Joseph Daher cached version 08/02/2019 17:57:30 en Popular oral culture and sectarianism, a materialist analysis <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How and by whom is sectarianism produced and maintained? And for what reasons?<a href=""><strong>العربية </strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p lang="en-US"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// الطوائف⁩_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// الطوائف⁩_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="325" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span> <a href="">SyriaUntold</a> in partnership with openDemocracy’s NAWA published this year a series of testimonies reflecting on the issue of sectarianism in Syrian society and its links with popular oral culture. The contributions were written by Syrian men and women from different ethnic and religious background. Introducing this series on the “other” and oral sectarian culture in Syria, Mohammed Dibo, the editor-in-chief of SyriaUntold raised several questions to this not new, as he rightly reminds the reader, phenomenon of sectarianism. “<a href="">Where did all this sectarianism come from? Where was this sectarian consciousness hiding?</a>” Or is it something entrenched in the “Arab” mind?&nbsp; </p><p lang="en-US"> <strong>Roots of sectarianism</strong></p> <p lang="en-US"> If the answer is that sectarianism is the result of an essential and primordial component of the Arab / Muslim mind — as promoted by some academics and politicians [1] —then on these premises no solution can be found outside the realm of a so called “consociational” sectarian political solution. This is the model in place in Lebanon and Iraq, which officially divides power between the various religious communities and ethnicities, while in reality serving the political and economic elites of these groups. </p> <p lang="en-US"> Alternatively, if this is not the case, as argued by this author and several testimonies in this series, the key question becomes: how and by whom is sectarianism produced and maintained? For what reasons? </p> <p lang="en-US"> Many of the testimonies emphasise how the Syrian regime exploits sectarianism to divide the Syrian people. For example, the writer <a href="">Omar Kaddour </a>speaks of a silent war that became a declared project by the stereotyping of each identity, while journalist and feminist activist <a href="">Milia Eidmouni</a> explains how she had this constant feeling that Christians were guests in their own country and that they had to respect the regime that “provided protection” to her community. </p> <p lang="en-US"> For his part, <a href="">Ahmed Khalil </a>argues that the regime was not the only one preventing any real and public discussion of sectarian beliefs, although sectarian exploitation was the main tool used by Damascus to remain in power until today. Such discussion was also constrained by Syrian society and social traditions governing relations between the diverse communities of Syria. He cites for example the issue of mix marriages, which were very rare and unwelcome by the vast majority in Syria. Many testimonies actually attested that within each community insulting jokes / stereotypes / expressions or a feeling of insecurity toward other groups were relatively common. <a href="">Mohammed Dibo</a> recalls exchanges with his Alawite family that reflected a fear of history repeating itself. </p> <p lang="en-US"> It is clear that opposition groups have not been innocent when it comes to instrumentalising sectarian discourses and practices, which have increased in the past few years. Moreover, some have portrayed the struggle in Syria as a primarily sectarian one and therefore one has to choose his / her camp between “Sunnis” and “Alawis” as described by <a href="">Milia Eidmouni</a>. Similarly, I remember that early on sectors of Syrian democratic and progressive activists would mock the characterizations made behind close doors by Syrian official opposition representatives of the Syrian National Council and Syrian Coalition to describe someone as “Christian (or Druze), but opponent”, “Kurdish, but nationalist (or patriotic)”, “Alawi, but honourable”, etc… </p> <p lang="en-US"> Sectarian identity has been increasingly equated with a political position by multiple camps. Unfortunately, this trend has not been restricted to conservative and Islamic fundamentalists groups among the opposition, it has become increasingly evident in liberal sectors as well. In a more sophisticated attempt to explain sectarian dynamics within the state of Syria, some liberal opposition personalities have not necessarily characterized the regime as Alawite, describing it instead as a authoritarian and privatized state run by the Assad family. This regime nevertheless adopted policies favoring religious minorities, leaving Sunnis generally “angry” at this situation as they felt discriminated against and excluded from clientelist networks. This sentiment sets the stage for <a href="">discourses</a> on the “oppressed Sunni” majority. <br /></p> <p lang="en-US"> Although the dominant role of Alawi personalities at the head of the regime and its coercive instruments (the military and the secret services) is not in dispute, I will show that reducing the nature of the state or its dominant institutions to an “Alawite identity,” or favouring religious minorities and discriminating a whole community (Arab Sunnis) is problematic. This approach does not seize upon the complex networks of alliances made by the regime’s elite. Again this does not mean that sectarianism has not been a major tool employed by the regime in order to control and divide the Syrian population. There have been sectarian massacres and forced displacement by regime forces and its allies against impoverished Sunni populations involved in the uprising or at least suspected of sympathies towards it, while eliminating most forms of democratic and non-sectarian resistance in the country. </p> <p lang="en-US"> This is however very different than saying that the regime is against all Sunnis. The regime is not opposed to Sunni populations or a particular Sunni identity per se, as some has claimed, but to hostile constituencies, which have been in their far majority from Sunni popular backgrounds in impoverished rural areas and mid-towns, in addition to the suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo. Such simplification overlooks the Sunni support for the regime, especially in Damascus and Aleppo, and the Sunni presence within regime institutions and loyalist militias. Just as other religious and ethnic communities, Syrian Arab Sunnis were ‘formed’ through various elements (class, gender, regional origin, religion, etc.) and do not have a single political position. This was actually mentioned in the testimonies, especially regarding the ones writing from or on Damascus speaking about the social differences and the urban and rural divide.</p> <p lang="en-US"> Class has to be thus understood as a social relation, and factors such as gender, age, national and ethnic origin, citizenship status are part of what constitutes class as a concrete social relation. This has consequences as well on how Sunni individuals are treated differently by the regime, just as other individuals from other sects.</p> <p lang="en-US"> I argue, following the argument made by late Lebanese Marxist Mehdi Amel in the 1980s during the Lebanese Civil War, against any attempt to ascribe class position to one’s belonging to a particular sect, and to build alliances on a sectarian basis. According to Amel, such alliances would further entrench the sectarian dynamic inherent to the system and thus strengthen the position of those in power. Instead, Amel advanced a position that highlighted the contradictory class nature of different communities, one in which the role of sectarianism helped to obscure relations of power and domination within the community itself. [2]</p> <p lang="en-US"> Now l will try to explain the dynamics of sectarianism and how to try challenge it. </p> <p lang="en-US"><strong> The Political economy of sectarianism: Unequal and combined development</strong></p> <p lang="en-US"> In order to understand the permanence of sectarianism and other elements mentioned by Mohammad Dibo such “ethnic discrimination, tribalism, regionalism, rural and urban tensions” in Syria and more broadly in the region, we have to look at the material conditions (the political and socio-economic system and structures locally, regionally and internationally) we and the people of the region live in to explain.</p> <p lang="en-US"> It is important first to remind that Syria is a dominated country on the international political scene characterized by unequal and combined development.<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote1sym">1</a> In this perspective, two important issues have to be analysed: 1) the nature of the state and its apparatus and 2) the state’s popular base. As argued by academic scholar Gilbert Achcar, the analysis of these elements is much more complicated in societies rooted in unequal and combined development than in the case of a bourgeois democratic state ruling over a modern type of civil society. The reason is that archaic social structures and categories are mixed to a modern type of social stratification and where forms of archaic dominations are amalgamated with political institutions of modern inspirations. [3] The main archaic remnants in the MENA region that affects the nature of the political domination and of the state are tribalism, regionalism and sectarianism, especially the latter in the case of Syria. These factors are inherited from the period preceding the bourgeois era, which ideologically promoted a national ideal. They correspond to an era where parental and lineage structures were determinant (tribalism) and where religion was the political ideology per excellence (sectarianism). [4] The degree of resilience and presence of these elements in the societies of the region varies according to its age and depth of modernization. [5] </p> <p lang="en-US"> The explanation for the resilience of these factors should however not be found in any kind of Arabic or Islamic particularities, but is linked to the dynamics of unequal and combined development in a global capitalist system. Agents of modernization, whether foreigners or indigenous, have themselves used these archaic factors to consolidate their own powers. Lacking popular legitimacy, the various regimes of the region have generally nurtured tribal, sectarian and / or regional clienteles as guarantees against popular uprising, constituting the armature of power. </p> <p lang="en-US"> In Syria, the regime is a patrimonial one, in the traditional Weberian definition. In other words, it is an absolute autocratic and hereditary power, which can function through a collegial environment (parents and friends) and ownership of the state. The armed forces are dominated by a praetorian guard (a force whose allegiance goes to the rulers, not to the state), as is the case for economic means and the levers of administration. In this type of regime, it's a type of crony capitalism that develops, dominated by a state bourgeoisie. In other words the members and people close to the ruling families often exploit their dominant position guaranteed by the political power to amass considerable fortunes. The rentier nature of the economy strengthens the patrimonial nature of the state as well. [6] The centers of power (political, military and economy) within the Syrian regime are concentrated in one family and its clique, the Assad, similar to Libya under Moammer Qaddhafi or the Gulf Monarchies. This drives the regime to use all the violence at its disposition to protect its rule. </p> <p lang="en-US"> Therefore, most of the patrimonial states in the MENA region are generally characterized by a deeply corrupt trilateral “power elite” [7] as explained by Achcar:</p> <p lang="en-US"> “a triangle of power constituted by the interlocking pinnacles of the military apparatus the political institutions and politically determined capitalist class (a state bourgeoisie), all three bent on fiercely defending their access to state power, the main source of their priviledges and profits” [8] </p> <p lang="en-US"> In this perspective, and contrary to some states especially characterized by democratic bourgeois’ institutions and forms of governances, is it not possible to speak of the relative autonomy of the state in relation to the power elite.</p> <p lang="en-US"> On a more regional level, the rise of sectarian tensions after 1979 were mostly rooted as a result of the increasing political rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran that instrumentalized them for political objectives. This rivalry therefore boosted Sunni and Shi’a Islamic fundamentalist movements throughout the region. Various authoritarian and despotic regimes in the region have also made use of sectarianism to consolidate their power and divide their population. This is also used to divert popular classes away from socio-economic and political problems by categorizing one group (according to its sect or ethnicity) as the source of problems in the country and as a security threat, which leads to repressive and discriminatory policies against it. </p> <p lang="en-US"> The key element to understand is that sectarianism is as a product of modernity and not as a reminiscent of past history preventing the modernization of these countries, or as something that is essential to the people of the region. In addition to this, sectarianism is a powerful mechanism of control over the course of the class struggle through its creation of ties of dependence between the popular classes and their bourgeois and petit bourgeois leadership. In this manner, popular classes are deprived of an independent political existence and instead are defined (and act politically) through their confessional status, which is in the interests of bourgeois leaderships as we have seen it in Syria and elsewhere in the region.</p> <p lang="en-US"><strong> Syria’s construction of a patrimonial regime: From Hafez al-Assad to Bashar al-Assad</strong></p> <p lang="en-US"> The establishment of the modern patrimonial state occurred under the leadership of Hafez al-Assad following his arrival to power in 1970. He patiently built a state in which he could secure power through various means such as sectarianism, regionalism, tribalism and clientelism, which were managed on informal networks of power and patronage. This came alongside harsh repression against any form of dissent. These tools allowed the regime to integrate, boost or undermine groups belonging to different ethnicities and religious sects. This translated at the local level by the collaboration of various actors submitted to the regime, including state or Ba’th officials, intelligence officers, and prominent members of local society (clerics, tribal members, businessmen, etc..), who managed specific localities. The coming to power of Hafez al-Assad also opened the way for the beginning of economic liberalization, in opposition to previous radical policies of the 1960s. </p> <p lang="en-US"> Bashar al-Assad’s arrival to power in 2000 considerably strengthened the patrimonial nature of the state with a particular increasing weight of crony capitalists. The accelerated neoliberal policies of the regime led to an increasing shift in the social base of the regime constituted from its origins of peasants, government employees and some sections of the bourgeoisie, to a regime coalition with at its heart the crony capitalists – the rent seeking alliance of political brokers (led by Assad’s mother’s family, Makhlouf) and the regime supporting bourgeoisie and higher middle classes. This shift was paralleled by disempowerment of the traditional corporatist organizations of workers and peasants and their patronage networks and the co-optation in their place of business groups and higher middle classes. This did not balance or compensate however its former support base. More generally, the increased patrimonial nature of the state and the weakening of the Ba’th party apparatus and corporatist organizations rendered cliental, tribal and sectarian connections all the more important and was therefore reflected in society.</p> <p lang="en-US"> Following the uprising in 2011, the regime’s repression and policies were largely based on its main base of support, old and new: crony capitalists, security services, and high religious institutions linked to the state. At the same time, it made use of its patronage networks through sectarian, clientelist and tribal links to mobilize on a popular level. Through the war, the deepening Alawi sectarian and clientelist aspect of the regime prevented major desertions, while patronage connections served as essential elements, binding the interests of disparate social groups to the regime. </p> <p lang="en-US"> The regime’s popular base demonstrated the nature of the state and the way the power elite related to the rest of society, or more precisely in this case its popular base, through a mix of modern and archaic forms of social relations, and not through a constructed and large civil society. The regime had to rely mostly on coercive powers, which included repressive actions and installing fear, but not only. The regime could also indeed count on the passivity or at least non-active opposition of large sections of urban government employees and more generally middle class strata in the two main cities of Damascus and Aleppo, although their suburbs were often hotbeds of revolt. This was part of the passive hegemony imposed by the regime. </p> <p lang="en-US"> Moreover, this situation demonstrated that regime’s popular base was not limited to sectors and groups issued from the Alawi and / or religious minority populations, although they were predominant, but included personalities and groups from various sects and ethnicities pledging their support to the regime. More generally, large sections of regime’s popular base mobilized through sectarian, tribal and clientielist connections were increasingly acting as agents of regime repression. As argued by Steven Heydemann, “regime-society relations defined to a disturbing degree by shared participation in repression”. [9] </p> <p lang="en-US"> This resilience came at a cost however, in addition to increasing dependence on foreign states and actors. The regime’s existing characteristics and tendencies were amplified. Crony capitalist considerably increased their power as large sectors of Syria’s bourgeoisie had left the country massively withdrawing its political and financial support to the regime. This situation compelled the regime to adopt more and more a predatory behavior in its extraction of increasing needed revenues. At the same time, the clientelist, sectarian, and tribal features of the regime were reinforced. The regime’s sectarian Alawite identity was strengthened, especially in key institutions such as the army and to a lesser extent in state administrations, which is an issue the Assad leadership will have to deal with following the end of the war in a war torn country. There was also a deepening and institutionalization of repressive exclusionary practices.</p> <p lang="fr-FR"> From this perspective, it bears noting that the Syrian regime since Hafez al-Assad’s arrival to power in 1970 has used policies intrumentalizing sectarianism and primordial identities as a weapon to divide the Syrians both on religious and ethnic lines, while developing a double policy of repressing independent popular civic and secular organizations and political parties. It only allowed alternative organizations to develop under the control of the regime, while reinforcing sectarian and primary – including tribal – identities throughout contemporary Syrian history in different ways. </p> <p lang="fr-FR"> At the same time, sectarianism has also been instrumentalized by sections of the Syrian opposition, particularly Islamic fundamentalist groups but not only, and other foreign countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, in order to build a following or mobilize constituencies on the ground against the Assad regime.</p> <p lang="en-US"><strong> Institutions of the regime: maintaining primordial identities and reactionary practices and discourses</strong></p> <p lang="en-US"> The Syrian regime’s institutions have also played an important role fanning sectarianism and ethnic hatred in society and maintaining other primordial identities or elements. The nature of political institutions is indeed a historically determined reflection of the class structure that has emerged in relation to capital accumulation. In other words, the state is not disassociated from the sphere of politics, which is not separated from the economic sphere. Similarly, it is a social relation or “the set of institutional forms through which the ruling class relates to the rest of society”. [10] This is why seeing the regime as solely Alawite, notwithstanding the alawitization of some institutions, espcially its armed repressive apparatus, does not grasp its dynamics of power and ruling system. Furthermore, the regime does not serve the political and socio-economic interests of the Alawite population as a whole, quite on the contrary. The rising death toll in the army and other militias was made up of many Alawis; insecurity and growing economic hardships have actually created tensions and fuelled animosities against regime officials among Alawite populations. </p> <p lang="en-US"> It is interesting to see at the same time that the Assad regime, father and son, continuously also tried to minimize and hide all visible signs of Alawite religiosity and promoted assimilation into the Sunni mainstream. Bashar and Hafez al-Assad both performed public prayers in Sunni mosques, while Sunni mosques were built throughout Alawite majority populated areas. The regime did not allow any form of civil representation to establish a Higher Alawite Supreme Council and there are no public religious references for the Alawite community. The Alawis follow the same religious laws as the Sunni community regarding the law of personal status (marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc…) and receive just like other Islamic minorities a Sunni religious education in schools, media and public institutions. [11]</p> <p lang="en-US"> In this perspective, sectarianism has never been a political end but remained a significant and key means of domination.</p> <p lang="en-US"> But moreover, institutions maintain through various ways the divides in the society. In the country, different rights and duties exist according to one’s religious identity and ethnicity. The 2012 constitution for example stipulates that the president must be a Muslim man and that “the main source of law is the Sharia”, which is discriminatory for the rest of religious sects and women. Syria also has eight different personal status laws, each of which is applied according to the religious sect of an individual. Christian communities follow their own laws, while Personal Status Law for all Muslims is based on a particular Sunni interpretation of Islamic Sharia, Hanafi jurisprudence and other Islamic sources. These laws also include major discriminations against women. This is without forgetting the new Decree No. 16 signed by Bashar al-Assad in September of this year, which was widely perceived as strengthening the role of the Ministry of Religious Endowment (Awqaf) in society by revising and expanding its responsibilities and its internal structure. [12]</p> <p lang="en-US"> In addition to what has been mentioned above, the patriarchal order is maintained by the maintenance of practices and legalized by law such as the so-called “honour crimes” (article 548), which are not penalized most of the time or of a maximum of 5 to 7 years, or the “<a href="الاغتصابُ-الشرعيُّ-الجريمة-المبررة/?fbclid=IwAR1Hu8cUhegNNCfMTgpJyfgX_jlM210rDfEOHIG3T7aOFo1GE7IkhIBsSxQ">legalized rape</a>” (article 489) in the case of a married couple. </p> <p lang="en-US"> Similarly, the Arab ethnic identity is the supreme one in Syria, according to the constitution, while others are tolerated as subordinated identities or nearly forbidden like the Kurdish one. Kurdish populations in Syria have suffered discriminatory and repressive policies on the political, social and cultural levels since the independence of Syria in 1946. Heinous discourses are actually very much present today regarding the Kurds among regime and pro-opposition circles presenting them as separatists and agents of the west, which all have historical roots in the country, [13] while as mentioned in the testimonies insulting jokes, social stereotypes and unease in hearing the Kurdish language in society are widespread. </p> <p lang="en-US"> This system of laws and this political framework, which are regulated along religious, ethnic and patriarchal lines, are critical to the maintenance of divisions within society. So despite the so-called “modernist” appeal of the regime, this latter has an interest in maintaining such laws as an instrument of division and domination. </p> <p lang="en-US"><strong> Conclusion</strong></p> <p lang="en-US"> Sectarianisn in oral popular culture has existed for decades in Syria and predate the Assad regime. Previous rulers maintained primordial identities as key elements in their political systems. However, under the Assad regime and in line with regional political evolutions, sectariansim was nurtured and evolved, permeating multiple aspects of Syrian society. The question now is how to challenge it.</p> <p lang="en-US"> In Lebanon, the <a href="">words</a> of Lebanese Maronite Patriarch at the time Nasrallah Sfeir in 2010 on how to deal with the sectarian system have unfortunately become a mantra for the Lebanese ruling class as well as larger segments of society: ”If we remove the confessionalism (sectarianism) of the texts before removing it from the minds, nothing will change".&nbsp; </p> <p lang="en-US"> In Syria, most of the approaches put forward to tackle sectarianism are better education, exchanges between different sects and ethnicities within society, a more inclusive history of the country, etc… These are all elements that are welcome and should be defended. However, these recommendations do not touch or challenge the core of the production and reproduction of these thoughts within society, which is the political system and its way of ruling.