Why is Syria not a free country

Syria

Huda Zein

To person

Dr. phil., born 1967; Research assistant at the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Marburg, Deutschhausstra├če 12, 35032 Marburg. [email protected]

Syrian society is not only extremely heterogeneous in terms of its ethnic and religious composition, there are also great differences between urban and rural populations and political attitudes. This heterogeneity is also reflected in the diversity of the Syrian opposition movements and parties, some of which changed ideological directions in the course of the revolutionary resistance in Syria. With the advancing conflict between popular resistance and the regime, new gaps opened up between the various politically left, liberal, national, Islamic or secularly oriented segments of society. Trench warfare between the opposition at home and abroad led to fragmentation, which was not only fought politically, but also had religious and ethnic connotations; In addition, there were splits between groups that rely on foreign actors and those who reject foreign intervention. The diverse competing interests of the opposition groups inevitably make it difficult to agree on a uniform strategy of resistance and contribute to deepening social rifts.

The despotic, authoritarian character of Assad's rule, to which the Syrian population was subject for more than 40 years, is sometimes repeated in the ranks of the opposition, which sometimes shows forms of dictatorial rule both in its actions against the regime and among themselves. For example, other opposition groups could only work with the Syrian National Council if they acted under its umbrella or in the interests of the dominant tendency within the National Council and did not appear too independently.

For around nine months, the Syrian regime reacted to the non-violent demonstrating population with brutal violence and the use of the army and security forces: starting with raids, persecutions, and imprisonment, right up to expulsions, bombing cities and villages and punishing insurgent cities by switching off the electricity - and water supply or a freeze on the supply of oil, gas, flour and other staple foods. In this asymmetrical power relationship between the insurgents and the regime, the majority of the opposition saw arming and the abandonment of nonviolent resistance as a logical consequence.

Opposition to the "Arab Spring"

Opposition in Syria was banned both during the reign of Hafiz al-Assad (1970 to 2000) and under the government of his son Bashar al-Assad. It seems difficult to comprehend a radical uprising in a country where there has been no open opposition for decades. The parties were closed organizations that had little contact with the general population, while formally civil society associations such as trade unions, women's organizations or religious institutions were never autonomous, but dependent on the regime and fulfilled its interests. Individuals were denied participation in politics in the all-powerful and totalitarian state machine.

In addition to the Ba'ath Party, there is officially the National Progress Front, which consists of the Ba'ath Party, the communist and national parties and several bloc parties. However, here too the Ba'ath Party is in the lead. So the National Progress Front only serves as a democratic facade that is actually completely dependent on the regime and is subject to the control of its security apparatus. One cannot therefore speak of an opposition.

The "Damascus Spring" from September 2000 to autumn 2001 and the Declaration of Damascus 2005 can be seen as pioneers of the "Arab Spring" and the revolutionary resistance in Syria. When Bashar al-Assad became president in 2000, calls for political and social reforms were intensely discussed in newly established political salons and forums such as the Riad Seif Forum and the Jamal al-Atassi National Dialogue Forum. [1] The political goals of these forums were multiparty democracy and the lifting of the state of emergency; changing the right of assembly and ensuring freedom of the press and freedom of expression; the release of political prisoners; the guarantee of economic rights for all citizens and the abolition of the special status of the Ba'ath Party. [2] These demands were also expressed in the "Manifesto of 99", which was signed by 99 Syrian intellectuals. [3] The salon participants and organizers who were later arrested included journalist Michel Kilo, entrepreneur Riad Seif, former parliamentarian Mamun al-Homsi and economist Aref Dalila.

Although the "Damascus Spring" ended with waves of arrests and the closure of the debating clubs, it left deep scars in the ranks of the opposition. Under pressure from international states on the Syrian regime in 2005 after the assassination of Lebanese President Rafik al-Hariri and Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, the opposition, which was also heterogeneous at the time, united (secular movements, Kurdish activists, moderate Islamists, the banned Muslim Brotherhood in exile in London and others) and on October 16, 2005 passed the Damascus Declaration, which called for democratic change in Syria, which also called for the repeal of the emergency laws, the equality of rights and duties of all citizens, a secular state and the drafting of the constitution. Prominent signers of this declaration were Riad Seif, as well as the current chairman of the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change, Hassan Abdel Azim, and the Islamic legal scholar Sheikh Jawdat Said, who were then persecuted.