Extrapolating on my previous publication: "E-Diplomacy and Beyond" to focus on who is driving the Syrian Revolution.
« We’ve got to figure out who is over there first, and we don’t really know that » -
An unnamed « U.S. official who expressed concern over persistent (intel) gaps »
Washington Post 23/7/2012
Reading Greg Miller and Joby Warrick’s article on how U.S. State agencies are finally exploring solutions outside the expat diplomatic realm (Friends of Syria, SNC, UN/SC, UNMIS) is tentatively uplifting, although, you have to wonder why now - after 20 000 deaths? Perhaps it’s the anticlimactic thud the stratospheric negotiations made hitting the wall at minimal speed, prompting all parties to take a sharper look at the realities of the terrain. It might also be that the massive diplomatic fail sharply contrasts with the simultaneous wins delivered by the armed oppositions on the ground - perceived successes that are snowballing into stronger support, and a relatively attractive landing ground for defectors. Gains that are leaving in their wake any expectations of regular outside help. This forced shift of focus - from the abstract to the concrete - is actually the only positive thing I can say about the Washington Post’s feature on confused U.S. intelligence agencies.
The article goes on to describe the various channels used to sniff out, vet and prep the armed factions. It’s a process that seems to be totally indirect, even deflected, either via Saudi Arabia and Qatar or Turkey and Jordan. Obviously Israel would also provide mountains of data, though here it doesn’t seem to come up much. There seems to be little engagement. All the sources in the article declined to reveal their identity citing security concerns. Ironically, identity is precisely what those agency sources are finding so elusive about the local Syrian opposition. But is it really?
Pinpointing the right partners to collaborate with was a major issue in the Libyan conflict too. Although the United Nations resolution 1973 relied on the principles of the Responsibility to Protect framework, safeguarding the civilian population through all necessary means, one of those “means” was shockingly overlooked: Social Media outreach by UN mandated agencies was rather very limited. Funnily enough, this was the space where most conversations actually took place. In a time of political upheaval, and without diplomatic staff available in the country, interlocutors change and communication channels dry up. Establishing a presence on the ground, whilst fundamental, cannot begin to cover all the interactions needed for large scale operations. During the Libyan conflict and to fill the gaps, thousands of civilians stepped up and took operations into their own hands. After months of peaceful protesting ending in civilian bloodbaths without much action from outside help, this is precisely what the local Syrian opposition proceeded to do - on and offline. I would have thought that one year later, State agencies would have learned their Libya lessons, designed platforms and protocols, prepared contingency plans so that the ad-hoc communication operation I was part of then, would have grown into something far more professional: An effective outreach program spanning a broad spectrum of activities, from humanitarian to military intel. There are practically no political parallels to be drawn between the Syrian and Libyan revolutions apart from the scope of atrocities committed by the respective regimes and People’s right to self-determination. There is however one huge operational common denominator: the vast quantity of contextual information publicly available and the equally staggering number of players directly accessible via Internet. The information is there. You just have to know where to look.
This may be that moment in the Syrian uprising’s timeline where International Dialogue has become little more than white noise, a distraction from the do-it-yourself wins provided by the Syrian armed opposition. So close to the end game, having done all of the heavy lifting and after so many souls lost, reticence on behalf of the local opposition, armed or not, to reach out now and share its sweet victory, would be totally understandable. A RUSI report A Collision Course for Intervention points out that the regional spill-over from the revolution may propel the wider international community to take a more hands-on approach. However, the pace of action has changed and has synchronized with on-zone events. If intervention, in any form, becomes a reality, those who have been passively responding to local distress calls at their own leisure may find themselves furiously scrambling to connect with factions on the ground.
Until Syria’s massive stockpiles of chemical weapons have been secured and a viable stabilisation plan implemented, no party can afford to unglue their eyes from the screen and their ears from the ground.
Here is a DIY101 toolkit to get you started : Understanding the armed and peaceful Syrian opposition:
- Let’s start with the
basicsconstantly updated Wikipedia pages:
Free Syrian Army
- Then move on to something more visual, such as this slideshow The Evolution of Syria’s Opposition: A Status Report as of July 3, 2012 from Institute for the Study of War, by a brilliant chap named Joseph Holliday:
- And Holliday's in-depth analysis of the armed opposition UnderstandingWar.org - The Syrian Armed Opposition
- One of my favourite blogs features (amongst many interesting posts) the arms, equipment and expertise available to the armed oppositions. Brown Moses Blog. Another great site is .processing
- Visual aides to figure out who is where and when - Maps of troop positions by @markito0171 (updated fanatically)
- To get a sense of the volume of civil dissent - Daily peaceful protest maps: @SyriaUprising (also on twitter) provides daily updates and thoroughly documented map of where the scores of daily peaceful protests occur throughout Syria. Most of the footage shows how these protests are attacked by regime regular army or shabiha.
View Syria - Monday 23/07/2012 in a larger map
- Syria Streams Map locates live and recorded footage from inside Syria
Afficher Syria Streams sur une carte plus grande
- If you have a twitter account you can follow @Bambuser for alerts on live footage of the Syrian regime army shelling civilian populations in real time. Activists risk their lives to present these images to the world.
- To interact with others on the live events or get an instant translation by an online community member, you can log on to the Syrian Freedom Livestream here and ask the team for help.
- Join in the dialogue by following the twitter list of people on the ground or close enough to care (English).
- Moving on to local committees: Most of the resources below, although presenting factual information, footage and images, do have a spin to them. Dissecting the narrative is precisely the kind of information that can contribute to understanding affiliations and penchants.
Local Coordination Committees Syria
Syrian Revolution General Commission
Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution
Political (not local):
Syrian National Council
Mussalaha - a local initiative which originated in Homs, is definitely worth keeping an eye on, as it is scalable.Some opposition groups believe this to be a pro-regime operation, as it also reaches out to one or two Assad government ministers. It is an inter-faith, a-political movement, which in some cases is providing an interesting "3rd way". Currently their activities are relayed via the Vatican State media fides.org, but hopefully they will have some non-partisan platform soon.
Granted, these resources do not explicitly mention where the money comes from and goes to, but for those who feel a little more curious, most channels and websites do provide contact details. Feel free to leave comments or ping them directly.
An updated version of the DIY101 Syrian Opposition Toolkit can be found HERE