Syria: the popular Intifada!

Article written  by Khalil Habash

Are we witnessing nowadays an attempt from foreign imperialist forces to destabilize Syria through organized demonstrations because of its pro resistant stand in relation to Israel? Is Syria not a stronghold for anti imperialist forces in their struggle against the Zionist State?

Syria has been able to portray itself as an anti imperialist state by its support to the resistance in Lebanon and in Palestine for many years now, and has taken very strong rhetorical positions in opposition to Israel. This anti imperialist stand has allowed the regime to enjoy a capital of sympathy among the population in Syria and the Arab world.

But this position is not based on anti imperialist principles, but on conjectural national interests. These are guided by the necessity to ensure the security and continuity of the regime, as well as to ensure a balance of power in diplomatic negotiations with the State of Israel to recover the Golan area seized by Israel in 1967.
President Obama condemned the violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government today the past few weeks, but he also condemned any use of violence by protesters. The US administration has actually been quite silent on the Syrian issue, while Hilary Clinton on her side called Bachar al Assad a reformer, adding that it was a feeling shared by both parties in Congress. She ended by declaring that the US won’t enter into the internal conflict in Syria the way it has in Libya.

Many in US administration fear a regime change in Syria which would modify the current status quo between Syria and Israel. Syria has actually avoided direct confrontation with Israel for nearly four decades, despite its support to Palestinians and Lebanese resistance groups. With the exception of some air battles in 1982, Israel and Syria have not gone to war since 1973.

Syria has not responded to direct attacks on its soil widely attributed to Israel, including a 2007 airstrike on a suspected nuclear reactor or the assassination of a top Lebanese resistant Imad Moghniye, the following year. It also has engaged in multiple rounds of peace talks, most recently in 2008. Although these talks have not yielded an agreement, their repeated failure has led to nothing worse than continued chill. Israeli experts say that instability or regime change in Syria could change this long-standing arrangement, and even tempt Damascus to deflect attention from its internal problems by heating up the Israeli front.

The Syrian regime intervened in the past against progressive and revolutionary groups which had democratic and pro resistance positions such as during the Lebanese civil war in 1976 against Palestinian and progressive leftist forces to repress them and put an end to their revolution.
We should also recall the absence and also the interdiction by the regime of any kind of armed resistance from Syria to free the occupied Golan.

Syria so called anti imperialist credentials is also challenged by its neo liberal policies which have created a country with more social injustices and increased in wealth gap. The average living standard of the majority of people has decreased; the rich have become wealthier, while the middle and the poor suffered from these neo liberal policies and inflation. The reasons behind the increases in prices were notably due to speculative real estate boom and the partial removal of common government subsidies. No creative solutions have yet been found to answer the issue of unemployment rise, up to 25%. In addition to this, a new labor act in Syria has been adopted in April 2010 and is clearly favoring employers against employee.

The new “social market economy” decided by the regime in 2005 created new monopolies in the hands of relatives of Bashar al Assad by the privatization of numbers of companies, while  the quality of goods and services declined. These neo liberal economic reforms allowed the appropriation of economic power for the benefit of the rich and powerful. Wealth gaps and inequality have continuously increased these last few years.
We are therefore not witnessing a foreign organized plot against a fake anti imperialist state whose officials have repeatedly declared their readiness to sign a peace agreement with Israel as soon as the occupation of the Golan would end, while nothing was said on the Palestinian issue.

This is why this popular uprising reclaiming its democratic and social rights, while opposing any foreign intervention in the affairs of Syria. All so called opponent to the regime calling for foreign intervention is actually weakening the protest movement inside.
In addition to this, a successful democratic revolution in Syria would radicalize the country’s foreign policy against Israel. It would raise the possibility of ending deals that are at the expense of the Palestinians and the resistance to Israel.

On Friday 8th of April, Syrian protesters have shown again their disbelief in the Syrian regime and it’s so called move towards reform from above. Protests erupted across the country in several cities. Gunfire was also heard in Harasta, a suburb of the capital, Damascus. In the east, thousands of protesters, including Kurds who also demonstrated despite the Syrian president’s offer this week to ease rules which bar many Kurds from citizenship.

