The Syrian regime, in its struggle to retain power since 2011, has been shrinking both geographically and politically. The areas dominated by the regime are constantly growing smaller and it is losing political power as pressure mounts due to losses and casualties. The regime has dubbed the land under its control “the useful Syria,” which implies that a “useless Syria” exists. By dividing Syria into two, the regime has made clear what it is willing to give up in order to remain in power.
Recently, Assad said that “Syria is not for those that carry ID or a passport, but Syria is for those that defend it, regardless of their nationality.” This is the continuation of the idea that there is no ‘nation’, rather only the consolidation of power within “useful Syria”. This forces a change in the political vision of Syria’s feudalist authoritarianism: there is no nation or patriotism without the regime’s power and political continuity. In this way, how does the Syrian regime differ from the jihadists who receive fighters from foreign lands to defend their gains and further expand and consolidate their power?
It is true that the Syrian revolution has not had a defined, united political line these past five years, and that it failed to unify its military and political efforts. It is also true that salafists and jihadists, who are against ideals of freedom for Syrians and non-Syrians, are gaining in strength. Perhaps this is why there has been a failure at gaining more support from Syrians. With every advance of the salafists and the jihadists, the regime is provided with another chance to defend itself. All of this is true, except that the social movement -- or uprising, or revolution, or whatever you wish to call it -- that started in 2011, has weakened the regime and contributed to its decay. It is impossible for Assad to hold onto power without continuing his war. The war has caused major losses on the regime’s side and regime soldiers have been deprived of adequate food and equal treatment. A colonel in the army was gunned down by a regime thug, and the culprits were left unpunished because of their relation to the president’s family. These failures contribute to the “worship” of the Assad regime, despite the levels of previously unseen corruption.
The regime has been proven to be untrustworthy, with no real commitment to political solutions, vying only for a return to the status quo. It has cynically utilised sectarian tensions, causing ethnic minorities to fear the “Islamist uprising.” The regime played its sectarian cards and, much like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, has become invested in the civil war. This continued push for the emergence of a Salafi-Jihadi current by repressing the peaceful, democratic movement while releasing known extremists from regime prisons, gave birth to Islamist military organizations that have distorted the true revolution. However, this exhausted the regime militarily, and left them begging for fighters from anywhere to aid them, and for protection from countries that have a vested interest in them, such as Iran and Russia.
The regime also used these groups to prove to Western countries and the general public opinion the brutality of ISIS and Al Nusra: the regime has sacrificed their soldiers and their people to these groups. Using the brutality of the extremists, they have painted an ugly picture of the revolutionaries.
The regime succeeded in creating and exporting this narrative to the West, painting the revolution and revolutionaries as brutal and evil and causing much hesitation in the West. This same narrative, however, created more instability within the regime’s own ranks, causing rampant military desertion and the bribery of those in the upper ranks to escape Syria and the war.
Today, ending the war is an impossible task in Syria. To end the war in Syria means to begin dismantling the regime and the regime is aware of this. Thus its insistence on “destroying terrorism” which we know to mean destroying the democratic, popular opposition instead of ISIS. The reluctance of the regime to cease hostilities is an expression of fear at the start of potential accountability measures.
With the current Russian intervention, it is clear that the regime is worried. This intervention, along with signals from the international community, prove that there has been a shift in the foundations of a political solution: for example, there has been no talk of securing Assad’s candidacy in future elections under a political transition which indicates that Assad’s future may not lie in Syria.
Despite this, the problems that will haunt Syria for an eternity are all due to the regime’s machinations against the popular struggle. Syrians will have to start from point zero: the collapse of the economy and the reconstruction costs have made this much clear. But due to the hatred that the regime has stirred amongst its population, and eradication of trust between the different communities, Syrians will also have to start from a political point zero due to the lack of a unifying national body politic to rally around.