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Syrian activists to rebels: Give us our revolution back

Many of the activists who began the uprising in Syria more than a year ago feel their peaceful push for change has been hijacked by the rebel Free Syrian Army. They're meeting in Cairo today.

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Why the uprising has shrunk

Lately, some of the activists have formed a new group to revive the peaceful demonstrations of the early days of the revolution.

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"We are still many who want a peaceful revolution,” an activist who calls herself Celine says via Skype from Damascus. “But since it became an armed conflict, many people who were sympathetic to our cause have dropped out.”

It has also become much more dangerous to stage protests. “These days we only talk to people we know very well,” says Celine.

As a consequence, the protests have become much smaller. Celine describes one recent action.

"We had agreed to meet at a strategic intersection in central Damascus. Some of us set tires on fire, while others chanted slogans. The whole thing lasted no longer than five minutes. Bystanders wanted to join us but we’d already disappeared.”

It may not seem much, “but it is important that our voices are heard. And we make sure that our protests are filmed and the videos are sent out to the media.”

Leaders needed for 'this sensitive period'

The Syrian National Council, an umbrella opposition group, is supposed to provide a channel for working for political change. But even Ms. Nseir, who is the SNC's spokesperson in Lebanon, says the SNC is seen as too closely aligned with the FSA to present a real alternative to their armed rebellion.

"The SNC claims to be representative of the Syrian people. That’s just not true," says Nseir. "They talk only about arming the rebels. They never talk about nonviolent resistance and they certainly do not speak for the ramadieen, or grey people, the silent majority who support neither the regime nor the armed rebels.”

Nseir has considered resigning from the SNC, as others have done, “but I was persuaded to stay on and try and change things from within.”

She has set her hopes on the Cairo conference. “We hope to agree on a message that everyone who is against the further militarization of this conflict can get behind," she says.

“The opposition: They have to solve the problem,” says Ali Ali, a Syrian activist who was heavily involved in planning the nation’s uprising and now resides in Cairo, where he is attending the conference.

“The people who are demonstrating in the streets need to stop the blood and need a real opposition to lead this sensitive period,” he says, adding that like the regime, the opposition is responsible “for the blood that bleeds every day in Syria” and finding a way to make violence end.

“This conference is an arena for all political ideas and visions to meet,” says Syrian activist Orwa Al-Ahmed, now living in Dubai. “Most people are with the peaceful initiative. But to achieve this it requires the involvement of other political leaders and visions.”  

The activists are not naïve: they know they cannot turn back the clock to last summer, before the uprising turned violent. But they are still determined to work toward peaceful solutions.

"There is no going back," says Alloush. "The Free Syrian Army is a reality and we have to accept it. But that does not mean that we have to accept them as the leaders of this revolution. I know these people, and I know that many of them want to turn Syria into an Islamic republic if they get the chance.”

The Syrian opposition has called for mass demonstrations this Friday to test Mr. Annan's peace plan. One of the conditions of the plan is that the regime allow freedom of assembly.

"We have a tiny window, but time is against us," says activist Safinas. "We are fighting two regimes and two armies now."

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