Syria protests must stick to nonviolence
Saudi Arabia may be arming Syrian protesters as more of them turn to violence against Assad's brutality. They must not lose the moral force of peaceful tactics used in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.
Three of the four dictators ousted so far in the Arab Spring were largely felled by a moral force: millions of people committed to nonviolent protest.Skip to next paragraph
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“Peacefully, peacefully” was the protesters’ watchword.
The use of nonviolent tactics in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen was a powerful persuader to the conscience of soldiers, merchants, and others – even deputies of the despots – to join in. They could see a civic principle in action – the freedom of assembly – which is a cornerstone for democracy.
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In Libya, the protests turned violent after the defection of a few military officers. The result was not only NATO intervention but the ongoing problem of violence by rogue militias after Muammar Qaddafi.
Now Syria is at a critical point in which the uprising may abandon its original peaceful nature. Not only are more protesters joining Army defectors in taking up arms, but Saudi Arabia is reportedly shipping military equipment to anti-Assad militias. The Saudi monarchy sees the Syrian conflict as a chance to challenge Iran’s regional influence. Other nations also seek some sort of military intervention.
If any Middle East country needs a peaceful revolution, it is Syria. Its many minorities – the Kurds, Christians, and most of all, the ruling Alawites – fear that any violence used by the majority Sunnis to achieve democracy could quickly be used on them. And a civil war might draw in neighboring nations.
Without a firm commitment to civil disobedience, the largely Sunni protesters may not be able to gain the support of Syria’s minorities, its merchants, or even the Sunni soldiers in the Army.
Bashar al-Assad knows this. His ruthless crackdown on cities like Homs and Hama is designed to force people to take up arms, which in turn allows him to warn Syrian minorities to stick with him and endorse his iron fist. He seeks to turn the protests into a sectarian, violent cause.