[Originally posted in December 2015]
Some interesting distinctions between the revolutionary dynamics in Syria and Egypt:
1) Both points have to do about the nature of the violence, which by the sheer difference in scale had such a different effect on both countries. The first point is that it is interesting to note that for all the tensions which do exist between secular activists and the religious camp in Syria, the secularist camp did not break away and continued in their revolutionary activism and work, and continued campaigning and propagation for a revolution that they knew had become more and more religious. There was largely no such boycotting or refusal to work together as there was in Egypt (and it should be noted that if they were so disposed it was probably easier for reactive secularists to break away in Syria, using the precursor of the visual dominance of their movement by political Islam – in a much less homogenously Muslim country no less); more “secular” civil society continued to coordinate with its more religious armed counterpart (that is not to say of course that civil society was unaffected by the increased religiosity of the revolutionary context, to draw such a division would be silly). Of course it should also be noted that Syrian secularists very possibly came under more duress in Syria than they did in Egypt.
However the sheer closeness of their joint plight meant that they inevitably could not break away from one another, for so long as they remained in the country (and committed to the cause) boths was the same struggle for survival. Hence was founded a (even if slightly uncomfortable) single (new) national fabric. In exchange the suffering caused by ISIS on the mainstream religious opposition (after the suffering was inflicted on the secular activists as well of course, entailing the latter’s eventually vindicated warnings to the opposition of them) and the concept of “ghelew” (religious arrogance/excessiveness) which the religious opposition suffered only too well from ISIS, ultimately brought them closer together, made them better recognise each other’s points and ended up putting in greater focus the Syrian nature of the uprising (bringing a sense of national belonging that drew them closer).
Of course when people go through so much together they tend to draw a bond, whereby attacks on one of them from “abroad” are met with resistance. After such a long time with both squabbling parties still being killed by the same side, unity eventually supersedes the ideological squabbles (and the previously “foreignised” secularists earn respect for standing by the side of the identifying Muslims against the world’s machinations). Hence there is a noticeable overlap of solidarity between the two; “Islamist” martyrs are celebrated by secularists and secular activists are recognised by Islamists. Ultimately all work together within the same sphere and the gap between the two narrows.
(All this was in combination with other factors of course, such as the effective absence of the very specific, regimented and often-found-to-be annoying Muslim Brotherhood school of doing things in Syria and its predominance in Egypt. There was really no varied Islamist movement in Egypt beyond the MB (and the pacified Salafis), whilst there is perhaps every school/tendency of Islamist in Syria. Syria’s revolutionary Islamists were undoubtedly a far-cry from the MB school in terms of methods, tactics and style (i.e. practical mechanisms of attaining/negotiating power, which probably had as much onus in their school as the actual religious substance – the means becoming the ends), a reason the reformist and “pragmatic” MB became so sidelined in their movement – all the way from the liberal to the conservative end of the spectrum. Even Islamists who took the “MB school position” on theological and scholarly matters did not follow their practical guidance (and hence did not follow the MB)).
2) The sheer scale of the counter-revolutionary violence the regime unleashed in Syria as opposed to Egypt meant that an entire population (civilians etc) were revolutionised + politicised in a way that did not occur in Egypt (and which was unescapable). Unlike in Egypt where it was quite common to curse the revolution amongst its once supporters (the nature of the violence in Egypt being much more cloaked, i.e. economic violence, to add of course to how well the military played the game there), the sheer physical (yet alone economic) destruction undertaken by the regime in Syria meant that this was not a cloneable phenomenon, as you really had to be too much of a coward/cad to actively say so.
Those in rebel held areas could not really pretend that it was anyone other than the warplanes which flew above their heads everyday dropping bombs that was to blame (I say pretend because even in Egypt the accusation is more emotive than objective, people know that the rebellion is not really to blame) – even if they might have yearned for the time before the revolution, even if some might have hoped the revolution did not happen because of what would come out from the regime’s response (though it would be a mistake to underestimate the general resilience and stubbornness people have in such situations, since dignity is often all that is left – thus it is as likely for people to say that they would not change what happened even if they could go back, since it enabled them not to bestow legitimacy or affection upon a regime revealed to be “capable of this”), very few would actively say that it was to blame. Of course there was also the added element of solidarity with those serving on the frontlines; the flippancy of Egypt could not exist in the more grave Syrian situation, whereby sons and daughers of the community had declared an active defensive war against those causing the destruction, whereas no such war was declared in Egypt.
– On a final note: Whilst the hearts of many good people are irrevocably darkened after what they go through, in others and as informed (and consoled) by Islamic precepts (this will sound to some like “preaching” from the Muslim but it is these values of justice not revenge, mercy and war etiquette elaborated upon in the examples of the Prophet, the Islamic “Sharia” (way of life) and jurisprudence which I incidentally believe is the reason rebels have not done the many, many terrible things that they could’ve done) the hatred does not settle for prolonged periods of time, it might rise and temporarily burn the soul but eventually comes out of it (acceptance of fate, not rebellion against it – the core of “belief”), realising that the true victory lies in getting the necessary justice (qasas) but not in the enemy creating a vengeful replica in themselves (and that is not just a cliche) – this is why I believe Syria’s revolutionary future will not be one of sectarian reprisals but one of tolerance. Most of its fighters are the ordinary Muslim youth who once went out in peaceful protest and I have faith that their cores have not been lost.