Did you notice that at the beginning of the Syrian revolution, what bothered Bashar Al-Assad's regime the most was the people's demand for freedom? We saw how the security forces harassed the protesters and revelled in their brutal means of torturing them, saying, "You want freedom? Take it!" (While harassing them, of course.) The regime, along with its allies and those who wanted to abort the revolution, racked their brains to think of ways to get revenge on the rebels, and finally said, "We've got it! We know how to make the rebellious nation yearn for the good old days of tyranny and curse the day they called for freedom. Bring them extremist groups that make the regime seem 'democratic' in comparison to these groups. We will allow the groups to interfere in everything, even their clothes, drink, food and cigarettes. Then they will say, 'We miss the days of the intelligence services; at least they allowed us to smoke and wear what we want, eat, drink and listen to whatever we like'."
You must not underestimate these simple freedoms. Imagine you are walking down the street and someone comes up to you, hits you, and demands that you put out your cigarette immediately, or prevents you from listening to certain music. How would you feel, if you couldn't even look at them, let alone yell at them?
What makes tyrants more popular than some Islamist extremists is that some of the societies in which the people rebelled are religious, sectarian and ethnic mosaics, and some have a large sectarian population. Such a society is unwilling to be dictated to by religion and will prefer the military tyrant over a "Caliphate". Even regular Muslims who have become accustomed to an open social life would not accept a strict religious government. I have heard many Syrian Muslims say that, after the revolution, they would immediately take up arms in order to free the country from any extremist religious group; that is, they would not revolt against a military regime in order to replace it with an extremist religious government.
Isn't it natural for ordinary people to ask themselves, after realising that the extremist groups hijacked the revolutions, where these groups came from? Why haven't we seen them before the revolutions? Where did they get their weapons? How did they infiltrate and control the scene so quickly and strongly? Why have the Syrian regime-controlled areas only fallen when faced by specific Islamist groups? Why did the original revolutionary forces that wanted to build a modern democratic system to protect the people's basic rights and freedoms disappear? These are all legitimate questions. Don't revolutions usually move a nation forward rather than backwards? Didn't the nations revolt in order to move from a miserable reality to a bright future? Have extremist groups been sent to these people to get revenge on them and push them hundreds of years backwards? Are the extremist groups who are controlling things at the moment trying to push the nations backwards? Aren't they threatening to interfere in their most basic freedoms? Who benefits from the actions of these groups and their tyranny? Wouldn't it be the tyrants whose oppression and tyranny drove the nations to revolt against them? Isn't Bashar Al-Assad, his allies and those like him rubbing their hands together in glee when they watch these groups rival them in their oppression and tyranny? The Syrian regime and its supporters curse ISIS during the day and thank them at night because they have provided a great outlet for them.
I would like to pose this question to the groups who want to take the revolutionary nations back to the Dark Ages: Don't you think that by doing so, you are doing a big favour for the enemies of the revolutions and the tyrants who are facing popular revolutions? The people revolted to rid themselves of unjust tyrants, not to fall into the hands of even worse oppressors who want to drive the people back into the depths of history. Either you do not know the basics of revolutions and that they are supposed to take a jump forward, rather than going backwards, or you have been created by tyrants and their supporters in order to make the people say, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't." Isn't it the right of the people to believe that the dictatorships faced with revolutions are working with their allies in order to create groups that call for going backwards, hence pushing the people to stop calling for their revolutionary demands and decide to stay the way they are rather than to go back in the past?
There is no doubt that some will say what's wrong with going hundreds of years back? Wasn't everything better in the good old days? Yes, we were certainly better and stronger, but, frankly, this is a naïve question. Who said that these extremist groups would take us back to Islam's Golden Age? If we were to assume, for the sake of argument, that these groups actually aimed to do so, would the global superpowers allow this? It is true that many applauded some of the extremist groups in Syria and other areas; not because they wanted these groups to replace the regime, but because they wanted to spite the regime and get revenge on it. However, they did not know that these groups were actually indirectly boosting the image of the regime both domestically and internationally.
Also, where have these extremist groups triumphed and then proceeded to establish a state better than the existing one? In Afghanistan? Somalia? Algeria? Libya? Or have they been too busy fighting one another after the project they set out to achieve was finished? Look at how they are eliminating each other in Syria and elsewhere. Isn't it the Islamic groups who always recite the Quranic verse, "Do not dispute and [thus] lose courage and [then] your strength would depart", but then fight the most amongst themselves, especially during and after the revolutions? Some may say that the Egyptian revolution was not killed by the Islamist extremists, and although this is true, the counter-revolution was wildly successful in exploiting the Islamist "bogeyman" to contain the people.
The extremist groups achieved two of the goals of the enemies of revolution, both domestically and abroad. It restored some of the regimes that had fallen, and prolonged the life of the Syrian regime and others after these groups were used by foreign parties and their spies in the country to derail the revolutions. The groups were also used to redraw the regional map. ISIS will enter an area, and America and Iran will send its planes and groups to fight the organisation on the ground, then ISIS will leave the area and it will be replaced by another group. This is what the Kurds are doing in the north as well as the Iranian groups in Iraq. It is under this pretext that people are displaced and the areas are re-divided clearly according to American and Iranian instructions. Even if we believe that these groups are completely independent, that they do not serve anyone and that they have triumphed and replaced the fallen regimes, aren't the people right to ask: Did we revolt to replace a stroke with cancer, or injustice with darkness?
Translated from Al-Sharq newspaper, 28 June, 2015.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.