1. What’s going on in Syria?
Since March 2011 and inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, millions of Syrians have taken to the streets to peacefully demand the end of the Assad family’s 40-year brutal regime and a transition to democracy.
2. What was the trigger for the protests?
The protests were triggered by the torture of children who, inspired by revolutions in Tunisia & Egypt, sprayed anti-regime graffiti in the southern Syrian city of Daraa. What began as provincial grievances against corruption, nepotism, and human rights abuses has now reached a tipping point, with large segments of the Syrian population supporting the fall of the Assad regime – there are major protests in every city, every day.
3. How has the Assad regime responded?
The Assad regime’s response to the peaceful, pro-democracy demands has been a full-scale military operation against unarmed civilians. As of early January 2012:
4. What are the Syrian people demanding?
The people are demanding the fall of the Assad regime; not just Bashar.
They have rejected the regime's disingenuous announcements of so-called reforms and calls for dialogue with the regime. In Syrians’ opinion, the regime has lost credibility and any opportunity to deliver substantive, meaningful reforms.
For the first 6 months of the revolution, the protest movement held three key pillars:
Now however, due to the sheer brutality of the regime, there is widespread recognition that the combination of civil resistance, development of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and international pressure is the model to lead to the regime’s collapse.
The Syrian protests continue to be largely peaceful, as demonstrated by the creative civil disobedience demonstrations that have occurred throughout the country.
5. Has the protests and revolution lost steam?
On the contrary. The Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCC), which coordinates protests on the ground, has documented a steady increase in the number of demonstration points across the country.
Resentment and hatred for the regime has not subsided, instead, is fueling protestors even more. Much of this is due to:
- The rising death toll of Syrians by the hands of the regime
- Increasing number of detentions by the government
- Collective punishment of certain towns and cities where the regime has cut off electricity, water, and lines of communication
While rural areas have maintained a very high profile in demonstrations, the capital Damascus and 2nd largest city Aleppo are also becoming centers of resistance to the regime.
6. But wasn’t Bashar elected by the people?
Assad “inherited” Syria in July 2000 after the death of his father Hafez Al-Assad, who ruled Syria as a police state for 30 years. At the age of 34, Bashar al-Assad, an ophthalmologist who studied in England, was thrust into power through the regime’s nomination. His election was rubberstamped by a referendum vote of over 97% (according to government statistics), but he was the only candidate on the ballot.
Interestingly, the Syrian constitution’s age requirement for President was changed within hours, from 40 to 34, to allow this nomination. Does this sound like Bashar al-Assad was freely elected?
7. But why doesn’t Bashar stop the killing or step down?
It is a mistake to separate Bashar Al-Assad from the rest of the regime. He is purely the symbol/ figurehead of a close-knit family mafia that runs the country.
They cannot simply step down, as the family mafia is inextricably intertwined with all elements of Syrian political and economic power.
These are some of the inner circle individuals responsible for the brutal repression:
- Maher Al-Assad – Bashar’s brother and commander of the armed forces, specifically republican guard and 4th armored brigade
- Rami Makhlouf – Bashar’s cousin, and the regime fianancier. They call him “Mr. 10%” as he take a cut out of every industry/ business deal in the country
- Anisa Makhlouf – Bashar’s mother, and key advisor. She has been firm in advising Bashar to crush the revolution, in the same manner as his father Hafez did
- Assef Shawkat – Married to Bashar’s sister, Bushra, deputy chief-of-staff of the armed forces
- Abdulfattah Qudsiyeh – head of military intelligence and responsible for loyalty of the armed forces
- Jamil Hassan – head of Air force intelligence, one of the key security forces carrying out the brutality
- Ali Mamlouk – head of General Security
- Rustum Ghazali – head of military intelligence (Dimashq)
- Dhu AL-Himma Shalish – cousin of Bashar and head of security
- Muhammad Nasif Kheirbek - Deputy vice-president for security affair sand a close Assad confidante
Decisions are made as a group and these individuals are the tip of the iceberg of those who are responsible for the brutality in Syria.
