Syria – A Chink in the Armor?

Syria – A Chink in the Armor?

Arab youth are full of hope as uprisings throughout the Middle East remove one tyrant after the other. However, while Tunis and Egypt have had a relatively smooth sail into democracy, Syria is proving to be another story. It seems that there are more bloody days ahead for Syria as security forces crackdown on what they call ‘Salafist’ armed groups. At the same time, protesters, also called ‘freedom fighters’, grow bolder by the day. The Assad regime is not expected to be as easy to remove as Ben Ali and Mubarak

In Egypt, the revolution was leaderless and grew out of justifiable social, economic, and political demands. In the hazy political context of this time the Muslim Brotherhood is the only organized group with a legacy of ethics, social service and solidarity with the Egyptian people. As political groups in post-Mubarak Egypt scramble for positions, the MB remains poised, moving steadily along the democratic path. Syria, however, is a different story.

On April 1 Riad Al-Shaqfa, the secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, reiterated in a press conference that the MB does not believe Syrian president Bashar Assad will fulfill his promises of reform and based on this assertion predicted that protests will continue. Due to the injustice and oppression suffered by Syrians, a number of Islamic scholars have justified the demonstrations, giving the protests a religious identity. Nevertheless, the cities staging significant demonstrations were largely in multi- religious areas, like Deraa, which is considered to be made up of predominately high-ranking Baath military and state officials. This indicates that the protests appear to be fueled by groups of protesters rather than one large popular movement. Compared to Tunisia, which had 10% of its population gathered at their largest protest, the largest combined protests in Syria have amounted to barely one percent of the population. For whatever reasons, the opposition in Syria has not succeeded to mobilize the people like Egypt and Tunisia did.

The Hama massacre is still fresh in the minds of many Syrians and perceiving the brutal nature of the Assad regime, many Syrians are holding back. Opposition groups are hopeful that the Syrians will break out of their fear and unite against their corrupt regime, seeing this as the most opportune time to follow in the wake of successful revolutions in nearby countries. This is especially so since the regime in Syria has already been partially ostracized by the international community and is trying in vain to restore good relations. With cries for ‘freedom’ coming from Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, it is difficult for Syrians to ignore the hopeful atmosphere.

The people of Syria obviously fear reprisals from the Assad regime should they unite and take to the streets on a large scale but at the same time, there is also uncertainty about post-revolution Syria, and which group would take over should Assad and his regime be ousted. Syria is a significant player in terms of regional stability, and it is a secular country with a variety of minority groups. The people may wish to see the current regime gone, but at the same time, they do not want their nation to be turned into another Iraq.

The international reaction to the Syrian uprisings is mostly based on regional opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood as a key political player. Distrust for Islamist movements – based on the fear mongering of former corrupt regimes – is making the international community hesitate when it comes to Islamic principles and politics being mixed in the Middle East.

The US fears that democracy and popular protests can be manipulated by extremist groups to access power, and by reacting according to their concerns they are defying the very principles of democracy which they espouse. 

Political dialog is one thing, but on the ground in Syriathe brutality unleashed on the population by the regime – despite its promises of reform – is causing more and more distrust among the people.

The growing distrust and unrest may well urge the nation to mobilize, however, with a substantial number of Christian minorities and a variety of Muslim sects, Syrians are looking to Iraq’s civil war and considering the prospect of their country navigating a safe transition of power.

Human rights advocates are reporting continuing arrests and hundreds of people have been killed by security forces. Al Jazeera

The regime said the emergency law has ceased to exist but on the streets nothing has changed. If Assad and his regime want the people to calm down it will have to be more credible in its promises.