Bishara of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Doha, wrote the Arabic first edition of Syria 2011-2013 in 2013 "to document the revolution's history before it could be rewritten" by pro-Assad propagandists attempting "to erase the peaceful nature of the revolution through to early 2012." His book is, thus, a historiographical preemptive strike arguing that "Assad pursued a consistent policy of brute force" against peaceful protestors who initially demanded political reform, not regime change. Eventually,
the revolution became increasingly militarized and sectarian in the face of a regime that refused to make any concessions.
The study's less polemical sections accurately recount how Bashar al-Assad's pre-"Arab Spring" neoliberal economic policies impoverished constituencies previously constituting the Baath Party's base. Shrinking the public sector, opening the Syrian market to cheap foreign imports, and phasing out subsidies on staple goods caused mass unemployment and hunger. Then, a severe drought in 2006-09 compounded the crisis. As Syrian living standards declined, the regime increasingly relied on its Alawite-dominated security apparatus to maintain power.
Bishara contrasts Tunisian and Egyptian soldiers who refused to massacre pro-democracy demonstrators in 2011 with Syrian security services' unrestrained repression. He attributes the difference to the former belonging to the same ethno-religious group as the demonstrators while Syrian Alawites generally feared Sunni majority rule. The Assad regime's cohesiveness, brutality, and inexhaustible arsenal convinced Bishara that only a well-organized rebel army with foreign patronage could succeed. Much of the book bemoans the revolutionaries' political and military fragmentation, thereby enabling jihadi factions to thrive. By 2013, Bishara was pessimistic about the revolution's direction but believed the Assad regime's war crimes still made "overthrowing it a noble mission."
The book's 2023 English translation chronicles developments since 2013 and contains a new introduction full of navel-gazing about the author's past support for the Syrian opposition. Bishara is not merely an East German-trained philosophy professor but also a prominent political activist. He led Israel's Arab nationalist Balad Party until charged with providing Hezbollah with intelligence during the 2006 Lebanon war. Bishara fled to Qatar, where he advises the government. In 2012, Bishara helped organize the Syrian Opposition Coalition and lobbied Qatar's emir to arm Syrian guerrillas. Retrospectively acknowledging the Syrian civil war's "catastrophic outcome," Bishara concludes, "A democratic intellectual must be mindful of potential outcomes but at the same time stand with the oppressed."
Those seeking objective analysis of Syria's civil war should look elsewhere.