8. But doesn't Bashar al-Assad need time to reform the country?
This regime had 11 years to deliver reforms, yet provided only cosmetic reforms until demonstrations started in March 2011. In fact, even the little relaxation of the police state that occurred after Bashar al-Assad’s “inheritance” of the throne (in a republic) was followed by serious repression, imprisonment, and torture of peaceful activists (the Damascus Spring).
The regime is a de facto continuation of the one Bashar al-Assad inherited from his father, Hafez Al-Assad. While the president himself changed, the inner circle and the “mafia” running the nation has not.
Even putting 11 years aside, Assad could have complied with the requirements he signed up for in the December 2011 Arab League Protocol. In that protocol, Assad committed to withdrawing troops and military equipment from cities, putting an end to the killing, releasing all political prisoners, and allowing foreign media immediate access to Syria. Assad has failed to compy with a single requirement.
9. Didn’t Bashar improve the nation?
Actually, he did not. The gap between rich and poor has grown exponentially in Syria over the past 10 years. By opening Syria’s protected economy to the world market, and by favoring certain members of the regime elite to engage in business deals, Bashar al-Assad has enabled the wealthy to become wealthier, while the poor have become poorer.
The president’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, is but one example of a business tycoon who monopolized Syrian industries – most famously the cell phone industry – and who charges a 10% tax on nearly every major business contract in Syria. As such, Rami Makhlouf has earned the nickname “Mr. 10 Percent.”
Relative to its neighbors, stability has not been a problem in Syria over the past 40 years as it has been at the expense of personal freedoms. The GDP in Syria is still one of the lowest in the region and three-fourths of Syrians live on less than $70 / month. The unemployment rate is as high as 20 % (exact figures are not provided by the government).
Furthermore, much of Syria’s national resources, such as oil and natural gas, go directly into the presidential budget, and are unaccounted for in the national budget.
10. But didn't Bashar announce reforms to address protesters’ demands?
Bashar’s announcements have been purely symbolic and designed to appease the masses. The so-called reforms have not led to any tangible or meaningful change in the Syrian society.
For example, in April 2011, the decades-old Emergency Law was repealed as an empty concession to the ongoing protests. This law was never the problem in itself; rather, the problem is that the regime is above the law. The invasiveness of the security forces into every aspect of life, with or without emergency laws, has only fueled the problem.
Bashar even “decreed” in August 2011 a multi-party system. This is also a farce: How can a multi-party system exist when Article 8 in the Syrian Constitution guarantees the Ba’ath Party as “protectors of the nation”?
In October 2011, 6 months after his advisor Buthaina Shaaban announced a constitutional reform committee would be established, Bashar decreed the formation of a 29-member committee to revise the constitution by February 2012. The committee, headed by former Justice Minister Mazhar al-Anbari, looks to be a continued delay tactic to keep the obsolete document in place.
With every announcement that Bashar makes, we see his so-called “reform” in action as protesters are shot in the streets for calling for change.
Ironically, since the establishment of the constitutional reform committee, the daily death toll, at the hands of the regime’s military and paramilitary forces, has risen dramatically.
11. Will the regime fall?
Absolutely – Syria has reached a tipping point, with large segments of the Syrian population supporting the fall of the Assad regime – there are major protests in every city, every day.
The regime will fall – it is just a matter of when, and how many more people will be killed in the process.
regime has so much blood on its hands that it is past the point of
return – almost every family in Syria has had a family member killed,
tortured, or detained.
It is personal for people.
12. Why will the regime fall?
The brutality we have seen has only strengthened the resolve of the Syrian masses – with every Syrian who is tortured, detained, or murdered, more people who may have been “on the fence” realize that the regime has lost legitimacy, and is no longer in a sustainable position.
Also, the momentum of the Arab streets is substantial – after witnessing the fall of dictators such as Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gaddhafi, the Syrian people understand that this may be their only chance for a better life.
13. How will the regime fall?
Many scenarios are plausible, with a combination of the following resulting in a situation where the regime can no longer survive:
Please note, most Syrians living in Syria, as well as their expatriate counterparts, have been opposed to foreign military intervention, however due to the barbaric brutality unleashed by the regime of the Syrian people, there is a desire for the international community to play a stronger role in protecting Syrian civilians.
