun, Jobar, Midan, Kfar Sousa and Mezze – flared up. The insurgents responded by creating an inner ring around Damascus to replace the outlying one.
To date, the regime has been unable to overpower the new inner ring, and the revolution has resumed in eastern and western Ghota as well as in the capital’s outlying suburbia.
Aleppo too has a story to tell.
Aleppo’s Douma was considered a loyal and peaceful city. Together with Damascus, it was used by the regime to make the false claim that half Syria’s population is loyal to the regime.
The claim was being made when hundreds of thousands of people were participating in an average of 14 demonstrations daily in Aleppo proper and 50 in Aleppo governorate’s rural areas and when security forces were hurling Aleppo University students to death from their campus dormitories.
The situation in Aleppo today leaves no room for talk of a loyal and peaceful city. Had this been the case, the regime wouldn’t have deployed huge armored contingents in Aleppo to join the 100,000-plus security personnel who have been positioned there since the outbreak of the uprising.
In the past few months, the (pro-democracy) campaign entered another phase. It succeeded in frustrating the resolute offensive mounted across the country by the regime’s most violent and best-equipped forces. It then liberated vast swaths of territory from all manner of oppression.
Even Homs, which the regime sought to vanquish in the hope of breaking the opposition’s back, stood its ground. At the same time, the resoluteness of Harasta, a small city sitting on a highway hardly 10 kilometers from Damascus city center, is ample proof that the regime failed to tip the scale of the confrontation in its favor, albeit partially.
Failure of the regime’s all-out offensive allowed the revolution to go back to the cities and sink roots in the rural areas, which have gradually become out of bounds for the regime’s military and security forces.
The army has effectively transmuted into taskforces roving around the country, with protesters taking back to the streets as soon as the taskforces roll out their tanks.
More recently, though perhaps belatedly, the so-called “Syrian bourgeoisie,” better known as “the merchants” in common parlance, staged general strikes in both Aleppo and Damascus to express, in practical terms, their decision to break away from the regime.
The regime’s current response to the second wave of the nationwide insurgency is a string of systematic and genocidal operations against civilians all over.
Today, Syria stands at a crossroads. The regime is hankering for a civil war, which the population is rejecting and resisting.
The clash is between two policies. One would destroy the country, the other would usher it to the world of freedom and democracy.
The outcome of the clash is beyond doubt. The Syrian people are throwing out the regime by their own brawn and means. In so doing, and by virtue of their legendary steadfastness, they are forging the elements of their victory.