Four Syrian women tired of the ongoing violence in Syria decided to stand against the Assad regime in an act of defiance marching through Medhat Basha market in the middle of Damascus two weeks ago. Dressed in their white gowns, the ‘brides of peace’ were arrested by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s security forces. Despite the violent crackdown on the Syrian revolution, the armed response, and the threat of chemical weapons attack, hope still exists for a nonviolent movement to resist the Assad regime’s brutality although not enough to topple it alone.
This nonviolent act is an example of a largely ignored peaceful movement against a brutal regime that is responsible for the murder of over 40,000 people since March 2011. While some argue that the revolution should have remained nonviolent, the violent response to pro-democracy protesters dragged a largely nonviolent uprising to its current state of what is described as a civil war. In addition, regional powers seeking to influence the outcome of the revolution exploited the situation using Syrian territory as a battlefield to fight their own proxy wars. In the midst of it all, Syrian men, women and children are paying a high price.
However, current developments should not restrict urgently-needed constructive US involvement.
My colleague Mohammed Ghanem of the Syrian American Council (SAC) recently returned from Aleppo, Syria, a city controlled in part by the FSA.
According to Ghanem, who was interviewed on CNN last week:
In those areas that have been liberated, people are coming together, they’re forming local administrative councils, providing basic assistance, goods and services, trying to enhance the rule of law in their localities, but they are severely underfunded. What needs to happen is for the U.S. instead of going through third-party organizations such as the World Food Program and Save the Children, that aid needs to go directly through the councils in Syria.
About 70% of the city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and industrial capital, is under opposition control after it has been liberated by the FSA. Areas controlled by the FSA include its most densely populated neighborhoods. Providing funds to those local civilian councils are necessary, not only because they serve the basic needs of the people in a desperate situation, but it’ll also strengthen civil society, create democratic institutions, enhance the rule of law, and help set the stage for a more orderly transition in a post-Assad Syria.
However, supporting the civilian councils is not enough.
Moderate and liberal FSA elements are in desperate need of support, but running short of funds and anti-aircraft weapons to keep up with the regime’s indiscriminate violence and aerial bombardment. With the lack of support, well-funded extremist groups have emerged. The most prominent example is Jabhat Al-Nusra, a groups with an ideology close to al-Qaeda’s.
The most shocking part of JAN’s membership is that many of them are in it for the money. Although they remain a fringe group with very little public support, JAN was able to provide what moderate groups couldn’t: salaries and weapons.
In a nutshell, there are three steps the Obama administration should take to help finish the Assad regime:
- fund efforts by the civilian local governance councils operating in liberated areas;
- increase the supply of key defensive arms – including anti-aircraft weapons – and providing support to carefully vetted elements of the FSA;
- recognize the newly-formed National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people
How can Orange County help Syria?
The OC is home for a large Syrian-American community with organized and active groups working tirelessly to support a revolution that started peacefully, dragged into its current state of violence by the regime. The local chapter of the SAC has held various humanitarian fundraisers, town hall meetings, rallies, and much more. Most recently, a campaign to raise awareness about the situation and a call to action included the SAC-sponsored Save Syrian Children campaign – an ad campaign in the DC Metro system that calls for action to help Syria with a grassroots element to it organized in various US cities including locally.
Beyond the efforts of Syrian-American groups, what is missing is a tangible solution to help finish off Assad and assist with an orderly transition to a stable democracy.
With the recent appointment of Rep. Ed Royce as chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, residents of the 40th district have the moral obligation to exert pressure on him to do the right thing in Syria.
For the sake of the Brides of Peace, the suffering children, and the 40,000+ martyrs of the revolution, the world should quit watching, and start acting to save Syria.
Our Loretta Sanchez is powerful too, as the most senior female member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Armed Services Committee; between she and Ed they represent all of Anaheim and most of our Arab population. She and Ed can get bipartisan support going for supporting these Syrian councils. (I agree with Greg that we probably won’t arm them, but as Rashad explains they can really use funding to compete with the Islamist groups, and they deserve our recognition.) Call Loretta at (714) 621-0102.