Syrian security forces have killed at least 27 demonstrators in the southern city of Daraa, amid fresh protests against the rule of Bashar al-Assad, while human rights group stated around 37 protesters were killed across the country on Friday alone. Security forces also prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded, and shot at protesters who tried to help. The announcement of the deaths of protesters radicalized the movement of protest throughout the country, noticeable by the slogans which progressively changed during the days from demands for freedom to the people wants to overthrow the regime. Amnesty International has reported 171 deaths since the beginning of the protests.

Fayez Sara, a well known Syrian writer and journalist, was detained at his home on Monday, while several other activists had been picked up in the past few days. The Syrian regime has expelled dozens of journalists from the country. Also on Tuesday, Ghiyath Oyun al-Sood, secretary-general of the Democratic People’s Party (a banned communist party), was arrested.
In another development, about 600 Kurds held a one-hour long peaceful protest demonstration in the village of Ain Arab in the northern part of Syria.

During the weekend clashes continued between protesters and security forces or thugs from the regime in different towns such as in the town of Banias, which is on strike now, where several people were killed and the army has been deployed around and in the city. On Tuesday 11th of April, the Syrian security forces attacked the villages of al-Bayda and Beit Janed close to Banias, targeting especially young men and activists. According to different sources, several soldiers were shot dead by security forces or officers after refusing to open fire in demonstrators in Banias.

A student demonstration also happened today Monday 11th of April in Damascus University of Sciences. The demonstration turned violent when security forces beat up and arrested several protesters who were shouting for freedom and unity.

These events follow last week killing of 8 protesters in a crackdown by Syrian security forces in the town of Douma, a suburb north of Damascus. Thousands of protesters poured into the streets for the massive funeral.
In the cities of Deraa and Douma, in addition to daily demonstrations, a general strike was launched last week. Different cities have also witnessed daily demonstrations gathering hundreds to thousands of demonstrators. Last Wednesday, the security forces prevented a peaceful march with candlelight’s in the city of Jaramana near Damascus.

A video was also released last week of a lawmaker from the region of Deraa, called Youssef Abou Roumiyé, issuing in parliament a scathing indictment against security forces, accusing them of opening fire without mercy and criticizing the head of state for not offering his condolences. He also accused the security forces to prevent injured protesters to be transported to hospitals. This video dated from the 27th of March, before the speech of the President.

Protesters have actually continued demonstrating for more than two weeks despite Bashar Al Assad speech on 30th of March in Parliament. The Friday following the President speech tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated across Syria in various cities. More than 80 activists and hundreds of protesters were arrested since last weekend. Following this, the protesters launched a week of action which included a boycott of cell phone companies on Wednesday because the telecommunication company Syriatel Telecom, which belongs to the cousin of Bashar Al Assad multimillionaire Rami Makhlouf, announced it would grant sixty minutes of conversation free of charge. In addition to this it called for a rally against the ruling Baath party on Thursday outside its Damascus headquarters, and countrywide demonstrations on Friday.

The speech of President Bachar Al Assad and the different actions taken by the regime has not appeased the will and the determination of the protesters. President Bachar Al Assad addressed the parliament on Wednesday 30th of March after he dismissed the government on Tuesday. In front the deputies of the Parliament; he blamed foreign conspirators to plot against the “Nation” for the past weeks of protests, while only  making a short reference to the protesters’ calls for change, acknowledging that reforms have been delayed since 2005 mainly because of regional developments. He declared to be in favor of reforms without offering any specifics or details.

The Syrian President also announced the creation of investigative committees to look into the deaths of protesters, including the 1962 census in east Syria, which resulted in around 300 000 Kurds being denied nationality.
The president issued a decree on Thursday 7th of Aril, following meetings with Kurdish representatives the week before, granting to persons registered as foreigners in the governorate of Hassake Syrian Arab citizenship, while 48 prisoners, mainly Kurds, were also released. These decisions were made to appease to Kurdish population feelings especially. The different representatives of Kurdish opposition political parties have nevertheless said they would continue to mobilize and protest to achieve their political, civic and cultural rights
Another committee has also been set up to look into what it would take to lift emergency law in place since a coup which brought the Baath Party to power in 1963. A new law is expected to be discussed in parliament beginning of May.  

On Sunday 3rd of April, Assad issued a decree on Sunday appointing Adel Safar, former agricultural minister in the previous administration, to form a new cabinet. Adel Safar is a Ba’ath party member, who was a Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture of Damascus University from 1997 to 2000 before becoming minister in 2003. The appointment of the new Prime Minister was not welcomed in any way as a gesture of opening by the protesters.

On Monday 4th of April, Bashar al-Assad appointed a new governor to the southern town of Daraa, Mohammad Khaled al-Hannus, the town where the protest movement began initially few weeks ago and around hundreds of protesters were killed in clashes with security forces. The former governor was accused of postponing the acquisition of property rights and preventing farmers from drilling water wells for irrigation, in addition to his responsibility in the killings of protesters. Mohammad Khaled al-Hannus, the new governor and former military officer, is nevertheless already criticized and rejected by the people of Deraa for his implication in the massacre of Hama in 1982, as well as his involvement in corruption practices notably the smuggling of tobacco and other products with the border of Jordan.

According to different sources, the authorities have started distributing financial compensation of 21,000 dollars to the families of each martyr killed during the uprising. Some agreed to receive the compensation, but most have refused.

The governor of Homs was also fired by the President following unrests in the town these past few weeks. Security forces were still sent last weekend to put an end to the continued uprising in the region of Homs.
The government also released a week ago about seventy prisoners including the famous activist Ms. Suheir Atassi. This later was arrested, with 40 other activists, in a silent protest on the 16th of March demanding the release of political prisoners, including lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, writer Ali Abdallah and the 15 children arrested in the city of Deraa for writing slogans inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions.

On Wednesday 6th of April, the regime closed the country’s only casino and scrapped a ruling that banned teachers from wearing the niqab in a clear attempt to reach out to conservative’s forces.  The regime banned the niqab from the classroom in July 2010, forcing hundreds of women from teaching roles into administrative positions. The regime has also met with a number of religious dignitaries from different towns to try to appease the protest movement.

There is also a campaign of so called dialogue launched by the regime and official governmental Medias to invite independent and opponent intellectuals for debates and negotiation with regime members. It is an attempt to try to co-opt the forces of opposition and neutralize others through secret negotiations and so called debate to break the spirit of the uprising and its continuity. The governmental newspaper Teshreen, called two prominent writers, Fayez Sara and Louaï Hussein, former prisoners of conscience who have accepted this initiative to organize a dialogue on political reforms. The daily official newspaper al-Baath has published an article on the emergency law from Haitham Maleh, a fierce defender of human rights and long-time opponent, released from prison just a month ago. Various official television channels have for several days give the voice to citizens of different regions to express their demands, mainly debating on social issues.

Most of the intellectuals and opponent political parties have been quasi nonexistent in the participation of the protest movement since the beginning of uprising, as well as in their support for the protesters.   
The only action undertaken by intellectuals and some opponent figures were to organize on Tuesday 5th of April to put a rose in a specific square or area of each city for the lives of all the martyrs who died for freedom and have a minute of silent but without any prolonged gathering.
Besides few of these intellectuals and opposition figures issued a declaration, which was not well welcome by some protesters, a week ago denouncing sectarianism and committing to non-violent democratic change in the wake of disturbances in the port city of Latakia. This kind of declaration actually enters the discourse of the regime and not serves the interests of the protesters who are struggling against a dictatorship and a repressive regime. They are the victims of the violence of the regime and not the opposite.

