Agents of Change - National Review congratulates

Anatomy of Syrian Crisis Featured

Written by  Published in International Read 2683 times

The Chinese ask River gods for protection against floods. Each year, tens of millions of Indian Hindus make pilgrimages to the Ganges to seek spiritual cleansing. As a little Syrian boy stretches his hand to the heavens along the corridors of the Euphrates, you cannot be sure which of the gods he is calling out to.

It is clear on one ground that this was the same Euphrates  that have  fed the Babylonians, Assyrians, Nabatacans, Armenians, Persians, Byzantines, before the fall of Allepo to the Seljuk at the turn of the 11th century. Without doubt, it is to the God of Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad who had watched over the rise and fall of this various civilizations on the banks of the Euphrates.

As the ancient Syria fades away with its Semitic contradiction, Hafiz Assad swept to power in a bloodless coup in 1970.

Before Assad, the Middle East has been described by western Scholars as an obsolete term of expediency. It is used provisionally to refer to that strategic geo-locale which is more conspicuously defined by the culture of its communities than the territorial entities of its political units. It includes more than 20 Arabic-speaking countries of a combined population of over 150 million. It also includes Turkey and Iran, and it sometimes extended to include Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most political maps will include modern day Israel, with its mixed Hebrew and Arabic speaking population. This is what historian Marshall Hodgson refers to as the insightful neologism.

In the wake of the 1917 Arab revolt, Syrians expected the creation of an independent Arab state in historic Syria (Bilad Al-Sham) linked to a wider Arab federation. Instead, betraying their promises to the Arabs, the western powers subjugated the Arab East, dismembered historic Syria into four mini-states, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, and sponsored the colonization and establishment of the state of Palestine.

In time, Syria gained political independence, but its separation from Jordan, Lebanon and the Arab world proved irreversible. Israel became a formidable enemy on Syria's doorstep and a permanent obstacle to its nationalistic aspirations. This revisionism reached a climax in the effort of the radical wing of the Ba'th party (1966-1970) to make Damascus the bastion of a pan-Arab revolution and a war of liberation in Palestine. This, however, only brought on the 1967 defeat and the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights. This defeat generated intense new security fears in Syria, gave new roots to revisionism and further locked Syria into conflict with Israel and its backers.

The 1967 defeat brought home the high costs of messianic revisionism and provoked the rise to power of Hafiz Al-Assad, a leader who, while no less stamped by Syria's grievances and dreams, was prepared to chart a more realistic course matching objectives and means. He scaled down the objectives, focusing them on recovery of the occupied territories, defense of the Syrian state, and the enhancement of its status in the Arab world. Yet, as the capabilities of his adversaries and the intractability of Syria's environment simultaneously increased, the widening gap between goals and means has persisted and the attainment of even Syria's scaled-down goals proved elusive.

But Assad refused to throw in the towel. He went on like a gallant soldier until the hand of death took him away at the beginning of the 21st century. For the first time in the history of Arab aristocracy, Assad installed his son as the next king of Syria.

Enter the Butcher of Damascus

The great North African historian, Ibn Khaldun wrote about dynasties in his Muqaddimah: an introduction to history. Ibn Khaldun had written that prestige in one lineage lasts four generations before it dissipates, it is doubtful whether the Assad lineage in Syria is slated for four generations.

The “crown” prince had been bequeathed his kingdom by autocracy - his father's will, and the accidental death of his elder brother, Basel, who had been groomed to rule. And it stood to reason that he would defend what he has been given; it was the most fearsome national security state in the Arab east.
Hamza al Khatib, a boy of thirteen from the southern town of Deraa, by the Jordanian border, would emerge as the emblematic figure of the war between the regime and its people. The boy had been picked up along with a number of his peers. They had committed the unpardonable sin of scribbling anti-regime graffiti on their own walls. His body was returned to his family a month later. He had been subjected to horrific torture, his knees and neck broken, even his genitals severed.

In the mind of the dictators and its enforcers, this was meant to do the trick and scare the people into their private homes. It had worked that way before, but the barrier of fear was broken. That grim deed strengthened the resolve of those who wanted to be done with the regime. The Syrians took their time to erupt. It was as though the people knew that they were in for a particularly grim and bloody struggle.

Tunisia had led the caravan and then stepped out of the way. Its upheaval was overwhelmed by the protests in Cairo. But it was Libya, flanked to the west by Tunisia and in the shadow of Egypt to the east, which raised the rebellion to higher grounds. For Syrians every Friday became the big day for protest. They gave each Friday a name and a theme – 'Your silence is killing us',  'the Friday of the free Syrian army', 'with us is God', and so forth.

In Leila Vigna's 'Syria: Anatomy of a Revolution', it was observed that the root of the political revolution started in February, 2011, in the heart of the old Damascus souks of al-Hariqa. A tenuous yet important signal heralded the revolutionary times to come. After agents of the security forces brutally arrested the son of a store keeper for wrong parking - a common-place arrest in a country where security forces have a free hand to do as they please - the local storekeepers closed shops, gathered in the souk alleys and shouted:”the Syrian people do not let themselves be humiliated”. It is in this area that the movement of contestation caught fire, effectively gaining national resonance.

The violence of police repression towards protesters before army tanks surrounded the city over the following weeks set the country on fire. As repression increased in the following days and weeks, protest slogans began challenging the regime and eventually called for its fall. Meanwhile, the uprising spread from one city to the next with a magnitude and speed unprecedented in Syria's history.

Protests are now being held with varying intensities in every part of the country, except some areas of the coastal mountain range where a number of Alawi Syrian's live - the confessional group from which the Assad family hails.

Several generations had already attempted to foment contestation against the regime that was progressively set up by Hafez al-Assad following a coup d'état in 1970.The repression of the secular left and Islamist oppositions reached its peak in the late 70's and early 80's, resulting in a wave of arrests. For example in March 1982 aerial bombings of the city of Hama in response to a revolt instigated by the Muslim Brotherhood killed between 20,000 and 30,000 people.

By the summer of 2012, the country was at war. This is not a civil war, as opined in certain quarters, but a war waged by the regime against its own people. Armed opposition groups are extending their control over   Syrian territories. By the tail end of 2014 the various contending armed groups have metamorphosed into what is today known as ISIL-Islamic States of Syria and the Levant.

From here we turn to  Ibn Haldun: ”The builder of the family's  glory knows what it costs him to do the work, and he keeps the qualities that created his glory and made it last. The son who comes after him had personal contact with his father and thus learned those things from him. However, he is inferior to him in this respect, in as much as a person who learns things through study is inferior to a person who knows them from personal application”. As the rudder of the Syrian state ship runs haywire on the international sea of world politics, the sweats of millions of Syrians in forced exile may galvanize into a greater Euphrates that will earn the mercy of the heavens for a political baptism.

Last modified on Friday, 24 July 2015 13:24
Mustapha Folami

Fulami Mustafa Olawole who hails from Lagos, Nigeria attended Surulere Baptist School, Lagos and Government College, Lagos. A graduate of University of Ilorin, Mustafa is married and presently works as a journalist in Kano.