Last updated: May 19, 2014

How nonviolent resistance can win back the Syrian revolution (VIDEO)

Banner Icon Syrian-American activist and poet Dr. Mohja Kahf shares with Your Middle East how nonviolent resistance changed with the nature of the revolution. She also talks about current nonviolent resistance initiatives and what is required for them to succeed.

There was a shift in Syria in August 2011, how did it affect the nonviolent resistance movement?

Over time, the repeated brutality of the regime's responses to the nonviolent protests and its use of disproportionate violence and collective punishment - I think maybe especially its use of snipers to target people at random in protest neighborhoods - was able to erode the nonviolent consensus among protesters and the idea of self-defense grew over this time period.

If there was a sniper in your neighborhood targeting civilians, (then) a group of youth organized and armed themselves to bring him down... I think anyone can understand the urgency and the appeal of neighborhood self-defense. The problem is that the regime far out-arms the rebels and self-defense really did not effectively defend (the people) it was initially aimed at defending, and on top of that opened all sorts of Pandora boxes for the Revolution. 

Tell us about current initiatives like “Stop the Killing” and “Brides of Peace”.

Activists in the civilian revolution are involved in: running underground schools and hospitals; publishing over sixty underground newspapers and magazines; and relief work – the latter is the most intense field of work for obvious reasons. They are doing civil resistance now on two fronts: against the regime and against Islamist jihadists; both authoritarianisms constantly threaten civilian activists.

 What is required for the nonviolent civil resistance to take back control of the revolution?  

This is key and I wish I had the magic solution to this one.

Civilian Revolution structures, such as the 128 Local Councils, must be prioritized by international actors like the UN who are seeking political solutions and humanitarian interventions. The traditional political actors and the armed actors must be bypassed in favor of the civilian resistance, which has instead been marginalized by the international focus on traditional political bodies (such as the Coalition) and on military actors.

For more on the Syrian revolution’s non-violence movement listen to Mohja Kahf in the documentary “Rima’s Red Raincoat” about Rima Dali and the Syrian non-violent initiatives, a student documentary by Janiene Thiong and Kahf’s daughter Banah Ghadbian who is currently conducting research on women’s participation in the Syrian revolution.

Christine Petré
Christine Petré is an editor at Your Middle East. You can follow her work at
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