Friday, October 28, 2011

Ian M. MacIsaac: The Situation in Syria: A persistent populous faces President Assad's house of horrors

  The death of Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi has made ripples throughout the Arab world, nowhere more so than in Syria. Syria is located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, between Israel and Iraq; its people have virtually no rights, and one family, the Assads, have ruled the country for 40 years.

  In no other Arab Spring nation have protesters and activists worked so hard for such a profound, uninterrupted length of time, under the most violent and dangerous circumstances seen in any of the nations involved--besides perhaps Libya itself, where in the end the government declared war on the people.

  Which is quickly happening in Syria, where the nation's president, Bashar al-Assad, has shown no qualms about having Nazi-style security forces shoot down scores of unarmed protesters or students, in some cases multiple times in a single week. In the 225 long, hot Arabian days since protests began in mid-March of this year, an estimated 3,000 unarmed civilians have been executed by their own government without a trial, a judge, a jury, or even a prior arrest. Things have gotten so bad that just this week the American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, fled Damascus back to the U.S. in fear for his life. And protests, while still active, have produced scant news lately in the face of an all-out government assault.


  Only a few token gestures have been made to quell the protests, such as the April repeal of an emergency law passed in 1963 that allowed the government to suspend constitutional rights at will. A similar move by the Algerian government earlier this year nearly crushed that country's entire Spring movement in its tracks.

  In Syria, however, the furor is much stronger: the average reaction to the law repeal was angry mocking of the government for thinking so little could quiet such a huge movement.

  A statement made months later by the Syrian government that it would begin working on passing a law allowing for other political parties in the Syrian Parliament besides the Assad family Baath Party has been greeted with just as much skepticism, given than one of the major Article's of the current Syrian constitution states emphatically that the country is a one-party state under the Baath Party; it seems extremely unlikely that President Assad would ever repeal such an integral part of the constitution that his father Hafez al-Assad wrote.

  Syria has seen little socioeconomic or political progress since Hafez al-Assad took control of the country in 1971. His son Bashar became his successor upon his father's death in June 2000. Father Assad became internationally known in 1982 when he ordered the Hama massacre, in which he directed his brother Rifaat to literally set parts of the ancient city of Hama on fire to quell a political revolt hat had sprung up among the city's people.

  Death squads of SWAT-style government forces--much like the ones used by Bashar al-Assad against Arab Spring protesters almost thirty years later--went house to house in Hama over a more than three-week period and frequently killed entire families, including women and children. The eventual death toll was never officially calculated, but probably sits somewhere about 25,000. Current President Assad certainly has big shoes to fill.


  The Assad government has lost control of many cities, including Hama--which saw 136 unarmed citizens executed on one day in late July during an armed siege by soldiers over Ramadan--Latakia, on the coast, where the government has employed warships to bombard the city as if it were an enemy nation's arsenal; and Daraa, in the south, where approximately 500 civilians have been executed by the Syrian Army of the 3,000 dead civilians in nationwide so far.

  Nonetheless, al-Assad still holds the country tight on a nationwide level. A nascent government-style rebel organization called the Syrian National Council has been formed over the past month, but has not been able to meet in full due to surveillance and pressure by the government. despite being modeled upon the wildly successful National Transitional Council government formed by the Libyan rebels, the Syrian National Council has quite a ways to go before it can even make a claim to he ability to execute public services and armed combat against the Assad government on a government-style level of its own.

  In many major cities including Homs and Hama, the Syrian government has shut down basic utilities such as water, gasoline, plumbing, and sanitation services in a siege mentality against its own peacefully protesting people. Snipers have been stationed on rooftops to pick off important activists when they have appeared on the street at protests; tanks have rolled in on students in a perfect and perfectly brutal replica of Tianenmen Square more than twenty years ago.

  It takes a special kind of government, and a special kind of completely paralyzed society, to wage a war against its own cities and its own people. And it gets even worse: Syrian soldiers who have refused to murder their fellow citizens have been executed by their superiors in the army, who publicly claim, along with the civilian Assad government, that the entire protest movement is nothing but 'armed gangs' 'causing trouble.' Qaddafi made quite similar statements a few months before he got shot in the head by a group of angry Libyans on the east side of Sirte.


  Libya and Qaddafi showed that a belligerent, totalitarian regime can lose even its three most populous cities, including its capital, to revolutionary forces and still hold the country; those who have been in power for a long time--forty-two years in Qaddafi's case, forty for the Assad family--and have the wealth and the bureaucracy behind them will hold on for absolute dear life.

  Bashar al-Assad will let half the cities in Syria fill with feces and floodwater and watch entire towns be exterminated rather than step down. And the people of Syria seem just as willing to bear Assad's manufactured hell for a time if it means his removal in the end. It remains to be seen whether they can bring that fire to the capital and hit Assad, his SS brigades, and his suffocating society where it hurts.

  About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama and former co-editor of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

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