[Marxism] Anonymous report on Syria political situation

Fred Feldman ffeldman at verizon.net
Tue Aug 9 14:54:58 MDT 2011


Published on The Nation http://www.thenation.com

What Lies Ahead in Syria?
Anonymous | August 9, 2011
Editor's Note: The identity of the writer has been protected at the author's
request.

Damascus, Syria
Damascus's Tahrir Square is empty. The royal blue street signs directing
traffic to the roundabout-modest compared to its world-famous Cairo
counterpart-look increasingly ironic. For residents wishing for a quick and
cathartic revolution like Egypt's, the insignificance of their Liberation
Square is salt in a long-festering wound. For others who fear the unknown
alternative that would replace the flawed but familiar status quo, it is a
relief.
 From life-as-mostly-normal Damascus, the Egyptian square seems only
slightly further away from the city that has rapidly become the figurative
Syrian Tahrir:

Hama, to the north, a city as famous for its beautiful watermills as it is
for unpunished massacres, past and present. News reports estimated 200 dead
in Hama this past weekend alone. As forces crack down on other cities, so
far more than 2,000 Syrians have died at government hands. 
Throughout the actual spring and now summer of the insipidly named "Arab
Spring," many Damascenes have been watching wearily, battered by a series of
obfuscating narratives cultivated by a regime that is fighting for domestic
not international legitimacy. Every day, through its state-owned TV and
newspapers, the Assad regime broadcasts to Syrians its justifications for
the brutal military crackdown on their fellow Syrians. They proffer evidence
that ongoing protests against the government have been orchestrated-or
infiltrated-by foreign-armed terrorists. We are treated ily to alleged
confessions by Syrians who are supposedly paid to be terrorists; bedside
interviews with allegedly wounded Syrian soldiers, with zoomed-in shots of
bloodstained sheets; videos of alleged arms caches; and footage of alleged
protestors, their weapons circled in red.

The foreign plot/paid to protest narrative has not been as easy for Syrians
to dismiss as it was when similarly invoked by dictators in Tunisia, Egypt,
Yemen, and Libya. There are many reasons for this: a lack of independent
journalists reporting on the situation while a sophisticated Syrian
propaganda machine operates at full force; the relative sanity and charisma,
compared to other authoritarian leaders, of Assad and his Vogue-worthy wife;
the disorganization of the demonstrators and opposition (and the possibility
some of them are indeed armed). And then there is the argument that Western
democracies lie and commit atrocities too without being stripped of their
mandate to govern-"weapons of mass destruction" and the invasion of Iraq
being the favored examples.

Thus the discussion among Syrians hesitating to join the protests, aside
from a well-justified fear of being shot dead or disappeared, is not whether
Assad is in power legitimately-most concede he is not-but rather, whether he
is really the biggest evil they face. Wedged between Beirut and Baghdad,
Syrians do not take the relative security provided by the regime for granted
and many are loathe to give it up-even if it has come at the expense of
their basic rights and liberties and potentially worse, a politically
neutered population.
Aside from introducing considerable doubt about who the protestors are, the
regime has also called into question what it is they really want. 
The not-so-implicit suggestion is that they won't stop until they achieve
some sort of extreme Salafist Sunni theocracy, where minorities will be
slaughtered or else severely repressed

For Christians, they need look no further than recent church burnings in
Egypt or the near extinction of Christians in Iraq for what some consider
credible precedent for what could happen to them. Among Alawites, who to
many Syrians are synonymous with the regime, there is the dread that they
can only survive if they continue to rule the country, because payback-forty
years in the making-will be merciless.

Yet, at the same time, the regime is attempting to appeal to a
pan-ethnic/pan-sectarian Syrian nationalism, through messaging that is
visible on backlit billboards and posters throughout the country. For
someone who doesn't read Arabic, these might look like ads for consumer
goods rather than an "education" campaign designed to keep the public
uneducated and quiet. Glossy pictures, national colors, and friendly fonts
infantilize the Syrian people by telling them, for example, that no matter
our station in life, our politics or our age, we are all "With the law" or
"With Syria." Other messages include "No to Sectarianism" or "Yes to
Dialogue, No to Violence," with no acknowledgment of the violence the
government has committed against its people. The posters are only slightly
less menacing than the former era's ubiquitous portraits of Assad-pere, his
creepy Mr. Burns-esque visage sometimes stories-tall, draped down the sides
of buildings or else wallet-sized but affixed to nearly every taxi
dashboard-often pasted onto a cut-out red construction paper heart. Those
portraits can at least be credited with certain honesty: the government was
unquestionably a dictatorship, it was watching, and there were no reforms
coming.

The appeals to Syrian nationalism are ironic given that it was the Assad
regime itself that spent the last 40 years contributing to sectarian
divisions, by consolidating power in the hands of one sect: the Alawites.
Moreover, Assad-fils gambled that he could assuage the Sunni majority by
allowing the Saudis to build more Sunni mosques in Syria, yet control the
influence of Saudi thought which in essence emphasizes Sunni identity.
The combined result has been instead to lay the foundations for a potential
civil war between Sunnis and Alawites, who wield power disproportionate to
their numbers (12 percent of the population). 
Alawites, who control the military, have used it to dismiss dissent and even
bombard whole towns. Unlike the Egyptian military, the mostly-Alawite
leadership of the Syrian military has little independence from the regime
and is apparently unwilling to sacrifice its man for its greater survival.
Many of the participants deny that religion is a motivating factor behind
the protests, but with the regime having an Alawite face and most of the
protestors a Sunni face, sectarian shadings are undeniable.

Hints of a potential civil war are already visible in some of the killings
that have occurred or are alleged to have occurred, in which people were
supposedly killed because of their sect, a fact played up by the regime. In
a bus depot in Damascus recently, a man waited for a bus bound for Homs,
where Syrian tanks occupy the center of the city, and nightly demonstrations
and gunfire can be heard. He earnestly told a woman beside him that the
newspaper of the Baath party was reporting that in Hama and Homs, "ID-card
killings" had started to occur-an allusion to the murders during Lebanon's
Civil War, which saw people executed for being the "wrong" religion after
they presented their ID card at checkpoints. The woman, who was from Homs,
categorically denied it. Meanwhile, people sitting around them were left
unsure as to what the truth was. (Never mind that the Syrian National ID
does not mention
religion.)

Unfortunately, such propaganda campaigns are not ineffective. From
Christians to Muslims, many Syrians will outline all of Assad's shortcomings
only to earnestly ask, "what is the alternative?" as if they have no role to
play in what comes next. What many see in Cairo today is not a messy and
burgeoning democracy, but rather just a ess, over which Salafists and the
Muslim Brotherhood will eventually prevail.
But as the Syrian regime continues to kill its people and besiege whole
towns, it erodes whatever credibility its propaganda efforts have bought.
Many Syrians are digging in their heels for the long haul, recognizing that
the "situation" or "troubles" as Syrians say, will eventually reach the
capital, unless something changes. For now, the regime seems intent on its
path and it won't be international pressure that stops it. In fact, to some
extent international condemnations have worked to the regime's advantage
because many Syrians only see hypocrisy and inconsistency in western
reactions to the different uprisings, which in turns helps fuel the idea
that Syrian protests are in fact foreign plots.

Damascus, of course, is not the only city that counts: demonstrators from
the Damascus periphery to Hama have begun in their chants to call on Aleppo
to join them next, and many eyes are in fact turned there now. 
But while Syria's liberation may not spring from Damascus's Tahrir Square,
it cannot happen without the capital. And for now, Damascenes seem to be in
no rush, especially during this holiday month. If the force of history
continues to remake the Middle East, it may be the last Ramadan in the
country as they have known it.
Source URL: http://www.thenation.com/article/162634/what-lies-ahead-syria






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