Neighbors / Without a Center, Without a Chance

Syria's revolt has no central opposition in control, leading to wide-ranging disputes over how to approach the regime and a lack of foreign aid or forces.

Syrian bloggers and Facebook users are making sure their bark is loud, but their bite may be muzzled by a lack of organization.

"Tonight and every night - a strike and protests until the regime falls," reads the red title on the Facebook page of the northern town of Deir el-Zour.

syria - AFP - August 3 2011

"Go out to the squares, dear citizens of Syria. ... Regime change will be cheaper (from the point of view of bloodshed ) than the continuation of his government," adds the largest and most veteran Syrian blog network, Al Mundasa, which was set up after the start of the revolt.

Another blogger, who goes by Mujahid Mamoun Diranya, also had harsh words for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"Do you think, Bashar, you who are the descendant of criminals, that you will succeed today in the city of Hama where your father and uncle failed and where the crimes of the Baath party were perpetrated? ... Today the last chapter of your miserable life is being written, today Hama will tear off the last page in the calendar of your life," he wrote.

"Perhaps we should all commit suicide and cancel the revolution," says another blogger who calls himself "A Depressed Alawite."

But beyond sounding tough and broadcasting the regime's cruelty to the world, the opposition has had little success proposing lines of action or even mulling the possibility of inviting foreign forces to intervene in Syria.

Bloggers from other Arab countries, especially Egypt, have been posting words of support for the Syrian demonstrators. In Libya, the analyst Tareq al Shara proposed that the protesters take up arms and not delude themselves into thinking dialogue and concessions will get them anywhere.

"The Libyan revolt is a popular revolt whose aim is to get freedom and bring back respect. We were forced to turn to military means because we did not find a logical alternative that would ensure the lives of the citizens. This is the uprising of a people that understood very quickly that the dialogue with weapons can be conducted with nothing other than weapons. It is a revolt that understood why Tolstoy called his book 'War and Peace' - first war and then peace," Shara wrote, adding that turning to foreign forces for help was a smart move. "Here 6,000 people were killed and more than 20,000 were wounded while more than 5,000 women were raped - all of this before the international forces began their intervention. These numbers would have been 10 times higher if the foreign troops had taken longer to get here, even one day longer."

However, the advice of the Libyan writer has not had an effect on the Syrians. The arguments in the Syrian blogs over how to approach dialogue with the regime are a clear reflection of the confusion and lack of direction of the Syrian opposition.

"Where are you, our beloved oppositionists?" writes one of the bloggers. "We have begun to fear that you are not real. Why have you not yet set up a shadow government? How much longer will you continue to debate matters and blow hot air while the people are being massacred?" These statements drew a great deal of support online.

The opposition, which counts among its members several well known public figures, is having difficulty deciding whether to bother talking to a regime that may soon fall.

One former friend of Assad, former Israeli MK Azmi Bishara, who praised the Syrian leader following the Second Lebanon War, is marching to different tune these days.

At a conference held by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, based in Qatar, Bishara, who runs the center, told the conference that "the proposals for additional reforms as they have found expression in the official Syrian discourse, do not indicate an intention to deal with the revolt in a positive manner. The continued uprising, day after day, refutes the regime's claims of having thwarted the intentions of those on the streets." Bishara, though, is not Syrian, and his colleagues from the Syrian intelligentsia, who lend prestige to the Syrian opposition, cannot make do with merely expressing their opinions. They need to propose solutions.

With little in the way of cogent plans of actions inside Syria, opposition members in exile have had to act as fundraisers for the revolt. This external opposition does not have an address or a central leadership inside Syria through which it can have an influence, though, and thus send help to wherever they are from and not to a wide general public movement.

This is also one of the main reasons why there is no international assistance or military intervention as in Libya.

"There is simply no one to whom assistance of this kind can be sent and we don't have the vaguest idea who the alternative power to Assad is," a British diplomat told Haaretz. "We are not even sure that the Syrian opposition really does want international intervention of the kind in Libya."

The result is that the foreign minister of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, can merely propose "additional political and economic sanctions against Syria" which in practical terms have no effect.

Since this was the international reaction, Assad was able to tell Syrian troops on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Syrian army this week, "We will come out of this crisis even stronger. Syria's army and people are used to celebrating victories and defeating the enemies of the nation."

The enemies of the nation, this time, are the demonstrators in Homs, Hama and Deir al Zour. Not one word of reconciliation nor any intention of making changes in the regime could be heard in Assad's speech. Members of the opposition are starting to talk about a long struggle - one that could last for a years.