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History Of Syrian Uprising

Posted on July 28, 2011 in GlobeScope

By Misna Sameer:

The 2011 Syrian uprising was ignited by the concurrent Aran Spring (revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests that has been taking place in the Arab world since 18 December 2010.). Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube helped popularising, organizing and bringing mass appeal to the revolt. The Syrian uprising and the rest of the revolts in the Arab world reinstated common man’s desire for a democratic nation with a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. Here’s a peek on the story behind the Syrian uprising.

After gaining independence from France in 1946, the Syrian political scene was tumultuous, marked by many internal and external upheavals. With many wars with Israel and internal military coups, Syrian politics remained unstable till the 1960s. A brief tryst with Communalism followed, when Syria signed a pact with the Soviet Union in November 1956, in exchange of ammunitions and military equipment. In February, next year, Egypt and Syria formed an unsuccessful union named the United Arab Republic, which soon fell apart by a military coup that lead to the re-establishment of Syrian Arab Republic. This was succeeded by various coups resulting in  the installation of the National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC), a group of military and civilian officials who assumed control of all executive and legislative authority led by the leftist Syrian Army officers. The takeover was engineered by members of the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Ba’ath Party), which had been active in Syria and other Arab countries since the late 1940.

In the following years, though President Amin Hafiz tried to give voice to the masses by appointing a legislature composed of people from all strata of the society, he was soon ousted by intra-party coups which gave sole authority to the Ba’ath Party.

On November 13, 1970, Minister of Defence Hafez al-Assad engineered a bloodless military coup, ousting the civilian party leadership and assuming the role of President. He tried to control the government and nominated a legislature, the People’s Council, in which the Ba’ath party had a majority. In March 1971, a national referendum was held to confirm Assad as President for a 7-year term. He banned all opposing parties and opponents in elections.

To crush a six-year long revolt lead by the conservative Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, in February 1982, Hafez Al-Assad used brute force and military ammunition in the city of Hama, the epicentre of the revolt. Tens of thousands of people, including 10—80,000 civilians, were killed in the Hama massacre.

In 1999, following People’s Assembly’s Elections, violent protests and struggles erupted as a culmination of  a long-running feud between Hafez al-Assad and his younger brother Rifaat, who had been expelled from Syria when he tried to initiate a coup against Hafez in 1984. According to opposition sources, denied by the government, the clashes resulted in hundreds of dead and injured. This is known as the Latakia incident.

Meanwhile, Syria also got embroiled in the Lebanon Civil War, and the Syrian Army was present in Lebanon for about 3 decades, until 2005.

When Hafiz al-Assad died on June 10, 2000, the Constitution was amended reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34, so as to allow his son, Bashar al-Assad, to become legally eligible for Presidency. On July 10, 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected President by referendum in the absence of an opposing political party or any opposition candidate.

Terror and force are the tools the Assads used to stay in power. The al-Assad family is a member of the minority and traditionally impoverished Alawite sect, constituting less than 10% of the Syrian population. They monopolised the authority over Syria’s security services, with Bashar-al Assads’s younger brother Maher al-Assad and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, holding important positions in the military force. This infuriated the Sunni Muslims who comprise 75% of Syria’s population.

Syria has also long been disturbed by ethnic conflicts between the minority Kurds and the Arabs. This took a major turn in 2004 when in the city of Al-Qamishli, during a soccer match which turned into an ethnic clash, at least 30 people were killed and many more injured by Syrian police. Many such clashes have continued since then. Brute force and ammunitions were used by Syrian security forces against civilians to suppress these conflicts.

Syria had been under an Emergency Law since 1962, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens. The Syrian government justifying this state of emergency by pointing to the fact that Syria was in a war with Israel, have given the security forces unquestioned powers of arrest and detention. With no multi-party free elections, Syrian citizens approve the President by referendum. Rights of expression, association and assembly are strictly controlled. These problems are further aggravated by discrimination against women and the weak and deteriorating socio-economic systems. Moreover, according to Human Rights Watch, al-Assad has not been able to improve the human rights record since he came to power 10 years ago. This kind of oppression and lack of fundamental rights have enraged the Syrian people for more than 40 years now. With censorship on media and absolute power of the forces to detent critics, the common man did not have a means to voice his grievances. But with technology and the powerful tool called social media; the common Syrian man has finally found his voice, a way to gather support and protest against a common tyrannical rule.

Beginning on January 26, 2011 with a self-immolation by a protestor, the Syrian Uprising marks the beginning of a new era of self-awakening among the Syrians. Demands of the protests included release of political prisoners, resignation of parliament and cabinet, end of Emergency law among others. With a death toll of about 1750 as a result of force used by the troops against protestors, the 2011 Syrian uprising led to resignation of the cabinet and marked the end of Emergency law. Though the Syrian uprising did not have dramatic results like its counterparts in Egypt or Tunisia, it did shake the government and laid the foundation in the process of building a free democratic nation.