As often in happens in popular uprising, Syrians created alternative institutions to the existing state. Protesters established coordination committees and local councils, providing services to the local population and coordinating the movement. In liberated territories, revolutionaries created a situation close to dual power challenging the regime’s power.
Of course, we must not exaggerate this; the alternative system of democratic self-rule never fully developed and there were problems with it, especially the underrepresentation of women as well as ethnic and religious minorities. Nevertheless, the committees and councils successfully formed a political alternative that could appeal to large sections of the population.
FORCES OF COUNTER REVOLUTION
These democratic organs were progressively undermined by several counter-revolutionary forces. The first and foremost was of course Assad’s despotic regime, which aimed to crush the uprising militarily.
This regime remains the most important threat to Syria’s popular classes. The resilience of the regime was rooted in the mobilization of its popular base through sectarian, tribal, regional, and clientelist connections, as well as in the massive foreign support from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah.
The second counterrevolutionary force was the Islamic fundamentalist and jihadist military organizations. They did not have the same destructive capacities as Assad’s state apparatus, but they radically opposed the initial demands and objectives of the uprising, attacked democratic elements of the protest movement, and sought to impose a new authoritarian and exclusive political system.
Finally, the regional powers and imperialist international states formed the third force of counter-revolution. The assistance provided by the Damascus allies Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, in addition to foreign Shi’a fundamentalist militias sponsored by Tehran, provided the regime crucial political, economic, and military levels that enabled it to survive.
These regional forces viewed the protest movement in Syria and the possible fall of the Assad regime as a threat to their geopolitical interests. As they increased their influence over the country’s society and state, Tehran and Moscow in particular became more invested in the regime’s survival and the exploitation of the country’s reconstruction as well as its natural resources.
Against these players, the so called “Friends of Syria” (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey) formed another international force of counter-revolution. They supported most reactionary Islamic fundamentalist groups, helped transform the uprising into a sectarian or ethnic war, and at every step opposed the democratic uprising out of fear of it as a potential threat to their own autocratic regimes.
The Western states led by the USA also did not want to see any radical change in Syria and rejected any plans to aid the progressive armed forces fighting to topple Assad. US policy has been focused on regime stabilization and carrying out the s-called “War on Terror” against ISIS.
For a while, the US did call for Assad to step down and was looking for an amenable general they could control, but once that was off the table, they abandoned that demand and have accepted, along with the rest of the regional and international powers, his continued rule. Despite the divisions between the various regional and international players, they were all united in opposition to the uprising and all aimed to prevent its spread beyond the country’s borders.
SUBJECTIVE WEAKNESS ON THE LEFT
The various counter-revolutionary actors all helped crush the Syrian uprising.While we should not shy away from blaming the defeat on these forces, we must also examine and criticize the mistakes and shortcomings of the Syrian opposition.
One of the most important problems in the opposition was the mistaken alliance pursued by liberals and some leftists with the Muslim Brotherhoods and other Islamic fundamentalist groups and their international backers, which opposed the basic democratic demands of the uprising, especially those of women, oppressed religious minorities, and ethnic groups. This mistaken alliance helped shatter the inclusiveness of the initial popular movement in Syria. These shortcomings were present prior to the uprising, but appeared more clearly with it.