14. But wait, aren’t there many Syrians who are pro-regime? We saw the protests!
While there is a diverse set of opinions in Syria, the pro-regime rallies (aka the “minhibak” or “we love you” rallies) have been orchestrated directly by the regime.
- They almost always take place on workdays so that government workers and students can be pressured to attend. For government workers, it’s a day out of the office; for students it’s an opportunity to get out of class. Often, these rallies are compulsory, where government workers and students are not permitted to miss them
- They are always choreographed with flags and celebrities, despite being publicized as spontaneous
- Finally, there are no attacks on “mnhibik” rallies from the so-called Salafists, infiltrators, armed gangs, or foreign agents accused of being behind the protest movement – if there were, how many would still protest?
While there are pro-regime elements within Syrian society, the numbers are rapidly dwindling as Assad proves that he and his regime are the main causes of instability in the country. In addition, key constituencies, once strongholds of support, have witnessed the regime’s brutality first-hand.
Now, the overwhelming majority of Syrians have made their voices clear. They have demanded an alternative to the ruling regime. The Syrian people have spoken.
15. Why aren’t Damascus and Aleppo (Halab) protesting?
They are! The regime focuses a lot of energy to perpetuate this claim. It is important to note, that both Damascus & Aleppo are centers of government & the security apparatus and therefore civil resistance takes on different forms than it does in other parts of Syria – sometimes smaller ‘flash protests’ or even creative public displays of defiance (like placing red dye in city fountains) .
In Damascus the neighborhoods of Midan, Barzeh, Rukn-Din, Kafar Souseh, and Douma have been hotspots for the revolution and the people of this neighborhood have paid a heavy price. The suburbs of Qabun, Harasta and nearby towns of Daraya, Madaya, and Zabadani have witnessed almost daily protests and adherence to the Strike for Dignity.
To further rebut the regime claims that Damascus isn’t pro-revolution, ‘flash’ protests are conducted in ritzy areas like Abu Roumana and Shaalan, where people rally for a few minutes and disperse before the secret service arrives.
On February huge protests, estimated in the tens of thousands took place in the central Damascus neighborhood of Mezze.
In Aleppo, evening demonstrations occur daily in suburbs like Al-bab & Tal Refaat. Within Aleppo, protests occur regularly in areas like Marea, Sakhour, and Aleppo University.
This is especially important, as the regime has invested heavily into Aleppo to ensure loyalty, especially Aleppo’s merchant class over the last decade as trade with Turkey has grown, and as a counter to the traditional merchant power base in Damascus.
16. Why are some Syrians still supporting the regime?
There is undoubtedly a sizable proportion of the Syrian population that still supports the regime. The reason being is usually one of the following:
- Financial and/ or political interest & collusion
- Fear of repercussions if they were to oppose the regime
- Fear of the unknown and unstable future
For over four decades, this regime has been able to silence public opinion and create a culture of fear and deterrence that is only recently starting to disappear.
17. Why is the Syrian ‘business’ community pro-regime?
The “business community” in Syria is not entirely pro-regime and has been divided since the start of the revolution.
Those still supporting the regime see their fate as tied to preservation of the status quo – many who are benefiting from the unfair economic system created by this regime feel reluctant to relinquish this privilege, and fear that a system based on fair trade and competition may undermine their current financial position.
Additionally, it is important to note that many government officials are also involved in big-business making regime loyalists and the business community one and the same.
Additionally, for many Syrians to survive economically, they were required to submit to corruption and extortion. Those who have benefited and grown wealthy from the regime’s “business practices” are reluctant to see their fortunes disappear. But interestingly, the “business elites” in Syria, in increasing number, are turning away from the Assad regime and supporting the revolution.
It is afterall the business community who are:
- Funding underground clinics serving wounded protestors
- Funding medical and humanitarian supply-chains to areas in need
- Adhering to the ‘Strike for Dignity’ in major cities and towns across Syria
18. Why is Syrian clergy pro-regime?
The Syrian clergy (such as Sunni Sheik Al-Bouti) have been handpicked by the ruling Baath party as well as by the secret services, and any imam or priest who had ever questions the status quo is severely punished.
The religious establishments, just like any other public service that are run in the centralized state, have been used as propaganda tools to disseminate regime ideology.
It is interesting that the so-called ‘secular’ Assad regime, has utilized religious leaders (across all sects) to solidify control over the people of Syria.
19. Why are minorities still supporting the regime?
This is a big misconception. Those opposed to the regime represent all sects and walks of life.
The regime has perpetuated this myth to drive a wedge across Syrian society and distract communities from seeing their true enemy – the Assad family and regime.
The regime has also perpetuated the myth that the opposition is comprised of “Islamic Fundamentalists”:
- To play on the fears of sectarian strife, which run deep in the minds of many Syrians, given the history of brutal minority rule and the civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq
- To scare religious minority groups (e.g., Christians and Druze) into continued submission
- To prey on Western fears of Islamic 'fundamentalist' penetration
With that said, the majority of Syrian Alawis do not benefit from the current regime, and certain prominent Alawi thinkers and writers have expressed their support to the Syrian revolution.
Christians as well have been taking part in the revolution since day one, and are well represented in Syria’s political opposition both within and outside the country.
Ethnic minorities such as Kurds have long been mistreated by the regime, and it is only after the beginning of the revolution that the regime decided to provide some Kurds with long-awaited citizenship, which they rejected for the most part.
The Kurdish community has also risen up against Assad, particularly after the assassination of their SNC representative Mashaal Tammo in October 2011.
20. Who makes up the Syrian opposition?
For more than 40 years, being vocally opposed to the Syrian regime has not been an option. Naturally, this has led to a political vacuum in Syria, which is now being filled by:
Politically, the opposition is also extremely diverse. The Syrian National Council (SNC) – an umbrella organization that encompasses many opposition blocs was formed in August 2011 as a means to coordinate across all anti-regime efforts. They include:
21. Why isn't the opposition united?
Much was made at the outset of the revolution of the lack of an organized and united opposition, whether within Syria or abroad. This was the result of successful regime policy: over the past 40 years, through massacres, human rights violations, the culture of fear, sectarian divisions, and military and political impotency, virtually no institutions that could have been used as a means of opposing the regime have been left intact.
With this reality, this explains why at the outset of the uprising, the organized opposition inside Syria was weak, and externally not very cohesive.
However, despite the systematic assault on activists and community leaders across Syria (estimates are that one activist disappears every hour), the opposition and decentralized protest movement is continuing to mature into a well-connected network of organizers, activists, and community leaders.
On August 23 2011, in Istanbul Turkey, after months of coordination, The Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella group of opposition networks, was announced with the aims of representing the political aspirations of the revolution.
The SNC includes representation across Syria’s diverse society, both inside (incl. the Local Coordinating Committees) & outside Syria and announced in December it coordination with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
22. Who is the Syrian National Council (SNC)?
The Syrian National Council (SNC) is an umbrella organization that encompasses many opposition blocs. Formed in August 2011 in Turkey, as a means to coordinate across all anti-regime efforts. They include:
They aim to “represent the Syrian Revolution politically; embody its aspirations in toppling the regime; achieve democratic change; and build a modern, democratic, and civil state.”
23. Who is the Free Syrian Army (FSA)?
The Free Syrian Army is a network of defectors who have become the militarized wing of the Syrian opposition.
Initially started by Syrian soldiers who refused regime orders to fire on anti-Assad protestors, their aim is to support civilian demands to overthrow the Assad regime.
The FSA currently estimates its force in the tens of thousands, with daily confirmed defections and is in coordination with the SNC.
24. Is the opposition cozying up to anti-Arab, anti-Syrian elements in the West?
The Syrian opposition is very diverse. As with any fragmented network, many opportunists have jumped on board without keeping in mind the best interests of the revolution.
It is critical to note that the Syrian people will not accept an externally-fabricated opposition that does not reflect the aspirations of the Syrian people. A classic example is Farid Ghadry (the Syrian Chalabi), based in Washington, DC who has previously appeared before Israel's Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to address interests in Syria. He has been summarily rejected within opposition circles.
In addition, the Syrian people will not accept former agents of the regime, who have now switched sides. Perfect examples of this are Abdul Halim Khaddam and Rifaat al-Assad, who had at some point been as brutal to the Syrian people as the regime itself.
There are also examples of human rights advocates speaking at Zionist organizations. While it is impossible to monitor every individual statement, these people do not represent the movement itself, and the general consensus is that Syrians oppose these sort of engagements.
25. Is the opposition serving a foreign agenda?
The opposition started from within Syria for political, humanitarian, and socio-economic reasons, and will remain centered in Syria. Syrian expatriates are providing as much financial, political, and moral support as possible to the internal movement; however, the revolution remains grounded in serving one priority: the average Syrian citizen’s agenda.
Currently, regional and international influences (from the US, Europe, Turkey, the Gulf, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Russia and China) are all trying to sway the outcome of the revolution in Syria – some for the preservation of the Assad regime, some for the downfall – with this said, the Syrian people, demanding self-determination from 40 years of mafia rule are caught in the middle of competing elements.
26. Does the opposition have a plan for “What’s Next”?
Rebuilding the nation after 40 years of systematic destruction of all civil society in Syria is no easy task. There is a lot of work to be done; the goal is to implement a practical foundation behind which Syrians of all backgrounds can rally.
The SNC for example has communicated its high-level framework a democratic society grounded in pluralism and the protection of the human rights of all. More robust plans are in development through the collaboration between the SNC, LCCs and activists across Syria who are all planning for the “day after”.
27. But who will lead Syria if the regime falls?
Many have raised the concern that no key personalities are known entities – while this is true, the future stability of Syria will no longer need to depend on the ‘cult of personality’ that has been dominant over the last 40 years of Assad family rule.
There are thousands of activists and community leaders who are willing to unite and lead their nation forward.
Despite the systematic assault on activists and community leaders across Syria (estimates are that one activist disappears every hour), the opposition and decentralized protest movement is maturing into a well-connected network of organizers, activists, and community leaders. All are preparing for the inevitable collapse of the Assad regime by electing local representatives and connecting them nationally and internationally, and formalizing political platforms.
28. But the regime says these people are foreign infiltrators?
In a country that has been ruled as a police-state for 40 years, it is ludicrous to presume that foreign infiltrators would be able to spring up overnight and continue to have a presence in Syria for months on end without any tangible proof of their existence.
The only evidence of foreign infiltrators has been that of Hezbollah and Iranian snipers and guards, who have assassinated peaceful demonstrators and trained regime security forces to continue their brutality against a peaceful civilian population.
It is also important to note, that Russia’s only Mediterranean navy base is in the Syrian port city of Tartous, and as ‘foreigners’ have a military presence in Syria.
29. Isn’t Bashar providing security & defending Syria against violence by “armed gangs”?
In a nation that has been ruled as a police-state for more than 40 years, it is absurd to presume that armed gangs have suddenly appeared in every town, village, and city across the country.
The only evidence of armed gangs has been that of pro-regime “Shabiha” (the regime’s armed thugs and death squads) who have brutalized the population at the orders of the regime.
30. But the regime says these protests are religious fanatics, Salafists?
It is clear that the protest movement represents every corner of Syria – from Lattakia on the coast, to Deir Ezzor near the Iraqi border, to Damascus. To claim that these millions are religious fanatics is not only ludicrous, but also a gross distortion of reality.
For one, there is no organized religious opposition in Syria, as it was effectively wiped out by Hafez Al-Assad in the 1980s.
In addition, one of the main chants throughout Syria has been “Alshaab Alsoory wahid” or “The Syrian people are one!” – that doesn’t sound like fanaticism, does it?
The regime has tried to play this card for a few reasons:
31. Who says the protestors are peaceful?
While a small number of protesters may have resorted to violence the vast majority is overwhelmingly peaceful utilizing tactics of civil disobedience and civil resistance. In cases of violence, it is mostly in response to security force / Shabiha attacks, but even then, they are a small minority of those involved in the uprising.
The few of those who have resorted to violence have largely used Molotov cocktails, stones, and hunting rifles, which are no match for the full military power of Syrian forces, including tanks and helicopter gunships.
Army defectors have repeatedly confirmed that they were ordered to fire on unarmed protesters. These unarmed protestors are the ‘terrorists’ & ‘armed gangs’ the regime refers to.
In addition to the overwhelmingly unarmed protestors, since the fall, Army defectors have created the Free Syrian Army as a means to defend protestors and deflect attacks on civilians. Many believe the FSA will have a more prominent role in accelerating the fall of the Assad regime.
32. Who is killing the brave Syrian soldiers?
There are very few documented accounts of Syrian security personnel being killed by protestors; however, there are numerous eyewitness reports from military defectors recounting situations in which soldiers who defected or refused to take up arms were shot by officers or fellow soldiers.
Since the fall, Army defectors have created the Free Syrian Army as a means to defend protestors and deflect attacks on civilians. Many believe the FSA will have a more prominent role in accelerating the fall of the Assad regime.
33. But the regime says the revolution will benefit Syria’s “enemies”?
This regime is the enemy of Syria, and for decades has compromised the national ideals and aspirations of the Syrian people.
For example, more bullets have been fired at Syrian protesters on any single day since the uprising began than on the Golan front over the past 40 years.
The Assad regime has gladly collaborated with the US to support the War on Terror. Even Rami Makhlouf, Bashar al-Assad’s cousin, recently stated, “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.”
It is time for the Syrian people to control their own destiny by building a strong nation that protects the nation, not the interests of the regime.
34. But isn’t this fabricated by the media? This is all blown out of proportion!
With very little access by international press (as it has been restricted by the regime to enter the country) the people have become citizen-journalists documenting the atrocities, protests, and funerals across the nation.
Pro-regime Syrians often point to Syrian state TV (SANA and Dunia) as credible sources to marginalize the revolution. This is laughable as state TV has never been seen as credible, nor independent by the Syrian people as is purely a propaganda outlet for the regime.
If the international coverage is blown out of proportion and all footage is skewed, one must ask, why is the regime not allowing foreign press into the country?
35. But won’t the revolution destroy the economy?
The Syrian economy has been at a standstill; however, the nation’s economy has been manipulated for the personal benefit of the regime, specifically, the Assad family for generations.
The gap between rich and poor has grown exponentially in Syria over the past 10 years. By opening Syria’s protected economy to the world market, and by favoring certain members of the regime elite to engage in business deals, Bashar Al-Assad has enabled the wealthy to become wealthier, while the poor have become poorer.
The GDP in Syria is still one of the lowest in the region and three-fourths of Syrians survive on less than $70 / month. The unemployment rate is as high as 20% (exact figures are not provided by the government).
Furthermore, Syria’s national resources, such as oil and natural gas, go directly into the presidential budget, and are unaccounted for in the national budget.
One of the goals of the revolution is to ensure that the wealth of the nation is directly invested into the country, and not into the pockets of the regime.
36. What about sectarianism? Minority rights?
Everyone in Syria has suffered at the hands of the regime, whether Sunni, Christian, Alawi, Druze, Kurd, Circassian, or any of the other ethnicities which make up the Syrian cultural fabric. This is the shared experience of the Syrian people under the Assad rule.
The issue in Syria is not really about minority rights; rather, it is about basic human rights and equality for all, regardless of sect or ethnicity.
This is what is meant when protestors chant “Alshaab alsoory wahid” “The Syrian people are one!"
Furthermore, the regime is desperately trying to instigate sectarian responses by using sectarian tactics:
The broad based opposition has been very vocal in highlighting that the rights of minority’s and ALL Syrians will be protected in a new Syria. In the SNC for example, all sects and segments of Syrian society are represented.
