The Next Wave of the Syrian Popular Movement… Small Dreams and Big Dreams!
Mohannad Dlykan Mohannad Dlykan

The Next Wave of the Syrian Popular Movement… Small Dreams and Big Dreams!

During the past ten years, Syrian society has produced very diverse forms of what can be classified within the general framework of the term “popular movement”. Nevertheless, the only form that has achieved “media recognition” is demonstrating.

Perhaps the reason behind this unilateral “media recognition” is due to the overlap of the interests of the elites who reject any form of change, with the interests of the elites who seek a bogus exchange of hats, while the regimes continue to be oppressive and plundering. Reducing the popular movement to demonstrating, along with the temporary retreat of this form, allows saying that the movement is dead and has ended, and allows the other side to say that “arming” and political representations imposed from abroad have replaced the demonstrating and carried its message and the matter is over. This is as if the task had been accomplished when some were illusioned that they gained some recognition, by a group of countries, of representing the Syrian people, and the Syrian people should “go back” to their homes, or to their tents and shelters, and leave the representatives to the task of riding their movement to reach their own goals in the end.


The broad meaning of the popular movement

A popular movement, in its broadest sense, is the simultaneous involvement of large numbers of people within a given society in a political activity. This broad meaning, which may seem even loose, includes many meanings that apply to the Syrian and to other cases. These meanings, and perhaps determinants, act synergistically. That is, a serious explanation for the emergence of the popular movement after absence, and people’s involvement in political activity after taking a break and distancing themselves from it, cannot be based on one factor as the only reason.


Among the most importance meanings / determinants / reasons are the following:

First: Defining the popular movement as the broad involvement of people, at a particular moment, in political activity, means that people before this moment were not involved in political activity. That is, they were far from political action not only in its general form, but also implicitly from its various forms: political parties, trade union, civil activity, and so on, but primarily from the partisan form of political action.

Second: The emergence of the popular movement, and its absence before that, presupposes a general state of underdevelopment of the existing political parties, the existing political process, and in general the existing political space and its lagging behind the development taking place in society. That is, the structures that are supposed to represent the people and their concerns, interact with them, gather and mobilize them towards achieving their goals, when these structure are unable to do so, whether for subjective or objective reasons or a combination of this and that, they lose their actual function, and what happens is what usually takes place with the takeoff of popular movements. That is, we see people in the streets and political forces trying to join them. In short, the takeoff of a popular movement implicitly assumes that the people have announced, through action, through moving, an old divorce between them and the existing political structure, but they had not seen the need to announce that previously, perhaps because the level of social satisfaction at the time (which we will talk about next), had not fallen below the critical threshold.

Third: The low level of political freedoms. This does not stop only at the limits of political, security, intellectual, national repression, etc., but also implicitly extends to the underdevelopment of the legal-political structure, including the absence for a long time of a law on political parties, as well as the type of the election law, the quality of the relationship between the center and the periphery, and the ways of managing the country in its various aspects. In a broader sense, this extends to the prevailing constitutional-legal structure, and the practical practices of the authorities, whether derived from that structure or circumventing it.

Fourth: The objective internal laws of the process of periodic historical alternation between phases of rise and widespread social movement, and phases of stagnation and perhaps mass hibernation. These are laws that are still newly discovered and are thus not very well established nor powerful in the systematic sense. However, in short, they are laws that link people’s movement toward politics to the degree of general social satisfaction with the existing political system, which when goes below a certain threshold, people find themselves involved in a widespread movement without planning for it.

The issue of social satisfaction itself is very complex. The most notable and obvious, and perhaps influential, is economic satisfaction. That is, the extent of people’s satisfaction with their living conditions, which should not be reduced to absolute numbers about the standard of living, development indicators, and so on (despite the importance of these indicators). What is more important in this context are the numbers in their movement. In other words, we cannot compare the satisfaction of a particular people with the regime and the existing authorities in their country, with the satisfaction of another people with their regime and authorities, just by comparing the standard of living in a particular year between the two countries.

The most important in this context is the movement of the standard of living of a particular people over several consecutive years, and the expectations of this people for the movement of this standard during the subsequent years. A clear example of this is the comparison between the Chinese people’s satisfaction with their regime and authority and the satisfaction of Western peoples with their authorities and regimes. According to several Western studies (including a famous Harvard University study in 2020), the satisfaction level of the Chinese is among the highest in the world, higher than most Western countries, including the US, UK, France, and Germany. This is despite that the standard of living in China at any moment during the past ten years is still far below the standard of living in these countries.

The secret in the matter is that the standard of living of the Chinese citizen during these ten years is better each year than the one before. In contrast, the standard of living of the American, British, French, etc. in each year is equal to or less than his standard of living in the previous year. Accordingly, the Chinese citizen views his personal future and the future of his country with optimism and consequently with satisfaction, that is, he can build dreams even if they are small, and can be confident in the possibility of achieving them. In contrast, in countries living a state of long-term decline, even if at a slow rate, people become confident in an opposite way, confidence that the future is worse than the present, or at least that the future is of a lesser quality than the present, and this is enough to reduce the rates of social satisfaction, and activate the possibilities of an explosion of the popular movement when the rate of satisfaction reaches its critical threshold. This critical threshold itself is not the same in all countries and among all peoples, and are thus also subject to many particularities.

