While some elements of the revolution have devolved into sectarian gangs, the majority of the movement is developing institutions that resemble governance. The opposition began as and remains a collection of political outsiders fighting for political power. Opposition leaders have not yet had the opportunity to reflect on what type of government they want to create. Instead of lamenting the many things that can go wrong, the international community and the United States in particular should do the following:
● Do not favor a specific group. The revolution is decentralized, and showing favor could increase the prospect of violent competition, not to mention the risk of empowering the wrong elements. Reach out to the myriad voices in this revolution.
● Provide additional training and equipment to enhance communications. The revolution evolved with many groups operating in isolation. Healthy communication between oppositional elements will be key to stability in the post-Assad period. The United States already has provided communication equipment to the revolutionaries. Expand that program.
● Assist in the development of civic groups and the rebuilding of destroyed communities. This revolution evolved from the streets, and it is from the streets that effective and integrative governing institutions will be created. Civil society is essential in creating cooperation and reconciliation.
These recommendations will increase the possibility of a stable transition. They do not guarantee stability or represent the only priorities to pursue. The revolution, if successful, will be chaotic long after Assad is gone. This is the unavoidable cost of such a movement. Harsh, even violent, competition will take place between elements of the opposition. What the international community must remember is that this revolution’s success depends on the results of this internal competition that will take place after Assad’s fall.
The voices of reconciliation and rebuilding are present and powerful among Syria’s revolutionaries. Radical voices and sectarian interests are not dominant now, so we should not assume they will be in the future. We should be cautious about the prospects of sectarian war, terrorism and national collapse. But this movement has evolved with a strong ethic of political moderation. Caution is warranted. But when it comes to the revolution, let us be cautiously optimistic.
Jeffrey Payne is the academic resources coordinator at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, DC. You can follow him on twitter @JeffreyPayneFP. The views expressed in this article are his alone and do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.