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The Syrian Revolution Lives Again

After nearly five years of civil war, the temporary cease-fire has brought a return of popular protests to Syria’s streets. But now that civil society is finally back, writes Ali Melhem, it is time for activists to rethink past mistakes and speak out against the Islamist groups that kidnapped the spirit of the uprising.

Written by Ali Melhem Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

The decrease in violence, especially in opposition-controlled areas, due to the implementation of the U.S.-Russian-led cessation of hostilities, was accompanied by a return of scenes and activities that had not been seen for a long time. Protests against the Syrian regime, like those that used to occur at the beginning of the Syrian revolution, have made a strong return to opposition-held areas. The revolutionary spirit has, as some activists believe, risen from the ashes of five years of death and violence.

The most remarkable feature of these demonstrations has been the complete absence of the black or white flags that carry religious significance, and the dominance of the Syrian independence flag, adopted by protesters at the beginning of the uprising. The protesters called for the fall of the Syrian regime and an end to the “Russian occupation.” A protest in the village of Darkoush, however, also called for the withdrawal of Jabhat al-Nusra from the village, and the withdrawal of all military presences.

The new protests represent the revival of a revolution that many people thought had been completely suffocated by the nearly five-year-long war. It seems that the five-year anniversary of the Syrian revolution is a turning point. But now it is time for us to pause and rethink the mistakes that activists have made over the past five years, and consider the ways in which these mistakes contributed to the rise of the armed Islamist factions who stole the spirit of the uprising, and used them to serve their own agendas.

All activists, especially those still inside the country, should reconsider the ways in which they dealt with the revolution’s goals, slogans and activities. It is not sufficient anymore to stick to the old, general principle of bringing down Assad, believing that all will be fixed as soon as he is out. Old mistakes should not be repeated. Activists, for example, should voice their objections against the Islamist groups, and not worry about clashing with them anymore. The principle of “let’s get rid of the Syrian regime first, and we will deal with the rest later,” is what opened the door for the Islamic State, the Caucasus Emirate, Jund al-Aqsa, Jabhat al-Nusra and others to rise to power. Such principles turned the people’s revolution into a regional war.

The resurgent revolution and its activists should also draw a clear line between Syria, the modern state that is governed by the concept of citizenship, and Syria, the Islamic Ummah that relies on jihad. We are talking here about moderate Islamic opposition groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, Faylaq al-Rahman and al-Ajnad, which are predominantly Syrian in form and ideology. These groups should completely eliminate any jihadist ideology that they carry, fully engage with the principles of the Syrian national project and, militarily, join the Free Syrian Army. Until they do, these groups are a third, major internal threat, after the extremist Islamist groups and the Assad–Russian occupation.

It is time for radical changes. Because, if today’s revived revolution fails to address and move beyond its mistakes, it will inevitably die forever. It is time for bravery and truthfulness. It is time for revolutionary activists to play the role that they abandoned long ago. It is time for these activists to restructure and restore their revolution, to take charge.

It is time for the revolutionary leaders, and particularly the political leadership, to reclaim their revolution that was hijacked by extremists and black-flaggers. They should also engage people again to help lead this revolution – because it carries all the hopes and possibilities of those who have been dreaming of freedom for nearly half a century.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Syria Deeply.

A version of this article was originally published in Arabic by Rozana Radio and is reprinted here with permission.

Top image: A woman chants anti-government slogans during a protest in a town in north Syria, March 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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