I can’t pretend to know the answer to why Aleppo fell, but Juan Cole tells us only part of it did. The more populous section, says the University of Michigan professor, may well have been glad to see the rebels go.
There had been 250,000 Sunni Arabs of a more religious mindset and from a working class background living there under rebel control since 2012. But next door in West Aleppo, which our television stations won’t talk about, were 800,000 to a million people who much preferred to be under the rule of the regime.
This numerous and relatively well off population took occasional mortar fire from the slums of East Aleppo. They weren’t in the least interested in saving the rebels from the Russians or the Iraqi Shiite militias or from the regime itself.
Syria is an incredibly diverse society, he says, guesstimating:
Alawite Shiites: 14%
Twelver Shiites: 0.5%
Secular Sunni Arabs: 30%
Religious Sunni Arabs: 34.5%
And basically, the rebels alienated the people as they drifted further and further toward the better funded and more capable Salafi-Jihadi fighters.
But when the regime used heavy weaponry on the revolutionaries, the latter militarized their struggle. They weren’t able to get funding from democratic countries for their militias or for the purchase of weapons.
Many turned to Turkey and the Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, and these patrons wanted them to adopt a clear Muslim fundamentalist identity. Most Syrians are not Muslim fundamentalists. But that is the mindset of the Saudi elite.
Maybe Western nations should have funded the struggle, then? Throughout the article Cole condemns Assad, Russia, and Hizbollah. He seems to harbor some sympathy toward the original revolution and the moderate factions.
But at the same time, this is how he describes the Muslim Brotherhood:
Many of the fighters in the rebel opposition were Muslim Brotherhood, a relatively moderate fundamentalist group in Syria which nevertheless does want to impose a medieval version of Islamic law on the whole country.
If this is moderation, what to make of that rhetoric overall? Nevertheless it was the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front that subjected the Syrian regime to the most damage, and twice almost cut off Damascus from key supply lines before outside intervention relieved the pressure.
Why then did the Syrians not rally behind the rebels against the likes of Hizbollah (first) and Russian (second) intervention?
Most people in Syria don’t trust the Muslim Brotherhood and they really, really dislike the Salafi Jihadis.
He boils down to this:
So you get 70% of the people in the country who, having been given the unpalatable choice between the Baath regime of al-Assad and being ruled by Salafi Jihadis, reluctantly chose al-Assad.
That is why the Aleppo pocket fell.
I can’t say if he is correct or not. But amid the horrible images of Aleppo broadcast in the media, it is wise to consider a lesser heard explanation.
And then, look again at the photo above. No matter their orientation, there are still innocents among them. And even the less innocent are human, including the far from innocent.
War is sad.