01/04/2011

Is it the turn of Syria ?

 

Few are those who would have bet on the emergence of a Syrian citizen movement for change. The brutality of the regime and its security apparatus, the terror they cause forced the Syrians (like Tunisians under Ben Ali) to silence. Everyone in Syria remembers how Hafez al-Assad crushed the revolt of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982, killing more than 20,000 and tens of thousands missing. The memory of this massacre is a reminder to the Syrians that the power is ruthless with dissenters.

Moreover, since his accession to power, Bashar al-Assad led a brilliant campaign of communication, presenting himself as the guarantor of the unity of the country in front the demons of sectarianism (the country is an ethnic and religious mosaic), and boasting to resist Israel and the United States, even being isolated internationally. That earned him a certain legitimacy among many of his citizens, concerned about the danger of sliding into sectarian chaos as in Iraq and preferring the status quo offered by the President at the price of repression. For these reasons, Bashar Al-Assad thought he was sheltered from the wave of riots that swept the Arab world, as evidenced by an interview given by President to The Wall Street Journal. He asserted that « there is no risk that Syria is won by the uprisings. »

Yet, since March 15, 2011, an unprecedented protest movement upsets these certainties. The movement arose in Daraa in the south of the country when a crowd of about 2,000 people demonstrated for the release of children who had been arrested by Syrian security services for making anti-government graffiti on walls the city. Since then the movement has spread to several other cities, including Damascus, Aleppo, Lattakia, Homs, Banias, etc..

Syria shares many problems with its Arab neighbors. It is a model of economic failure. The state of emergency in force since 1963, has significantly limited public freedoms. The Syrian system is based on allegiance to a single party, the Baath Party, led by Bashar al-Assad. And finally, the regime relies on fear and repression to stifle dissent. The protesters are pointing these failures and ask for changes. Recently, slogans have started to attack the President himself and the symbols of the regime. The demonstrators express their ras-le-bol, they want to restore their dignity and to end the humiliation chanting « death rather than humiliation. » The wall of fear seems to have collapsed.

Faced with these movements, the Syrian president combined show of force, bloody repression and promises of reform. The death toll already stood at 130. His first highly awaited speech of March 30, 2011, after a very symbolic resignation of the government, has failed to calm down the protesters. By minimizing the popular aspirations to their economic and social aspects, promising reforms without defining their content, by addressing the claims of political opening as the result of a foreign conspiracy designed to sow chaos in the country and by demonstrating the arrogance of the regime, the President has disappointed those who still believed in a democratic transition led by him and led to more anger and mobilization among others. His legitimacy is about to collapse.

Without proper response to popular demands, the protesters will not release the pressure and will not accept that their dignity is longer trodden by the El-Assad regime. Hopefully, this peaceful struggle will not turn into a bloodbath, as the Syrian authorities have used their people.

 

Iman Bahri