</p> <p lang="en-US"> As Karl Marx <a href="">wrote</a> «&nbsp;The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.”&nbsp; </p> <p lang="en-US"> A veritable challenge to sectarianism and conservative or reactionnary thoughts can only occur with a veritable break with the ruling system and its ideas. As Lebanese Palestiniane academic Ussama Makdissi wrote “to overcome sectarianism, if it is at all possible, requires yet another rupture, a break as radical for the body politic as the advent of sectarianism was for the old regime, It requires another vision of modernity&nbsp;». [14]</p> <p lang="en-US"> A sense of these elements were present at the beginning of the uprising with the massive participation from below of large stratas of the society, although certainly with contradictions. The self organization of protesters were able to pass through different political and social experiences changing their mindset, and challenging their own fears and norms imposed by society. Many testimonies show that many activists and protesters went beyond prior sectarian and ethnic stereotypes, while the dominant discourse at the beginning of the protest was for the unity and freedom of the Syrian people and against sectarianism. Similarly, the first two years also saw important participation from women in demonstrations and activities in relation to the uprising. Women played an instrumental role in the civil disobedience movement since its earliest stages. At the same time, an important element in the involvement and participation of women in the uprising was the issue of breaking social codes and overcome traditional barriers. Female activists often <a href="">agreed</a> that the beginning of the revolution opened the door for women to challenge restrictive social conventions, whether those conventions were legal, familial, religious or social. </p> <p lang="en-US"> As argued by <a href="">Mohammed Dibo</a> “experience alone can be the purge or gateway to another state”. However the remaining of the regime, militarization of the regime and the rise of Islamic fundamentalist forces imposed backward steps on these new emancipatory experiences.&nbsp; </p><p lang="en-US"> The struggle against sectarianism and other conservative behaviours and discourses is part of the struggle against the Assad regime, and to establish a radical break with the past. This break with the sectarian policies of the regime also have to oppose the sections of the oppositions that are using and producing sectarian discourses and practices, as well as preserving and promoting reactionary behaviours such as patriarchy and ethnic chauvinism. Sectarianism can only defeated by struggling in conjunction for democracy, social justice, secularism and real sovereignty against all foreign actors.</p> <p lang="en-US"> Finally, these words in the struggle against sectarianism of my late Lebanese Comrade and friend <a href="//">Bassem Chiit</a> make full sense for the case of Syria and our discussion: “It’s not a struggle for a more tolerant society. This is a class struggle, both a struggle against the dominant ideas and a struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors”. </p> <p lang="en-US">[1] Major world leaders, public intellectuals and analysts have indeed increasingly portrayed all political tensions and mobilizations in the MENA region as conflict between religious sects combating each other for centuries, if not more. The Syrian uprising was no exception and was often presented initially as a war between Sunni and Alawi, or Sunni against religious and ethnic minorities. US President Barack Obama has spoken on several occasions of “ancient sectarian differences” as a means of explaining the conflict in Syria. These “ancient divisions”, he argues, propel the inability in the Arab world, which is “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia”. Previously to the uprisings in 2011, academic Vali Nasr explained that the nature of politics in the Middle East was rather rooted “in the old feud between Shi’as and Sunnis that forge attitudes, defines prejudices, draws political boundary lines, and even decides whether and to what extent those other trends have relevance.” </p><p>[2] Amel, Mehdi (1986), <em>Fil-Dawla al-Tâ’ifiyya,</em> Beirut: Dâr al-Farabi </p><p lang="en-US"> [3] Gilbert Achcar acknowledges that all societies are rooted in some forms of unequal and combined development, no society is without history and none is exempt from passed vestiges. However what is meant by unequal and combined development goes way past the normality of historic evolution to describe the combination of social logics different at the heart of the contemporary economic and / or political system </p> <p lang="en-US"> [4] Sectarianism still exists in Northern Ireland as a relic of past colonial time, but has otherwise disappeared from the rest of Europe, while regionalism still exists. </p> <p lang="en-US"> [5] Achcar, Gilbert (2013), <em>Le peuple veut, une exploration radicale du soulèvement arabe, </em>Paris<em>, </em>Actes Sud, pp. 200-201</p> <p lang="en-US"> [6] Rent is defined as a regular revenue that is not generated by the work carried out or commissioned by the beneficiary. The dominant form of state rent in the Middle East and North African region was mining rent, such as oil, gas and other mineral products. In addition to this, the Assad regime benefitted, at different periods, from a strategic rent in reward for its “struggle” against Israel. Economic growth during both Assad regimes was chiefly rent-based, depending on oil export revenues, financial assistance received or offered because of a particular political position and capital inflows including remittances. This rent-based growth was also anti-developmental in many ways as I will show in the text.</p><p>[7] As explained by Achcar the concept of “power elite” was elaborated by C. Wright Mills who designated the “triangle of power” in control of the State </p><p lang="en-US"> [8] Achcar, Gilbert (2016), <em>Morbid Symptoms, Relapse in the Arab Uprising, </em>Stanford, Stanford University Press, p. 7</p> <p lang="en-US">[9] Heydemann, Steven (2013b), “Syria and the Future of Authoritarianism”, <em>Journal of Democracy</em>, Vol. 24, Num. 4, October, p. 71</p> <p lang="en-US"> [10] Hanieh, Adam. 2013.,&nbsp;<em>Lineages of Revolt, Issues of Contemporary Capitalism in the Middle East</em>. Chicago: Haymarket Books, p. 14</p> <p lang="en-US"> [11];; Wimmen, Heiko (2017), “The Sectarianization of the Syrian War” Wehrey F. (ed.), <em>Beyond Sunni and Shia, the roots of sectarianism in a changing Middle East, </em>Hurst, London, p. 73 </p> <p lang="en-US"> [12] It extended the powers of the Minister at different levels. Firtsly, the proposed decree permitted the ministry to establish its own commercial establishments, whose revenue would go directly to the ministry’s treasury, giving it complete financial independence, without passing through the Central Bank or the Ministry of Finance. The ministry could now outsource its property, set up tourism projects (like restaurants, hotels, and cafes) and rent its land to investors. The Decree 16 provided also for full tax exemptions for the workers in the religious field of the Ministry and waqf properties. As a reminder, the Minister of Awqaf was already the richest institution in Syria, as a result of a constant flow of charity funds and the large tracts of property that it owns, registered as religious endowments since Ottoman times. The decree allows the Ministry to govern financial and educational institutions in addition to governing artistic and cultural production, as well as establishing a religious group called “The Religious Youth Group”, to train and supervise mosque preachers, monitor public vice, and make zakat an obligatory tax for Sunni Muslims. It also establishes pre-university Sharia schools and religious councils in mosques, independent of the Ministries of Education and Higher Education. This decree also led to the strengthening of the ministry’s role at the expense of the Grand Mufti, in a power struggle of influence and material benefits (notably control of financial donations to religious charitable institutions) between the two sunni religious institutions. The decree actually authorised the minister of Awqaf to appoint the grand mufti of the republic, a right previously vested in the presidency, and limits his tenure to three years, renewable only through the minister’s approval, while stripping the mufti of the right to chair the Higher Awqaf Council, which every mufti has enjoyed since 1961, giving the job to the minister. The decree provoked significant opposition and criticisms, from both loyalist and opposition circles denouncing a deepening of the process of islamization of Syrian society. The decree was submitted to numerous amendments by MPs in parliament limiting some of the expansion of powers of the Ministry (notably the tax exemption for workers in the religious affairs, or no influence in affairs of other Ministries), although not completely. The final version of the decree after the amendments had to be adopted by Bachar Al-Assad at the time of the writing.</p><p>[13] In the 1950s and 1960s, Kurds in Syria were the main scapegoats of rising Arab nationalism in Syria – including during the UAR and afterwards with the Ba’thist rule from 1963. They were presented as hired agents working at the service of powerful foreign enemies, especially American and Zionist imperialism. </p> <p>[14] Makdissi Oussama (2000),&nbsp;<em>The culture of sectarianism, community, history and violence in nineteenth- century Ottoman Lebanon</em>, p. 174</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/oral-culture-and-identity-in-syria-dossier">Oral culture and identity in Syria - Dossier</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria sectarianism Syria and sectarianism Joseph Daher Thu, 01 Nov 2018 15:38:14 +0000 Joseph Daher 120409 at Syria, the uprising and the media scene <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Syrian revolutionary process is a more thoroughly documented uprising than has ever been seen before in history, notably thanks to these democratic media. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>2012, rising up chasing freedom. 2017, chased us out of freedom (the man is holding a flag of Jaysh al-Islam) </span></span></span>Before the uprising Syria’s media were in the hands of the regime and dominated by the business figures linked to it. At the beginning of the uprising, there was a surge of new media actors linked to the protest movements and the democratic space they opened up.</p> <p>The uprising allowed for a general process of politicization among the large sectors of society involved in the revolutionary process, reflected in the creation of new newspapers, websites, blogs, groups in social networks, and so forth. </p> <p>Even now some of them still exist, despite the ongoing attacks and repressive actions on what is left of the protest movement, especially by the forces of Assad’s regime and their allies. The democratic protest movements have also suffered from the authoritarian practices of various Islamic fundamentalist forces. </p> <h2><strong>Prior to the uprising</strong></h2> <p>Syria had three government-controlled national newspapers, state radio and state TV, all committed to strengthening the legitimacy of the Assad regime. Pan-Arabist newspapers <em>al-Hayat</em> and <em>al-Sharq al-Awsat</em>, as well as Lebanese, Jordanian and Gulf Arab titles, and a small number of private magazines, were available and allowed in the 2000s. The political parties of the Progressive National Front (PNF), supportive of the regime, were also authorized to publish their own weekly newspapers.&nbsp; </p> <p>However, the country was still far from having a pluralist and free press. This media landscape failed to offer a real public discourse as private media were controlled by personalities linked to the regime. In September 2001, the Syrian regime actually adopted a new Press Law (Decree No. 50/2001), which provided the government with <a href="">sweeping controls</a> over virtually everything printed in Syria: newspapers, magazines, other periodicals, books, pamphlets, posters, etc. Syria was 173rd of 178 countries in a 2010 ranking of press freedom around the world by Reporters Without Borders.</p> <p>The authorities did not hesitate to censor the content of newspapers they considered had crossed the line. For example, the first privately owned newspaper <em>al-Dommari</em>, owned by caricaturist Ali Ferzat, was authorized to resume publication by the regime after nearly 40 years in early 2001, appeared on June 17, 2001 with two blank pages when Prime Minister Muhammad Miro took personal offence at an article deemed critical of the government’s performance. He also censored another article written about an imminent cabinet reshuffle.<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> </p> <p>In the short window of opportunity between 2000 and 2001 referred to as the “Damascus Spring”, an opposition critic such as Michel Kilo was allowed to publish articles critical of the regime in the local state-controlled press, particularly <em>al-Thawra</em>, until that again ended in repression by the regime.</p> <p>Repression against bloggers critical of the regime was the rule throughout the 2000s and on the eve of the uprising. Kamal Cheikho, a Kurdish militant and blogger was arrested for example in June 2010. In mid-February 2011, the State Security Court sentenced the blogger Tal al-Mallouhi, arrested in December 2009, to five years’ imprisonment. She was accused of spying for a foreign country, but the reason for her severe reprimand stemmed from her blogging and online activities. She actually wrote poems and essays that focused on the suffering of the Palestinians, and she discussed the restrictions on freedom of expression. <span class="mag-quote-center">She actually wrote poems and essays that focused on the suffering of the Palestinians, and she discussed the restrictions on freedom of expression. </span></p> <p>In middle and late February 2011, it was Ahmad Hadifa’s turn. Known as Ahmad Aboul-Kheir, he was arrested for a few days when his blog offered guidelines for circumventing the censorship of sites blocked by the authorities. This was at a time when articles on the revolutions that had erupted in Tunisia and Egypt raised the possibility of contagion to other countries in the region.</p> <p>There were however some groups present on the web, but also on the ground, trying to promote democratic and progressive political thought. The Al-Thara Group was for example the first website to raise the banner for women’s and children’s rights. Between 2005 and 2011, the al-Thara Group trained more than sixty journalists in the arts of maintaining a free media, while it was also partner to a number of other organizations, participating in joint campaigns such as that against honor killing, or involved in the drafting of the parallel report for the Beijing World Conference on Women in 2010. People working on these websites frequently participated in feminist civil society activity, such as lectures, parades, workshops, and conferences. They played an important role in creating new perspectives, through the social exchanges that took place on their websites, for <a href="">advancing women’s rights</a> in Syria.<a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a></p> <p>The regime was afraid of activists and individuals engaging in dialogue on political issues, especially those with democratic and progressive orientation who gathered Syrians from various religious and ethnic backgrounds. For example in June 2007 when seven students from various religious backgrounds, including two Alawis, were sentenced to prison terms for online conversation about political reform, the arresting officer explained that, “these youths are more dangerous than al-Qa’ida, because they come from all sects”. This strategy of repression would be the same during the uprising: it was the democratic and progressive sectors of the popular movement who were targeted first.</p> <h2><strong>Syria’s media tycoons</strong></h2> <p>Similarly, the so-called new ‘private’ media scene which appeared, following Bashar al-Assad’s arrival to power in 2000, was far from creating a space for open and democratic debate. </p> <p>Syria’s most influential media tycoons were a collection of wealthy businessmen with close connections to the regime’s political, military and business establishment. They included Rami Makhlouf, Majd Bahjat Sulayman, Bilal Turkmani (son of Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani), Mohamed Saber Hamsho, Aktham Ali Duba, and steel tycoon Ayman Jaber. </p> <p>Rami Makhlouf established the popular Al-Watan newspaper. Majd Bahjat Sulayman, owner of Syria’s largest media empire, was the executive director of Alwaseet Group, and chairman of the United Group for Publishing, Advertising and Marketing (UG). Ayman Jaber and Mohamed Saber Hamsho, alongside a number of other Syrian businessmen, established Dunia TV and Sama satellite channel. Aktham Ali Douba, the son of the former head of Syrian intelligence, formed the <em>al-Riyadiya</em> newspaper and magazine with a <a href="">clear monopoly</a> on sports advertising.<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> </p> <p>These same crony capitalists first tried their hand at funding the regime’s orchestrated mass rallies and public relations campaigns, while the private media owned by these businessmen linked to the regime from the first days of the uprising in an attempt to undermine the message of the protesters by defaming the protest movement and promoting the regime’s propaganda.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <h2><strong>Rise of revolutionary media</strong></h2><p class="mag-quote-center">“These youths are more dangerous than al-Qa’ida, because they come from all sects.”</p> <p>The beginning of the uprising and especially its first two years featured a wave of civilian resistance using various means, including the media. In this period, people witnessed a surge of free newspapers throughout the country, but especially in areas liberated from the regime’s forces. The phenomenon of citizen journalists expanded considerably and news became a basic act of resistance carried out by Syrians in their revolt against the Assad regime. Over time, video activism was evolving into a homegrown journalistic scene with tiny local papers and online radio stations broadcasting openly in the liberated areas and underground in those under Assad’s control. By the end of 2011, Syrian Media Action Revolution Team (SMART), which was originally a support network for journalists activists and then became a news agency, was distributing equipment (satellite modems to connect to the Internet, telephones) and taught writing and production via Skype. The organization trained nearly 400 activists in journalism. </p> <p>Villages and cities experiencing revolts established a number of smaller local newspapers, such as Oxigen run in the city of Zabadani; while some were able to reach wider audiences across the country, including <em>Enab Baladi</em> (Local Grapes) a paper from Daraya and Damascus established at the end of 2011 by a group of 30 intellectuals and activists, including 14 women;<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a> or <em>Souriatna</em> (Our Syria) managed from Istanbul, etc… (Dahnoun 2012; Foreign staff in Zabadani 2012, Culebras 2015a). Similarly, numerous local radio stations were established by activists within and outside the country. For example, Radio Fresh was set up by the activist Raed Fares in Kafranbel in the Idlib countryside, running it as a media center and a magazine published four times a year. “Sawt Raya” based in Istanbul, was founded by Alisar Hasan, along with a group of Syrian journalists broadcasting news and other programs, or ANA Radio established in early 2012 with the aim of increasing citizen journalism within Syria by ANA New Media Association – the network behind the station. </p> <p>The famous journalist Zaina Erhaim for example, worked within Syria for long periods and joined the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)<a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a> helping to establish a series of blogs that covered the history of the uprising and war through the eyes of Syrian women, by allowing regular citizens to write stories of their own experiences. She also trained hundreds of citizen reporters from inside Syria, approximately a third of them women, in print and TV journalism. She then was behind the initiative for a series of short films, “Syria’s Rebellious Women,” telling the stories of women who had stepped into positions of leadership and responsibility. <span class="mag-quote-center">She also trained hundreds of citizen reporters from inside Syria, approximately a third of them women, in print and TV journalism.</span></p> <p>According to the Syrian Media Action Revolution Team (SMART), in September 2014 there were about <a href="">500 print journals</a><a href="#_ftn6">[6]</a> and about 20 radio stations, while it was estimated that as many as 298 newspapers <a href="">being circulated</a> in different parts of the country during various periods of the uprising.<a href="#_ftn7">[7]</a> </p> <p>Similarly, some autonomous actors in the Kurdish political and social scenes from the PYD, such as Radio Arta, were still trying to make their voices heard despite being targeted at least twice by PYD armed forces in 2014 and 2016. A vibrant independent media scene was trying to develop in PYD-controlled areas, regardless of the tough competition that came from better resourced and more numerous PYD party-affiliated media outlets (such as Ronahi TV, Orkes FM, and Hawar News Agency, among others).</p> <p>Democratic journalists and citizen media actors were all the target of the regime because of their role in informing the world of the crimes and exactions of the security services. Between mid-March 2011 and the end of April 2014, the Violation Document Center, a network of Syrian opposition activists documenting human rights violations perpetrated since the beginning of the uprising, documented the death of 307 journalists thanks to the firepower of the regime’s forces and militias. Syria became almost the world’s deadliest country for journalists, according to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, in which it is ranked 177th out of 180 countries.</p> <h2><strong>Gulf media promoting sectarianism</strong></h2> <p>However, there were other enemies that the infant democratic media scene had to confront. Gulf monarchies and their media promoted a sectarian understanding of the uprising in Syria, attempting to turn it into a sectarian conflict between Shi’a and Sunni, while they hosted many Salafist sheikhs who would use Gulf channels to promote their sectarian discourse. As early as March 25, 2011, the Egyptian Salafist Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, residing in Qatar and widely believed to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood, and a weekly guest on al-Jazeera television with his own program, declared:</p> <p>“The President Assad treats the people as if he is Sunni, and he is educated and young and he might be able to do a lot, but his problem is that he is a prisoner of his entourage and religious sect”.<a href="#_ftn8">[8]</a></p> <p>Syrian protesters at the beginning of the uprising held banners opposing sectarian discourse like the slogan, the ‘Sunni blood is one’, promoted by some Gulf channels, while chanting instead in favour of the unity of the Syrian people. </p> <p>In May 2013, the same Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi declared a jihad on the Syrian regime at a rally in Qatar, calling for Sunni Muslims to join the fight against president Bashar al-Assad and his Shi’a support base, in addition to calling the Alawi sect “more infidel than Christians and Jews”. He <a href="">added</a> “How could 100 million Shi’a [worldwide] defeat 1.7 billion [Sunnis]?".<a href="#_ftn9">[9]</a> Similarly, the <em>Râbitat al’âlam al-îslâmi</em> (Muslim World League), an association of Islamic clerics established in 1962 and serving as a political instrument of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, repeatedly characterized the Syrian regime as a “rogue Nusayri regime” …“stressing the obligation of supporting the Muslims of Syria and saving them from sectarian conspiracy”, in other words <a href="">from the Shi’a</a>.<a href="#_ftn10">[10]</a> </p> <p>Gulf television channels also fuelled sectarian tensions from the beginning of the uprising. Faisal al-Qassim, a presenter on Jazeera Channel, hosted a segment on whether Syria’s Alawite population <a href="">deserved genocide</a>, while al-Arabiya welcomed Syrian Salafist cleric Adnan al-Arour, who once promised to “chop you (Alawites) up and feed you to the dogs”.<a href="#_ftn11">[11]</a> </p> <p>Similarly, Islamic fundamentalists movements in Syria had their own media and propaganda tools, which promoted their own reactionary and sectarian discourses. They also did not hesitate to repress and detain independent citizen journalists critical of their actions and policies in areas under their control, while banning magazines from opposition groups. </p> <p>In August 2017 for example, “Rising for Freedom” magazine was outlawed in Douma, and two of its journalists sent to jail over an article published earlier this year by a court controlled by the salafist organisation Jaysh al-Islam. The offices of the magazine and NGOs including the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) were shut down in March 2017, and VDC was closed again in mid August by Jaysh al-Islam after being attacked by a mob of its supporters.&nbsp;As a reminder, Jaysh al-Islam is the ruling authority in the Eastern Ghouta and had embroiled “Rising for Freedom” staff in a succession of disputes from its founding moment.