Syrian Opposition Movement Falters Even As Protests Grow

The “National Salvation Congress,” a Saturday meeting of representatives of the opposition to the regime of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, failed to form a shadow government, because of factional differences.

Unidentified Syrian opposition activists chatting in Istanbul on SaturdayUnidentified Syrian opposition activists chatting in Istanbul on Saturday

Friday saw the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the protests began, where tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Damascus for the first time. Assad’s security forces massacred civilians with live ammunition and teargas, killing 32.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of young Syrians shouting “We want freedom” carried caskets of some of the protesters murdered the previous. Five people were killed on Saturday, according to Al-Jazeera.

Despite these large protests of young Syrians, there is little unifying the different opposition factions meeting in Istanbul. A Kurdish representative to the conference says that Kurdish participants pulled out of the conference because participants would not recognize the “ethnic rights of Kurds,” according to VOA.

Furthermore, plans to hold a simultaneous conference in Damascus, connected to Istanbul via Skype, had to be canceled when Syrian security forces got wind of the location where preparations were being made, and smashed into the meeting hall of Friday, killing 19 people, according to Wall Street Journal (Access).

The conference leaders were also disappointed that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in Istanbul meeting with Turkish officials, made no effort to meet with the Syrian opposition, who were just down the street, according to the Washington Post.

Clinton merely gave lukewarm encouragement:

“We’re encouraged by what we see the Syrian people are doing for themselves. This is not anything the United States or any other country is doing. It’s what the Syrian people are doing, trying to form an opposition that can provide a pathway, hopefully in peaceful cooperation with the government, to a better future.”

It appears quite possible that the “Arab Springtime” in Syria, like those in Libya and even Yemen, are in a stalemate. The earlier dreams that all three countries would quickly remove their dictatorial governments and replace them with democracies seem increasingly distant.

Even if Assad is forced to step down, there are many possible scenarios, with a democracy being the most optimistic and possibly unrealistic, according to an analysis in the Asia Times. According to the article, analysts are describing a fragmented and opaque opposition, a growing sense of fear, frustration and foreign meddling, and they slam the notion that a democratic transition can happen quickly and following a revolutionary model. “Other scenarios-in-the-making include an increasingly more heated geostrategic game over Syria between Turkey, Iran and by extension the United States and other involved countries. This seems to be the most worrisome development, since such intrigues are traditionally quick to descend on important crisis-stricken countries. As many past experiences and bloody civil wars have taught, this bodes nothing good to Syria and the Levant. Libya is again a contemporary example of the onset of this pattern.”

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, a bloody civil war is impossible in Syria at this time, since Syria is in a generational Awakening era, only a little more than a generation past their last bloody civil war. If a conflict breaks out, it will fizzle quickly.

However, a more significant danger is that Syria can “infect” neighboring countries, causing violence there.

Since the Arab protests began in January, Syria has stepped up the shipments of arms to Hizbollah in Lebanon, according to Ynet.

The arms shipments include sophisticated ballistic missiles developed with the help of experts from Iran and North Korea. Using financial support from Iran, the flow of weapons entering the Bekaa Valley from Syria has accelerated since March. The weapons include advanced Scud D surface-to-surface missiles, which can carry a one-ton warhead and have a range of 700km – placing all of Israel, Jordan and a large part of Turkey within Hizbollah’s range and therefore at risk.

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