Rea­sons to remain opti­mistic about Syria


By: Leola Nachawati Rego
As fight­ing con­tin­ues, with the régime los­ing ground despite its mil­i­tary supe­ri­or­ity, sol­i­dar­ity emerges on the ground.

There are many rea­sons to be wor­ried about Syria. The upris­ing that man­i­fested itself through peace­ful demon­stra­tions in 2011 has esca­lated to a mil­i­tary con­flict. While the régime con­tin­ues to get its sup­ply of weapons, the demands of the Syr­ian peo­ple have received no real inter­na­tional support.

The attempts to push the coun­try toward a self-​fulfilled prophecy of sec­tar­i­an­ism are extremely dan­ger­ous. The fact that the Assad admin­is­tra­tion has sur­vived this long in its cru­sade against its own peo­ple, and con­tin­ues to destroy every inch of life and ancient his­tory, is excru­ci­at­ing. The daily loss is unbearable.

While all of this is true, there are many rea­sons to remain opti­mistic con­sid­er­ing what Syr­i­ans have accom­plished in two years under extreme pres­sure. The rea­sons are related to the inter­nal dynam­ics of a peo­ple des­per­ate for free expres­sion, asso­ci­a­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion after decades of ter­ror and isolation.

Two years have passed since the first demon­stra­tions emerged in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try. Dur­ing this time, the régime’s strat­egy involved arrest­ing, killing and tor­tur­ing demon­stra­tors, with a spe­cial focus on those coor­di­nat­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing the protests.

Despite the fact that the régime has not been able to pro­duce any non-​violent response to cit­i­zen demands, non-​violent protests con­tinue to take place all over the coun­try on a weekly basis.

Demon­stra­tions are not the only man­i­fes­ta­tion of peace­ful resis­tance and civil dis­obe­di­ence. From the strikes to the sit-​ins, from the “peace brides” to the cel­e­bra­tion of Women’s Day through count­less cit­i­zen mobil­i­sa­tions, daily resis­tance against oppres­sion has not stopped.

It is impor­tant to be aware of these ini­tia­tives, which co-​exist with the mil­i­tari­sa­tion on the ground and do not usu­ally receive inter­na­tional attention.

The emer­gence of a new out­spo­ken and cre­ative Syria

For decades, Syria was an infor­ma­tion black hole. Syr­i­ans were iso­lated from one another and from the rest of the world by a régime that con­trolled the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions infrastructure. 

Neigh­bours feared each other, par­ents feared their own chil­dren, and life went by under a con­stant state of ter­ror that tran­scended the Syr­ian bor­ders. Even cit­i­zens liv­ing abroad, like my own fam­ily, spoke about Syria in whispers.

Now, Syr­i­ans inside the coun­try and abroad are hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions about their ide­ol­ogy, their polit­i­cal views, their hopes and fears, in a way that was not pos­si­ble before.

Dur­ing this time, Syr­i­ans not only have faced up to their gov­ern­ment, but their own psy­cho­log­i­cal bound­aries that had imposed a state of self-​censorship in which cer­tain thoughts or ideas were sys­tem­at­i­cally repressed.

Every­thing is now out in the open, as proved by the end­less con­ver­sa­tions, arti­cles and dif­fer­ent forms of expres­sion tak­ing place through phys­i­cal and online spaces around every aspect of the Syr­ian struggle.

Syr­i­ans are not only exchang­ing their views of their coun­try with each other, but also doc­u­ment­ing and shar­ing it with the rest of the world. Two years into the upris­ing, Syria is one of the world’s largest pro­duc­ers of YouTube videos.

Aware of their his­tor­i­cal role in nar­rat­ing the events that they are wit­ness­ing, cit­i­zens have been record­ing his­tory, accu­mu­lat­ing evi­dence that could serve an inter­na­tional tri­bunal will­ing to judge war crimes against the population.

The con­stant flow of infor­ma­tion com­ing out of Syria, which stands in con­trast with the lack of doc­u­men­ta­tion of the Hama mas­sacre in 1982, will be very nec­es­sary in the fol­low­ing stages, for account­abil­ity and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion purposes.

In addi­tion to pro­duc­ing a record of his­tor­i­cal demon­stra­tions, events and war crimes, Syr­i­ans are also engag­ing in a cul­tural renais­sance that has recently emerged in the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

Much like the emer­gence of the­atre dur­ing the army coups of the 50s and 60s, new man­i­fes­ta­tions of cre­ativ­ity and artis­tic expres­sion are flour­ish­ing in the region in this period of upris­ings, régime change and transition.

There is a con­stant and increas­ing pro­duc­tion of music, graf­fiti, inde­pen­dent films, poetry, car­toons, video-​art, pup­pet shows and all forms of free expres­sion after decades of art serv­ing the power structures.

