Monday, March 14, 2011

Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series: Syria

The protests in Syria kicked off January 26, 2011.
See the whole Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series.
 Syria is a country I've been looking forward to covering. From what I've heard about the Syrian protests, this country has a unique story to tell and a particularly strong base of angry protesters who aren't likely to go away until their demands are met. I'm hoping they have the intestinal fortitude to see their fight through to the end.

Basic History
Syria's official name is the Syrian Arab Republic. Geographically, it is located in western Asia, and it is considered a Middle East country. Important bordering countries include: Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel. The capital is Damascus. The population is estimated at 22.5 millions people. The language is Arabic.

Syria's most recent leader is President Bashar al-Assad. He has been in power since 2000. Syria is under one party rule under its President. It also has two Vice Presidents, a Prime Minister, and a Council of Ministers. The president is approved by referendum for a 7 year term. Of course, the leader of the Ba'ath Party is always the one chosen for President. The Prime Minister is Muhammad Naji al-Otari. He has been in office since 2003. I can't seem to find the information about how the Prime Minister of Syria is chosen, so if you know, let me know and I'll edit this post.

The country has been under Emergency Law since 1963 when the Ba'ath Party came to power. The president appoints ministers, declares war and states of emergency, issues laws, amends the constitution, and appoints civil servants and military personnel subject to the law. Decrees issued by the president must be approved by the People's Council to become law, except during a state of emergency (which has been in force since before the ratification of the constitution).

In terms of  independence, Syria got free of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and from the French in 1946. After the First World War, the area that included Syria came under French control in 1918 through the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. For decades, there were various battles and fights for independence, with the French winning most of the fights and suppressing the uprisings against them. Then, in 1936, there was Treaty of Independence for Syria and France, but it was never ratified by the French legislature.Syria proclaimed its independence in 1941, but it wasn't recognized until 1944. Amid pressure from the Syrians and British, the French troops finally withdrew in 1946. Since 1970, Syria has been under the majority rule of the Ba'ath Party.

The Protests
The main causes cited as the reasons for the protests include: poor human rights, lack of freedom, the permanent state of emergency.

On January 26th, Hasan Ali Akleh from Al-Hasakah, set himself on fire in protest against the government. This was the first self-immolation done in protest, and is seen as the genesis of the Syrian protests. Ironically, five days later, an interview with President al-Assad published in the Wall Street journal in which he referred to his country as immune from the kinds of mass protests taking place in Egypt.

As February began, Human Rights Watch, which has been doing a good job of keeping track of the true facts of the protests and the casualties, as well as civil rights violations, reported violence against people in the capital city of Damascus. They were holding a candle light vigil for for the Egyptian demonstrators. They were attacked by people in civilian clothing.

In early February, protests were scheduled for February 4th and 5th, outside the Syrian parliament in Damascus and for the Syrian embassies around the world. These were organized and highly publicized on Facebook and Twitter. The only protests were a few hundred people gathered in al-Hasakah. The protest was quickly squashed by Syrian authorities.

After the failure of attempts to a "day of rage," Al Jazeera called the country "a kingdom of silence" and identified key factors for stability within Syria as being strict security measures, the popularity of President Bashar al-Assad, and fears of potential sectarian violence in the aftermath of a government ouster (akin to neighbouring Iraq).

In middle to late February, spontaneous protests arose, but were quickly dispersed. Videos of the protests and their causes were uploaded onto YouTube. There were also protests outside the Libyan embassy in Damascus against Qaddifi. When security forces showed up, the protesters began chanting, "traitors are those that beat their people." The security forces did disperse the protest, but there was less violence.

March saw lots of interesting and unique protests happening. A number of young boys, all under the age of 15, were arrested for tagging walls with "the people want to overthrow the regime." Political prisoners started a hunger strike to protest "political detentions and oppression". The government responded by releasing people imprisoned for political crimes before March 8, 2011. And President al-Assad seeked a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 9, 2011.

The Syrian leadership has been accused of sending troops to Libya to help Qaddafi slaughter his people. Also, they have celebrated Mubarak's fall in Egypt simply in the hope that the new government will not be so friendly to Israel. Also, they have encouraged the disappearance of activists in Lebanon.

There has been a new call for mass protests on March 15th. This situation is still unresolved and there's no telling how it will turn out since al-Assad seems to have no problem with arresting and torturing his people.

More information can be found at,, and http://www.alarabiya.n/.

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