NEWS: Mounting pressure on Syria as death toll passes 2,000

Myles Dolphin | Contributor

The governmental crackdown on pro-reform demonstrators in Syria continues till this day. Since the protests began earlier in March over 2,000 people have been killed.

The wave of Arab unrest, ignited by the Tunisian revolution in January, reached Syria a short while later. Residents of Darra city took to the streets to protest the torture of students who had put up anti-government graffiti.

Ceren Belge, an assistant professor of Political Science and expert on the Middle East at Concordia, suggests that unless Syrians can get the army on their side, like the Egyptians were able to do, there is little hope for a positive outcome.

“One lesson to learn from the Arab spring,” she says, “Is that it’s very hard to bring an authoritarian system down unless you have the army on your side for one reason or another.”

Libya, believes Belge, is an example of a system that is hard to bring down because of the army.

In April, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hinted at possible change. His speeches fluctuated between force and false promises of reform. However after lifting a decades-old state of emergency in April, he stepped up attacks, and sent tanks and soldiers into the cities of Daraa, Douma, Baniyas, Hama, Homs, Rastan and others.

The conflict is further complicated by Syria’s ethnic divisions. The Assads and most of the military belong to the Alawite sect of Shiite Islam, a small minority in a mostly Sunni country. There have been reports of sectarian clashes between the Sunni population and Syrians loyal to the Alawi-controlled regime.

Back in July activists told the New York Times that thousands of plainclothes security men, known as shabiha, had been enlisted by the government to help suppress the protests. As most of them are Alawites, the animosity towards them is high.

“Sectarianism is the regime’s wild card,” said a protest organizer to the Times, following the murder of three Alawites in Homs on July 17th.

While the international community has been relatively quiet regarding the situation in Syria, recent developments suggests that more countries are becoming actively involved in trying to find a solution to the conflict.

On Aug. 3 the United Nations finally broke its silence and issued its first condemnation of the violence in Syria since the uprisings began in March.

Gulf countries have also started to speak up against the violence. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain have all said that they were recalling their ambassadors from Syria to discuss the situation. The diplomatic move was announced after Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah condemned the violence in Syria on Aug. 8, openly criticizing his fellow Arab leader, a rare occurrence in the Middle East.

Another step included sending Envoys from Turkey, India, Brazil and South Africato Damascus to exert pressure on the Syrian President to end his violent crackdown.

Protestors in Syria are demanding their political freedoms, and are calling for the end of al- Assad regime, and the end of the assaults on the people.

“The state is also trying to blunt the calls for regime change by offering up a vague “dialogue” with the opposition,” says Wilson Jacob, associate professor in the department of History at Concordia.

“These moves can be read in two ways,” She says, “the state feels that its security measures are working and it can force a negotiated settlement that will allow the current regime to retain power, or just the opposite, the state feel that security measures are creating the conditions for larger protests and instability that might result in its downfall.”

Jacob also believes that the call for dialogue is the regimes desperate attempt to hold onto its power .

As the unrest in Syria enters its six month, al-Assad continues to defy the international community with attacks on pro-democracy protesters and Syrian civilians.

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One thought on “NEWS: Mounting pressure on Syria as death toll passes 2,000

  1. The one point that complicates this issue is the fact that Syria soldiers are being killed as well. Who is killing them?

    A good read for background is Thomas Friedman’s “From Beirut to Jerusalem.”

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