Academic journal article Insight Turkey

The Mayhem in Syria: Where To?

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

The Mayhem in Syria: Where To?

Article excerpt

The Roots of Revolution

Perhaps few Syrians were unimpressed by the dynamic that took off in Tunisia in late 2010 and soon afterwards in Egypt in early 2011. Just like the rest of the oppressed and humiliated 'subjects' of the Arab world, Syrians, too, aspired for emancipation and dreamed of a new dawn. What is certain, however, is that few of them expected their country to end up in ruins a few years later.

The Syrian revolution was sparked by the extreme brutality shown by local regime authorities in response to the actions of few pupils in the southern border city of Daraa. The daring gesture of the pupils did not exceed writing anti-regime slogans on some walls, in imitation of what the Aljazeera and Alhiwar TV channels had shown revolutionaries doing in Tunisia and Egypt. Provoked by the repressive measures taken against the pupils, but also surely inspired by the ongoing Arab uprisings, Syrians took to the streets in what developed into peaceful mass protests in almost every town and city across the whole country.

The Assad regime responded to the protesters with the most brutal repressive measures. Despite the cruelty inflicted indiscriminately upon the Syrian people by Assad's security and military forces, the dynamic remained mostly peaceful for about six months. Throughout that period, from the beginning of the Spring of 2011 to the start of autumn, regime tactics included crying wolf. Both at the regional as well as the international level, Assad claimed that extremists from al-Qaeda and its likes were infiltrating the country from abroad and waging war with the aim of replacing Syria's peaceful, pluralist and multi-religious state with a strict Islamic Shari'ah rule that threatened the very existence of religious minorities.

The regime's tactics also included provoking the people into carrying arms to defend themselves, their loved ones and their properties and livelihoods, in the face of a most atrocious campaign waged against them by the government. There were multiple stories about caches of arms being discovered in some neighborhoods. It was as if the regime was desperately trying to convince the people to carry arms and fight back in order for its own narrative to be proven right: that the country was under attack and that the regime was justified in resorting to all the repressive measures it was engaging in.

Despite all of this, up until the fall of 2011 the dynamic remained peaceful and attracted world sympathy. Many European countries were vocal in condemning the Assad regime and in expressing solidarity with the rising masses. This is not to deny that at least some Syrians did call for taking up arms to fight back against regime forces and the thugs they employed, and to punish the perpetrators for some of the most heinous crimes, including murder, torture and rape. But those voices remained marginal and ineffective until NATO intervened in favor of the Libyan revolutionaries who had risen against Gadhafi in the spring of that same year. Despite initial American hesitation, NATO air strikes were ordered to frustrate the regime's endeavor to brutally quell the revolution. Foreign intervention was key to preventing Gaddafi troops from perpetrating a massacre in the east Libyan city of Benghazi.

The events in Libya injected the leaders and spokespersons of the Syrian revolution both inside and outside the country with a huge dose of excitement. Many of them believed that NATO would soon intervene in Syria, as it had in Libya, in favor of the revolution and that this would be the end of the Syrian people's tribulation and the beginning of their new dawn.

In the meantime, Arab and Muslim fighters started making the journey to Syria to join the revolution. Saudi Arabia, for instance, was accused by the Americans of releasing hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda members or sympathizers and of facilitating their departure for Syria. This might have been an attempt by the Saudis to export a headache abroad. …

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