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September 19, 2011

Syria's Revolution

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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It has been six months since the people of Syria went to the streets. Like those in Egypt before them, they were and still are peacefully calling for dignity, freedom, democracy and social justice. They have been denied these rights by the ruling Assad's family for over 40 years, first by the father Hafez and then since July 2000 by the son Bashar following his father's death.

While visiting Syria in 1990, a country of 22 million, I went to the city of Hama to witness the after effects of the Hama massacre. The massacre occurred in 1982 when Assad the father ordered the army, using heavy artillery to end a citizens’ revolt against his rule. The Syrian Human Rights Committee estimated the death count to be 40,000.

Back then, as with today, the regime and its media blamed “armed anti-government rebels for initiating the fighting,” and “for killing army and security forces and mutilating the bodies of these martyrs in the streets.”

Today the young Assad, like when he took office eleven years ago, had announced many reforms which have never been implemented. His problem is that he surrounded himself with his father’s inner circle; people with money and people of power.

The Syrian people in the streets are amazingly turning their slogans into beautiful songs to accompany their dancing. They are willing to sacrifice their lives to gain their freedom. The order of the day is hope. They consider themselves to be in a long struggle to regain their stolen country from the Assad family. Thousands, including women and children, have been killed by the army, by the security forces and by Special Forces in civilian clothes called Shabiha.  The President’s brother Maher administers the army and commands its elite units. Most of the opposition parties’ leaders are forced to live abroad.

No regional power including Turkey is on the side of the regime. The exception is Iran. But recently Iranian leadership, short of calling for an end of the bloodbath, asked Assad to listen to the "legitimate desires of the Syrian people". The US and EU have levied sanctions making it difficult for Syria to sell its oil.

Assad’s regime, like in Egypt before its January revolution blames “foreign elements,” and “Al-Qada,” because this is the way they can justify their oppressive tactics against its own people.

In addition to Iran the regime has friends including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Lebanon’s Maronnite Church which recently used scare tactics by falsely claiming that if Assad’s regime falls and is replaced with a Sunni government that the Syrian Christian minority will be killed. This is similar to a statement put out by the regime four months ago saying that having Assad in power is a guarantee for Israel’s security. Although Hezbollah is a liberation movement that was successful in liberating Southern Lebanon from the Israeli occupation, it says a new democratic Syria may jump in bed with Israel and turns its back to the cause of ending Israeli’s occupation of the Syrian Goal Heights, part of Southern Lebanon, West Bank and Gaza.

The question now is about a military action against the regime: if, when, and how. But the young revolutionaries inside Syria, the opposition parties abroad, and the Arab street all oppose military intervention by NATO or other regional military power like Turkey. But all are asking themselves if there is another way to stop the bloodbath. Every few days Syrian media declares that Assad’s Syrian Baath Party leadership feels that it has turned the corner and that life should now return to normal.

Sadly Assad does not grasp the fact, as in the case of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, that his days are numbered. He is counting on his people to get tired, go home and forget about their right to a dignified life.

But Sorbonne professor Burhan Ghalioun articulates his people aspiration by demanding that Assad step down. For me as an eyewitness of Egypt’s revolution, that day will soon come.

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