x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Chorus of 'experts' crowds out voices of actual Syrians

Plenty of loud voices claim to speak for the silent majority in Syria. But many of these opinions are in the service of somebody else's agenda.

There have been no shortage of comments on behalf of the Syrian people over the past 11 months, and yet they themselves are often the last ones asked about their opinions on the future of their country.

The government in Damascus, the spectrum of opposition voices, the Arab League, the international community and some media outlets have all claimed to speak for Syrians and list their demands. But the majority of the Syrian people do not fall into any easily defined category, and have fallen silent, either by force or by choice.

The strongest voices now being heard belong to the repulsive viewpoints, radical and sectarian, that try to appropriate all legitimacy for their single narratives by pretending that they represent and speak for all Syrians.

Since the beginning of the turmoil, the mainstream media and those using social networking sites have crowded out moderate viewpoints from within Syria. This is hardly surprising, since people with moderate or impartial opinions are neither the loudest nor the ones trying hardest to "sell" their arguments.

The question usually asked is who makes up the majority of Syrians: regime supporters or opponents? But what about the exhausted moderates who are living in the middle of this battle? To what extent has President Bashar Al Assad succeeded in polarising the country into different camps?

Of course, I cannot claim to speak on behalf of all Syrians either. There will be many different answers to these questions. There have now been crimes perpetrated on both sides, as the armed opposition grows. But the regime's initiation of the conflict, and its aggravation of the root causes at the beginning of the trouble, make any comparison impossible.

Many Syrians do have a common vision about how gradual meaningful reforms could be implemented. But they are not blindly taken in by the government line, recognising the corruption, oppression, nepotism, lack of freedom of expression and other fatal flaws of the current regime.

Many Syrians reject the "conspiracy theory" chorus coming from the regime. The regime has lost endless opportunities to avert chaos and a civil war, but instead has divided the country, fuelling sectarianism and revenge. The opposition spectrum, meanwhile, is unelected and unrepresentative. It remains fragmented and is defined by unproductive disputes that prevent it from finding a wider public base.

Many Syrians find themselves caught between distrust of the regime and the belief that some members of the opposition are promoting themselves at the expense of Syrian blood.

Cautious generalisations can be made. Many Syrians feel that the state media and regime mouthpieces are totally discredited, but at the same time are wary of the sudden appearance of "experts", both Syrian and non-Syrian.

The majority are perplexed and exhausted, weighing two narratives for each story. They believe that they deserve the truth for once.

Most Syrians are against any foreign intervention or a "no-fly zone". They don't want to militarise or Islamise the uprising, and don't want to move from the dictatorship of the state to the dictatorship of religion. Syrians appreciate and support the bravery and sacrifices of their fellow citizens in the streets, who face killing, torture and arrest. But they also realise the danger that comes with tolerating weapons in the hands of their sons.

They don't want to swing from having to glorify one man to having to treat many other political and religious figures in the same way.

They understand that some of the opposition's actions and rhetoric could lead to tyranny, marginalisation, hate speech, treason, exchanges of accusations and sectarianism - the same agenda that the Assad regime has been using for the last 40 years.

The Syrian majority are naturally afraid of becoming another Iraq, Libya or Lebanon. And so they refuse to be divided into ethnic, sectarian or regional groups.

Under the umbrella of the Arab Spring, Syrians did not aim for their revolution to be a cut-and-paste version of anyone else's. Rather, they want change in their own national context, acknowledging Syria's particularities and complexity.

Many Syrians feel that instead of being well-represented in the national debate, they are being manipulated and used for different agendas as the regime and the opposition flex their muscles to restructure the country.

"I am not pro- nor anti-, I am a moderate," many Syrians would say. Being moderate is the hardest label now, because of the daily polarising pressure.

If you want the removal of the regime, and the opposition doesn't represent you, what is your stance? What do you think the alternatives or solutions could be? How long will the death toll of Syrians continue to climb? For how long can Mr Al Assad rule?

Pragmatic responses to such questions were possible a few months ago, but no longer. The majority of moderate Syrians were ready to answer then, but unfortunately no one bothered to listen.

Some say the Muslim Brotherhood hijacked the Egyptian revolution, the National Transitional Council hijacked the Libyan revolution and professional politicians hijacked the Tunisian revolution.

Who, then, is hijacking the Syrian revolution?


The author writes from Damascus under the pseudonym Jasmine Roman.

On Twitter: @JasmineRoman01