</p> <p>Unfortunately some Syrian opposition media also promoted a sectarian discourse on occasion. For example Orient TV owned by exiled Syrian businessman Ghassan Abboud, known for his sectarian diatribes, actually presented the massacre in May 2015 of more than 40 civilians, including children, by IS fighters in the mixed town of Majaoubé, composed of Sunni, Isma'ili and Alawi, as members of the regime’s forces. This presentation of the events provoked a significant controversy as this was considered a justification for a sectarian crime. </p> <h2><strong>“Pro-regime” constituencies also criticise officialdom</strong></h2> <p>As mentioned above, the uprising created an upsurge in the independent media run by popular activists. But a fresh dynamic was also created among what were called “pro-regime constituencies”. Alongside official state media instruments and the Syrian Electronic Army directly controlled by the regime, pro-regime media outlets and Facebook pages multiplied significantly and had some impact on the traditional media landscape of the regime. </p> <p>These new media outlets usually resorted to the Internet, and in particular to social media such as Facebook, to publish content. This avoided the necessity of acquiring an operating license and the long bureaucratic procedures that were still implemented in regime-held areas. These pro-regime Facebook pages, often based on a network of people from a particular village, neighbourhood or city and operating autonomously from the regime’s control and its associate elites, generally reinforced the regime’s narrative, becoming, for example, key sources of information on military movements and local incidents often not covered in state media. Researcher Antun Issa <a href="">has explained</a>, “They represent the ‘mood’ of the communities that support the government, and thus can be viewed as a barometer of support for the regime”.<a href="#_ftn12">[12]</a> </p> <p>But this was also the case when these pages or media outlets raised criticisms against some sectors of the regime, and condemned some of its behaviour. A Facebook post on the pro-regime “Syria Corruption in the Age of Reform” page for example was highly critical of state-run media, labelling them as “traitors” for refuting the opposition armed forces’ military gains in Aleppo in August 2016<a href="#_ftn13">[13]</a>. A few months later, regime supporters <a href="">used social media</a> to expose the looting by pro-regime militias of some neighbourhoods of Aleppo.<a href="#_ftn14">[14]</a> </p> <p>Another example was a report in Baladna News from April 2016 that, though massively supportive of the government’s parliamentary elections that same month, included two significant criticisms: 1) that many people could not vote as a result of security risks, and 2) there was some dissatisfaction with the candidates, taking into account the fact that recent parliaments had done little for the needs of the citizens, and finding it hard to see how this one would be any different. Other reports foregrounded the problems of corruption in various sectors including wheat prices and telecommunications.&nbsp;</p> <p>In February of 2017, new salvos of criticism were hurled against the government following a country-wide fuel crisis, especially in the coastal Lattakia province where most gas stations ground to a halt for lack of fuel. Many minibus drivers announced an open strike until a solution was found, while officials continued to have access to fuel for their own vehicles. Most of the civilian population was denied access to fuel because militiamen, security and army personnel monopolized the limited fuel available. The loyalist <a href="">social media pages</a> blasted the Khamis government and oil ministry for their repeated hollow promises when it came to securing fuel for the citizens.<a href="#_ftn15">[15]</a></p> <p>The regime did not engage in any form of repression against these media outlets, despite their occasional criticism.&nbsp; Although these pro-regime media were far from constituting a new and independent media landscape, given their support for the SAA and Assad leadership, the fact that such criticisms did occur was an important development, indicating a change to a media environment that was more representative and closer to the community’s views, rather than simply a propaganda machine dominated by the regime and its associated élites.<span class="mag-quote-center"> This has ensured that, even within the regime’s sphere of control, a more open media culture might survive...</span></p> <p>Media freedom in regime-held regions remained more restricted than in opposition-controlled areas, except those of the IS. This did not prevent the new methods of media coverage, which appeared and expanded during the uprising, from laying the foundations for a shift in Syria’s media culture in a post-war context. </p> <p>The regime forces crush and will have no problem in repressing all forms of opposition independent media in the near future. But it would be difficult to envisage the regime targeting those of its own supporters who had established a strong online media presence, and been instrumental in promoting the regime’s narrative and propaganda to Syrians within the country. This has ensured that, even within the regime’s sphere of control, a more open media culture might survive and some form of growing tolerance of criticism against the regime <a href="">may continue to emerge</a>.<a href="#_ftn16">[16]</a> </p> <h2><strong>Conclusion</strong></h2> <p>Uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere inspired the Syrians to take to the streets in mid March 2011 with similar demands for freedom and dignity. The growth of the protest movement allowed for a democratic media scene to expand, reflecting the new energies on the ground. </p> <p>Unfortunately, just as it was a reflection of the strength of the protest movement, its repression led to a considerably diminished democratic media scene, one that today is largely mostly outside the country, although some pockets still exist within. However there is still hope. The Syrian revolutionary process is a more thoroughly documented uprising than has ever been seen before in history, notably thanks to these democratic media. </p> <p>There has been a wealth of recording, of testimonies and documentation of the protest movement, the actors involved and their modes of actions. In the seventies and eighties, Syria witnessed strong popular and democratic resistance with significant strikes and demonstrations throughout the country with mass followings, unfortunately this memory was not salvaged and was not well-known to the new generation of protesters rising in the country in 2011. The memories of the Syrian uprising that erupted in March 2011 however will remain. This memory will serve not only to look at the past, but to seize this past to build on future resistance. The political experiences that have been accumulated since the beginning of the uprising will not disappear. </p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> George, Ala, (2003), <em>Syria, neither Bread, neither Freedom,</em> London, Zed Books</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> Aous (al-), Yahya (2013), “Chapter 3: Feminist Websites and Civil Society Experience”,in Kawakibi S. (ed.) <em>Syrian Voices From Pre-Revolution Syria : Civil Society Against all Odds, </em>HIVOS and Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia. (pdf.). pp. 23-28</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> Iqtissad (2015), “Interview: Mohamad Mansour – How Syria's Media Tycoons, Control the Market”, (online).&nbsp; </p><p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> In June 2016 Enab Baladi consisted of a weekly printed newspaper of 7000 copies and a website, which is visited by 250,000 people every month. </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> The IWPR is an organisation that supports reporters in countries in conflict, assisting them to focus on human rights and justice issues. </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref6">[6]</a> Eagar, Charlotte (2014), “An independent Syrian Media Comes of Age at a Time of War”, <em>Newsweek,</em> (online). </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref7">[7]</a> Issa, Auntun (2016), “Syria’s New Media Landscape, Independent Media Born Out of War”, <em>The Middle East Institute</em>, MEI Policy Paper 2016-9, (pdf.) p. 3</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref8">[8]</a> Satik, Niruz (2013), “Al-hâla al-tâ’ifîyya fî al-întifâda al-sûrîyya al-massârât al-înmât”, in Bishara A. (ed.), <em>Khalfîyyât al-thawra al-sûrîyya, dirâsât sûrîyya, </em>Doha, Qatar, Arab Center For Research and Policy Studies, p. 396 </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref9">[9]</a> Pizzi, Michael and Shabaan, Nuha (2013), “Under sectarian surface, Sunni backing props up Assad regime”, (online).&nbsp; </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref10">[10]</a> Muslim World League (2013), “The MWL’s Statement on the Escalation of Violence in Syria, and participation of Hezbollah and its Allies in the Killing of its people”, (online). </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref11">[11]</a> Carlstrom, Gregg (2017), “What's the Problem With Al Jazeera?”, <em>The Atlantic</em>, (online). </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref12">[12]</a> Issa, Auntun (2016), “Syria’s New Media Landscape, Independent Media Born Out of War”, <em>The Middle East Institute</em>, MEI Policy Paper 2016-9, (pdf.). p. 18</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref13">[13]</a> Ibid, p.19</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref14">[14]</a> Hayek, Vincent and Roche, Cody (2016), “Assad Regime Militias and Shi’ite Jihadis in the Syrian Civil War”, <em>Bellingcat</em>, (online). </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref15">[15]</a> Zaman al-Wasl (2017b), “Fuel Crisis Stokes Resentment from Loyalists in Lattakia Province”, <em>The</em> <em>Syrian Observer</em> (online), 10 February. </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref16">[16]</a> Issa, Auntun (2016), “Syria’s New Media Landscape, Independent Media Born Out of War”, <em>The Middle East Institute</em>, MEI Policy Paper 2016-9, (pdf.). </p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics Internet World Forum for Democracy 2017 Joseph Daher Thu, 26 Oct 2017 08:13:03 +0000 Joseph Daher 114229 at Militias and crony capitalism to hamper Syria reconstruction <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Reconstruction is a main project of the regime and crony capitalists, linked with a plan to consolidate their political and economic power, while rewarding foreign allies for their assistance with a share of the market.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A handout picture released by Syria’s opposition-run Shaam News Network shows Syrians looking for survivors amongst the rubble in the town of Qusayr, in the central Homs province – 21-5-2013 (AFP – HO/Fair use. All rights reserved to the author)</span></span></span></p><p><strong>This article is the outcome of a collaboration between <a href="">SyriaUntold</a> and</strong> <a href=""><strong>openDemocracy’s NAWA</strong></a></p><p>For the first time since 2011, the Damascus International Trade Fair was organized and held for ten days in mid-August 2017 in a bid to bring back foreign investors and promote an image of normalcy in the country. Many companies from Russia, Iran, China, Iraq, India, South Africa, and Lebanon participated among representatives of more than 40 countries. Despite the small economic impact of the Fair and a <a href="">mortar attack</a> which resulted in several deaths and confirmed the fragility of the security situation, the regime’s message through the organization of Trade Fair to local, regional and international actors was clear: Asad is here to stay and this is the beginning of the Syria’s reconstruction period. </p><p>This is the culmination of the focus of the major international and regional state actors on the “war on terror”, and consensus around Bashar Al-Asad remaining in power, both of which have strengthened the confidence of the dictator and the ruling class in Damascus.</p> <p>However, there remain several challenges for the regime in reaching political and economic stability and securing funds for reconstruction. Some of these challenges are rooted in the internal contradictions and the nature of the regime as a patrimonial state and its need to satisfy divergent interests of actors who played an important role in supporting it, especially militias and crony capitalists.</p> <h3><strong>Lack of </strong><strong>n</strong><strong>ational and </strong><strong>f</strong><strong>oreign </strong><strong>i</strong><strong>nvestments</strong></h3> <p>Reconstruction is a main project of the regime and crony capitalists, linked with a plan to consolidate their political and economic power, while rewarding foreign allies for their assistance with a share of the market. Reconstruction will also reinforce the neo-liberal policies of the deeply indebted regime as it lacks the capacity to fund the reconstruction.</p> <p>In early January 2017, following its victory in Eastern Aleppo, Damascus was planning to impose throughout the country Decree 66[i], a law enacted in 2012 which had already dispossessed many Damascus residents of their properties. The decree expropriated the residents of two large informal regions on the southern edge of Damascus — the first in the Mezzeh district and the other in a large area going from Qadam to Daraya – and compensated them by distributing shares in the developments that were programed to be built instead. According to Syria Report editor Jihad Yazigi, “whenever there have been these expropriation projects in Syria, compensation has been extremely low. It’s a very clear dispossession of these people. […] This is a transfer of public assets, tax-free, to private companies — and it will be a big boost to regime cronies[ii].”</p> <p>This plan will provide 12,000 housing units for an estimated 60,000 residents. There will be schools and restaurants, places of worship, even a multi-story car park and a shopping mall[iii]. Officials in Damascus justified this decree by claiming that the objective was to enhance the quality of the housing and that other areas would follow to improve informal housing conditions throughout the country[iv].</p> <p>Another case was in the city of Homs, when the municipality in September 2015 approved the plan for the reconstruction of the Baba Amro neighborhood. In March 2017, the municipality established its own holding company to handle real estate project[v]. The plan for reconstruction included 465 plots, mainly for residential housing, in addition to public spaces and services, such as schools and hospitals. Similarly, accusations were leveled at the possible demographic consequences.</p> <p>By allowing the destruction and expropriation of large areas, Decree 66 can be used as an efficient instrument for rapid and large development projects that will benefit regime cronies, while at the same time operating as a punitive force against populations opposed to the regime. The development of the residential projects would be carried by holding companies owned by governorates or municipalities, but the construction and management of the projects would be contracted to private sector companies owned by well-connected investors. The implementation of this law in Syria would serve a number of objectives, including a means to pressure populations living outside regime control by threatening to expropriate their properties in their absence; as a source of enrichment for crony capitalists linked to the regime; and as a carrot to attract capital from various countries that wish to profit from Syria’s reconstruction drive[vi].</p> <p><a href="">Aman Group</a>, owned by rising business figure <a href="">Samer Foz</a> with close relations to the regime, announced in August 2017 its contribution to the reconstruction of Basateen Al-Razi area, in the Mazzeh district of Damascus, in partnership with Damascus Governorate and its Damascus Cham Private Joint Stock Company. Aman Damascus, established by Aman group for this project, announced a capital of USD 18.9 million, but there were no details on the respective shares of the partners. Before the deal with the Aman Group, Damascus Cham had established a similar joint-venture with Zubaidi and Qalei LLC owned by Khaled Al-Zubaidi and Nader Qalei, two powerful Damascene businessmen with connections to the regime and whose company Castle Investment was awarded in 2017 a long-term contract to manage the Ebla Hotel, in the outskirts of Damascus, a five-star resort with a conference center[vii].</p> <p>The fact that Samer Foz and Nader Qalei are Sunnis has not prevented them from having very close links to the regime, showing once again the multiple strategies and tools of the regime to constitute a diverse popular basis through clientelism, tribalism and sectarianism.</p> <p>Similarly to Homs and various suburbs of Damascus, Aleppo and other areas could see the imposition of similar projects. In Aleppo, more than 50 percent of the buildings and infrastructure have been partially or totally destroyed, according to a preliminary assessment of the municipality in January 2017[viii]. Meanwhile large sections of Aleppo’s eastern neighborhoods have been forcefully displaced to other areas or left as a result of the war.</p> <p>Some inhabitants of Eastern Aleppo have started to come back, but until now remain a minority. Indeed, it was estimated that more than 440,000 internally displaced people have returned to their homes in Syria during the first six months of 2017. In parallel, UNHCR has monitored over 31,000 Syrian refugees coming back from neighboring countries so far in 2017. This is a very small amount considering that more than 5 million refugees have fled Syria, and there are another 7.6 million internally displaced Syrians. The Syrian population has shrunk by an estimated 20 percent[ix].</p> <p>The investments of private actors are however insufficient to rebuild the country. In April 2017, the cost of reconstruction was estimated at $350 billion[x]. In addition, there are problems of funding, as Public–Private Partnership (PPP) schemes largely rely on financing from banks, which is clearly unavailable as the total assets of 14 private-sector commercial banks operating in the country reached SYP 1.7 trillion at the end of 2016, equivalent to only around USD 3.5 billion (based on the end of the year market exchange rate). In 2010 they reached USD 13.8 billion. In terms of assets, some of the six state-owned banks are actually larger than their private sector counterparts, in particular the Commercial Bank of Syria. However, these banks have large bad <a href="">debt portfolios</a>[xi].</p> <p>The reconstruction needs therefore massive foreign funding, which would probably benefit the countries that most supported the Assad regime, particularly Iran and Russia. In February 2017, the Syrian Minister of Economy, Adib Mayaleh, declared that companies from Iran and other allied countries will be rewarded while European and American companies will first need to have their governments apologize before benefitting[xii]. Following the recapture of Eastern Aleppo, Aleppo Governor Hossein Diyab also stressed that Iran was going to “play an important role in reconstruction efforts in Syria, especially Aleppo”. The Iranian Reconstruction Authority publicized in March 2017 the renovation of 55 schools across the Aleppo province[xiii]. Iran also had the largest presence at the International Trade Fair in Damascus with more than 40 Iranian companies participating[xiv].</p> <p>Meanwhile in in October 2015, a Russian delegation visited Damascus and announced that Russian companies would lead Syria’s postwar reconstruction. Deals worth at least €850m emerged from these negotiations. A Russian parliamentary visit to Syria in November 2016 resulted in Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem reportedly offering Russia firms priority in rebuilding Syria[xv].</p> <p>The Chinese government, in early August of this year, hosted the “First Trade Fair on Syrian Reconstruction Projects,” during which a Chinese-Arab business group announced a $2 billion commitment from the government for the construction of industrial parks in Syria[xvi].</p> <p>Nonetheless, the level of destruction raises questions if Iranian, Russian and even Chinese capital would be enough. The current absence of main actors such as Western states and Gulf monarchies as willing to invest in Syria poses a series of problems.</p> <p>However, the issue of reconstruction is also connected to the capacities of the regime to provide stability in the regions under its control and a business environment favorable to investments. This is endangered by two main elements: militias and crony capitalists.</p><h3><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Reconstruction plan of the Baba Amro area in Homs – 25-8-2015 (Homs Governorate official website/Fair use. All rights reserved to the author)</span></span></span>Militias, </strong><strong>s</strong><strong>preading </strong><strong>c</strong><strong>haos</strong></h3> <p>Grievances against militias have increasingly become public and outspoken in regime-held areas throughout the country for a while now. Militiamen have been involved in various criminal activities such as robbery, looting, murder, infighting, and especially checkpoint extortion, resulting in higher prices and further humanitarian suffering.</p> <p>Criticisms have become increasingly vocal in different areas, especially in the Syrian coast, where residents have repeatedly expressed anger at the silence of local police and security forces toward the rise in crimes, kidnapping and looting by pro-regime militias[xvii].</p> <p>This anger has spread to other areas as well. In September 2016, the local population in regime-controlled areas of western Aleppo city expressed frustrations against government officials due to an increase in the looting of homes by loyalist <em>shabiha</em> groups after residents evacuated the area. Militiamen also looted hundreds of factories and workshops in Ramouseh industrial neighborhood in Aleppo. Fares Al-Shehabi, a member of parliament and head of Aleppo’s Chamber of Industrialists, even <a href="">complained</a> about the incident on his Facebook page.</p> <p>The pro-regime Imam of Aleppo’s Al-Abara Mosque mentioned the matter during a Friday sermon<em>, </em>explaining that trading stolen products was banned under Islamic law. In reaction, Ibrahim Ismael, a <em>shabiha</em> commander, stated that he considered the stolen items as “war prizes” for people who defended Aleppo[xviii].</p> <p>In May 2017, the Syrian government was trying to cancel levies extorted by regime checkpoints following growing protests from merchants and transporters alike reflecting the exasperation of the population in various areas. Businessmen in Aleppo were increasingly critical of these levies, and lorry drivers outside the city of Sweida closed the motorway linked to Damascus for two hours in protest at the “fees” imposed by the various checkpoints along the road. In mid-May, Zeid Ali Saleh, the head of the Military and Security Committee in Aleppo which groups all regime security branches and militias in the city, finally issued an order forbidding the levying of “fees” by regime checkpoints on lorries transporting goods within and outside the city[xix]. Several days later, the Damascus Chamber of Industry also demanded a similar ban in the capital[xx].</p> <p>At the same time, in response to this growing unrest, Prime Minister Imad Khamis <a href="">declared</a> that he would ban these practices, but there was ongoing resistance from militias. This situation reflects the fact that as the war is ending in large sections of the country, the justification for these checkpoints is increasingly less valid.</p> <p>In mid-June 2017 in Aleppo, following a number of militia crimes which were even reported in pro-regime media[xxi], a major crackdown was launched. The presidential palace sent Lieutenant General Mohammed Dib Zeitoun, head of State Security and one of Asad’s most powerful intelligence chiefs, in order to put an end to the militias’ lawless behavior. State Security and Air Force Intelligence troops started rounding up popular committee members in the Adhamiya, Akramiya, and Seif Al-Dawla neighborhoods, which resulted in some small skirmishes. In addition to this, the local head of the Baath Party, Fadel al-Najjar, also issued a <a href="">decree</a> tightening regulations on the Baath Battalions[xxii].</p> <p>However, there were significant challenges to curb the power of militias on a national scale. According to businessman Fares Al-Shehabi, the <a href="">intervention</a> of Bashar Al-Asad was necessary twice to issue orders to high security officials<a href="">[xxiii]</a>. The main challenge is that militia leaders are generally linked to powerful security agencies and prominent military officials, thus preventing municipal authorities from acting against them without the support of top-level decision makers.</p> <p>On July 6, 2017, a large demonstration organized by industrialists and businessmen took place in the industrial zone Sheikh Najjar, denouncing the practices of militias in Aleppo. Demonstrators accused them of killing civilians and deliberately disrupting the return of water and electricity supplies by maintaining their control over services and prices. The protestors also condemned the extortion of money at military checkpoints by notably threatening workers with going to the military service if they did not pay[xxiv]. Meanwhile, on the road to Aleppo, truck drivers from the regime-controlled towns of Nubl and Zahra organized <a href="">another demonstration</a> against the checkpoint levies and the militiamen’s violent behavior. They demanded the authorities to remove the checkpoints.</p> <p>Aleppo was a test for the rest of the country for the regime to prove its capacity to guarantee “stability” for its population, and for Damascus to prove to the international community its capacity to control the areas under its control, and therefore to move forward on the issue of foreign-funded reconstruction.</p> <p>However, this is only the beginning of a long battle to discipline the paramilitary forces in the country, including local militias such as the National Defense Forces (NDF) and Iran-controlled ones. As argued by a Syrian official in 2013 foreseeing the problem, “after this crisis, there will be a 1,000 more crises — the militia leaders. Two years ago they went from nobody to somebody with guns and power. How can we tell these <em>shabiha</em> to go back to being a nobody again[xxv]?”</p> <p>In summer 2017, lawless and violent pro-regime militias were still spreading chaos and creating insecurity in various regime-held territories[xxvi]. &nbsp;By the end of August, according to opposition activists, fighters from Nusur Homs, a paramilitary group, refused to be inspected on their way into the city of Homs, instead opening fire on the police patrol and brutally beating a police officer[xxvii]. Furthermore, the number of checkpoints managed by militiamen throughout the country generally did not decrease, with some new ones popping up, leading to an increase in costs for producers and consumers alike.</p> <p>Finally, there exist many other security challenges the regime is hardly capable of dealing with. One of them is the probable change in strategy of retreating jihadist groups, such as Hay’at Tahrir Ash-Sham (HTS) and the Islamic State (IS). There will be a shift towards suicide bombings in civilian areas which will also create more instability.</p> <h3><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="262" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Pro-regime demonstrators accuse loyalist militias of exacting levies from civilians at military checkpoints – Aleppo – 7-7-2017 (Al-Modon newspaper/Fair use. All rights reserved to the author)</span></span></span>Crony </strong><strong>c</strong><strong>apitalists, </strong><strong>t</strong><strong>hey </strong><strong>a</strong><strong>lways </strong><strong>w</strong><strong>ant </strong><strong>m</strong><strong>ore </strong> </h3> <p>The militias are certainly one of the biggest challenge for the regime to restore “stability”, but they are not the only one. The crony capitalists, empowered politically and economically throughout the war, are also to some extent impeding the return of certain bourgeoisie reinvestment in the country, and therefore the creation of a business environment favorable for reconstruction. The regime’s military victories and increasing re-control of large portions of the Syrian territory encouraged Damascus to try to win back investors and businessmen who had left the country because of the war. Damascus’ motivations are based on attracting investment and increasing business activity, while manufacturers decrease the need for imports, a crucial aspect as foreign currencies became very rare.</p> <p>As a reminder, the closure of many workplaces since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011 led to massive job loss. The economy lost 2.1 million actual and potential jobs between 2010 and 2015. Unemployment in 2016 reached 60 percent, while youth unemployment increased from 69 percent in 2013 to 78 percent in 2015[xxviii]. Poverty is estimated to be 83 percent of the population, and 2.1 million homes have been destroyed[xxix]. The high level of unemployment and higher cost of living encouraged sections of the youth to get involved in the army or pro-regime militias, especially when the salary of a militiaman could be four times higher than a university teacher[xxx].</p> <p>In February 2017, Finance Minister Maamoun Hamdan visited Egypt to meet with the <a href="">Syrian Businessmen Group — Egypt</a> (<em>Tajammu‘ Rijal Al-A‘mal As-Suri Bi-Masr</em>)[xxxi], many of whom are manufacturers. He offered them many incentives such as a reduction in customs duties on production inputs, an exemption on all duties on machinery as well as on the sales tax, in addition to a rescheduling of any debt owed to state banks — a law passed in 2015 enables investors to reschedule their debts at relatively attractive conditions[xxxii].</p> <p>Mr Hamdan also announced that the government was providing funds to establish an 8 MW power generating set for the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City in Aleppo as well as completing works on the Aleppo Airport. The investors answered with a list of requests, including a grace period of two years for their debts. They also raised several questions with regards to customs duties and other business regulations. A week after, a delegation of Syrian investors based in Egypt visited Damascus to meet with various government officials[xxxiii].</p> <p>Crony capitalists did not hesitate to criticize these government measures. A week after the minister’s visit to Cairo, the newspaper <em>al-Watan,</em> owned by Rami Makhlouf, published a commentary piece (“The Egyptian Industrialists”, February 26, 2017) strongly condemning the fact that the investors conditioned their return to Syria to the incentives provided by the government, and that they wished to return “only after the liberation of Aleppo[xxxiv].” According to economic news website The Syria Report, this piece aimed to pressure “those in the government that want them back. The mention that they should pay back all their dues, i.e. debt arrears and taxes, is a clear threat to the investors as to what they should expect were they to come back[xxxv].”</p> <p>Syrian investors who left Syria during the war were from very diverse backgrounds and operated in a variety of business sectors, but mostly had less powerful connections to the regime. Those located in Egypt, for example, are mostly industrialists in the textile sector; many of them came from Aleppo, meaning from an urban Sunni background; and the origin of their wealth had little connection to their relation with state institutions but was rather based on their capital investment[xxxvi]. In a 2016 BIT report, the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) stated that up to 90 percent of industrial enterprises in the main conflict areas, such as Aleppo, have closed down, while the remaining ones operate at only 30 percent capacity[xxxvii]. Consequently, Syrian industrialists had little options to stay.</p> <p>At the time of the writing, there were no signs of massive return from Syrian industrialists, while the Egyptian regime announced in March 2017 its intention to establish an integrated industrial zone and other facilities for Syrian industrialists in Egypt as a counter initiative against attempts by Damascus to re-attract Syrian industrialists based in Egypt[xxxviii]. Many elements certainly prevented the mass-scale return of Syrian businessmen in Summer 2017, but the behavior of crony-capitalists did not contribute to any willingness to come back.</p> <p>As such, the recent <a href="">call</a> by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem for an “active economic diplomacy for preparing the right groundwork for the reconstruction phase in service of national interests” and “the importance of prioritizing expatriate contributions in the reconstruction process through enhancing communication and constructive interaction with the Syrian communities abroad” is rather difficult to materialize. This is in fact unachievable without collaboration with crony capitalists and other regime officials.</p> <h3><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Syrian Businessmen Group — Egypt logo (Syrian Businessmen Group — Egypt Facebook page/Fair use. All rights reserved to the author)</span></span></span>Conclusion</strong></h3> <p>Economist Osama Qadi argued that “recovery might takes 20 years, assuming Syria post conflict starts in 2018 at 4.5% growth[xxxix].” In the current conditions, this seems rather optimist.</p> <p>The possible end of the war in the near future does not mean the end of the problems for the regime, quite on the contrary. The regime will have to deal with a series of contradictions and challenges: on one side, satisfying the interests of crony capitalists and militias, on the other, accumulating capital through economic and political stability, while granting its foreign allies the major shares in the reconstruction business. Today, these objectives are rarely overlapping.</p> <p>The resilience of the regime in its war against any kind of dissent has come at a very high cost, above all in terms of human lives and destruction, but also politically. In addition to the growing dependence on foreign states and actors, some features of the patrimonial regime have been strengthened, while its authority has diminished. Crony capitalists and militias have increased considerably their power, while the clientelist, sectarian, tribal features of the regime have been reinforced.&nbsp; Therefore, the absence of democracy and social justice, which were at the roots of the uprising, are still very much present and were even deepened.</p> <p>However, the absence of an inclusive and structured Syrian political opposition appealing to all popular classes, and of social actors, such as independent trade unions or peasant associations, that could capitalize on the internal contractions of the regime renders the transformation of various struggles into connected and organized political battles on a national scale, very difficult.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[i] “Marsum 66…” (in Arabic), <em>Cham Press</em>, 2012. Accessed 26 August 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[ii] Erika Solomon, “Syria: A Tale of Three Cities,” <em>Financial Times</em>, 2017. Accessed 30 July 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[iii] Tom Rollins, “Decree 66: The Blueprint for Al-Assad’s Reconstruction of Syria?”, <em>IRIN News</em>, 2017. Accessed 20 May 2017, <a href="">’s-reconstruction-syria</a>.</p> <p>[iv] The estimates of what proportion of the population lived in informal housing before the uprising varies, usually fluctuating between 30 to 40 percent, but it might have been as high as 50 percent. Robert Goulden, “Housing, Inequality, and Economic Change in Syria,” <em>British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, </em>Volume 38, Issue 2 (2011): 188.</p> <p>[v] T. Rollins, “Decree 66: The Blueprint for Al-Assad’s Reconstruction of Syria?”</p> <p>[vi] “Government Planning to Expand Use of Expropriation Law,” <em>The Syria </em>Report, 2017. Accessed 12 January 2017, <a href=""></a> [subscription needed]; “Défigurée par la Guerre, Alep se Prépare à une Reconstruction Titanesque,” (in French), <em>La Libre</em>, 2016. Accessed 30 December 2016, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[vii] “Samer Al-Foz… Alm Naql Sabiqan: Tazkaru al-Ism Jaydan..?!”, <em>Eqtisad</em>, 2017. Accessed 20 August 2017, <a href=""></a>; “Private Investors to Benefit from Government Investment in Real Estate Project,” <em>Syria Report</em>, 2017. <a href=""></a> [subscription needed].</p> <p>[viii] “Government Planning to Expand Use of Expropriation Law,” <em>The Syria Report</em>, 2017. Accessed 12 January 2017, <a href=""></a> [subscription needed].</p> <p>[ix] Brian Young, “FACTBOX: Syria’s Conflict Economy,” <em>Atlantic Council,</em> 2017. Accessed 26 July 2016, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[x] Steven Heydemann, “Syria Reconstruction and the Illusion of Leverage,” <em>Atlantic Council</em>, 2017. Accessed 23 May 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xi] “Syrian Banks Unable to Finance Reconstruction,” <em>The Syria Report</em>, 2017. Accessed 21 July 2017, <a href=""></a> [subscription needed].</p> <p>[xii] “Europe, U.S. to Apologise to Syria Before Getting Reconstruction Contracts – Government Official,” <em>The Syria Report</em>, 2017. Accessed 15 February 2017, <a href="">–-government-official</a> [subscription needed]; “Khamis: Investment Opportunities Will Be Given to Countries That Stood by Syria,” <em>SANA</em>, 2017. Accessed 25 August 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xiii] Tobias Schneider, “Aleppo’s Warlords and Post-War Reconstruction”, <em>Middle East Institute</em>, 2017. Accessed 17 June 2017. <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xiv] Steven Heydemann, “Rules for Reconstruction in Syria”, <em>Brookings</em>, 2017. Accessed 25 August 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xv] Neil Hauer, “To the Victors, the Ruins: the Challenges of Russia’s Reconstruction in Syria,” <em>Open Democracy</em>, 2017. Accessed 20 August 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xvi] Steven Heydemann, “Rules for Reconstruction in Syria.”</p> <p>[xvii] “Authorities Silent While Lattakia’s Elderly a ‘Soft Target’ for Looters, Murderers,” <em>The Syrian Observer</em> (original Arabic source: <em>Zaman Al-Wasl</em>), 2016. Accessed 30 August 2016, <a href=""></a>; “Kidnapping of Women in Lattakia Sparks Anger of Loyalists”, <em>The Syrian Observer</em> (original Arabic source: <em>Zaman Al-Wasl</em>), 2016. Accessed 17 November 2016, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xviii] “Loyalists Outraged by Shabeeha Looting in Regime Held Aleppo,” <em>The Syrian Observer</em>, (original Arabic source: <em>Zaman Al-Wasl</em>), 2016. Accessed 12 September 2016, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xix] “Sa’iqun Yuqati‘un Tariq Nubl wa Az-Zahra’ — Halab Ihtijajan ‘ala “al-Atawat,” (in Arabic), <em>Enab Baladi</em>, 2017. &nbsp;Accessed 30 August 2017, <a href=""></a>&gt;,); “Al-Lajna al-Amniyyah fi Halab Tulghi “at-Tarfiq”… wa Ash-Shehabi: Al-Asad Tadakhkhala,” (in Arabic), &nbsp;<em>Enab Baladi</em>, 2017. Accessed 30 August 2017, &nbsp;<a href=""></a>; “As Anger Grows Government Tries to Rein in Extortion by Regime Militias,” <em>The Syria Report</em>, 2017. Accessed 24 May 2017, <a href=""></a> [subscription needed].</p> <p>[xx] “As Anger Grows Government Tries to Rein in Extortion by Regime Militias,” <em>The Syria Report</em>, 2017; “Sina‘iu Dimashq Yutalibuna bi-Ilgha’ “at-Tarfiîq” wa Iqaf at-Tahrib min Turkiya,” (in Arabic), <em>Enab Baladi</em>, 2017. Accessed 30 June 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxi] “Tafasil Qatl at-Tifl “Ahmad Jawish” fi Halab,” (in Arabic), <em>Syria Scope</em>, 2017. Accessed 30 July 2017, <a href=""></a>; “Ahali Halab Yutalibuna bi-Dabt al-Ta‘addiyat,” (in Arabic), <em>Al-Watan</em>, 2017. Accessed on 4 September 2017, <a href=""></a>; “Haqiqah Ma Hadatha ma‘a al-I‘lami Badr Jad‘an bi-Hayy Al-Jamiliyyah,” (in Arabic), <em>Akhbar Halab</em>, 2017. Accessed 4 September 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxii]Aron Lund, “Aleppo Militias Become Major Test for Assad,” <em>IRIN</em>, 2017. &nbsp;Accessed 23 June 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxiii] “As Anger Grows Government Tries to Rein in Extortion by Regime Militias,” <em>The Syria Report</em>, 2017.</p> <p>[xxiv] “Halab: Tazahurat Tutalib bi-Khuruj Milishiyyat an-Nizam,” (in Arabic), <em>Al-Modon</em>, 2017. Accessed 8 July 2017, <a href="">حلب-مظاهرات-تطالب-بخروج-مليشيات-النظام-وإزالة-الحواجز</a> .</p> <p>[xxv] Aryn Baker, “Syria’s Assad May Be Losing Control Over His Deadly Militias,” <em>Time</em>, 2013. Accessed 20 July 2014, <a href=""></a>/.</p> <p>[xxvi] “Regime Authorities Fail to Control Chaos Spread by Loyalist Militias,” <em>The Syrian Observer</em> (original Arabic source: <em>Al-Souria-Net</em>), 2017. Accessed 20 August 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxvii] “On Duty Police Officer Hospitalized by Loyalist Militants in Homs,” <em>The Syrian Observer</em> (original Arabic source: <em>Zaman Al-Wasl</em>), 2017. Accessed 24 August 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxviii]“Syria at War, Five Years On,” <em>ESCWA and University of St Andrews</em> (2016): 28. Accessed 20 November 2016, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxix] Brian Young, “FACTBOX: Syria’s Conflict Economy.”</p> <p>[xxx] “Fi (Suriya Al-Asad)… Ustaz fi al-Jami‘a Yahsul ‘ala Ratib Yaqill ‘an Rub‘ Ma Yahsul ‘alayhi Muqatil fi Milishiyya Muwaliyyah,” (in Arabic), <em>All4Syria</em>, 2017. Accessed 27 April 2017,</p> <p><a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxxi] “Syrians’ Investments Abroad Would Not Prevent Industrialists from Return Home,” <em>SANA</em>, 2015. Accessed on 4 September 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxxii] “Despite Launch of Local Car Assembly Plant, Syria Struggles to Attract Back Manufacturers,” <em>The Syria Report</em>, 2017. Accessed 21 February 2017, <a href=""></a> [subscription needed].</p> <p>[xxxiii] “Finance Minister Meets Delegation of Syrian Industrials Residing in Egypt,” <em>SANA</em>, 2017. Accessed 21 February 2017,&nbsp;<a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxxiv] Ali Hashem, “As-Sina‘iun al-Masriyyun,” (in Arabic), <em>Al-Watan</em>, 2017. &gt;, Accessed 25 May 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxxv] “Regime Cronies Resist Government Attempts to Lure Back Investors into Syria,” <em>The Syria Report</em>, 2017. Accessed 22 February 2017, <a href=""></a> [subscription needed].</p> <p>[xxxvi] “Syria Country Report”, <em>BTI Project</em> (2016): 15. Accessed 31 November 2016, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxxvii] “Aleppo Lost 90 percent of its Manufacturing Capacity,” <em>The Syria Report</em>, 2016. Accessed 29 March 2016, <a href=""></a> [subscription needed].</p> <p>[xxxviii] “Ministry of trade studies launching Syrian industrial zone in Egypt,” <em>Al-Bawaba Egypt</em>, 2017. Accessed 4 September 2017, <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>[xxxix] “‘Reconstruction Cost of Syria Is Estimated at $300 Billion Five Times the 2010 GDP,’ FEMISE Conference Interview with Osama Kadi, President of Syrian Economic Task Force,” <em>FEMISE</em>, 2017. Accessed 26 August 2017, <a href=""></a></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/neil-hauer/to-victors-ruins-challenges-of-russia-s-reconstruction-in-syria">To the victors, the ruins: the challenges of Russia’s reconstruction in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/nadim-houry/justice-after-isis-time-for-judicial-triage"> Justice after ISIS: time for judicial triage</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/towards-inclusive-and-pluralistic-citizenship-in-syria">Towards an inclusive and pluralistic citizenship in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/karim-zidan/return-of-football-to-aleppo-highlights-regime-s-political-theatrics">Return of football to Aleppo highlights regime’s political theatrics</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Conflict Economics International politics reconstruction war capitalism Joseph Daher Through Syrian eyes Tue, 05 Sep 2017 10:07:26 +0000 Joseph Daher 113184 at Towards an inclusive and pluralistic citizenship in Syria <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Talk about building a new form of citizenship in Syria might seem unrealistic today, but in fact, it should be seen as a long-term strategy.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Syria for everyone”, picture taken in Raqqa in April 2013. Picture by Beshr Abdulhadi. (CC BY 2.0). Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The war in Syria has had important consequences in the country in terms of rising sectarianism and racism. In this in-depth article, I demonstrate the importance of a dynamic and open understanding of citizenship. </p><h3>Citizenship between theory and practice </h3><p>Firstly, the concept of citizenship should not be understood as a fixed concept, but as constantly in flux. Citizenship is not a universally accepted concept, but differs from one country to another. Some people limit the concept of citizenship to nationality, some to political rights, while others go further to include socio-economic, education, national and cultural rights. "Liberal" systems for example have always resisted giving legal (and constitutional) expression to the inclusion of social rights, such as health care for all, thereby limiting their understanding of citizenship to the right to vote and respect for private property. </p><p>At the same time, there is conflict between theory, and practice. For example, the French Revolution greeted women as "citizens" (citoyennes), but they had to wait until 1945 (in France) before their complete political rights were recognized. Similarly, France, and other western countries, continued the process of colonization and denied the rights to people in their colonies. Also today, stateless people and refugees are most often denied any rights pertaining to citizenships, and are not even treated as human beings. </p><p>I argue that citizenship should not be linked to the issue of nationality. A person living and working in a country, whether holding its nationality or not, should be extended all the rights as other citizens. This for example would allow Palestinians in Syria, who had been living for more than 60 years in the country, to participate in all sectors of society, in elections, etc… Indeed how can we demand from Palestinians in Syria to take side with the objectives of the uprising while not allowing them to participate in the future of the society? </p><p class="mag-quote-left">The struggle for an inclusive and pluralistic concept of citizenship is a continuous one</p><p>The difference in the forms of citizenship and its understanding are rooted in socio-economic and political conditions and reflect the balance of social forces in a particular society. History shows that this is a transforming concept with no precise definition, that has always been at stake in struggles. Any broadening of citizenship to include social, economic, cultural and national rights has been the result of successful struggles from below including economic civil rights, voting, unionizing, civil rights, gender equality, etc. all were the result of numerous struggles. The dominant ruling classes never willingly gave in to demands. We can see this particularly with the Assad regime’s four decade long repression of the Syrian population’s political, social, economic and national rights. </p> <p>However, the improvements and broadening of rights in the concept of citizenship is not linear. We see this clearly today in Europe with the continuous rise of racism and islamophobia. Neoliberal policies limiting the political, social and cultural rights of people, particularly Muslim populations with the veil ban in French schools or the imposition of a particular identity linked to a so-called Christian and Jewish common heritage and culture, are all examples of how citizenship is becoming more excluding. </p><p>The struggle for an inclusive and pluralistic concept of citizenship is a continuous one. Philosophers like Jacques Rancière and Hannah Arendt define democracy as a process of permanent anti-oligarchic “insurrection” rather than as a stable regime. Citizenship, is no different and requires a permanent struggle to eliminate all forms of exclusion, whether cultural, social, ethnic, or religious, etc… </p><p>In order to build an inclusive and pluralistic citizenship in Syria, it is important to clearly point out the responsibilities of the current situation in the country. The Assad regime is the main actor responsible for the killing, displacement and destruction as well as being the key in the rise of sectarianism and racism in the country. Assad’s regime was accustomed to playing the “sectarian card” and more generally “primordial identities” (racism and tribalism) to divide the Syrian people and put the different groups against each other in order to maintain its rule. </p><p>In fact, the regime is far from being secular, as presented by some. It has promoted a constitution with an Arab chauvinist discourse, reserving the position of President to the Muslim faith, while in 2012 Islamic jurisprudence became a primary source of legislation, instead of a main source of legislation. These are only some of the many examples that show the lack of any kind of secular nature of this regime. </p><p>Since the first days of the uprising, the regime has targeted the peaceful, non sectarian and democratic activists. Many of them were arrested and tortured to death in prisons, others had to flee the country out of fear of the repression while others were killed. Meanwhile, the regime released Islamic fundamentalist groups and allowed their development at the expense of democratic groups. </p><p class="mag-quote-right">Today no major political or armed force in Syria is offering an inclusive and pluralistic project of citizenship. </p><p>This being said, foreign actors such as Iran, Turkey, or the Gulf Monarchies, as well as sections of the opposition in exile gathered around first the Syrian National Council (SNC), then the Etilaf, and Islamic fundamentalist movements have also played a role in the rise of sectarianism by deepening the divisions among various ethnic and religious groups in the country during the uprising. </p><p>Today no major political or armed force in Syria is offering an inclusive and pluralistic project of citizenship. The High Negotiations Commission (HNC) for the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces has failed in reflecting the democratic and inclusive message of the revolutionaries and the popular movement since the beginning of the uprising. In Autumn 2016, its vision within an Executive Framework for the Political Solution in Syria that was far from offering an inclusive and pluralistic citizenship as we can see in its first article: </p><p class="blockquote-new">“Syria is an integral part of the Arab World, and Arabic is the official language of the state. Arab Islamic culture represents a fertile source for intellectual production and social relations amongst all Syrians of different ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs as the majority of Syrians are Arabs and followers of Islam and its tolerant message which is distinctly moderate”. </p><p>This is of course exclusionary for all ethnic and religious minorities in the country, in addition to all people not identifying with these identities. The Etilaf and many of the personalities linked to it have also promoted a sectarian, racist (particularly against Kurds), and authoritarian discourses and behaviors. Similarly, when it comes to women, the Etilaf has completely neglected their large participation in the uprising, providing them with only “decorative positions” without any effective role in the decision making process. </p><p>The various Islamic fundamentalist movements (such as the jihadist organization of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the salafist organisations Ahrar al Sham and the Islam Army, as well as others such as the Muslin Brotherhood who call for a civil state but in practice support the creation of an Islamic state with the implementation of Shari’a) defend an Islamic State despite their differences on how to reach this objective or the nature of this state. This is of course an exclusionary project for various groups such as religious minorities, women, or those who have a different understanding of Islam, etc… Their sectarian and authoritarian practices have also confirmed this pattern. </p><p class="mag-quote-left">For a big majority of Kurdish political parties and activists, Rojava