April 29, 2014
“The elite support base” — it is probably the first time this term is used; as it is more common, especially in revolutionary vocabulary, to use “popular support base.” Although the elite are considered part of the public- theoretically at least- the term “popular support base” commonly refers to “the non-elite.” “Popular support base” is used as a positive addition to a “revolution” that is led by an elite vanguard according to the terminologies of traditional revolutions, which were transferred without change to the new Arab Spring revolutions.
Paradoxically, what distinguishes the new revolutions is that they are not revolutions of the elite. This problematizes terminology and the revolution itself which has became inverted. Therefore, it is justifiable to coin the inverted term “the elite support base”, not to dispraise or to disparage. No one was able to escape the vicious circle of sectarian dictatorship without this new revolution which happened without any planning or vanguard leadership and even without any elite.
Today, after more than three years of the revolution and more than 40 years of sectarian occupation, there is more than ever an essential need for an elite support base. However, the Assad regime has been –and is still- keen to separate the elite from the revolution by forced migration, detention, killing and targeting in order to keep the revolution purely popular, albeit naive in practical terms and from the perspective of the elite – i.e. it does not know what it wants and it thinks reactively. In doing so, the regime is aided, purposely or not, by those sitting on the fence in addition to a large number of “populist” activists and opposition members.
The nature of the popular revolution and the mechanisms by which its councils and representations are formed as well as its image in the media increase the difficulty for the elite to join its ranks; even creating reasons keeping them away, if not from the revolution but at least from its representative political and institutional bodies. The revolution will not exit from its current vicious cycle and the bottleneck in which it is stuck, thanks to the impasse between militants and the regime and international political agendas, unless it benefits from the Syrian elite. Probably, the first and the most distinguished case of elite exclusion was that childish campaign which forced Burhan Ghalioun to leave the presidency of the [Syrian] National Council after six months. We can also find signs of that by examining the experience of Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib in one of the revolution’s bodies. Just a quick tour of his Facebook “profile” shows clear evidence of that.
We do not mean by “the elite” the political intellectual elite only, but also the technocratic elite. Today, for example, if we were to closely observe the procedures for forming the temporary government, the need for these technocratic elite would be very obvious. After three years, not many elite are willing to work in those bodies in fear of being accused of treachery, of finger pointing, of ruining their reputations and many other reasons that the regime – and others as we have mentioned- have caused, purposely or not. The government ministers, of whom the majority are known to be honest and of great intellect, are having a hard time convincing selected personnel to join the government. This argument aims to demonstrate the importance of the elite support base and is not meant to praise this new body –the temporary government- which unfortunately is not expected to deliver much due to negative traits inherited from the previous bodies upon which it was established, the discussion of which is beyond the scope of this article.
Even in revolutionary bodies operating far from politics and political agendas, there is an exodus of the elite towards individualistic work or retirement, leaving a gaping hole in spite of the pressing need. Even if the elite are prepared to fight against the regime, they cannot fight against some populist powers which can be so childish or, unfortunately, even vulgar in some cases. If the elite decide so, they will be exhausted and totally consumed in marginal battles outside the revolution. Meanwhile, the non-elite are able to confront this battle; al-Jarba’s victory over a large group of popular powers is a case in point. However with all due respect to al-Jarba, he is not considered as one of the intellectual or technocratic Syrian elite, but a political figure and sometimes also regarded as a business figure regardless of anything else.
It is not my intention to excuse the elite completely from responsibility. I would like only to highlight one of the serious problems of the revolution which is the weakness and the lack of the intellectual, political and technocratic support base. Maybe the solution would be the complete reformation of the revolutionary bodies, which in my opinion is the short road, or to await the development and maturity of new elites, and this is the very long road we are currently taking.