With friends like these: Syria’s opposition and the West

With friends like these: Syria’s opposition and the West
3 min read
17 May, 2014
The world says: “Get your house in order so we can help you.” The coalition answers: “Help us so we can get our house in order.”
Fuel shortages in Syria as uprising continues [Getty]

The world says: “Get your house in order so we can help you.” The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces answers: “Help us, so we can get our house in order.”


The two sides otherwise appear to be allies. From the opposition’s perspective, the relationship is based on the belief that foreign governments are friends of the Syrian people - even though they did not help either the Syrian National Council or, later, the Coalition, in the way the opposition wanted. The opposition thought they held common interests with their foreign allies, and help would soon be on its way. Neither the Syrian National Council nor the Coalition looked deeper into this complex and frustrating relationship.


     Outside forces are keen to maintain a degree of our weakness

Nor did they attempt to change their futile suppositions and establish a different equation, one that might read: “We will improve our situation in a way that allows us to forgo outside help as much as possible, except that which we decide is in our own interests. These interests will then dictate to our foreign supporters that they give us what we want or lose us, and with losing us, they will lose any share of our success. This will strengthen our position and increase our independence.”


However, we have not created these conditions. We are not even close. That is why we remain hostage to the previous equation. This leaves the impression that we are begging others for help they are not interested in offering. This is because our position is not a victory and does not promise to fulfil the interests of foreign countries. A reluctance to escape from the misery of our circumstances only pushes us deeper into trouble and increases our subordination to and need for foreign parties.


An unwanted burden


No wonder these nations saw us as a burden they did not want to bear or feel committed to, even though they remain capable of intervening in any fashion they see fit. They incur no harm from not serving the Coalition’s interest or if their responses are intermittent. They alone are in control of the pace, extent and outcomes of their intervention.


With this inversion of functions and priorities, it was inevitable that dynamics were created that weakened our relationship with the outside, tempting those countries and their politicians into manipulating us because of our growing need for their support. Foreign powers became our salvation, linking our destinies, but without us having any real effect on them. 


Even though we sometimes speak in lofty tones when we describe the situation, their sardonic smiles are enough to show how they feel: “Sing to another tune,” these smiles tell us. “We know what is really going on. We know that you come to us from a place of weakness and that your presence in your country is not yet legitimate. We know that you cannot be independent of us, so what would tempt us to help you? Should we help you so you can create facts on the ground that would make you relatively stronger, whereby our help will eventually harm us?”


Outside forces are keen to maintain a degree of our weakness. They draw red lines and prevent us from crossing them. Until Syrian nationalism decides to extricate itself from that ruling equation, balanced between “Help us so we can change” and “Change so we can help you”, we will remain at the mercy of foreign countries. They want us to change the situation as a prerequisite for their help. We all know that these forces played a major role in establishing this situation and ensuring its continuity.


This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition