ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Syria's Tragedy

A popular uprising for democracy has ended up militarised and kidnapped by reaction.

More than a year and half back, on 15 March 2011, when the world was being turned upside down with what was called the “Arab Spring”, many citizens and organisations of Syria called for a “Day of Dignity” to protest the lack of fundamental freedoms and political rights. The call saw hundreds of thousands of people coming out to demand their rights from the government of Bashar al-Assad. Even before this protest had taken place, the Syrian police had started arresting the “leaders” and putting curbs on people to prevent them from participating in the demonstrations. The protest itself was met with harsh police measures but did not die down. As with most other protests of the Arab Spring, it spread from city to city and each day saw ever-increasing participation of people who would normally stay away from “politics” in these countries.

True to its character, the only response of the Syrian regime was to use its police, security and intelligence services to break up the protests by arresting its leaders and creating conditions that were meant to scare people away from participation. By April the military was out in the streets shooting the protestors and arresting hundreds all over the country. Syria has been under emergency laws since 1963 and since 1971 has been under the dictatorship of the Assads – of the father Hafez till 2000 and since then of his son, Bashar – and their Ba’ath party. There have been no legitimate elections and political parties which oppose the regime are not allowed. The ruling Ba’ath party is in a formal alliance with a number of smaller parties, including the two communist parties of Syria, but there is no space for independent political opinion. In a context where political opposition is criminalised and even political platforms identified with popular protests are co-opted within the ruling power structures, people had no legitimate space to express their dissatisfaction and differences. Added to this was the Assad regime’s political brinkmanship in the region and its economic policies which engendered a strange formation of crony state capitalism. Like with so many other tyrannical and anti-democratic regimes of the region, Syria has been sitting on a volcano of public anger that has been held down by increasing oppression by the state.

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