is only a new form of authoritarianism rather than democratic confederalism in action</p><p>The last main actor is the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is more complex to analyze, but in my mind did not provide an inclusive and pluralistic citizenship model, despite its “social contract” and political discourse promoting theoretically these ideas. In the areas controlled by the PYD, there has been progressive advances that must be acknowledged such as the promotion of women rights and gender equality, secularisation of laws and institutions, and to a certain extent some forms of coexistence between the various ethnicities and religious sects, despite some tensions. </p><p>The possibilities for the Kurdish people, long oppressed in Syria, to manage territories in which they are a majority is another positive thing in the framework of support for their self-determination. However, without entering into details there are a series of problems. Institutions in PYD controlled areas, such as Rojava for instance, have been dominated by PYD-affiliated organisations, with an assortment of Arab, Syriac and Assyrian personalities who had little to lose from entering the project. </p><p>For a big majority of Kurdish political parties and activists, Rojava is only a new form of authoritarianism rather than democratic confederalism in action. At the same time, these new institutions lack legitimacy among large sections of the Syrian Arabs in these areas, although an Arab president had to be elected to the male/female joint presidency of the town’s local council. For instance Shaykh Humaydi Daham al-Jarba, the head of a tribal Arab militia and outspoken supporter of the Assad regime, was nominated as the governor of the Jazirah canton in Rojava in 2014. His son became the commander of the al-Sanadid Forces, one of the main Arab militias fighting alongside the PYD-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Prominence of tribal leaders in the Rojava institution was also preserved, rather than challenged. </p><p>Furthermore, human rights violations against Arab, Assyrian and Kurdish civilians have also been documented in the area. The authoritarianism of the PYD was demonstrated in its repression and imprisonment of activists, political opponents and the closure of critical organizations or institutions. Lately, this repression against other Kurdish political groups and activists has even increased. </p><p>This is why I believe that there is no significant political movement today, which is providing an inclusive and pluralistic citizenship able to unite the various components of the Syrian people. In my opinion, to reach a broad understanding of citizenship including the social, political, national and economic rights of the Syrian people, three main issues must be tackled: political rights (democracy, self organization and equality), socio-economic rights (social justice and inequality) and the issue of self determination of the Kurdish people in Syria. I have chosen these issues because they are based on the political and social experiences accumulated by large sections of the Syrian people involved in the uprising in the past five years. </p><h3>Democracy and equality </h3><p>In the first two years of the uprising, the dominant message from the large popular movement with its demonstrations and statements was an inclusive and democratic discourse that is not threatening for a majority of Syrians. This movement challenged the rhetoric of the regime as being the only barrier against extremism. In addition to this, the local councils and coordination committees played the role of an alternative institution to the state by providing services to local populations, and created a situation of dual power where the authority of the state disappeared. These two elements created the conditions to present a political alternative appealing for large sections of the population with the capacity to become hegemonic against the propaganda of the regime portraying them as a foreign and sectarian conspiracy. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Participation from below, by the underprivileged and popular classes in managing their societies at all levels has been the most significant element in the uprising.</p><p>Experiences of participation of local populations in decisions pertaining to society at all levels multiplied. The experiences of the “liberated” areas and local popular councils are in this perspective something to maintain in any concept of citizenship. In fact. participation from below, by the underprivileged and popular classes in managing their societies at all levels has been the most significant element in the uprising. </p><p>According to a survey by the independent Syrian-led civil society organization The Day After Tomorrow (TDA), conducted between November 2015 and January 2016, the population actually wanted to maintain this experience. This is visible in the expressed support for some form of decentralization in a way to, </p><p class="blockquote-new">“endorse the allocation of broad competencies to local authorities, and this support explicitly increases in opposition-held areas (if) compared with regime-controlled areas. It seems that the absence of the state in opposition-held areas has contributed to increased support for decentralization, and the spread of positive perceptions about it (…) (especially) the idea that it enhances ‘participation in governance’ tops the list of advantages.”</p><p>The issue of equality must also be put forward in order to challenge the patriarchal structures of society. In the first two years of the uprising, the involvement and participation of women was a very important element, breaking many conservative social codes and overcoming traditional barriers. Female activists often agree that the beginning of the revolution opened the door for women to challenge restrictive social conventions, whether they were legal, familial, religious or social. On Women’s Day, March 8, 2012, the female activists of the youth movement Nabd for example issued a statement that read: </p><p class="blockquote-new">“We, the revolutionary women of Syria, address the regime on Women’s Day saying: Our revolution will continue until we have each and every single one of our usurped rights, like a woman’s right to nominate herself for presidency and to grant her nationality to her children”. </p><p>Political rights guaranteeing the participation and self-organization of local populations at all levels of society must be guaranteed in a new concept of citizenship, and not limited to the right to vote and choose its representatives in elections every few years. Similarly, the issue of equality must also be put at the center of any new struggle for a pluralistic and inclusive citizenship. </p><h3>Social Justice </h3><p>Social justice and the redistribution of wealth in the country is another necessary step towards an inclusive citizenship that should not be limited to the upper class in urban centers. </p><p class="mag-quote-right">Regional structural injustices existed before the uprising in 2011</p><p>Before the uprising, the upper class and foreign investors were satisfied with the state’s neoliberal policies. This was especially true for investors from the Gulf monarchies and Turkey, which were not hostile to the Assad regime prior to the revolution, at the expense of the vast majority of Syrians, who were hit by inflation and the rising cost of living, while public services and investments (health care, education, housing) were diminished considerably. </p><p>Regional structural injustices existed before the uprising in 2011 and increased with the accelerated adoption of neoliberal policies by the regime of Bashar al-Asad. On the eve of the upheaval, the proportion of poor people was higher in rural areas (62%) than in urban ones (38%). Poverty was more widespread, more rooted and more marked (58.1%) in the north-west and north-east (the provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, Raqqa, Deir Ez-Zor and al-Hasakah), where 45% of the population lived. Just over half (54.2%) of all unemployment was found in rural areas. </p><p>In addition to this, before the beginning of the popular uprising, the geographic concentration of business was as follows: </p><p>Governorates distribution for micro enterprises (less than 5 workers):</p> <p>– Damascus and Rural Damascus: 27.36%</p> <p>– Aleppo 21.72%</p> <p>– Homs 9.93%</p> <p>– Hama 6.06%</p> <p>– other governorates 34.93% (10 other governorates)</p> <p>while governorates distribution for small enterprises (between 5 to 14 workers)</p> <p>– Damascus and Rural Damascus: 29.40%</p> <p>– Aleppo 41.55%</p> <p>– Homs 5.89%</p> <p>– Hama 4.70%</p> <p>– other governorates 18.46% </p> <p>Foreign private investments were also concentrated in the two cities of Damascus and Aleppo in unproductive sectors (real estate, tourism, services such as bank insurance companies), while other regions and rural areas were left out of any kind of economic development and of provision of services. In addition to this the most impoverished areas of the country were the areas mostly populated by Kurds such as in the north-eastern Jazirah province. Jazirah was the region with the highest level of illiteracy and poverty, hosting 58% of the country’s impoverished population before the occurrence of the 2006 drought. </p><p>In 2010, poverty increased considerably, reaching 80 per cent of the Jazirah inhabitants, as the impact of four consecutive droughts since 2006 had been dramatic for both small-scale farmers and herders. In addition to this, the Jazirah region produced two thirds of the country’s grains (and 70% of wheat) and three quarters of its hydrocarbons. Despite the industrial underdevelopment of the Jazirah, and the scarcity of industrial installations in the region, which accounted for only 7% of the overall sector, this plain was nevertheless important. For example, 69 percent of Syria’s cotton was produced in the region, but only 10 percent of cotton threads were spun there. Of course, all ethnic groups in the area, Arabs, Syriacs-Assyrians, and Kurds, suffered from economic marginalization. </p><p class="mag-quote-right">There has been a continuous impoverishment of rural areas since the 1980s</p><p>The most important component of the Syrian uprising was actually that of economically marginalized rural workers, and urban employees and self-employed workers, who have borne the brunt of the implementation of neoliberal policies, in particular since the coming to power of Bashar al-Assad. The geography of the revolts in Idlib, Deraa and other mid towns, as well as in other rural areas, all historical strongholds of the Baath party, and which benefited from the policies of agricultural reforms in the sixties and had not played a large role in the insurgency of the early 1980s, including the suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo, showed the involvement of the victims of neoliberalism in this uprising. </p><p>There has been a continuous impoverishment of rural areas since the 1980s and the droughts from 2006 accelerated rural exodus. This situation was exacerbated by an annual population growth of around 2.5 percent. This growth affected particularly small rural mid towns, in which the population often multiplied by five to ten times since the 1980s, while public services provided by the state did not increase but rather diminished with the neoliberal policies, leading local populations to lack or witness a deterioration of their living conditions. In the main towns of Damascus and Aleppo, the geography of revolts was nearly similar to their socio-economic divisions. Many bourgeois and middle class Aleppo urbanites used to characterize the protesters in the first demonstrations at the university and rural Aleppo as “Abu Shehata” (derogatory term meaning literally “Father of slippers” insulting the social class of the protesters). </p><p>Similarly again, these neoliberal policies had particular and deep consequences on women, especially when it comes to their access to the labour market. The total number of women in the work force decreased since the mid 1980s, while it was growing before essentially because of the state controlled public economic sector. There was definitely an important gender dimension to the unemployment before the uprising in 2011, with unemployment rates among young women almost twice as high as those among young men. The unemployment rate in 2007 was estimated at 22.6% (14.5% for men, and 53% for women). The rate increased to 30.3%, if non-citizens are accounted for. </p><p>In addition, 50% of young women in Syria (aged between fifteen and twenty-nine) were neither in the labour force nor in school, suggesting potential barriers to labour market entry. Women’s participation in the labour force was 18%. Women lost around 50% of their total jobs between 2001 and 2007, and were pushed away from the labour force. The state-owned sector (government and state-owned companies) created 119,000 jobs between 2001 and 2007 (52% of which were for women); while the private formal sector lost 77,000 new jobs; men gained 77,000, but women lost 154,000. Most urban labour markets were mainly constituted by informal employment, with no social/maternity protection for women. By the year 2006, 25% of workers in the public sector were women, while in the private sector, only 8 percent were women. According to the 2008 labour force survey the majority of employed women (55%) work in the public sector. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Neoliberal policies had particular and deep consequences on women, especially when it comes to their access to the labour market. </p><p>The issue of wealth redistribution in society and across the different regions will have to be tackled in any future political system in Syria. On this perspective, the Etilaf economic policies are problematic because they support the same neoliberal policies of the Assad regime against the interests of the underprivileged classes. The socio-economic injustices in the society and across regions must be linked to the democratic issue. </p><h3>The Kurdish Issue</h3><h3> </h3><p>It is absolutely necessary to tackle the Kurdish issue in order to be able to provide an inclusive and pluralistic citizenship embraced by all in Syria. The large majority of the Kurdish parties – as well as of the Kurdish population in Syria – are not satisfied by the way most Arab opposition political parties consider the Kurdish issue as simply and uniquely a citizenship issue. In other words, the Arab opposition believes that Kurds are normal Syrian citizens who have been deprived of some of their rights and that the problem is therefore limited to the single issue of the census of 1962, which resulted in around 120 000 Kurds being denied nationality and declared as foreigners, leaving them, and subsequently their children, denied of basic civil rights and condemned to poverty and discrimination. </p><p>There were between 250 000 and 300 000 stateless Kurds in the beginning of the revolution in March 2011, roughly 15 percent of the estimated two million total Kurdish population in Syria. The large majority of the opposition political parties have not been ready in any way to recognize the Kurds as a separate “people” or “nation” and are not ready nor willing to listen to demands for federalism and administrative decentralization. The demand for a federal system in Syria is a demand of the quasi majority of Kurdish parties in the country despite their political differences and rivalries. </p><p>We have to understand that the demand for a federal system by the Syrian Kurdish political parties is rooted in decades of state oppression, and this since the independence of the country in 1946, on a national basis (policies of quasi systematic discrimination against Kurds, policies of colonization in the framework of the “Arab Belt” and cultural repressions at all levels), but also has socio-economic consequences. </p><p>According to a survey conducted between November 2015 and January 2016 by the TDA, respondents in both regime (86.7%) and opposition-held areas (67,4%) agree on rejecting federalism, while proponents of federalism almost reach a consensus in Kurdish-led Self-Administration areas (79.6%). These results show that a Kurdish-Arab divide exists and that the first imperative regarding any future political system in Syria is dealing with the “Kurdish issue”, although it is not the only requirement. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">No solution for the Kurdish issue or an inclusive Syria can be found without recognizing the Kurds as a proper “people” or “nation” in Syria</p><p>The majority of the Syrian Arab opposition did not address or even acknowledge this reality, thereby mirroring the regime’s position. </p><p>In general, no solution for the Kurdish issue or an inclusive Syria can be found without recognizing the Kurds as a proper “people” or “nation” in Syria and providing unconditional support to the self-determination of the Kurdish people in Syria and elsewhere; this clearly does not mean being uncritical of the policies of the leadership of the PYD or any other Kurdish political party. </p><p>The elimination of the Kurdish issue from the discussions under the pretext that it allows more unity within the opposition and less problems, is actually a recipe for division and lack of confidence between the various components of the Syrian people. </p><p>By recognizing the Kurdish people we make a move forward towards building a new society and citizenship not based on an ethnicity, but one that recognized the various peoples constituting Syria: Armenians, Palestinians, Syriacs, Assyrians, Turkmens, etc.... </p><h3>Conclusion</h3><h3> </h3><p>The basis for any future inclusive and pluralistic citizenship in Syria must include the democratic and social empowerment of the popular classes to manage their own societies. </p><p>In this perspective, a possible decentralized and/or federal state could best answer some of the issues discussed in this article, notably by respecting the principle of self determination of the Kurdish population in providing more tools and power to manage their affairs, on the one hand, and in trying to correct regional social injustices, on the other. Such an option would also strengthen participation and self-organisation from local populations in decision-making processes. </p><p>However, the implementation of a decentralized or federal state is not a guarantee per se to achieve an inclusive and democratic system. Indeed, all future options in Syria, whether federal, decentralized or otherwise, will need to take into account these issues in a secular political framework encouraging the participation from below of the popular classes and in which democratic and social rights of all Syrians without gender, ethnic and religious discrimination are guaranteed. This means notably providing the popular classes with the right to organize politically in their workplaces, society, and neighborhoods, and to defend their interests. </p><p>This is also the only way to prevent foreign states from instrumentalizing particular religious sects or ethnicities for their own political interests, while fueling sectarianism and racism. </p><p>Reaching these goals requires new struggles at all levels of society when it comes to democratic, social and national issues. This also requires working towards the unity of democratic and progressive actors and movements against the different counter revolutionary forces, whether these are the authoritarian regimes or the Islamic fundamentalist movements. There is therefore a need to build an independent front away from these two forms of reactionary forces and against all forms of discrimination. Such a struggle for radical change in society is a dynamic from below in which the popular sectors of society are the agent of change. </p><p>The issue at the core of building a new inclusive and pluralistic citizenship is to protect the freedom and dignity of the people as the popular movements have demanded since the beginning of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa in 2010-2011, including in Syria, against authoritarian and unjust regimes.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/andres-barkil-oteo/agency-and-hope-helping-communities-healing-themselves">Agency and hope: helping communities healing themselves</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/hammoud-hammoud/political-islam-syria-war-islamist">عقدة الإسلام السياسي السوري وعقدة مستقبله</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/joseph-daher/revolution-and-counter-revolution-in-syria-part-i">Revolution and counter-revolution in Syria (Part I)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/joseph-daher/syria-grassroots-democracy-future-prospects-part-ii">Syria: grassroots democracy, future prospects (Part II)</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/maria-al-abdeh/syria-instumentalising-women-s-rights">Conflict in Syria: stop instrumentalising women’s rights</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/loubna-mrie/aleppos-forgotten-revolutionaries">Aleppo&#039;s forgotten revolutionaries</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Civil society Conflict Democracy and government revolution citizenship World Forum for Democracy 2017 Joseph Daher Violent transitions Through Syrian eyes Revolution Fri, 28 Apr 2017 16:20:47 +0000 Joseph Daher 110490 at Syria: grassroots democracy, future prospects (Part II) <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Part two of this interview with Joseph Daher explores some of the experiments in grassroots democracy and the possible futures in Syria. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Picture by Beshr Abdulhadi. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>What do you make of events in the Kurdish areas of Syria, particularly what David Graeber has called “the remarkable democratic experiment” in Rojava? What is the relationship between Kurdish groups and revolutionaries in the rest of Syria?</strong></p> <p>The self-governance of Rojava in Northern Syria by the PYD is a direct result of the mass movement by the people of Syria (Arabs, Kurds, and Assyrians together) against the Assad regime. The popular uprising pushed the regime to conclude a deal with the PYD in July 2012, in which it withdrew from several Kurdish-majority regions in the North to redeploy its armed forces to repress the uprising elsewhere, while maintaining a small presence in some areas such as Qamichli and Hassaka.</p> <p>Institutions in these areas are dominated by PYD-affiliated organizations, with an assortment of Kurdish, Syriac, and Assyrian personalities who had little to lose from entering the agreement. For a far majority of Kurdish political parties and activists, Rojava is only a new form of authoritarianism rather than democratic confederalism in action. As evidence of this, many of them point to the exclusion of opposition parties and activists from youth groups within Rojava.&nbsp;</p> <p>Members and leaders of the people’s councils, which were established by the authorities of Rojava, are theoretically responsible for local governance. Representatives of all Kurdish political parties as well as non-Kurdish population in mixed areas are appointed by the PYD. Likewise, the movement maintains overall decision-making authority, consigning the councils except for distribution of gas and humanitarian aid (which has taken a largely symbolic role). The commune’s institution, one of the key elements in the new Rojava system, which serves to provide humanitarian assistance to the inhabitants in their neighborhoods, has been criticized because it enforces the rule of PYD-linked organizations.</p> <p>At the same time, these new institutions lack legitimacy among large sections of Syrian Arabs, although an Arab president had to be elected to the male/female joint presidency of the town’s local council.</p> <p>The authoritarianism of the PYD became clear in its repression and imprisonment of Kurdish activists and political opponents, including the closure of certain organizations and institutions. As a result, the PYD has faced growing opposition within the Kurdish population in Syria and within pro-revolutionary Kurdish activists.</p> <p>At the same time, in areas controlled by the PYD, there are some positive aspects that must be acknowledged, such as promotion of women’s rights and gender equality, the promotion of inclusive laws and institutions, provision of services, and to a certain extent some forms of coexistence between the various ethnicities and religious sects, despite existing tensions.</p> <p>So regarding David Graeber’s comment, I would be much more nuanced.</p> <p>Unfortunately, relations between Kurdish groups and opposition groups are poor. This is partly due to a degree of chauvinism that exists among many groups and personalities within the Syrian Arab opposition––particularly the Syrian National Coalition.</p> <p>The majority of the Syrian Arab opposition believes that Kurds are normal Syrian citizens who have been deprived of some of their rights. There were between 250,000 and 300,000 stateless Kurds at the beginning of the revolution in March 2011, or roughly 15 percent of the estimated two million Kurdish population in Syria. The majority of opposition political parties has not been ready in any way to recognize the Kurds as a separate “people” or “nation” and is not ready and willing to listen to demands for federalism and administrative decentralization.</p> <p>We have to understand that the demand for a federal system by the Syrian Kurdish political parties is rooted in decades of state oppression. This was done through policies of quasi-systematic discrimination against Kurds, policies of colonization in the framework of the “Arab Belt,” and cultural repressions at all levels. It also has socio-economic consequences: the most impoverished areas of the country were the areas mostly populated by Kurds such as in the north-eastern Jazirah.</p> <p>In this perspective, the majority of the Syrian Arab opposition did not address or even acknowledge this reality, mirroring the regime’s position. In addition, the alliance of the Syrian National Coalition with the Turkish government and its support for the Turkish military intervention against PYD armed forces and Kurdish civilians in Syria also increased tensions.