The second and final day of a two-day academic symposium organized by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies was concluded on Saturday, 7 April 2018. Speakers on the second group of panels offered analyses of how the course of the revolution, which became increasingly militarized and devolved into a civil war, shaped the internal dynamics of the actors party to it—the regime, opposition forces and Islamists.

Revolution and War in Syria: the Impact on the Opposition

Burhan Ghalioun, a leading figure in the Syrian opposition as well as an academic, offered a presentation in which he attributed the stalling of the Syrian revolution to a combination of the failure of political imagination on the part of the political leadership of the opposition, as well as on the "external factor" which took the form of intervention by global powers such as Russia and Iran. Ghalioun’s paper affirmed that the fate of the Syrian revolution was never a foregone conclusion, and that strategic planning and diplomacy still held out the prospect of turning the tide of the conflict.

General Mohammed Al Hajj-Ali, a high ranking dissident who previously was on the General Staff of the Syrian Army, also spoke in the earlier part of the day. Al Hajj-Ali's paper was an attempt to understand why the Syrian army remained largely intact structurally—although individual officers and soldiers broke off, particularly in the early period of the revolution, units of the Syrian armed forces remained intact and loyal even as the country’s military was turned against its own people. Al Hajj-Ali suggested that the reason for this was due to the capabilities of the Syrian state intelligence apparatus and the success of the regime’s forces in being able to turn the revolution into an armed conflict against religious groups.

With Ghalioun and Hajj-Ali discussing the factors which crippled the Syrian political and military opposition, respectively, Salam Kawakibi gave an overview of the difficulties faced by the Syrian opposition when trying to make inroads into Arab public opinion, and particularly leftist and nationalist public opinion.  Kawakibi tried to explain why the leftist-nationalist traditions which dominated Arab public discourse have thus far failed to champion the cause of the Syrian revolution, in contrast to fervent support for the 2011 rebellions in both Tunisia and Egypt. The speaker claimed that the credulity with which the Arab leftist-nationalist elite accepted that the Syrian popular uprising was the byproduct of “knee-jerk reactions” on the part of people who simply gave the Syrian regime—previously aligned with progressive Arab causes—excessive credibility.

Two further panels discussed how the course of the Syrian revolution affected both the internal structures of the Syrian regime, and latterly how the course of the popular uprising impacted the internal discourse of Islamist groups on the ground in Syria. Radwan Ziadeh, elaborating on a theme first put forward by General Hajj-Ali, pointed out that the inability of the regime to deploy its formal military effectively against peaceful protesters meant that they became increasingly reliant, over time, on a series of both Syrian and non-Syrian (particularly Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese) non-state actors. In contrast, speakers on the final panel sought to dissect the long-term impacts on Islamist groups due to the praxis of the Syrian revolution. These included Thomas Pierret, Ahmad Abazeid and Hamzeh Almoustafa.

Further information on the proceedings of the symposium will be made available in the coming months.