I have observed that many of us fall into the trap of believing that Syria has been in turmoil for just 3 years when in fact, Syria has been under 48 years of dictatorship. We must look beyond the 3 year old fight for democratic freedom and delve into this saddening history, in order to understand how Syria has come to be in this situation today. Ba’ath, a political party, committed a military coup in 1963 and again, in 1966, where we see Hafez Al Assad’s participation. He takes a position of leadership for the third military coup in 1970, in order to rule over Syria. It comes to no surprise that Assad used sectarianism and familial ties in order to maintain a strong position- a tradition that has been passed down onto his son, Bashar Al Assad, whose cousin controls a whopping 60% of Syria’s economy! In order for the Ba’ath party to take and stay in power with no legitimate legal contest, they emplaced the emergency law (which is still in place to the present day). This creates a democratically disabled population, and allowed the military forces to commit massacres with sectarian motives under the rule of Hafez Al Assad. The most prominent example can be seen in 1982, where forces massacred 20,000 – 40,000 civilians in Hama. A long-standing myth among some Arabs is the idea that Hafez Al Assad and his party are the “Protectors of Palestine”. One cannot help but laugh at this title, as it could not be further away from the truth. Aside from the abysmal treatment the Palestinian refugees received in Syria, the regime has always been passive with regard to Israel and its occupation of the Golan Heights, which took place in 1967. In fact, reports show negotiations having taken place between these “Palestinian protectors” and Israel to trade the land for political benefit. The treatment that the Palestinians received from Syria is not limited to them, but extends to the Kurdish minority. Under the rule of Hafez and his party, more than 120,000 Kurds were stripped of their citizenship, and the Kurdish language, culture and even their names, were banned from the country. ASSAD: NEW GENERATION, SAME GOVERNMENT Alas, the start of the new millennium saw the death of Hafez Al Assad, and his son, the infamous Bashar, inherited his power even though it contradicted the Syrian constitution. It stated that the president in power must be of at least 40 year of age, but within just a few hours, the constitution was changed and the age of presidency became 34, which, to everyone’s surprise I’m sure, was the age of Bashar at the time. He went on to make empty promises of democratic reform in the country. But the emergency law remained, and the dismissal of human rights by the regime was inherited by this new leader and his government. I now bring you to the Syrian revolution, triggered by a number of youths who were inspired by the uprisings taking place across the Arab world. The inhumanity of the Syrian regime can be seen in this one example: Dara’a; youths graffitied anti-government slogans on their school walls, and as a result were abducted by Assad’s forces, and subsequently were interrogated and tortured. In response to this, the families of these children and the community protested for their children to be returned back to them- not all the children were returned, and so the revolution began. A few days later, cities throughout Syria united in solidarity with these families, and security forces responded by firing bullets at the peaceful protestors. But these Syrians continued to protest every day, initially demanding reforms. But after they saw that barbaric reply to such demands, they demanded the fall of the regime. This peaceful protest quickly turned into a massacre spread across the nation: bullets, tanks, warplanes, barrel bombs, and sexual assaults of both men and women (stories so horrific, one cannot narrate them in detail). The regime went on to punish entire cities via shelling, starvation and so on. Just a few of these massacres are, the Darayya massacre where 700 civilians were killed; in Ghouta, chemical weapons such as sarin gas were used, killing 1400 civilians, all of whom suffocated to death. The Free Syrian Army arose after the peaceful protests were met with an unimaginable backlash. The FSA is underfunded especially in comparison to the Assad regime who are funded financially and militarily by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. Fast forwarding many events, I want to jump to the ISIS/IS fiasco. This organisation, in my opinion is counterrevolutionary. There are reports that IS continues to detain the same activists, journalists and fighters that were detained by the Syrian regime during the revolution and that IS continue to occupy the cities in northern Syria. The regime continues to shell and strike various areas and neighbourhoods, yet until this day, no attacks of Raqqa have been reported- the city of the IS headquarters. Today, there are over 2 million Syrian refugees and 9 million internally displaced civilians, most of which live in makeshift tents and live in unbearable conditions. Even those who manage to escape to neighbouring countries risk drowning, racism, discrimination, unemployment, sexual assault etc. The bottom line is that Assad’s family is responsible for the tragedy in Syria. The fact that some fools suggest that the revolution is a conspiracy shows how people have chosen to create and even believe the illusion in order to maintain the status quo in their benefit. And this struggle still continues, and will continue for God knows how long, for regimes and people around the world only support Syria when the trend comes, but a genuine interest and desire to help is not generally present, be it in the Arab world, or the world at large. I can present so many facts and statistics, but essentially, people have a choice: to either willingly be a part of the massacre by being part of this illusion, or to be disillusioned, and to fight for a struggle that as of now, seems to have no end.

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Welcome to the SOAS Middle East and North Africa Society!

Ahlan wa Sahlan! Whether you’re from the MENA region, an Arabic student going on their year abroad, or simply someone interested in the richly intense political and cultural aspect to MENA, this is the society for you! We will update our blog regularly with posts on culture, including great places to visit (as recommended by the SOAS students themselves), historical pieces, and of course, important current affairs and political stories.

If you have anything you would like to share and contribute, feel free to contact us and get involved. But until then, follow our blog to stay up to date on all things MENA related.


Lots of love the SOAS MENA team

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