The regime is using the sectarian divide to present itself as the tolerant and respectable “secular regime”. They created for example clashes, notably in Lattakie, through the hand of secret services in some particular neighborhoods, where on religious sect is predominant, and then accuse some other groups or sects to have sectarian actions.    
The protesters have not been appeased by these symbolic decisions, while no serious reforms have been implemented and no clear date have been set up for the lift of the state of emergency, which as been ongoing since 1963 and repression continues. These actions are an attempt to cover up and hide the measures undertaken by the authoritarian Syrian regime.

Syrian protesters have been more and more organizing themselves since the beginning of the movement of protests despite the difficulties of coordination and the repression of the regime. Slogans are being more developed and now the dominant one is becoming “the people want to overthrow the regime”. The opposition has also put forward more and more it’s national and none sectarian credentials against the sectarian threat of a civil war manufactured by the regime in order to scare the people and to present this false option of me or the chaos. Slogans such as we are all Syrians we stand united are being repeated constantly in the demonstrations and various networks such as Facebook or Twitter. In Deraa a placard was put at the entry of the Mosque saying “No to Sectarianism we are all Syrians”. In demonstrations on Friday 8th of April, in the northeastern city of Qamishli, Kurdish youths chanted: “No Kurd, no Arab, and Syrian people are one. We salute the martyrs of Daraa.” In addition, the most prominent chant raised in the Rifai Mosque in Damascus on April 1 and in the demonstration in Damascus University on Monday was “One, one, one, the Syrian people are one!”

Demonstrations are also organized sometimes on a “spontaneous” way by small youth groups in the nights or early in the morning in different cities. They contact and organize themselves with different networks such facebook, skype or telephone whenever they can and gather.

Demands of the protesters have also been better formulated and developed, and now go beyond the simple slogan of Freedom. They asked for example the release of all political prisoners, the lift of the state of emergency, the end of the secret service influence, as well as a multiparty democratic system. In the demands, we can also found the tackling of socio economic injustice by asking an accurate and transparent plan to eliminate poverty and unemployment in Syria. It was no accident that protesters in the cities of Dara’a and Latakia went after the property of the corrupted President Bashar al-Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, a businessman who controls the country’s cell phone network and, more than anyone else, represents the intertwining of power and wealth in Syria. Makhlouf’s riches are endemic of the corruption within Syria’s ruling elite, a growing point of frustration for many in the country. His connections earned him lucrative deals for oil exploration and power plants, and give him virtual veto power over foreign firms seeking to do business in Syria.

The protesters will nevertheless have to expand the protest movement and reach further stratas of the society to achieve a critical mass. The bourgeoisie and the residents of Damascus and Aleppo, who many of them had been involved in the insurgency 30 years ago, has not yet joined the protest movement. The merchant’s class has considerably enriched themselves thanks to the recent economic liberalization. Damascus has witnessed only small demonstrations, while Aleppo has actually until now not experienced one single demonstration, except few gatherings.

The protest movement also needs to continue and put forward its demands in order to break President Bachar al Assad so called reformist credentials.  Bashar al Assad has successfully managed to present himself to the population as a reformer thwarted by the conservative faction within his family and the Baath Party.
In addition to this, the demonstrations in support of Bashar al-Assad on March 29, were of course present those who support the president or who belong to the Baath Party but also in large numbers, those who were grateful to the President to be the guarantor of stability. The Iraqi or Lebanese scenarios of civil war are still in the minds of the Syrian people who fear this kind of outcome and therefore favor stability. This prevents more people going in the streets to demand change, in addition to the fear of the violence of the security forces.

The protesters have to address all these elements in order to expand their movement.

In conclusion, the Syrian people have not been appeased by the symbolic measures of Bachar Al Assad, which do not in any way meet the demands of the protesters. The protesters are demanding for real change! They are demonstrating courageously on a daily manner against an authoritarian and repressive regime. This is a popular uprising, a popular Intafada! Protesters are reclaiming their democratic and social rights, and they want to make the revolution permanent until they achieve them.
Therefore let’s use the sentence of the Committee for supporting the Syrian intifada:
“Long live the permanent popular uprising of the Syrian masses
We are all Syrians and we all want bread and freedom

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