37. Won’t this revolution lead to a civil war?
This revolution will hopefully not lead to civil war, especially if the regime fails in its attempt to divide the Syrian society. Sectarian strife is being promoted by the regime to create chaos in order to justify its existence.
Bashar Al-Assad has already indicated that if the regime is forced out, they will burn the nation. Furthermore, in a May interview with the NY Times, Rami Makhlouf stated: “We will sit here. We call it a fight until the end…They should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone.”
While the regime is pushing a sectarian agenda, pundits are wrong when comparing Syria to the Iraqi/ Lebanon civil wars. The main difference of course, is that everyone in Syria has suffered at the hands of the regime, whether Sunni, Christian, Alawi, Druze, Kurd, Circassian, or any of the other ethnicities which make up the Syrian cultural fabric. This is the shared experience of the Syrian people under 40 plus years of Assad rule.
And while we can expect some chaos after the regime falls – this is only natural after the fall of an autocratic state – the shared experiences of the Syrian people will bring society closer – not further apart, post revolution.
38. But doesn’t the Assad regime defend the causes of the Arab people?
Myth of Resistance
The Assad regime has perpetuated a myth of resistance since it took over Syria. They have, for a long time, aligned their public narrative with the desires of the people, hence creating the illusion, both internally and across the Arab world, that they are brave protectors of Arab ideals.
Israeli Status Quo
Their narrative, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, more bullets have been fired at Syrian protesters on any single day since the uprising began in March 2011 than on the Golan front over the past 40 years.
Reflecting this reality, a popular protest chant has been “Bashar! Send your tanks to the Golan” or even "The son of a bitch [referring to Hafez Al-Assad] sold the Golan".
The Assad family while vocally perpetuating a myth of resistance has also made numerous overtures to concurrent Israeli administrations from Sharon to Netanyahu to secure a peaceful conclusion to the state of affairs between the nations.
Even Rami Makhlouf, Bashar al-Assad’s cousin, in a NY Times interview recently stated, “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.”
The Assad regime fought alongside US forces in the “Coalition of the willing” against Iraq in 1990 and has gladly collaborated with the US to support the so-called ‘War on Terror’ – top level security collaboration meetings even occurred as recently as 2010 when intelligence chief Ali Mamluk met with the top US counter-terrorism official Daniel Benjamin and deputy foreign minister Faisal Meqdad.
Using Palestinians & Lebanese as tools
Lebanese and Palestinian people have also been longtime targets of the regime; more Lebanese have been killed in the past 20 years by Syrians than by Israelis. Hafez Al-Assad, always wary of Palestinian influence, maneuvered heavily against them during the Lebanese civil war including military operations against Palestinian refugee camps, including involvement in the Tel al-Zaatar massacre and ‘War of the camps’.
Moreover, as confirmed by UNRWA, thousands of Palestinian refugees fled their camps in the city of Lattakia due to regime bombardment in August 2011.
It is about self-preservation for the regime – if you are a threat to their control you will be dealt with accordingly.
39. Where are the women in the protest movement?
Women of Syria have been out in the street demonstrating in mass protests on a near-daily basis since late March.
They have held rallies separate from men; rallies where large contingents of women form a wing in a rally with larger numbers of men; family rallies which include men, women, and children; rallies of women and children; and mixed gender rallies where a large number of women march side by side with men.
In the month of June alone, 26 mass street protests were conducted by women. The pace continues unabated despite the brutal regime onslaught. This pattern continues into the new year.
Additionally, after the regime began using protest videos to aid in identifying protesters in its massive detention sweeps many women begin protesting with faces covered, to protect protesters’ identities. Men began veiling their faces in protests too, for the same reason.
40. Are Syrian women in leadership roles in the revolution?
The Syrian revolution is a popular uprising leveraging the talents and energies of all those want to see a democratic Syria. Women have had an important role in leading the revolution. For example:
41. What role does the international community play?
Currently, regional and international influences (from the US, Europe, the Gulf, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Russia and China) are all trying to sway the outcome of the revolution in Syria – some for the preservation of the Assad regime, some for the downfall.
This international stalemate is based on competing outside influences, rather than true concern for the Syrian revolution.