These inde­pen­dent, often col­lec­tive pro­duc­tions are part of a new Syr­ian real­ity that has flow­ered with­out the régime’s con­sent, and it sur­vives every attempt to silence its expres­sion. Mostly uncov­ered by main­stream media, it con­sti­tutes in itself a ground for optimism.

Self-​management emerg­ing from the rubble

Achieve­ments on the ground can be sum­marised in the name of a Syr­ian vil­lage that will remain a sym­bol of resis­tance against tyranny: Kafran­bel. This north­west­ern town has become well-​known for the pow­er­ful and edgy ban­ners. They are being cre­ated since the begin­ning of the upris­ing and are instantly shared through social media.

Inter­net users from all over the world look for­ward to every new mes­sage and draw­ing, which sum­marise the mean­ing and the evo­lu­tion of the Syr­ian struggle.

Although ban­ners and draw­ings have cap­tured inter­na­tional atten­tion, Kafran­bel is more than that. It is also a model for new forms of self-​management emerg­ing from the rub­ble. Its inhab­i­tants not only have sur­vived sev­eral régime bomb­ings, but also have engaged in self-​government while rebuild­ing their own town.

The teams that were organ­ised to coor­di­nate the demon­stra­tions and pre­pare the ban­ners have turned into com­mit­tees work­ing to ensure life con­tin­ues in the village.

From organ­is­ing the police to clean­ing patrols, “Lib­er­ated Kafran­bel” has become a proof that an alter­na­tive is already on the mak­ing. Kafran­bel has shown that the cen­tral state — imposed on cities, vil­lages and com­mu­ni­ties for decades — con­sti­tuted a force of oppression.

How­ever, Kafran­bel is not the only one in this. Self-​management is being expe­ri­enced through­out the coun­try, mainly in small towns while the régime is try­ing to main­tain its con­trol over big cities.

From the local and provin­cial coun­cils of Aleppo to the organ­i­sa­tion of inde­pen­dent activ­i­ties like the Duma fes­ti­val, cit­i­zens are expe­ri­enc­ing true self-​management and self-​government after years of their coun­try being ruled like pri­vate property.

There is an opposition

As a Syr­ian, I see the dis­cus­sion on the polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion as a big devel­op­ment in itself. The inter­na­tional com­mu­nity demands that Syr­i­ans have a uni­fied oppo­si­tion, and this is what Syr­i­ans on the ground and abroad hope for as well.

How­ever, how real­is­tic is it to expect an easy agree­ment given the cur­rent cir­cum­stances and the mount­ing pres­sure? The oppo­si­tion is not quite uni­fied in most demo­c­ra­tic coun­tries, and less so under repres­sive regimes.

But the pos­si­bil­ity of hold­ing an open dia­logue on the future of the coun­try is a progress, if only com­pared with the monop­oly over polit­i­cal issues that the Assad admin­is­tra­tion main­tained for 40 years. 

The pres­i­dent of the Syr­ian National Coali­tion, Mouaz al-​Khatib, announced his res­ig­na­tion on March 22 cit­ing a lack of sup­port from the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity, and grow­ing dis­agree­ment with the elec­tion of Ghas­san Hitto as prime min­is­ter of the interim gov­ern­ment. Many oth­ers have expressed sim­i­lar concerns.

On March 25, the Coali­tion occu­pied Syria’s seat at the Arab League, another clear evi­dence that Assad is no longer an inter­locu­tor. The Mus­lim Broth­er­hood is fac­ing increased rejec­tion in some parts of the coun­try, despite its attempt to gain ground at the expense of Assad’s loss of grip on the country.

These recent devel­op­ments con­trast with the silence and stag­na­tion of the last 40 years.

A con­sen­sus over who will rep­re­sent Syr­i­ans, with the approval of peo­ple on the ground, is nec­es­sary and urgent. But polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion, dis­agree­ment, non-​violent dis­sent and the process of build­ing a legit­i­mate oppo­si­tion is in itself an impor­tant step, despite the obsta­cles and the frus­tra­tion involved.

While inter­na­tional cov­er­age of the sit­u­a­tion inside the coun­try is monop­o­lised by its mil­i­tary aspects, life goes on in Syria. As the fight­ing con­tin­ues, with the régime los­ing ground despite its mil­i­tary supe­ri­or­ity, sol­i­dar­ity emerges on the ground.

Towns are re-​born from under the rub­ble into new forms of self-​management, dis­cus­sions take place, lessons are learned and shared, and Syr­i­ans con­tinue their strug­gle against tyranny. As long as they stand, there is ground for optimism.

Source: Aljazeera

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