Contrary to President Bashar Assad’s insistence to The Wall Street Journal that
Syria “[has] more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in
spite of that Syria is stable” and his comment that the regime is “very closely
linked to the beliefs of the people,” Syria has not been isolated from the
changes taking place in the Arab world.
Like other countries around the
region, Syria has been deeply shaken by the earthquakes that followed the storm
of change that hit Tunisia last December. Peaceful popular protests against the
regime permeated the city of Daraa in the south of Syria after the security
authorities arrested and tortured a group of children who wrote anti-regime
slogans on walls.
Those kids were influenced by news coming from the Arab
world, and growing popular anger led to calls for freedom and dignity; those
calls, in turn, began to spread from one city to another and swelled to a
massive call for fundamental transformation to a system of parliamentary
Murders and arrests increased with each demonstration and the
death toll has now reached at least 5,000, and tens of thousands of children,
women and men have been imprisoned.
Assad has described the protests as a
“conspiracy,” hinting at the influence of foreign intervention in his country.
The regime plucked the strings of fear of terrorism as he described the
demonstrators as vandals and fundamental Islamic “Salafists.” Assad tried to
display himself to the world as the only option, the alternative being a Syria
governed by extremists.
Assad has not made radical reforms to meet the
demands of the demonstrators. Rather, he has stuck to his convictions, as have
other Arab dictators. He believes he can achieve what he sees as possible, but
this is the wrong time, and he has lost both his legitimacy as president and his
respect as a responsible statesman within the international
Demonstrators became more determined as the killings and
brutality increased and began to call for the regime and Assad to
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These are not the Syrians of a year ago. The wall of fear has been
breached, and it is doubtful whether the regime will be able to turn the clock
back. From now on, no one can govern his people through bloodshed.
SOCIETY is divided today between the opposition and those who are pro-regime. A
section of the community remained on the fence, not coming down on the side of
the regime or the opposition.
Some of these people are from the merchant
classes, the businessmen and the middle class who have a lot to gain from the
system. In addition, the two major cities, Damascus and Aleppo, have not really
played a massive part in the revolution to date because of the strong oppression
against the demonstrators.
The recent declaration that the
four-decade-old state of emergency had been lifted has not been implemented. The
popular, ongoing explosion demonstrates that the regime must go, but at the same
time it is essential to protect the essential institutions of the state and
structure of society, in order to prevent a slide toward the abyss.
international response to the situation in Syria has differed from the reaction
to revolutions in other Arab countries. There was clear hesitation and confusion
in the West, where some leaders described Assad as a reformer, some as a friend,
and still others remained silent until eventually there were calls for Assad to
The Syrian case was raised at UN Security Council and was
vetoed by Russia and China. They anticipated a repeat of the process that lead
to the overthrowing of the regime in Libya, however Russia’s support for Syria
is part of its strategy to maintain its own international position.
approaches took into consideration the Syrian- Iranian alliance, and the
relationship with Hezbollah and the Palestinian movements, in addition to the
regime’s ability to create crisis and unrest in the Middle East.
the Gulf States, in cooperation with Turkey, promoted the idea of creating a
transitional council similar to the one that was formed in Libya.
welcomed the opposition conferences that lead to the formation of the Syrian
National Council, which was dominated behind the scenes by the Muslim
Brotherhood and supported by the Justice and Development Party –
Turkey misses its Ottoman role and is inspired to play a prominent
role in dealing with this crisis, having been given the green light by US and
Europe. Ankara wants to keep the opposition in its sights to bargain with
whether the regime stays or falls, and to impose its strategic agenda to protect
its interests in the region. It wants to avoid both a repeat of the mistakes
made during the US-British invasion of Iraq and the emergence of a
semi-independent Kurdish state like the one currently in place in northern
Later on the Turks became very aware of the difficulties of holding
this card in the face of the emergence of a Syrian opposition that rejects
foreign military intervention. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows
that Turkish military intervention under any pretext will later transfer the
crisis to the core of Turkey. The continuing existence of the unresolved Kurdish
issue and Turkey’s war against the PKK highlights the seriousness of any such a
In addition, any military intervention would affect the Turkish
Alawite minority, who are supporters of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and
Turkey fears the spread of sectarian strife, as is indicated in the city of
Homs. There is also the threat of Iran.
Syrians did not just take to the
streets for freedom and dignity. They are calling for a democratic system that
respects human rights. Assad has not stepped down, nor has the bloodshed
stopped. Everyone in Syria is now a hostage to events, and what lies on the
horizon will be dependent on finding a solution that meets international
interests, but this will be at the expense of the freedom of the
The writer is a Syrian citizen.
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