Push for political solution to Syria crisis

Children hold up a the green, white and black flag of the former Syrian Republic at an anti-government protest in Idlib province (2 March 2012) Thousands are still taking to the streets on a daily basis to call for freedom

Nadine and George, whose names have been changed, are working on secret plans for civil disobedience against Bashar al-Assad.

They are part of a peaceful movement for change that has been lobbying against the Syrian president for a year.

They have so far dyed the water red in public fountains across Damascus, which they say represents the blood lost during the uprising.

They have also set up speakers in central squares to broadcast revolutionary songs, distributed flyers to encourage people to protest against the government, and shone lasers from top of Mount Qassioun, which overlooks the capital, calling for "freedom".

But as the uprising enters its second year and the number of dead women and children increases, Nadine and George are having second thoughts.

Start Quote

When I see this, how can I preach people not to take up arms - they have a right to defend themselves”

End Quote George Opposition activist

"We were going to throw eggs on pictures of the president tonight, but what would that help with all this blood?" Nadine asks, looking at the latest pictures on the television of children massacred in Homs.

"When I see this, how can I preach people not to take up arms - they have a right to defend themselves," George adds.

They both look desperate - many activists in Syria are beginning to feel that the peaceful movement for change has reached an impasse.

Thousands of protesters are still taking to the streets on a daily basis to call for freedom, but the more violent the crackdown by security forces becomes the more opposition supporters are advocating armed resistance.

Tension

There are hardly any tourists in Syria. At first sight, foreign visitors to Damascus would not feel much is different from last March. There have, however, been dramatic changes.

A woman injured by a shell explosion in Idlib (10 March 2012) Images of the crackdown on dissent in Syria have caused outrage worldwide during the past year

The capital's streets are busy during the day, with people going to work and carrying out errands. But the evenings are far quieter than usual and you can feel the tension everywhere.

Although there are daily protests in various districts and suburbs of Damascus, the regime is still very much in control.

Public pictures of President Assad are more widespread than they were a year ago, as a result of a series of "We love you" campaigns run by his supporters.

Pictures of the violence and torture perpetrated by his government's forces are meanwhile circulated over coffee inside people's sitting rooms or around dinner tables.

The debate is always heated; a political solution is needed.

This is the line that many here in Syria agree on, but how to proceed?

Mediation

Sitting at his desk, smoking a cigarette and mobile phone constantly ringing, Louai Hussein is the head of a new movement, Building the Syrian State.

Louai Hussein (22 February 2012) Louai Hussein holds the government responsible for what is happening in Syria

He says the only way forward is a political solution and dialogue with the government on a peaceful transition of power.

"But the violence must stop first," Mr Hussein says.

Although he holds the government responsible for what is happening in Syria, Mr Hussein fears arming the revolution will create more chaos.

The special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, Kofi Annan, visited Damascus over the weekend and presented President Assad a peace initiative.

Mr Assad says a political solution will never succeed while "terrorists groups" are operating in the country, but Mr Hussein believes the former UN secretary general can find a solution.

"Mediation is the only way out. All parties should be involved in a political solution."

Start Quote

Taking up arms will be a dead end for the revolutionaries”

End Quote Bassam Youssef Secretary General, Together for Syria

The rest of the opposition is split over whether to take up arms.

Many protesters - particularly in towns and cities which have borne the brunt of the crackdown on dissent - want the international community to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a rebel group led by army defectors who they say is protecting them. But others believe that might only make things worse.

"They are armed because they are desperate and have lost hope of a political solution, not only because they are facing daily violence," Mr Hussein says.

"But if you provide them with some hope, they may give up on the military solution."

'Myth becomes reality'

Bassam Youssef, another opposition figure, believes arming the opposition will only lead to a civil war.

Woman brandishing a rifle at a protest in northern Syria (2 March 2012) Several states have advocated arming the opposition in Syria so people can defend themselves

"Taking up arms will be a dead end for the revolutionaries," he says. "It is the path the regime has pushed for, because it will distance the protesters from the civil nature of the revolution."

Mr Youssef is the secretary general of the Together for Syria movement, which was established in June and aims to achieve the end of President Assad's rule through a transitional phase and the formation of a national unity government.

"The regime kept blaming the problem on armed groups, until the myth turned into reality," he adds. "Now there are armed people within the opposition. They had to because they needed to defend themselves."

Mr Youssef still believes that politicians and intellectuals should make efforts to convince people not to arm themselves, and that the only way out is to follow the non-violent path to revolution.

Many in Syria, even the government's supporters, believe there must now be a concerted effort to find a political solution.

The question remains, how far President Assad's government - the most powerful side in this conflict - is willing to commit to one.

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