With this said, the international community has an obligation to support the people of Syria in their time of need through political and economic isolation of the regime. Specifically the following six actions are required:
- Declare Bashar Al-Assad’s regime illegitimate and call for him to step down.
- Impose further targeted sanctions on the regime and the industrial sectors propping up the regime (e.g., oil and gas).
- Exert pressure through the United Nations to isolate the regime (e.g., UN Security Council resolution; referral to the International Criminal Court).
- Pressure Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to declare Syrians seeking refuge as refugees, not visitors, to enable UN access to provide protection and assistance.
- Showcase solidarity with the pro-democracy movement by severing or minimizing diplomatic relations with the Assad regime.
- Support multilateral observer missions to ensure protection of civilians and documentation of regime brutality
42. What role should the UN play?
The UN has a very specific role to play, and should focus on:
Of course, these actions would require support from Russia, China who have veto power in the UNSC and have so far blocked any attempt to condemn the regime (i.e. UNSC Resolution threatening sanctions in October was vetoed by both Russia and China and another watered-down resolution was double vetoed again in February giving the go-ahead for a regime offensive on the population).
43. Why is Syria important to the US?
Syria is essential for most US foreign policy goals in the Middle East: Syria is a key influencer in ensuring stability in Iraq; is at the core of both Iran’s and Turkey’s regional policy; is still in a state of war with Israel; and it is a major stakeholder in Lebanon’s political landscape.
A democratic Syria will without a doubt be of interest to the US, especially if the Syrian people view the US as a friend in their time of need rather than a nation that stood on the sidelines while Syrians bravely demanded their freedom from a ruthless regime.
44. Why has Russia been so supportive of the regime?
Russia has long seen Syria as a key ally in the area as both a military trading partner and buffer against western hegemony in the region.
More specifically, Russia has taken hard line stances against condemning the Assad regime, to safeguard against another Western intervention in the area – they felt that UNSC Libyan resolution 1973 which was used by NATO as a pretext to attack Qaddafi was manipulated for western interests and weakened their standing in the world.
Russia also has billion dollar arms contracts with the Assad regime and continues to supply the regime with weapons to crackdown on the uprising.
Most importantly their only naval base in the Mediterranean is in the Syrian port-city of Tartus – a crucial strategic asset to Russian hegemony.
45. Why has Iran + Hezbollah been supportive the regime?
Iran and the Assad regime have held one of the longest standing alliances in the Middle East and while they hold a very complex relationship, here are a few highlights:
- Syria, as the heart of the Arab world, is a key ally to assert influence over the entire region and is at the forefront of perpetuating the myth of resistance in Iran’s support of ‘Arab causes’
- “Losing Syria” would be a major blow to extending Iran’s tangible reach from Iran, to Iraq, to Syria and Lebanon
- Syria acts as a conduit to supply/ support Iran’s proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon – a major card in Iran’s regional policy
- Threatening this supply line would remove serious leverage against Western interest (namely Israel) in the region
- There is a sectarian affinity between Iran and the Assad regime’s Alawi power base.
- A new government in Syria, based on the will of the Syrian people, would not be grounded in sectarian relationships and would threaten this
- The Assad regime has leveraged the political and military strength of Iran as cover to further extend their control over the Syrian people, along with influence over neighbors (i.e. Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq)
46. How will a future free Syria address its neighbors, reclaim its sovereignty?
Most Syrians agree that the specific direction of a post-Assad foreign policy will be determined after the fall of the regime by elected Syrians.
With that said, it is clear that any future policy will hold national interests in high regard, rather than interests of the mafia regime. For example:
In a December press release the SNC stressed that “the new Syria will restore national sovereignty to the occupied Golan Heights and support the complete and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. This will lead to true stability in the region, as opposed to the repressive regime that threatens the stability and unity of the state.”
A few days later, the SNC President included the following outlook on foreign policy during his Christmas address to the nation:
“A Syria that maintains active Arab and regional relations. We will have a Syria of sovereignty, equality, and cooperation built upon mutual respect and the priorities of national interest. We will have a sister that is a sister of Palestine.”