This Is What We Wanted: On Contemplating the Revolution

19 April 2014

A revolution is inherently an immensely trying event, and contemplating it while it unfolds can be a gruesome process. But that was exactly what the activists behind the “This Is What We Wanted” campaign wanted their participants to do.

“This Is What We Wanted, and This Is What We Got”, is the full title of the Facebook event where the campaign was launched. The title attempts to push participants to contemplate the revolution, and their role within it. The event and the campaign behind it proved tremendously successful in provoking people and capturing their lucid and thoughtful reflections on three years of Syria’s revolution.

“We want a constitution and freedom, we don’t want shabbiha (thugs) and thieves. This was the first banner I held on May 18, 2011, during a demonstration in Aleppo,” writes Mulham Samir. “All that we wanted, in a few words, was dignity,” retorts Mahmoud Saghir. Another participant, Bushra Trissi Um Jawad, betrays her own disillusionment with the course that the revolution has taken: “What difference does it make saying what we wanted. Who cares what we wanted in the first place, and who cares what we want now.”

The activists had met while working together in the Revolutionary Youth of Aleppo activist group. As the revolution neared its third anniversary, the consensus among the group seemed to point to the increasing dilution of the early ideals of the revolution under the heavy blows of the war. This vacuum, it became obvious, was increasingly being filled by radical forces represented by its archetype, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which tried to superimpose its own ideology over the revolution’s. 

This, along with the crippled economic state, led to a growing schism between the course of the revolution and the people it purports to represent. “The brave people who first started demonstrating, came out for freedom, dignity and equality,” says Ahmad Naffakh, one of the organizers, “and thus, we must work to bring these ideals back, so that the revolution can continue.”

The opportunity to reassert the early ideals of the revolution came with the commemoration of its third anniversary. The group sprang into action organizing several events emphasising the importance of these ideals: “Demonstrations where the same early banners of freedom, dignity, brotherhood, equality and justice, were raised, a commemoration event for the brave souls of the Aleppo Civil Defense Brigades for their heroic efforts in saving the victims of the constant aerial bombardment of the city, as well as delivering gifts to the children of Aleppo and to their schools.”

This campaign came as part of the larger commemorative events, and reflects the deep awareness of the activists of the danger inherent in the status quo. “To stay the course means we will find ourselves under an even worse dictatorship. The country is in chaos, and the people are exhausted, and there is no shortage of powers who know exactly how to take advantage of such circumstances to instill themselves,” according to Naffakh. 

The enthusiastic and interactive response to the campaign is solid proof that this awareness goes well beyond the handful of involved activists, and indeed touches the public at large. Thus, such critical and conscious gatherings can only serve as a much needed first step towards a reorganization and revitalization of the revolution. In the words of one participant, Mutaz Hammoda:

“We wanted to claim back our stolen country,
We wanted to claims back our right to freedom,
We wanted democratic elections, and a party system where ideologies could compete freely,
We wanted to free political detainees, and suspend the status of emergency,
We wanted the fall of a regime, an oppressive, unjust and corrupt regime,
Finally, we wanted to live, just with more dignity/”

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Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad