For a long time, many believed that the Syrian regime was immune to popular revolutions. Precedent has shown that the regime can use all the means of oppressive security at its disposal, including mass murder, such as that in Hama in 1981 when late President Hafez Al-Assad was in power. It also relies on media fabrications and misinformation, and manipulates the conflict with Israel, casting Syria as the seat of Arab nationalism, the refuge of resistance and rejection of Israel and the US. All these threads come together to maintain a firm grip on power at the expense of the people, their freedom and dignity.
Oppressive security policies, along with socialist economic policies based on state interference in the economy and price capping, providing an adequate income to various sectors of society, complete control of civil society, which is already limited, applying secular policies to appease the various sectors of society and creeds in Syrian society: this helped stabilise social and political shifts to a large extent, but did not block the people’s aspiration for freedom. A changing world that influences everyone without exception can no longer be dealt with through the same old policies that kept the Syrian regime secure in past decades. If one does not initiate change and listen to the whispers of the people and their demands, the logical outcome is accumulated frustration on the one hand, and incentive for a broad popular revolution on the other.
The Syrian revolution against the regime is not necessarily identical to what took place in Tunisia and Egypt, but at the core it is the same: namely that the people are seeking dignity and freedom at any price. A belief often referred to is that the Arab people are influenced by what takes place in other Arab countries; they have a susceptibility to be moved or possess an innate disposition to be affected by what happens to other Arab populations. People learn the same way individuals do, and notice and realise in the same way that every individual does. The difference is the accumulative cognizance of the individual and the group.
In his first address on 30 March about the uprising at the beginning of the revolution of the Syrian people in Daraa and some villages around it, President Bashar Al-Assad noted an important theory. Namely, that what took place in some Arab states influenced the events in Daraa. But this observation came in the context of a conspiracy facing his country, and he stressed that Syria is immune to any interference in its domestic affairs and that Syria is not like other countries. He did not recognise the extent that Arab people are influenced by what occurs in other Arab countries. This influence is not superficial or instigated by any group or conspiracy by secret organisations, but is the persuasion of the soul, mind, conscience and conduct all at once. When it comes to the dignity of the people, the masses are ready to sacrifice without end.
In one of the many YouTube videos, a student from Daraa, who participated in the first demonstrations to protest the detention of several teenagers under the age of 15 for daring to write anti-regime graffiti, said that like other Syrians he feared the security apparatus, which is infamous for its brutality, intolerance and torture. But when, for the first time, he shouted with a group of protestors demanding regime change he felt something he never did before —a sense of freedom and dignity accompanied by a readiness to sacrifice.
There are many video clips that highlight these sentiments, especially that the Syrians have run out of patience and old/new promises of reform have no resonance and will not end protests and escalation of demands, which will end with the grand prize of the overthrow of the regime and holding its officials to account.
Claiming that this is a foreign conspiracy does not hold water in the face of the legitimate right of the people to freedom, security and dignity, which are all lacking in the Syrian regime. This is why the Syrian people do not believe such claims and view them as insulting to their intellect and legitimate rights, which have been absent for many years. And so, the Syrians took to the streets in several cities and governorates with one goal in mind: seize their freedom. They also rejected claims of sectarian strife between the Sunnis and Alawite Shias, or fractures and disputes between Arabs and Kurds.
The irony here is that while the people learn, the regimes usually —and despite very clear signals —look the other way and pretend they don’t see anything, simply because they are incapable of learning. During the revolution, the former regime in Egypt was a model of incompetence in dealing with the people’s legitimate demands. It tried to circumvent issues by superficial and partial changes in government, promises of comprehensive reform, eliminating emergency law, prosecuting those in security agencies who violated the rights of citizens, prosecuting the corrupt, as well as appointing a vice president and vouching not to hand over power to the son who coveted the presidency without due right. But the Egyptian people were on their guard, and all these manoeuvres were fruitless; the people were victorious, the political regime was toppled and the widest prosecution campaign in history was launched against a corrupt group who held power in Egypt in an unbelievable way.
The regime in Syria knows that the conclusion of the Syrian revolution will not be much different from what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, namely the overthrow of the oppressive regime led by Al-Assad, his family and Alawite sect. This will be followed by prosecutions for endless and serious crimes against the Syrian people over the past 40 years.
Perhaps this distorted realisation is the reason why statements are being made about expected reforms, as stressed by Al-Assad in his first address in front of the new government headed by Adel Al-Sefer on 16 April. In the same speech, he warned that continued protests would be dealt with firmly. But as much as the promises of change and accepting the demands of Egyptians in revolt were nothing more than words, I believe that the Syrian regime does not really understand what is taking place on the Syrian street or what the people in revolt want. This is especially true after much innocent blood was spilled at the hands of mercenary thugs at the behest of the regime’s security and political leaders.
Bashar Al-Assad has promised to end the state of emergency in less than one week, but he will replace it with an anti-terrorism law that will be harsher than any state of emergency. Ten years ago, he promised political pluralism to end the monopoly of the Baath Party in political life, but he did not do this and is unlikely to do so in the coming few days. He vowed to resolve the issue of citizenship for the Kurds who are stripped of their nationality, as if they fell out of the sky and are not the sons of Syria; he promised to pass a new electoral law and another for the media and committed the government to present a timeline to issue these laws but without a deadline; he admitted that corruption was rampant in the country and asked the government to fight it; he agreed to expand participation and reform the judicial system.
But these demands, or more correctly presidential promises to Sefer’s government, seem to be a repetition of what Mubarak did with Shafiq’s government that was formed a few days after the 25 January Revolution began. The brutality of Syrian security forces continues and there are no signals from the presidency that those who killed protestors, or those who put the cities and villages under siege and prevented the injured from leaving to seek medical attention, will be brought to justice. There are no steps being taken to prevent armed thugs and outlaws from attacking the people, nor that security agencies will loosen their grip on the lives of the people. Nor will blatant actions by security services change, or these ill-reputed agencies be reformed. The reason is because of the nature of these agencies, which are led by the president’s relatives and whose primary goal is to protect the regime.
The Syrians are marching for their freedom and nothing will stop them. They have made up their minds —it’s only a matter of time.