Saving the nonviolent revolution in Syria: For a credible strategy


How to get rid of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Asad while holding onto the nonviolent character of the Syrian revolution – a proposed strategy:

Op-ed by Sadek Jalal al-AzmJane Mansbridge, and Chibli Mallat 



1. A clear objective: ending the dictatorship: As the world is drawn to the meeting of the Friends of Syria in Tunisia, it remains at a loss on what to do to end the killing. For a year now, a dominantly nonviolent popular revolution has been demanding the resignation of the dictator and his replacement by a democratic regime. It has not succeeded. As the country’s death toll near the 10,000 mark, many more are in prison, and the nonviolent character of the revolution is giving way to the revolutionaries – civilians or defecting soldiers – increasingly taking up arms. As the deadlock persists, the question is how the revolution can succeed without losing its nonviolent character. It is a dilemma shared by the Syrian opposition in its most expressive manifestation, the Syrian National Council, as well as the supporters of the revolution worldwide, including millions in the Arab world and leaders and societies of the larger democracies.

The goal must be to replace the dictator. Left in place, Asad will continue to murder his own people. He will also send a signal to all others like him that the way to win is to shoot nonviolent protesters and hang on to power at all costs.

No less important is the means to end the dictatorship while honoring all the sacrifices made in the spirit of nonviolence, and the establishment with the least possible bloodletting of a new governance in Damascus. The West has inadequately noticed the depth and strength of the nonviolent movement across the Middle East- a movement with roots in Gandhi and the legacy of the civil rights movement in the US, the example of Eastern Europe in 1989 and in Serbia in 2000, but one that also has a genesis of its own in the Lebanese Cedar Revolution of 2005-6 and the Iranian Green Revolution in 2009. In fact, the Arab Spring of 2011 takes it name from the Damascus Spring, which developed considerably in Syria over ten years ago, until Bashar Asad ruthlessly destroyed it, sent his thugs to disrupt meetings, and imprisoned its leaders, many of whom had already spent years in jail under the cruel dictatorship of his father.

2. Recognising Nonviolence. Responsible in large part for the removal of Mubarak and Ben Ali in early 2011, nonviolence as belief and practice has had extraordinary traction in a region wrecked with continuing violence for over a hundred years. Of the thousands who died in the Syrian government’s murderous campaigns, the massive majority was mowed down in cold blood as they persisted in nonviolent action, echoed in the words, “peacefully, peacefully,” that have spread across the Middle East in 2011. Nowhere has the determination and sacrifice in the name of nonviolence been more remarkable than in Syria. (continue reading)


Sadek Jalal al-Azm is the leading public intellectual of Syria and is emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Damascus. Jane Mansbridge is Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard Kennedy School. Chibli Mallat is a Lebanese lawyer and law professor, and the Chairman of Right to Nonviolence, an international NGO based in the Middle East.

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