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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid