[Marxism] Anonymous report from Syria on political situation

Fred Feldman ffeldman at verizon.net
Tue Aug 9 14:46:27 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 

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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