News / Middle East

Syria's Opposition Split Over Civil, Armed Unrest

Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun gives a speech during a Syrian opposition rally in Vienna, December 8, 2011.
Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun gives a speech during a Syrian opposition rally in Vienna, December 8, 2011.
Elizabeth Arrott

Syria's opposition has launched a new form of civil disobedience with a general strike, even as armed resistance escalates. The opposing tactics highlight a growing split among those who seek to oust the government, a divide echoed in the mixed signals of the international community.

Shop owners opposed to the Syrian government continue to keep their doors closed, despite reports that security forces have retaliated against some by burning down their stores.  

The general strike, which began Sunday, widens the campaign of peaceful resistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which for the most part over the last nine months has been confined to demonstrations, vigils and protest marches.  

Tactical differences

But the strike coincides with an increase in the armed struggle against Assad's rule. Both sides agree on what they see as the inevitable downfall of the government.  

How to reach that goal, however, is causing a split. Amateur video has shown battles in the Daraa region, along the border of Iraq, while opposition forces report clashes along the border with Jordan.  

Witnesses describe it as some of the heaviest fighting yet between military defectors and government troops.  

Some experts, though, think the armed effort so far has its limits. Dr. Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Jeddah, argues it has yet to reach a critical mass.  

"To reach the point of a civil war you will need a mass defection from the military and high-ranking [officers] at a large number to enter into that one," said Sager. "So far, we do not have that huge number that have defected from the military. Second, the type of weapons they have, still it is a light weapon, an AK-47 or sort of the light one they cannot fight or cannot be used against tanks and heavy military movements."  

Apparent shortcomings amid progress

If an armed struggle appears unlikely to dislodge the government in the short term, so, too, does the general strike.  

Syria's neighbors Lebanon and Iraq have shown support for the Assad government and the ability to move goods across those borders makes economic pressure, both internal through the strike and external through sanctions, potentially less powerful.  

But loose borders may prove a boon to the armed opposition. The increased fighting in recent days, and previously near the defectors' base in Turkey and on the outskirts of Damascus, suggest some heavier weapons are getting in.  

Neither Turkey nor any of the opposition's foreign supporters have overtly provided the defectors' Free Syria Army with weapons. That is in keeping with the opposition group the Syrian National Council, also based in Turkey, which adamantly rejects armed resistance and seeks to limit the FSA's role to protection of civilians.  

Yet protection of civilians is a hazy term; NATO used such a mandate from the United Nations to launch an air offensive in Libya earlier this year. That option, however, is considered unlikely, despite the vocal condemnation of Assad's government by western and regional governments.    

Assessing the tipping point

Establishing a no-fly zone involves bombing ground targets. Military and political experts point out that Libya, a relatively isolated nation, offered a less complicated target than Syria, which lies geographically and politically at the heart of the Arab world, and is an ally of Iran. In any case, another ally, Russia, likely would veto any U.N. military move.

The disconnect between rhetoric and action can be seen in the actions of the Arab League. The regional group came on strong last month, demanding an immediate end to the killing. Now, more than a month later, it finds itself in a back and forth with Syria over letting monitors into the country.   

The league plans to meet by the end of the week to address the issue once again. Khattar Abou Diab, a political science professor at the University of Paris, said the group is afraid to move quickly.  

Diab said that enforcing sanctions against Syria would damage the economic interests of league members. Moreover, he believes members are intimidated by Assad's government, which is dominated by minority Allawites, and its potential to spread sectarian strife across the region.

Despite the many splits in the anti-Assad movement, most political analysts believe that the tipping point in the battle already has been reached and eventually the opposition will prevail.  

Assad's government, they argue, cannot resist sustained civil and armed revolt forever. In the meantime, Syrian officials continued business as usual, holding municipal elections Monday, while security forces continued their crackdown.

Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs