[Marxism] What we need to know about Syria

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Sep 11 06:55:06 MDT 2011

This is the kind of report that you will not find from the 
anti-anti-Baathist left.


Escaping Mumana'a and the US-Saudi Counter-Revolution: Syria, Yemen, and 
Visions of Democracy (Interview with Fawwaz Traboulsi)
4 Sep 02 2011 by Ahmad Shokr and Anjali Kamat

Ahmad Shokr and Anjali Kamat (AS&AK): The Syrian people have been 
resisting for months now and keep coming out on the streets despite 
escalating repression. How would you characterize the uprising in Syria 
and where do you think it is heading?

Fawwaz Traboulsi (FT): People I’ve talked to in Syria tell me that 
spirits are very high. People are very optimistic. I think they are 
moved by the certainty that this regime cannot remain. Now that’s not 
necessarily going to happen soon, if it happens at all. And if it does, 
it will not necessarily be a comprehensive regime change. But people are 
now serious that the time has come to end the Ba‘th regime in Syria, 
which has been in power since 1963. This is what we’re talking about. 
For the Syrian people the last forty-eight years represent continuity. 
People don’t care about the political shifts along the way, like Hafez 
al-Assad coming to power in 1970, or his son taking over in 2000. For 
them, the period from 1963 until the present is one single era 
characterized by repression, military dictatorship and one-party rule.

With international pressure having reached a stage where the U.N. 
Security Council can intervene, there will probably be some attempt at a 
political interlude and renewed talk about reforms. That will be an 
opportunity for the opposition to push for concrete demands, like a 
military withdrawal from urban areas, the release of political 
prisoners, and a serious search for the three thousand Syrians who have 
gone missing in the course of the uprising. I expect they will demand 
that the army play no role in the security forces. But if the regime 
simply responds with its platform of Ba‘thist “reforms,” I don’t think 
it will satisfy the Syrian people in any way. And I think peaceful 
demonstrations will continue, whether repressed or not.

The Syrian regime’s violent crackdown on the six-month-old uprising has 
prompted more localities to join the protests, rather than stay away. 
That said, the great cities, like Damascus and Aleppo, are still 
relatively under government control. Army tanks encircle all the suburbs 
of Damascus. When you talk to people, they’ll tell you the next step 
will be uprisings in Aleppo and then Damascus.

Now, one thing should be said about the Syrian movement: it’s been very 
much a rural movement. Contrary to the Egyptian revolution, which was 
almost entirely urban, the Syrian uprising is not. There are a couple of 
reasons for this:

First, there's an explosive relationship between demographic growth and 
unemployment, particularly in the countryside.

Second, contrary to the rhetoric of Syria being an anti-imperialist 
force (mumana‘a) in the region, the Syrian economy under Bashar al-Assad 
has been rapidly neoliberalized and in the worst kind of way, with high 
levels of corruption and monopolistic control. Productive industries 
that usually provide work for young people have declined and the economy 
has been transformed into a rentier economy. Layers of the bourgeoisie 
have undoubtedly benefited and some wealth has trickled down to segments 
of the middle classes, but on the flip side there has been a steady rise 
in poverty and a marginalization of the countryside and the agricultural 
sector. That’s why the poorer regions across Syria were prepared to 
mobilize immediately.

AS&AK: It seems the Syrian regime has been unable to strike a balance 
between coercion and concession, brute force and promises of reform. How 
would you describe the regime’s response to the uprising?

FT: I think the Syrian regime knows this uprising is not a conspiracy 
and that foreign intervention is very limited. So, the regime is using 
the pretext that the unrest is being caused by armed groups in order to 
occupy towns and control the civilian population. The idea is to 
frighten people by shooting at them and arresting them (an estimated 
twenty thousand political activists are in detention) to make sure that 
the peaceful, civilian part of the revolution, which is the most 
important, is frightened. That is the Syrian regime's policy.

The regime's crackdown began with a very haughty sense of Syrian 
exceptionalism -- a feeling that they we’re not like the others and 
could successfully impose security by repression, while worrying about 
longer-term stability later. It was adamant about crushing any attempt 
at replicating the Egyptian model – Midan al-Tahrir – of protesters 
occupying large urban squares. One of the first things the regime did 
was to massacre people in the main square in Homs called Midan al-Sa‘a 
(the Square of the Clock), after protesters had managed to control it. 
But I think the Syrian people have surprised everyone. Not only did they 
break their fear barrier, they even got more and more militant as the 
repression intensified.

In terms of concessions, all of the major reforms al-Assad has offered 
are pitiful. The law on media freedom aims to protect journalists from 
being arrested, except by a legal order. So they can still arrest them. 
The new electoral law is still based on the antiquated law that you have 
in Egypt, which allocates half of the parliamentary seats to workers and 
peasants, while the other half is reserved for independents. Today, 
Syria’s richest man is Mr. Mohamed Hamsho (Maher al-Assad’s 
brother-in-law), an engineer and a billionaire businessman who has run 
in previous elections for a worker’s seat. That should tell you how it 
all works.

There was an attempt at a Turkish-cum-Islamist compromise. It seems 
Bashar al-Assad promised a lot but never delivered, despite releasing 
some four hundred Islamists from jail. But he never pushed it further. 
Then there was the dialogue with the liberals about a month and a half 
ago, which produced the new electoral law and law on media freedoms 
against the will of many liberal oppositionists.

But the majority of Syrians on the streets are totally alien to this 
political world. They are moved by a sense of discrimination against the 
majority Sunni population. They are moved by a sense of revulsion 
against a very repressive, bloody regime that humiliates them. And, 
finally, they are moved by the miserable economic conditions in which 
they live. As time passes, the Syrian people have become uninterested in 
these minor reforms introduced by the regime.


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