Fifth: Popular movements also have cultural, intellectual, and mental motives, and these same motives implicitly carry deep economic and social roots, so deep that they require digging and excavation to reach them. As an example, the brutal economic liberalization that accelerated between 2005 and 2010 not only worsened the people’s economic conditions, but also carried therewith psychological and social effects, and even a new “moral” system. The farmers, who were forced to abandon their lands in the Syrian Jazeera (the northeast) mainly under the impact of raising the price of fuel, in addition to other reasons, suddenly found themselves as day laborers waiting for those who demand their physical labor under the bridges of Aleppo and Damascus, with all the effects that this shocking transition carries on their livelihoods, their families, their traditions, their mentality, and their way of thinking. The same applies to workers of the workshops that closed as a result of import from Turkey, whose workers and owners turned from useful members of society who know their role and are defined by it, into marginalized people who are looking not only for a new job (and often do not find it), but for a new identity and a new place within society. These two examples are only a drop in a sea that is still not sufficiently studied, and perhaps attempts to study it and discover its features are among the basic tasks that must be addressed, and one of the most difficult and complex tasks at the same time.



Reasons behind the next wave

The five aspects that we enumerated above for the popular movement that started in 2011 are certainly not all aspects of the phenomenon, but they are important aspects of it. It suffices to read it again after ten years, to answer the question: Is there a new wave of the popular movement in Syria? Perhaps the question of when it will come is a more complex and difficult question, but reading the five aforementioned aspects again, allows to give a general conception of the answer.

First: Over the past ten years, people have been involved in political activity in its various forms and to varying degrees. With their involvement, they found ready-made political representations, among which there is the old, the “illusory new”, and a few truly new ones. These representations and alignments were able to hijack the people’s eagerness and dynamism in the early stages, and here we mean the so-called “loyalists”, “opponents”, and “grays” (those with a vague position) alike. Although these alignments have made them pay a very heavy price, people have learned through them that the required alignment is one of another type, one that is more radical and more visible. The state of rejection that we see today from most people of all the existing political representations, does not reflect a new hibernation of the popular movement of 90% of the Syrians, as some imagine or wish, but rather expresses exactly that this movement, which is crosscutting of the different alignments (loyalists, opposition, and “grays”; and national, religious, and sectarian, and tribal), is searching again for real political representation for itself, and even searching more earnestly than before and with a more open and experienced mind.

Second: In the same context, if the state of backwardness of political structures and parties was clear in 2011, it is even clearer today, after it has become apparent to the people, not only the backwardness of the majority of the old political movement, but also the illusion of the newness of the majority of the “new” political movement with its various formations: loyalist, half loyalist, half opposition, and opposition. It has also become clear to the majority of people the roles that Syrian and non-Syrian “non-governmental organizations” play, and the limits of those roles, both negative and positive.

Third: We said that the level of political freedoms before 2011 was low, and we mean that it was low, not only in absolute terms, but also comparatively. That is, it is low below a specific required level commensurate with society’s political, economic, and social needs, and the degree and nature of the development of its productive forces. Today, in 2021, the level of political freedoms (although the people’s voice has become louder in criticizing the regime and the opposition alike) is more severely low relative to what it was in 2011. This is because the needs for change have become much greater, and are now connected not to improving people’s conditions, but rather to their survival, because the state of complete collapse that the country is heading towards is an existential threat that is far more dangerous than things were in 2011.

Fourth: Furthermore, the threshold of social satisfaction has become lower than any previous stage in modern Syrian history. As we put forth the example of China and the West and the Chinese and Western thinking about their future, hopes, dreams, and confidence, the Syrian person has become absolutely confident that the status quo is a sure guarantee of one catastrophic reality: every new day in the current situation will be worse than the previous one, there are no dreams that can be achieved, and there is no hope for any improvement if the situation remains as is. That is, it is no longer useful for measuring the situation to say that social satisfaction has fallen below a specific level, as we have crossed this threshold some time ago and the issue has become connected to the rise in the level of dissatisfaction to unprecedented explosive thresholds.

Fifth: If neoliberalism has brought with it its moral, psychological, and social harms, what can be said about the continuation and deepening of neoliberalism and the additional harms it has created in synergy with the results of the prolonged crisis? Are we talking about absolute poverty, unemployment, drugs in all their forms, kidnapping, looting, arrests, prostitution, the dispersal of families in different countries, and the horrific artistic, intellectual and cultural decline, and other things?

The new wave is coming, and it won’t be long!

The entire previous discussion revolves around one fundamental issue, which is that the requirements for the takeoff of popular movement in its first phase have not disappeared, but have become more profound and urgent than they were, and 90% of Syrians have reached the edge of a situation where they feel that they have nothing left to lose except the restrictions, humiliation, and oppression they experience on a daily basis.

The discussion also revolves around a second topic, as the motivation or hinderance of the next will not be reduced to despair – as some suppose. Despair alone cannot in any way create drivers of change. The new wave will be driven by more despair than that in 2011, and at the same time by greater hope for what is to come. In a word: the new wave will be more radical than the previous one. Even if its roots do not reach the required depth, it will lay the foundation for a subsequent, more radical wave. The movement will not calm down and return to its slumber before it achieves its historical mission.

Measuring against the previous roles of the popular movements at the global level during more than two centuries, the popular movement still has two or more decades before it returns to the state of “hibernation”. This remaining time will not only be spent on removing the old, as those who rode the first wave are trying to portray, but it will spend the greater part of the remaining time on a more difficult and complicated task of building the new. Despite the difficulty of this task, what will make it easier is that it will come embraced by a state of collective hope and small and big dreams that are achievable.

(Arabic Version)

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 September 2021 14:31