</p> <p>At the same time, PYD policies have also been problematic, such as its non-conflict orientation towards the Assad regime, or support for Russian intervention in Syria, from which it benefitted. There are also some accusations of human rights violations against Arab populations.</p> <p>In general, no solution for the Kurdish issue and an inclusive Syria can be found without recognizing the Kurds as a proper “people” or “nation” in Syria and providing unconditional support to the self-determination of the Kurdish people in Syria and elsewhere. This does not, however, justify being uncritical of any negative PYD policies (or any other Kurdish political party).</p> <p>We need to reaffirm that the defeat of the Syrian revolution and of the popular movement would probably mark the end of the Rojava experience and the return to an era of oppression for the Kurds of Syria. The Assad regime and the reactionary forces which now dominate much of the scene in Syria would not allow any possible development of a political experience that is at odds with their authoritarianism.</p> <p>This is why we should not isolate the struggle for self-determination of the Kurdish people from the dynamics of the Syrian revolution.</p> <p><strong>Unlike Rojava, the local councils that have been established in the rest of Syria have not received the same attention. What roles have these councils played in the revolution?</strong></p> <p>By the end of 2011 and toward the beginning of 2012, regime forces started to withdraw, or were expelled, by opposition armed groups from an increasing number of regions across Syria. In the void they left behind, grassroots organizations began to evolve, essentially forming ad-hoc local governments. On many occasions, popular and local coordination committee activists were the main nuclei of the local councils. In some regions liberated from the regime, civil administrations were also established to make up for the absence of the state and take charge of its duties in various fields, like schools, hospitals, water systems, electricity, communications, welcoming internally displaced persons, cleaning the streets, taking the garbage away from the city center, agricultural projects, and many other initiatives.</p> <p>Local councils were either elected or established on consensus. In addition, some local councils encouraged campaigns of activists around democratic, artistic, educational, and health-related issues. It is important to note that many popular youth organizations were established throughout the country, as well free media outlets such as newspapers and radios.</p> <p>These local councils represent democratic alternatives in Syria, free from the regime and reactionary movements, which is precisely why the areas in which they operate are often the most targeted by the regime and its allies. At the same time, this does not mean that problems and contradictions did not exist in some Local Councils, such a lack of women’s participation or a lack of representatives from minority communities.</p> <p>However, all the cities and neighborhoods in which there was a popular, democratic, and inclusive alternative were targeted, such as Eastern Aleppo or the city of Daraya in the province of Damascus. They are in fact still being targeted along with the civilian infrastructures on which these experiences are based. These examples of popular and democratic self-organizations are the elements most feared by the regime since 2011. Not the official opposition which is in exile, corrupt, and linked to regional authoritarian regimes and neither Islamic fundamentalist forces, which constitute an objective ally of the regime.</p> <p><strong>Assad’s departure remains one of the main demands of the opposition but his position seems to have become fairly secure in recent months. In light of this is there any hope for an end to the war?</strong></p> <p>I am personally not very hopeful or optimistic for the near future because it is difficult to hope for the end of the war while not addressing the political roots of the problem in Syria. Any political transition to put an end to the war and move towards a democratic system must include the departure of Assad and his clique from power. Otherwise, the war will continue and provoke more catastrophes. In this transition, all war criminals must be held accountable for their crimes, from Assad forces and its allies to reactionary groups like ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.</p> <p>From both a political and humanitarian perspective, the end of the war in Syria is an absolute necessity. We must work to resettle the millions of people inside and outside Syria and give them the opportunity to return to their homes. We must also work to liberate political prisoners and ends the current sieges across the country. This is the only way for democratic and progressive forces to re-organize and again play a leading role in the struggle for a new, democratic Syria. We notice that every time there are partial ceasefires and respite from airstrikes, massive demonstrations occur throughout liberated areas of Syria with democratic and non-sectarian slogans.</p> <p><strong>How do you expect US policy toward Syria to change under a Donald Trump presidency?&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Because of Trump’s varied and contradictory statements on Middle East policy, including Syria, it’s hard to say with great certainty what will occur. There are some clear negative trends that will follow Trump’s presidency, and I believe the Syrian people will suffer greatly (contrary to the Syrian National Coalition’s (SNC) belief that the election of a new U.S. president could provide fresh momentum for Syria.</p> <p>Trump will be far more ready than Clinton to conclude an agreement with Russia over Syria, seeing Putin as a man who can fight terrorism. He expressed several times during the campaign that he wanted to seek a more cooperative relationship with Russia. Under Trump’s presidency, it seems that Russia and the United States are more likely to collaborate and work together against groups such as the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaeda related groups in Syria (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), while empowering Assad in the process. The recent appointment of Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive officer of oil giant ExxonMobil, as Secretary of State, is also troubling. He is known for his pro-Russian positions, actually having received the highest Russian distinction for a civilian (the Order of Friendship) from Putin’s hand in 2013.</p> <p>At the same time, Trump stated in a debate that he believed in building a bomb-free zone in Syria paid for by the Gulf states. This will probably not happen. So, a Trump administration might pressure U.S. allies in the region to, for example, stop backing the Syrian opposition in any way. More generally, Trump will be less critical and more supportive of authoritarian regimes in the region and elsewhere in the framework of the “War on Terror.”</p><p><em><strong>This article was first published in <a href=";Title=Syria:-Grassroots-Democracy,-Future-Prospects">The Muslim Internationalist</a> on January 9, 2017. </strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/joseph-daher/revolution-and-counter-revolution-in-syria-part-i">Revolution and counter-revolution in Syria (Part I)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/loubna-mrie/aleppos-forgotten-revolutionaries">Aleppo&#039;s forgotten revolutionaries</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/rahila-gupta/rojava-revolution-how-deep-is-change">Rojava revolution: how deep is the change?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria middle east Joseph Daher Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Fri, 20 Jan 2017 10:17:06 +0000 Joseph Daher 108158 at Revolution and counter-revolution in Syria (Part I) <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This first part of an interview with Joseph Daher offers an in-depth look at the forces involved in the Syrian revolution, and those fighting against it. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anti-Assad demonstrations in Banyas, Syria, in May 2011. Picture by Syrian Freedom. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>Coverage of the conflict in Syria frequently refers to the opposition being dominated by Islamist groups. What was the initial composition of the opposition against the Assad regime and how has it evolved?</strong></p><p>Well, it is important to understand that the Syrian revolution is part and parcel of a broader movement that has fundamentally shaken the Middle East and North Africa regions. It is clearly situated in the context of other uprisings which resulted from the confluence and mutual reinforcement of different sites of dissatisfaction, struggle, and popular mobilization. Most observers have analyzed the Syrian uprising solely in geopolitical terms, ignoring the popular political and socio-economic dynamics. However, Syrians have been fighting for freedom and dignity against authoritarianism and fundamentalism, just like Egyptians, Tunisians and Bahrainis did in 2011. </p><p>There are several components of this popular movement in Syria. First, there were activists involved in various struggles against the regime before the 2011 uprising, particularly since the Damascus Spring of 2001, and from secret student and youth associations that had started to erupt in the early 2000s. Some of these activists would go on to form the nucleus of the revolutionary movement that began in March 2011. Their activities were shaped mainly by an interest in democratic rights and social justice. Some of them had, for example, already mobilized against the war in Iraq, and in support of the Palestinian cause. They were in their great majority secular democrats who belonged to various communities and ethnicities, including minorities such as the Kurds, Assyrians, Palestinians, Alawis, Christians, Ismailis, and Druze, to name a few. Many of these activists played an important role within the grassroots committees and in the development of peaceful actions against the regime.</p> <p>The Syrian grassroots civilian opposition was the primary engine of the popular uprising against the Assad regime (and later on the fundamentalist forces). They sustained the popular uprising for numerous years by organizing and documenting protests and acts of civil disobedience, and by motivating people to join protests. The earliest manifestations of the “coordinating committees” (or tansiqiyyat) were neighborhood gatherings throughout Syria.</p> <p>Committees would typically begin with about 15 to 20 people and then often expand to include hundreds. The two most famous coordination committee networks were the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), headed notably by Suhair Atassi, and the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), which was led by the lawyer and activist Razan Zaitoune. Other groups and coalitions were also formed at the beginning of the uprising, particularly youth networks such as the Ghad Democratic Coalition, the Nabd Coalition for Syrian Civil Youth, Youth of Daraya, the Syrian Revolutionary Youth, Syrian Non-Violent Movement, Kurdish Arab Fraternity Coordination Committee, the Syrian People Know their Way, and Syria Free Students Union (SFSU), etc.</p> <p>The regime specifically targeted these networks of activists, who had initiated demonstrations, acts of civil disobedience, and campaigns in favor of countrywide strikes. Their qualities as organizers and their democratic and secular positions undermined the propaganda of the regime, which proclaimed that “armed Islamic extremists” constituted the entire opposition. Large numbers of dissidents were imprisoned, killed, or forced into exile on the back of this lie. Despite this, Syrians continued to play an important role in the ongoing revolution and led various forms of popular resistance against the regime. By early 2012, there were approximately 400 different tansiqiyyat in Syria, for example, despite intense repression from regime security forces. On top of this, Syrian revolutionaries would later endure the authoritarianism of various fundamentalist forces (like ISIS), which enjoyed wide expansion across the country and attempted to co-opt the revolution or crush its democratic and inclusive message.</p> <p>The second, and undoubtedly the most important component of the Syrian uprising, is that of economically marginalized rural workers, urban employees, and self-employed workers. They have borne the brunt of the Assad dynasty’s neoliberal policies, particularly since Bashar al-Assad’s coming to power in 2000. This working-class group of Syrians produced many of those who joined the armed groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which emerged to defend against Assad’s attacks on peaceful demonstrations, and later adopted more offensive strategies.</p> <p>Similarly, certain neighborhoods in Syria witnessed the ascension of clergy into the revolutionary scene. Salafi and Sufi sheikhs alike became quite involved. Finally, elements of the more “traditional” opposition were also involved, although on a limited scale, in the popular movement, among them some Kurdish parties, left-wing groups, nationalists, liberals, and Islamic fundamentalists.</p> <p><strong>The Assad regime has managed to hold on to power and has benefited from Russian and Iranian involvement along with assistance from Shi’ite militias like Hezbollah. Do you think the Assad regime has any popular support within Syria or can its longevity simply be explained by outside intervention?</strong></p> <p>The single most important reason behind the Assad regime’s survival into the present is the political, economic, and military assistance it receives from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. As far as the regime is concerned, this has been absolutely indispensable, for its forces could not possibly have subsisted autonomously. The regime’s current military domination in Aleppo, for example, would not be possible without the assistance of Russian airplanes, Iranian-sponsored ground forces, and Hezbollah militias.</p> <p>The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has been weakened considerably since the beginning of the uprising, with various estimations indicating that its numbers fell from 300,000 to as few as between 80,000 and 120,000. This should give an idea of how important Assad’s foreign backers are to the survival of the counterrevolution.</p> <p>The weakness of the regime’s army has also led to the creation of loyalist militias throughout the country. These paramilitary forces can be broadly divided into two groups: militias strongly connected to the regime’s security apparatus and the Republican Guard––such as the National Defense Forces (NDF)––and those personally linked to the Assad family and private businesses. But perhaps the most important militias have been the foreign ones, such as Hezbollah, and the mostly Iranian-sponsored sectarian Shi’a forces originating from Iraq and Afghanistan.</p> <p>Additionally, the security and intelligence services of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) have been advising and assisting the Syrian regime since the beginning of the uprising. The IRI has provided essential military supplies to Assad and has also assisted many &nbsp;(if not most) pro-regime militias. On top of its military assistance, the IRI has also provided 3 important loans to the Assad regime, of $1 billion in January 2013, of $3.6 billion in August 2013, and of $1 billion in June 2015, respectively. Trade between the two countries also grew from approximately about $300 million in 2010 to $1 billion in 2014.</p> <p>For its part, Russia has long supplied Assad’s armed forces with the vast majority of their weaponry. The Russian state has continued to ship substantial volumes of small arms, ammunition, spare parts, and refurbished material to pro-regime forces. In January 2014, Russia stepped up supplies of military gear to the Syrian regime, including armored vehicles, drones, and guided missiles. Near the end of the summer in 2015, Russia greatly expanded its military involvement on the side of the Assad regime, and provided serious training and logistical support to the SAA. And beginning on September 30, 2015, Russian jets conducted their first raids in Syria. Since then, the regime has been able to stop military advances from various oppositional armed forces and recover territories.</p> <p>This said, the Assad’s regime resilience is also inextricably tied to its harsh repression against the protesters from day one, and also to the state’s ability to have remained the irreplaceable provider of essential public services, even for Syrians living in the many areas that are outside the regime’s control. The regime is the country’s main employer – civil servants were estimated at more than 50 percent of the total working population, and a higher percentage of wage earners. Whatever the case, and despite desires to the contrary, large sections of the country are de facto dependent on the regime for survival.</p> <p>Assad’s regime is however not popular, quite the opposite, even among a majority who oppose the revolution because of corruption, insecurity, bad economic situation and high inflation, instrumentalization of sectarianism, etc.&nbsp; The problem is that it is seen as the lesser evil by some sectors of the population, especially large sections of minorities and Sunni middle and high class strata in cities, including due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalist movements.</p> <p>The international political context, which favors the “liquidation” of the uprising and the preservation of the Assad’s regime, the mistakes and corruption of the “official” opposition in exile (Syrian National Coalition), the failure to present a democratic and inclusive alternative, and the harsh economic situation have all played in the hands of the Assad’s regime.</p> <p><strong>Many on the left believe the US is trying to pursue regime change in Syria. What has been the role of the United States and its NATO and Gulf allies?&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>The US has never tried to pursue regime change in Syria. The objectives of the US and Western governments have been to try to reach an agreement between the Assad regime (or a section of it) and the opposition linked to Western states, Turkey, and Gulf monarchies.</p> <p>At the beginning of the uprising in March 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized Assad as a “reformer” and added that many members of Congress who have gone to Syria in recent months also believed that he’s a reformer.</p> <p>The absence of any kind of organized and decisive military assistance from the US or Western states to the democratic components of the Free Syrian Army are further proof of this lack of will for any radical change in Syria. In addition, the United States has also opposed the supply of anti-aircraft missiles to various FSA forces.</p> <p>In 2014, Barack Obama’s $500 million plan (which was approved by Congress) to arm and equip 5,000-10,000 Syrian rebels, was never implemented and not aimed at overthrowing the Assad regime. The&nbsp;<a href="">text</a>&nbsp;of the resolution makes that clear.</p> <p>In October 2015, even Senator Lindsey Graham challenged Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Joseph Dunford on the US strategy in Syria. He asked about the possibility of overthrowing Assad, saying, “this is a half-assed strategy at best”. On December 15, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin: “The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change.”</p> <p>Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the states that most want to see the fall of the Assad family, but not of the regime and its institutions. The monarchies of the Gulf have wanted to transform this popular revolution into a sectarian civil war because they fear a democratic Syria and the spread of the revolution’s ideals in the region, which would threaten their power and interests. It is important to remember that Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar all enjoyed good relations with the Syrian state before the uprising in 2011. Saudi Arabia, however, saw the Syrian uprising as a way to weaken its main rival in the region, the Islamic Republic of Iran, by toppling its most important ally the Assad’s regime.</p> <p>On its side, Turkey’s latest military intervention in Syria is a prolongation of its previous policies to prevent the influence of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) to extend along its borders. This is why it supported various fundamentalist movements while shelling Kurdish civilians as well. This intervention did indeed target ISIS bases, but its priority has always been the Kurdish PYD forces. Notably, this has been occurring lately with the tacit green light of the Assad regime. Moreover, since the failed military coup d’état in Turkey, the AKP government has tightened its relationship with the Russian government, while diminishing its opposition to the Assad regime (e.g. by saying it would accept Assad in a transitional phase). The AKP government was also largely silent about the conquest of eastern Aleppo. Erdogan, had in fact concluded an agreement with the Russian and Iranian leaders that handed Aleppo over to them while keeping other border regions for itself.</p> <p>It is important to say that although conflicting interests and even opposition exists between international and regional powers intervening in Syria, none of them have intervened in the interests of the uprising. The effects of these interventions has often been to strengthen sectarian and ethnic tensions in the country.</p> <p>Between all these powers, there is near consensus today around certain points: to liquidate the revolutionary popular movement initiated in March 2011, stabilize the regime in Damascus, keep Assad in power for at least the immediate future, oppose Kurdish autonomy, and try to militarily defeat jihadist groups such as ISIS.</p> <p>The latest meetings in December between the Foreign and Defense Ministers of Iran, Turkey and Russia to discuss the future of Syria actually confirmed this path. The three powers adopted a joint declaration aimed at ending the conflict in Syria and working towards the establishment of a ceasefire in the entire country. The priority, they concluded, must be to fight terrorism and not regime change in Damascus.</p><p><em><strong>This article was first published in <a href=";Title=Revolution-and-Counter-Revolution-in-Syria">The Muslim Internationalist</a> on January 9, 2017.&nbsp; </strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/loubna-mrie/aleppos-forgotten-revolutionaries">Aleppo&#039;s forgotten revolutionaries</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/doha-hassan/our-testimony-to-death">Our testimony to death</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/vicken-cheterian/syrias-activists-politics-of-anger">Syria&#039;s activists: politics of anger</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/joseph-daher/revolution-and-counter-revolution-in-syria-part-i">Revolution and counter-revolution in Syria (Part I)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria middle east Joseph Daher Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Thu, 19 Jan 2017 16:10:20 +0000 Joseph Daher 108157 at Razan Zaitouneh and her comrades: spirit of the Syrian revolution kidnapped <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>More than five months have passed since the kidnap of activists Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hammadeh, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hammadi, who are a reminder that the Syrian revolution&nbsp;<span style="text-align: justify; font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">is up against more than the Assad regime.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="MsoNormal"><span class="image-caption"><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="650" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Poster courtesy of The Syrian People Know Their Way collective.</span></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>While the world is focused on the on-going war of the Assad regime against Syrian revolutionaries and the so-called presidential elections that will be held in Syria in June, we would like to remind people that it has been more than five months since Razan Zaitounah, Wael Hamadeh, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hammadi were kidnapped.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Unknown masked armed men kidnapped them from their workplace, the <a href="">Violations Documentation Centre</a>, in the city of Douma, located in eastern Ghouta near Damascus. This region is mainly held by opposition fighters, more precisely under the leadership of the Islamic Front led by Zahran Alloush. No information has been released as to the wellbeing of the four since the abduction.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>We remind people about the fate of these revolutionaries because they represent, in many ways, the spirit of the Syrian revolution.</span></p><h2>Histories of struggle</h2><p class="MsoNormal"><span>These four people shared a history of active struggle against the Assad dictatorship. Their activities in the Ghouta centre were very much appreciated by the local inhabitants. The centre offered activities and a safe space for hundreds of women,a place for local activists to work and gather.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Razan Zaitouneh, a Syrian human rights lawyer, has been a member of the team of lawyers defending political prisoners since 2001. In the same year, she co-founded the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS). As a result of her activities, she was banned from travel in early 2002. This did not stop her however, and in 2005 she established the SHRIL (Syrian Human Rights Information Link), through which she has continued to report about human rights violations in Syri. She has also been an active member of the Committee to Support Families of Political Prisoners in Syria since 2005.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Her involvement in the Syrian revolution meant she had to go into hiding, becoming the co-founder of the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) and the Violation Documentation Centre (VDC). She co-founded the local development and small projects support office (LDSPS) as well, which aims to help people throughout Syria, and in eastern Ghouta specifically, providing their basic needs, essential services and support for medical and development centres.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Her husband Wael Hamadeh, a human rights activist, was detained twice by the regime during the Syrian uprising. He was also an active member of the LCC and was an opposition figure for ten years prior to the revolution.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Samira Khalil was detained for four years under Hafez al Assad’s rule for her political activism. This did not diminish her will for radical change in Syria and she continued her activities when she was released. She participated in the Damascus Declaration and Centre for Revival of Civil Society in Syria. Her husband, Yassin Haj Saleh, is also an important political figure, who spent more than ten years in prison prior to the revolution and is now in exile in Turkey.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Finally, Nazem Hammadi is a Syrian human rights lawyer and poet who has played a crucial role in the revolution. He and Hamadeh, along with other LCC members, sent out aid to cities and villages across the country, providing relief for tens of internally displaced families.</span></p><h2><span>Why kidnap them?</span></h2><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Many have said that the kidnapping of Zaitouneh, Hamadeh, Khalil and Hammadi was a direct result of their condemnation, through the VDC mainly, of the abuses and violent practices of some military groups claiming to be part of the revolution. I believe, however, that the reason for their kidnapping runs much deeper.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>The meaning of their kidnapping was well summarized by the VDC and the LDSPS: “Her kidnapping [Razan Zeitouneh] and the kidnapping of her colleagues indicate yet again the endeavour of some to undermine any form of civil action to help Syrians in the liberated areas to rule and provide for themselves.“</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>The main reason behind the abduction is that these activists represent a threat to some groups, just as they do to the Assad regime. They represent the Syrian people empowered, aware of their strength when they act collectively, and above all they show that the people refuse any form of submission to authoritarianism.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>These four revolutionaries understood this, and have shown through their actions that emancipation is always an act undertaken and committed by the oppressed. This is why in their resistance against the criminal regime these human rights defenders have continued to condemn the reactionary and authoritarian actions of military opposition groups. They know very well that there are no shortcuts for the victory of the revolution, that there are no great liberators to whom we can hand over the responsibility of overthrowing the regime, and that there are no alternatives to the liberation and emancipation of the people, to building a new and democratic Syria. </span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>The four are completely opposed to the idea that the end justifies the means – as put forward by some factions inside the opposition – because it is in contradiction to the revolutionary project. On the contrary, they understand that the end is determined by the means we use. Their actions show that the development of a new society must be based on the struggle of empowered people, who become aware of their responsibility and build a political project together.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>We have observed many examples of this new Syrian society over the past three years, despite the terrible repression and destruction of the Assad regime, and the rise of reactionary Islamist and jihadist groups trying to divert the revolt for freedom and dignity into a sectarian war. The recent <a href="">general strike</a> undertaken in the city of Minbej in protest against the actions and the occupation of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham); the distribution of <a href="حملة-انتخابات_الدم-في-دمشق/">brochures and pamphlets</a> by activists in Damascus to remind people of Assad’s massacres and violations over the past three years, and to reassert that the revolution continues in spite of everything, as long as there is injustice; these are clear examples of this new Syria being built every day.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal">Let us be clear on one thing regarding the responsibility of the Islamic Front in the kidnapping of Razan and her comrades. There is no proof yet that the Islamic Front is the kidnapper of the four revolutionaries, despite strong suspicions based on its past practices towards activists and revolutionaries in the region of Ghouta, including, for example, threats <a href="">to Zaitouneh</a> and to the <a href="">popular council</a> of Douma.<span><span>&nbsp;</span></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span><span></span></span><span>This said, the Islamic Front has done nothing to investigate or to seek the liberation of Razan and the others after their kidnap in an area under their control. The Islamic Front holds that responsibility by dint of being the main military group in the region. It is not enough to publish a ‘<a href="">Charter of Honour</a>’ stating its aim to establish a state of law, freedom, and justice, when there is no pressure to commit to the respect of human rights, especially in light of their past sectarian and antidemocratic <a href="">discourses and practices</a>. These words, which reflect a desire to be acknowledged as a moderate actor by western countries rther than any genuine democratic evolution, will not bring back Razan and her comrades. We on the opposite side wait for the Islamic Front to actively seek to work for their liberation.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>The kidnapping of these four activists is also a reminder that the Syrian people’s revolution for freedom and dignity is not only against the Assad dictatorship, but also increasingly against reactionary and opportunist groups that oppose the objectives of the revolution: democracy, social justice and an end to sectarianism.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>A banner raised in the city of Kafranbel in December 2013 summarized the situation very well: “The enemies are many…the revolution is one…and continues.” This is why we stand in solidarity with and demand the liberation of Razan, Samira, Nazem, Wael, and all those detained and kidnapped in Syria, and in solidarity with the Syrian revolution and its bitter struggle for freedom and dignity. There will be no return to the era of humiliation, oppression and tyranny. Glory to our martyrs and the martyrs of the popular revolution. Power and wealth to the people.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal">-------------------------------------------------------</p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>This article is part of the campaign Free Douma4, which calls for the release of Razan, Samira, Wael and Nazem. More information can be found here&nbsp;</span><a href=""></a><span>&nbsp;and&nbsp;</span><span><a href=""></a></span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/razan-ghazzawi/seeing-women-in-revolutionary-syria">Seeing the women in revolutionary Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/malik-al-abdeh/syria-activists-grow-up">Syria, the activists grow up </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-1-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 1 of 4)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia openSecurity Syria Conflict middle east Joseph Daher Violent transitions Revolution Through Syrian eyes Syria's peace: what, how, when? Thu, 29 May 2014 09:11:06 +0000 Joseph Daher 83222 at The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 4 of 4) <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The fronts of the revolution are many and overlapping, from patriarchy to Arab chauvinism. Despite harsh conditions, mass participation in the revolutionary process is still ongoing.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="'Enemies are many.The revolution is one. It will continue.' Kafranbel, Syria 3/1/14. Courtesy of Placards of Occupied Kafrenbel" title="" width="400" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>'Enemies are many.The revolution is one. It will continue.' Kafranbel, Syria 3/1/14. Courtesy of Placards of Occupied Kafrenbel</span></span></span></p><p><span><strong>Arabs and Kurds are united</strong></span></p><p>In the northeastern part of Syria, populated by a majority of Kurds, recent battles between Islamists and Kurdish militias from the <a href="">PYD</a> (linked to the PKK) has led to the emergence of many popular initiatives from the activists and the local population.</p><p>Those popular initiatives aimed to show the brotherhood of Kurds and Arabs in this region, and to reaffirm that the popular Syrian revolution is for all, and that it condemns racism and sectarianism.</p><p>During those battles in the Raqqa province, the city of Tell Abyad has seen the creation of the “<a href="">Chirko Ayoubi</a>” brigade, which joined the Kurdish Front brigade on July 22, 2013. This brigade now combines Arabs and Kurds together. They have published a common declaration denouncing the violations committed by Islamist groups and the attempts at dividing the Syrian people in its ethnic and sectarian basis. Unfortunately some other FSA forces have fought on the side of the Islamists.</p><p>In the city of Aleppo, in the Achrafieh neighbourhood – mostly &nbsp;populated by Kurds – a <a href="">protest </a>was organized on August 1, 2013, gathering many hundreds of people who support brotherhood between Arabs and Kurds, and condemn the acts committed by islamist extremist groups against the Kurdish population, chanting together for the unity of the Syrian people.</p><p>In the city of Tell Abyad, which has suffered from heavy fighting, activists have tried to organize many initiatives aimed at ending armed fighting between the two groups, and stopping the forced expulsion of civilians. They want to put in place a people’s committee to govern and manage the city and to promote collaborative initiatives and actions between Arab and Kurdish populations, to reach a consensus through pacific means. The efforts are ongoing despite the continuous battle between Islamist and Kurdish militias.</p><p>In the city of Amouda, around thirty activists met on August 5, 2013 with Kurdish and Syrian revolutionary flags behind a poster saying “I love you Homs,” to show their solidarity with this city, besieged by the Syrian regime’s army.</p><p>Recently again, in the city of Quamishli – where Arab populations (Muslim and Christian), Kurds and Assyrians live – local activists have organized numerous projects to ensure <a href="">coexistence</a> and the administration of certain neighbourhoods by joint committees. In the same city, the branch of the Free Kurdish Student Union has started a small internet campaign calling for freedom, peace and brotherhood, tolerance and equality for the future of Syria.</p><h2><strong>Women and patriarchal values</strong></h2><p>One of the active women in the group in Salamiah said: “We participated in the funeral processions of our martyrs, although generally the entrance of women in cemeteries is not a customary practice in our city. But we wanted to break archaic customs, including this one. Each of us considered the martyr as a son, brother or father. Any martyr is the son of the city and not just of his family”.</p><p>She added: «&nbsp;What distinguishes this group of rebel women is the team spirit with which they work to achieve their objective, which is also the objective of the revolution throughout Syria&nbsp;; that is&nbsp;to overthrow the dictatorial regime based on cliques and clans and the establishment of a civilian democratic state for all the Syrian people, with all its components. “</p><p>While Ahlam, another female revolutionary, says: “We categorically reject all phenomena foreign to our society and want to see removed both foreign agendas and agendas far distant from the aspirations of the Syrian people, acting under different names and in an extremist form that only serves the regime, giving the latter arguments to hit out at the revolution and to terrorize the population.” She continues: ”As a group of women, we believe that the establishment of a free and modern state cannot be achieved without the existence of citizenship. It is our responsibility today to prepare a new phase in the life of Syrian women, so that a woman can expect to enjoy the full rights of citizenship in a new society. Our revolution is not only a revolution against a corrupt regime and archaic and obsolete laws that do not guarantee justice to women. It is also a revolution against all the customs and the lores that have held women back, preventing them from full and effective participation in the construction of the state and society.</p><h2><strong>Popular resistance from below</strong></h2><p>Thus, the popular committees and the organizations play a crucial role in the pursuit of the revolutionary process, because these people are essential actors who enable the people’s movement to resist. It is not about diminishing the role played by the armed resistance; but the latter depend on the popular movements to continue its fight. Without this, we would not stand a chance.</p><p>A banner crafted by the revolutionary city of Kafranbel sums up very well the spirit of the Syrian revolution, “enemies are many … the revolution is one… and continues”. Yes the revolution continues, despite the difficulties and multiple dangers. The Syrian people continues its path towards freedom and dignity, sweeping away all its oppressors.</p><p>We have for example seen the youth in the city of Deir Attyah self-organizing to clean their streets in a campaign called “<a href="">cleaning Deir Attyah to bring it back more beautifull</a>”, and the youth of Daraya launching a campaign a few weeks ago to ask for the end of the siege in their area.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Popular activism in the Syrian revolutionary process is still, as we have shown here, very much alive.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-1-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 1 of 4)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-2-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 2 of 4)</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-3-of-4"> The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 3 of 4)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia Syria middle east Women Kurds Patriarchy protests activism Joseph Daher Revolution Through Syrian eyes Sat, 05 Apr 2014 09:58:04 +0000 Joseph Daher 81069 at The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 3 of 4) <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Dominant narratives on Syria simplify it to a struggle between a dictatorship vs Islamic extremists, with Syrians included only as passive, voiceless, victims. In Part 3, Syrians are re-introduced as a people revolting against authoritarianism in both its secular and religious embodiments.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Aleppo university protest, Spring 2012. Courtesy of Syria Freedom Forever" title="" width="400" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Aleppo university protest, Spring 2012. Courtesy of Syria Freedom Forever</span></span></span><br /></strong></p><p><strong>Only masses of people developing their own mobilization potential can realize change through collective action. This is the abc of revolutionary politics. But this abc, today, faces profound skepticism from numerous leftist milieus in the west. We are told that we are taking our desires for realities, that there may have been a revolutionary impulse in Syria two and a half years ago, but that things have changed since then. We are told that jihadism has taken over the fight against the regime, that it is no longer a revolution but a war, and that there is a need to choose a camp to find a concrete solution.</strong></p> <p>So much debate on the left is trapped in this ‘campist’ logic, often accompanied by conspiracy theories that blur the fundamental differences between left and right – especially the far-right. </p> <h2><strong>Popular committees, elections, and civil administrations</strong></h2> <p>From the outset of the revolution, the main forms of organization have been the popular committees at village, city and regional levels. The popular committees were the true spearheads of the movement that mobilized people for protest. Then, the regions liberated from the regime developed forms of self-gestation based on mass organization. Elected popular councils emerged to manage those liberated regions, proving that it was the regime that provoked anarchy, and not the people.</p> <p>In some regions liberated from the regime’s armed forces, civil administrations were also set up to make up for the absence of the state in taking charge of its basic duties in various fields, like schools, hospitals, roads, water systems, electricity, communications. Those civil administrations were implemented through elections and (or by) popular consensus and have to provide civil services, security and civil peace among their main tasks.</p> <p>Free local elections in the ‘liberated zones’ occurred for the first time in 40 years in certain regions, neighbourhoods and villages. This was the case for instance in the city of Deir Ezzor, in late February 2013.</p> <p>Those local councils reflected the sense of responsibility and the capacity of citizens to take on initiatives to manage their own affairs relying on their managerial staff, their own experience and clean energy. Such initiatives took various forms, both in regions still under regime control and those that have freed themselves from it.</p> <p>This does not mean that there are no limits to those popular councils, such as the lack of representation of women, or of certain minorities. One is not trying to embellish reality, but to establish the truth.</p> <p>Another equally important element in the popular dynamic of the revolution was the proliferation of independent newspapers produced by people’s organizations. The number of newspapers went from three before the revolution –all in the hands of the regime – to more than sixty written by thèse civic groups.</p> <p>In the city of Deir Ezzor, in June, a campaign was launched by local activists to encourage citizens to take part to the process of monitoring and documentation of the practices of people’s local councils. Among other things, the campaign encouraged the promotion of rights and the culture of human rights in society. There was a particular emphasis on the idea of rights and justice for all.</p> <p>It is also important to remind everyone of the meeting in Rihania, a city on the Syrian-Turkish border, where the Free Syrian Union was formed on October 13, 2013, gathering about 106 military, media, and civil formationsunder its umbrella. These were all calling for a Free and Democratic Syria in which all sects and ethnicities would be treated equally. Although limited in some regards (e.g. the name Syrian Arab Republic was maintained as well as a call to return to the ‘liberal’ Constitution of 1950). But this initiative must clearly be included in any account of the democratic stakeholders in the revolution. </p> <h2><strong>The example of Raqqa</strong></h2> <p>A prominent example of self-management by the masses took place in the city of Raqqa, the only provincial capital that has been liberated from the regime (since March 2013), but is today <a href="">occupied by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria</a> (ISIS).</p> <p>In the first few months following the liberation of the city and despite still enduring regular regime shelling, Raqqa was completely autonomous and it is the local population that managed all the local services for the collectivity. </p> <p>These popular organizations, often led by young people, came on in leaps and bounds. They multiplied, to the extent that more than 42 social movements were officially registered by the end of May 2013. The people’s committees organized various campaigns. The “revolutionary flag represents me” campaign consisted in painting the revolutionary flag in neighbourhoods and streets of the city, to oppose the Islamist attempt to impose the black Islamist flag throughout. On the cultural front, a play mocking the Assad regime was performed in the city centre and at the beginning of June, these organizations held an exhibition for art and local crafts. Centres were established to give the youth an occupation and to treat the psychological disorders resulting from the war. By the end of the year, Syrian baccalaureate exams in June and July were entirely organized by volunteers.</p> <p>These types of experiences of self-management are found in many liberated regions. It is worth noting that women play a great role in these movements and in the protests in general.</p> <p>For instance, on June 18, 2013, in the city of Raqqa, a <a href="">mass protest led by women</a> was held in front of Jabhat al-Nusra’s Islamist headquarters, where the protesters called for the liberation of incarcerated prisoners. Protesters shouted slogans against Jabhat al-Nusra that denounced their actions. The protesters did not hesitate to deploy the first slogan ever used in Damascus in February 2011: “the Syrian people refuse to be humiliated.” </p> <p>The group “Haquna” (meaning ‘our right’), to which many women belong, have also organized many gatherings against the islamist groups in Raqqa, chorusing among other messages, “Raqqa is free, down with Jabhat al-Nusra.”</p> <p>During summer 2013, solidarity gatherings called for the libération of kidnapped activists held in islamist-held prisons. The protests enabled the liberation of some activists, but numerous others remain in jail to this day, like the famous <a href="">Father Paolo</a>, and others including Firas, the son of the intellectual Yassin Hajj Saleh.</p> <p>In September 2013, following an attack ISIS against the Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Raqqa, youth groups and activists <a href="">organized a demonstration</a> to condemn ISIS actions, in which they brandished a big cross in solidarity with the Syrian Christian community of the city. They also <a href="">issued a statement</a> saying that, “they demand the respect for all religions: Christian and Muslim are one: We have lived and will live as brothers. The people who practiced these actions only represent themselves and the Islamic religion is innocent of such acts” </p> <p>In the people’s organised resistance to the islamist groups in the city of Raqqa, like elsewhere, women have played a leading role. <a href="">Suad Nofal</a>, a school teacher, for example, has been protesting nearly daily for months against the autoritarian practices of ISIS, demanding the release of political prisoners.</p><h2><strong>Opposing authoritarianism, religious or secular</strong></h2> <p>Similar protests contesting the authoritarian and reactionary&nbsp;practices of the islamists took place in Aleppo, in Mayadin, al-Qusayr and other cities like Kafranbel. </p> <p>In the neighbourhood of Bustan Qasr, in Aleppo, the local population has protested numerous times to denounce the actions of the Sharia Council of Aleppo, which contains many Islamist groups. On August 23, 2013, for instance, the protesters of Bustan Qasr, while condemning the massacre through chemical weapons committed by the regime against people in Eastern Ghouta, were also calling for the liberation of the famous activist Abu Maryam, once more jailed by the Sharia Council of Aleppo. </p> <p>They continue until today to demand his release. At the end of June 2013, in the same neighbourhood, the activists shouted, “go f*c* yourself Islamic council,” protesting at the repressive and authoritarian politics of the latter. Popular outrage was also expressed following the assassination by foreign jihadists belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group (ISIS) of a 14-year old boy, who allegedly made a blasphemous comment in a joke referring to Prophet Mohammad. </p> <p>A protest was organized by the popular committee of Bustan Qasr against the Islamic council and the Islamist groups. Activists cried, “what a shame, what a shame, the revolutionaries have become shabiha,” comparing the Islamic council to the Syrian regime’s secret police,&nbsp;a clear allusion to their authoritarian practices.</p> <p>There are weekly protests on Fridays. During the one on Friday 2 August 2013, the Local Coordinating Committees (LCCs), who play an important informative role for the revolution, but also a role of support by supplying foods, good and services to the populations and the refugees, declared this in a release: “in a unified message from the revolution to the entire world, we are confirming that the kidnapping of activists and essential actors of the revolution, unless they serve tyranny, hinder the freedom and the dignity of the revolution.” This message was addressed directly to those reactionary islamist groups. In the same vein, on 28 July 2013, the LCCs wrote a release with the title “the tyranny is one, whether in the name of religion or of secularism,” rejecting both the islamists and the regime.</p> <p>The Council of Salah Eldeen Quarter, in Aleppo, signed a placard on September 27 2013, saying&nbsp;in opposition to ISIS: “Take Your Islam and Leave Us Our Islam – Islam conquered hearts before lands”.</p> <p>Coordination committees such as the Kurdish Fraternity Committee have accused ISIS of “occupying cities and terrorizing citizens”, equating them with the pro-regime group Hezbollah, which has been ruthlessly targeting civilians. They <a href="">demonstrated</a> in Ashrafiya, Aleppo, on September 20, 2013 against ISIS and we could see banners notably saying, “Syria will be free, free; ISIS, get out” and “We Syrians Reject Masked Fighters in Our Country,” “ISIS is the Regime’s State of Iraq and Syria”, and &nbsp;“Our Syria is colourful. No to ISIS and its black flag.”</p> <p>In earlier September, eleven civilian groups representing the organized structures of the revolution in a broad area outside Damascus, rallied strongly around <a href="">Razan Zaitouneh</a>, a key grassroots revolutionary figure. The 36-year-old lawyer was threatened and harassed by members of armed jihadist factions in eastern Ghouta of Damascus, for no other reason than, “being an independent and unveiled woman who is among the grassroots leadership cadres of our revolution,” as one activist put it.</p> <p>More recent examples can be also be cited, such as the <a href="">Statement of the Civilian Movement in Syria Regarding the Remarks of Mr. Zahran Alloush, Commander of the Army of Islam</a> on October 14,&nbsp;2013 in which groups and members of the Syrian revolutionary process stated their rejection «&nbsp;of any attempt by any party to impose authoritarianism upon decision-making and upon the work of citizens. We also reject any attempt to make compliance with any institution not elected by the people, no matter how powerful or wealthy the institution, a benchmark for the public good or a gauge of patriotism or an indicator of the ability to perform civic duty today&nbsp;». </p> <p>This statement was issued after Mr. Zahran Alloush (Commander of the Army of Islam) pronounced the establishment of the expanded Douma Civilian Council «&nbsp;divisive&nbsp;» because it ought to have taken the Consultative Council that is associated with him as its sole reference point.</p> <p>In the eyes of the people, ISIS is yet another face of the Assad regime because of its authoritarianism, as expressed on a banner in a demonstration on December 27 2013 in Maraat al-Numan in Idlib that said, “The majority of us have become wanted by two states (the Assad regime and ISIS)”.</p> <p>On January 3, 2014, demonstrations occurred in different locations where ISIS was present to demand its departure and overthrow. Chants such as, <a href="">“Assad and ISIS are one”</a> or ”ISIS get out”, widely used for a while now in liberated areas of Syria, were heard everywhere. </p> <p>The Syrian revolutionary masses have proven for a while that their revolution is not dead and never has been. But the world does not want to see this symbol. They ignore the fact that, in a neighbourhood of Aleppo as late as Saturday, January 4, 2014, slogans are still being used used against the Assad regime and against the jihadists - slogans such as, “our revolution is against all oppressors ” or &nbsp;"the Syrian people will never submit".&nbsp;</p><p><span>Catch <a href="">Part 4</a>: 'The revolution from below: understanding the role of women and Kurds' tomorrow, 5/4/2014</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-1-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 1 of 4)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-2-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 2 of 4)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Raqqah </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia Raqqah Syria middle east ISIS kidnapping community organizing protests Joseph Daher Violent transitions The future: Islam and democracy Revolution Through Syrian eyes Fri, 04 Apr 2014 16:19:09 +0000 Joseph Daher 81062 at The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 2 of 4) <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Part 2, the author dispels the myths used by the Syrian regime to legitimise itself. Is anything left of the regime's rhetoric of socialism, secularism and anti-imperialism?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Barzeh"><img src="//" alt="Barzeh, Damascus 17/2/14. Courtesy of Lens Young Dimashqi" title="Barzeh" width="400" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Barzeh, Damascus 17/2/14. Courtesy of Lens Young Dimashqi</span></span></span></strong><br /><strong>The Syrian regime's rhetoric : socialist, secular, and anti-imperialist?</strong></strong><strong><br /></strong><br />Syria has been able to portray itself as an anti-imperialist state through its support for the resistance in Lebanon and in Palestine for many years now, and has taken strong rhetorical positions in opposition to Israel.</p> <p>But this stance is not based on anti-imperialist principles, but on putative ‘national interests’. These are guided by the necessity of ensuring the security and continuity of the regime as well as a balance of power in diplomatic negotiations with Israel to recover the <a href="">Golan Heights </a>area seized in 1967.</p> <p>The regime has actually collaborated with western imperialist governments on many occasions. It is the same regime that <a href="">refused to assist</a> the Palestinians and progressive Jordanian groups in overthrowing the conservative Hashemite regime in Jordan during the popular uprising in 1970, known as the Black September. </p> <p>This is the same regime that&nbsp;crushed the Palestinians and the progressive movements in Lebanon in 1976 with the tacit agreement of the west, putting an end to their revolution, while participating in the imperialist war against Iraq in 1991 with the coalition led by the US.</p> <p>They also participated in the ‘war on terror’ launched by President George W. Bush by collaborating on security issues. Israel has actually several times called on the US to ease the pressure on the Syrian régime, which has not shot a single bullet for the occupied Golan Heights since 1973.</p> <p>Syria <a href="">has not responded</a> to direct attacks on its soil widely attributed to Israel, including a 2007 air strike on a suspected nuclear reactor or the assassination of a top Lebanese leader, <a href="">Imad Moghniye</a>, in the following year. It also has engaged in multiple rounds of peace talks, most recently in 2008. Although these talks have not yielded an agreement, their repeated failure has led to nothing worse than a continued chill.</p> <p>Syrian officials have repeatedly declared their readiness to sign a peace agreement with Israel as soon as the occupation of the Golan Heights ended, while nothing was said on the Palestinian issue.</p> <p>Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Bashar Al Assad, went so far as to&nbsp;<a href="">declare in May 2011 </a>that if there is no stability in Syria, there will be no stability in Israel, adding that no one can guarantee what will occur if something happens to the Syrian regime. As a result, it is not hard to understand Israel’s satisfaction with the status quo under the current Syrian regime.</p> <p>The Palestinian refugees in Syria are fully aware of all this, and have increasingly been participating in the revolution alongside their Syrian brothers and sisters. They too have suffered from the regime’s repression.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <h2><strong>Secular</strong></h2> <p>The regime under the rule of Bashar Al Assad has continued the policies of his father and has increased the collaboration with religious associations and conservative segments of the society in conjunction with the new social market economy and the implementation of accelerated neoliberal policies. This has meant the withdrawal of the state in social subventions and many essential public areas. </p> <p>It should be known that prior to the commencement of the révolution, 30.1% of the population lived below the poverty line and almost two million people – or 11.4% of the population – had insufficient means to meet their basic needs. Real GDP growth and real per capita income has been decreasing since the beginning of the 90s. This has pushed the regime to continue its neoliberal policies and search for more private capital.</p> <p>In the area of health, notably, the regime has significantly retreated, leaving the initiative increasingly to charitable associations, and especially religious ones. In 2004, around 300 associations were providing a total of 842 million Syrian Pounds (SP) to more than 72,000 families. The most successful and notorious of these was the Jama’at Zayd, which has deeprooted relations with the Damascus Sunni bourgeoisie, conducted by the Rifa’i brothers, despite their well known opposition to the regime in the past. </p> <p>Despite having a rather opposing tone to the regime nowadays, the association did not hesitate to collaborate with them in the past, notably by obtaining the control of some new mosques at the expense of others, so that some of their members were able to procure important offices in various official religious institutions.&nbsp; Neoliberal policies have reinforced these religious associations, both Islamic and Christian, in Syria and in their hinterland of networks, increasing their role in society at the expense of the state.</p> <p>Around 10,000 mosques and hundreds of religious schools were built and more than 200 conferences headed up by clerics were held in the cultural centres of important towns during the year 2007. At the same time, the high religious establishments of all the sects were used by the regime as ostensible representatives of “Syrian civil society”, presenting an outward modern and consensual image of the country to any visiting foreign delegation.</p> <p>Bashar Al Assad did not hesitate to meet with the famous Youssouf Al Qaradawi, currently “supporting” the revolution against the regime, who visited Damascus in 2009 at the head of the World Union of Oulemas.</p> <p>The regime continued this policy of <em>détente</em>&nbsp;towards opposition Islamists&nbsp;that had commenced at the beginning of the nineties through the release of thousands of political prisoners in 1992, the tolerance of Islamists publications and of some movements as long as they refrained from political involvement. In 2001 for example, Shaykh Abu Al fath Al Bayanuni, the brother of the former head of the Muslim Brotherhood, was authorized to come back after 30 years of exile with his son, a rich businessman, who participated in the creation in 2010 of the first sexually segregated mall in Syria. These policies were also part of a strategy to create and deepen the <em>rapprochement </em>with the economic elites of Aleppo.</p> <p>These governmental measures were accompanied by the<a href=""> censorship</a> of literary and artistic works, while promoting a religious literature filling more and more the shelves of libraries and Islamizing the field of higher education. </p> <p>This is true particularly in the humanities and expressed itself in the rather systematic referral to religious references of any scientific, social and cultural questions. The government also, in 2007, withdrew authorizations from two feminist organizations (the Social Initiative and one organization affiliated to the Communist Party linked to the regime) following pressure from various religious groups and personalities.</p> <p>At the beginning of the uprising in April 2011, the regime actively sought to reach out to the conservative sectors of society by closing the country’s only <a href="">casino</a> and scrapping a ruling that banned teachers from wearing the <a href="">niqab.</a>&nbsp; The regime banned the niqab from the classroom in July 2010, forcing hundreds of women out of teaching roles and into administrative positions. The regime also met with a number of religious dignitaries from different towns to try to appease the protest movement.<br /><br /><span>Catch <a href="">Part 3</a>: 'Opposing authoritarianism and the necessity for self-organisation' tomorrow, 3/4/2014</span></p><p><strong><br /></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-1-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 1 of 4)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia Syria middle east Neoliberalism socialism Joseph Daher Violent transitions Revolution Through Syrian eyes Wed, 02 Apr 2014 16:25:50 +0000 Joseph Daher 80928 at The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 1 of 4) <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In a series commemorating the uprising's third anniversary, Syrian revolutionary activist Joseph Daher answers key questions still circulating in the western digital commons. In this first part he offers us a short history of the socio-economic causes behind the protests that sprang up across Syria in March 2011.</p> <!--EndFragment--> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Douma"><img src="//" alt="Graffiti in Douma, Syria. Courtesy of the Revolutionary Left Current in Syria" title="Douma" width="400" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Graffiti in Douma, Syria. Courtesy of the Revolutionary Left Current in Syria</span></span></span></p><p><strong>Introduction</strong></p> <p>For nearly three years now, the majority of observers have analyzed the Syrian revolutionary process in geopolitical and sectarian terms, from above, ignoring the popular political and socio-economic dynamics on the ground. The threat of western intervention has only reinforced this idea of an opposition between two camps: the western states and the Gulf monarchies on one side, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah on the other. </p> <blockquote><p>But we refuse to choose between these two camps, we refuse this logic of the “least harmful [evil]” which will only lead to the loss of the Syrian revolution and its objective: democracy, social justice and the rejection of sectarianism. </p></blockquote><p>Lately, mainstream medias, whether in the west or in the Middle East, and western and regional governments, have been wanting us to believe that the Syrian revolution is dead and has transformed itself into a sectarian war between the Sunni majority and the religious and ethnic minorities on the other side, or in a similar trend, in an opposition between jihadists vs the Assad regime. This last perspective has actually pushed many to join the camp composed of people who range from the conservative right wing to ill-informed anti-imperialists, who argue that Assad is a lesser evil to the Jihadists. In fact we should oppose both, because they nurture each other and are both seeking to establish an authoritarian system. </p><p>A similar comment could be made to a section of the left that has abandoned the Syrian revolution because it was allegedly hijacked, or those who have even not supported it since the beginning. For example, Tariq Ali has declared that he believes the popular movement has been, </p> <p>“overtaken by the Muslim Brotherhood and groups to its Right, backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Deserters from Assad were taken over by Turkey and France. So the character of the uprising changed by the end of the first twelve months. How can one not register this fact? The relationship of forces today does not favour any secular or progressive groups. To pretend otherwise is to be blinded by illusions or the requirements of intra-sectarian left politics.” </p> <p>But there is no going back to the era of the Assad regime before the beginning of the revolution and to other forms of oppression. There is no alternative to the continuation of the revolution.&nbsp;One of the main slogans in Syria chanted by protesters is, “Rather death than humiliation”. </p><p>At the same time, we have to be clear that Islamist reactionary groups are a threat to the revolution. If they attack revolutionaries they must be condemned and challenged in whatever way it takes.</p> <p>We need to oppose these counter-revolutionary forces, and build a third radical front struggling for the objectives of the revolution: democracy, social justice and no to sectarianism. </p> <p>The role of the revolutionary is to be on the side and struggle with these popular organizations struggling for freedom and dignity and to radicalize as much as possible the popular movement towards progressive objectives, while fighting against opportunists and reactionary forces opposing popular class interests.</p> <p>We would like to end also by repeating that no solution can be achieved if the democratic and social issues are not dealt with together. Social demands cannot be separated from democratic demands&nbsp;: nor can they be subordinated&nbsp;; they go in hand in hand.</p> <h2><strong>The demise of independent politics in Syria</strong></h2> <p>As Pierre Frank, French Trotskyist, once wrote : “Let us note that the greatest theoreticians of Marxism did not at all define the political nature of a bourgeois regime by the positions which the latter held in the field of foreign policy but solely and simply by the position it occupied in relation to the classes composing the nation”.</p> <p>The roots of the revolutionary process are the absence of democracy and increasing social injustice as a result of neoliberal policies, especially as implemented to a high degree with the arrival to power of Bashar Al Assad in 2010.</p> <p>The advent of Hafez Al Assad to power had marked a new era in Syria whereby independent popular organizations from trade unions to professional associations and civic associations came under the regime’s authority after harsh repression.&nbsp; Professional unions of doctors, lawyers, engineers and pharmacists were dissolved in 1980. They were the main organizations previously leading the struggle for the return of democratic freedoms and the lifting of the emergency rule. They were re-established but their leaders were replaced by state appointees.</p> <p>In the school system, the regime targeted principally leftist teachers from different tendencies in the 1970s onwards, simultaneously allowing religious fundamentalist currents to develop. Independent intellectuals, such as Michel Kilo and Wadi Iskandar, and university teachers, including Rif’at Sioufi and Asef Shahine, critical of the régime, were also the targets of the regime.</p> <p>No immunity was granted to university campuses, neither to teachers nor students. Security agencies could actually arrest students inside lecture halls and/or on campus and they did.</p> <p>In a similar manner the regime imposed its domination on the bureaucracy of the trade union workers, and this is what hindered the labour struggle against neo-liberal policies pursued by the authoritarian regime since 2000, which has allowed the decline in the standard of living of the majority of the people, as well as political répression. </p><p>These were the main causes which launched the wave of protests, causes that in these years revolved around the economy. For example, in May, 2006, hundreds of workers protested outside the public construction company in Damascus and clashed with security forces, and at the same time that taxi drivers were going on strike in Aleppo.</p> <p>More recently, the trade unions as an institution have been completely silent in the face of the repression of the Syrian people, and more specifically against the workers, even when the latter were the target of repression.&nbsp; Successful campaigns for general strikes and civil disobedience in Syria during December 2011 nevertheless paralysed large parts of the country, indicating a level of activism on the part of the working class and the exploited, who are indeed the heart of the Syrian revolution. </p> <p>Repression also included all political parties that refused to submit to the diktat of Hafez Al Assad and the obligation to enter the umbrella of the National Progressive Front, where they had no right to any political activity except under the approval of the régime. These parties suffered from harsh repression ever since his advent to power, and not only at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the beginning of the seventies, various secular political parties, especially any with leftist tendencies were the targets of the regime, including the movement of February 23 (the radical tendency of the Baath close to Salah Jadid), the League of Communist Action (Rabita al amal al shuyu’i) whose members came mostly from the Alawi sect, and to a lesser extent the Communist Party Political Bureau (CPPB) of Ryad Turk. The National Assembly, so-called for including various leftist parties, was also severely repressed at the beginning of the 80s.</p> <p>This trend has continued into the 2000s with the coming to pwoer of Bashar Al Assad. An opposition movement gathering of intellectuals, artists, writers, scholars and even politicians who demanded reforms and democratization of the state between 2000 to 2006 was brutally repressed by the various wings of the security apparatus. This was accompanied also by the opening up of debate forums, and, between 2004 and 2006, by a multiplicity of sit-ins, a new political phenomenon in Syria. Calls for sit-ins came from political parties and civil organizations at one and the same time. The government of Bashar Al Assad cracked down on this movement, forums were actually closed, sit-ins were severely repressed and many intellectuals who launched this call for civil society and democratization were imprisoned. At the same time, the Kurdish Intifada of 2004 was severely crushed.</p> <p>Syrian society came increasingly under the control of the regime in all its various components.&nbsp;&nbsp;The Baath Party was the only political organization which had the right to organize events, lectures and public demonstrations on the campus of a university or military barracks, or the right to publish and distribute a newspaper. Even the political parties allied to the regime in the National Progressive Front, did not have the right to organize, to issue statements or to have the slightest official presence. The Baath also controlled an array of corporatist associations through which various societal sectors were brought under regime tutelage. They were called popular organizations and set their sights on incorporating peasants, youth and women.</p> <h2><strong>The fight for social justice</strong></h2> <p>Social justice has also been a key demand from Syria’s popular masses. It is not a surprise that the biggest section of the Syrian revolutionary movement includes the economically disenfranchised rural and urban working and middle classes who are experiencing the accelerated imposition of neoliberal policies by Bashar Al Assad since his arrival to power. </p> <p>These policies especially benefited a small oligarchy and a few of its clients. Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Bashar al-Assad, embodied this mafia-style process of privatization led by the regime.</p> <p>A process of privatization created new monopolies in the hands of the relatives of Bashar al-Assad, while the quality of goods and services declined. These neoliberal economic reforms allowed the appropriation of economic power for the benefit of the rich and powerful. The process of privatization of public companies has been made for the benefit of a few individuals close to the regime. At the same time the financial sector has developed inside the establishment of private banks, insurance firms, the Damascus stock exchange and money exchange bureaus.</p> <p>Neoliberal policies undertaken by the regime have satisfied the upper class and foreign investors, especially from the Arab Gulf, by liberalizing the Syrian economy for their benefit and at the expense of the vast majority of Syrians hit by inflation and the rising cost of living. </p> <p>In addition to that, Syria’s agricultural and public sector were also declining and no effective strategy to strengthen them have been suggested yet, which could jeopardize the country’s alimentary autonomy and harm the population through the constant rise in prices of food and non-food basic needs.</p> <p>The process of economic liberalization has created greater inequality in Syria. The poorest were struggling to help themselves in the new economy due to a lack of employment opportunities, while the middle class is plummeting towards the poverty line because their incomes have not kept up with inflation, which rose to 17% in 2008. </p> <p>There is now 20-25% unemployment, reaching 55% for under-25s (in a country where 65% of the total population are under 30). The percentage of Syrians living under the poverty line rose from eleven percent in 2000 to thirty-three percent in 2010. That is, around seven million Syrians living around or below the poverty line.</p> <p>In agriculture, the dispossession of several hundred thousand farmers in the northeast as a result of the drought should not be thought of as merely a natural disaster. The increasingly intensive use of land by agro-businessmen — including land previously kept for grazing — as well as the illegal drilling of water wells facilitated by paying off local administrators has contributed to the crisis in agriculture. </p> <p>Indeed, the expansion and intensification of land exploitation by large commercial farmers (agrobusiness), including land previously held for grazing, as well as the illegal drilling of wells and the establishment of selective water pipes meeting the requirements of the new landowners – all facilitated by the corruption of the local governments – have accelerated the agricultural crisis. According to the United Nations, in 2010, more than a million people have been forced to migrate from the north-eastern region of Syria to urban centres.</p> <p>The geography of the uprisings in Idlib and Deraa as well as other rural areas including the suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo, historic bastions of the Baath Party that had not taken part on a massive scale in the insurrection of the 1980s, shows the involvement of the victims of neoliberalism in this revolution. Many from these groups joined the armed groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).</p><p class="MsoNormal"><strong>Catch <a href="">Part 2</a>: 'Syrian regime's rhetoric: socialist, secular, anti-imperialist?' tomorrow, 2/4/2014</strong></p><div><strong><br /></strong></div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-2-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 2 of 4)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics middle east social justice Joseph Daher Revolution Arab Awakening: violent transitions Through Syrian eyes Tue, 01 Apr 2014 21:23:04 +0000 Joseph Daher 80920 at Joseph Daher <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Joseph Daher </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Joseph </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Daher </div> </div> </div> <p><span class="_5yl5"><span>Joseph Daher is a Swiss-Syrian socialist activist, academic, and founder of the blog <a href="">Syria Freedom Forever.</a> He is the author of <em>Hezbollah: Political Economy of the Party of God</em> (2016, Pluto Press).</span></span></p> Joseph Daher Tue, 01 Apr 2014 11:25:23 +0000 Joseph Daher 80916 at