The Syrian regime has been able to portray itself as anti-imperialist in relation to Lebanon and Palestine, but is against the popular uprising calling for democratic change.

Are we witnessing an attempt by foreign imperialist forces to destabilise Syria through organised demonstrations because of its pro-resistance stand in relation to Israel? Is Syria not a stronghold for anti-imperialist forces in their struggle against the Zionist state? Syria has been able to portray itself as an anti-imperialist state through its support to the resistance in Lebanon and in Palestine for many years now, and has taken very strong rhetorical positions in opposition to Israel. This anti-imperialist stand has allowed the regime to enjoy a measure of sympathy among the population in Syria and the Arab world.

But this position is not based on anti-imperialist principles, but on conjunctural national interests. These are guided by the necessity to ensure the security and continuity of the regime, as well as to ensure a balance of power in diplomatic negotiations with the State of Israel to recover the Golan area seized by Israel in 1967.

President Obama condemned the violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government over the past few weeks, but he also condemned any use of violence by protesters. The US administration has actually been relatively silent on the Syrian issue, while Hilary Clinton on her side called Bashar al-Assad a reformer, adding that it was a feeling shared by both parties in Congress. She ended by declaring that the US won’t enter into the internal conflict in Syria the way it has in Libya.

Many in the US administration fear a regime change in Syria that would modify the current status quo between Syria and Israel. Syria has actually avoided direct confrontation with Israel for nearly four decades, despite its support to Palestinians and Lebanese resistance groups. With the exception of some air battles in 1982, Israel and Syria have not gone to war since 1973.

Syria has not responded to direct attacks on its soil widely attributed to Israel, including a 2007 airstrike on a suspected nuclear reactor or the assassination of a top Lebanese resistant Imad Moghniye, 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 continued chill. Israeli experts say that instability or regime change in Syria could change this long-standing arrangement, and even tempt Damascus to deflect attention from its internal problems by heating up the Israeli front.

The Syrian regime intervened in the past against progressive and revolutionary groups which had democratic and pro-resistance positions such as during the Lebanese civil war in 1976 against Palestinian and progressive leftist forces to repress them and put an end to their revolution. We should also recall the absence and also the interdiction by the regime of any kind of armed resistance from Syria to free the occupied Golan.

Syria’s “anti-imperialist” credentials are also challenged by its neoliberal policies, which have created a country with more social injustices and increased in wealth gap. The average living standard of the majority of people has decreased; the rich have become wealthier, while the middle classes and the poor have suffered from these neoliberal policies, including inflation. The reasons behind the price increases were particularly due to speculative real estate boom and the partial removal of common government subsidies. No creative solutions have yet been found to answer the issue of unemployment rise, up to 25 percent. In addition to this, a new labor act in Syria has been adopted in April 2010 and is clearly favoring employers against employees.

The new “social market economy” decided by the regime in 2005 created new monopolies in the hands of relatives of Assad by the privatisation of a number of companies, 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. Wealth gaps and inequality have continuously increased these last few years.

This is a Syrian popular uprising and not a foreign plot

We are therefore not witnessing a foreign organised plot against a fake anti-imperialist state whose officials have repeatedly declared their readiness to sign a peace agreement with Israel as soon as the occupation of the Golan would end, while nothing was said on the Palestinian issue.

This is why we are seeing a popular uprising attempting to reclaim its democratic and social rights, while opposing any foreign intervention in the affairs of Syria. In addition to this, a successful democratic revolution in Syria would radicalise the country’s foreign policy against Israel. It would raise the possibility of ending deals that are at the expense of the Palestinians and the resistance to Israel.

On 8th April and continually until today, Syrian protesters showed again their disbelief in the Syrian regime and it’s supposed move towards reform from above. Protests erupted across the country in several cities. Gunfire was also heard in Harasta, a suburb of the capital, Damascus. In the east, thousands of protesters, including Kurds who also demonstrated, despite the Syrian president’s offer this week to ease rules which bar many Kurds from citizenship.

Syrian security forces killed at least 27 demonstrators in the southern city of Deraa, while human rights group stated around 37 protesters were killed across the country on Friday alone. Security forces also prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded, and shot at protesters who tried to help. The announcement of the deaths of protesters radicalised the movement of protest throughout the country, noticeable by the slogans which progressively changed from demands for freedom to the people want to overthrow the regime. Amnesty International reported 171 deaths since the beginning of the protests. The Syrian regime has expelled dozens of journalists from the country.

Last weekend clashes erupted between protesters and security forces or thugs from the regime in different towns such as in the town of Banias, where several people were killed. The army has been deployed around and in the city for few days now. On 11th April, the Syrian security forces attacked the villages of al-Bayda and Beit Janed close to Banias, targeting especially young men and activists. According to different sources, several soldiers were shot dead by security forces or officers after refusing to open fire in demonstrators in Banias.

Student demonstrations also took place in Damascus and in Aleppo Universities these past two days. The demonstration in Damascus turned violent when security forces beat up and arrested several protesters who were shouting for freedom and unity. These events follow last week’s killing of eight protesters in a crackdown by Syrian security forces in the town of Douma, a suburb north of Damascus. Thousands of protesters poured into the streets for the massive funeral.

In the cities of Deraa and Douma, in addition to daily demonstrations, a general strike was launched last week. Different cities have also witnessed daily demonstrations gathering hundreds to thousands of demonstrators. Last Wednesday, the security forces prevented a peaceful candlelit march with candlelight’s in the city of Jaramana near Damascus.

Regime’s different attempts to crush the popular uprising

Protesters have continued demonstrating for more than two weeks despite Assad’s speech on 30th March. Tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated across Syria in various cities. More than 80 activists and hundreds of protesters were arrested. Following this, the protesters launched a week of action which included a boycott of cell phone companies on Wednesday because the telecommunication company Syriatel Telecom, which belongs to the cousin of Bashar al-Assad, multimillionaire Rami Makhlouf, announced it would grant sixty minutes of conversation free of charge. In addition to this it called for a rally against the ruling Ba’ath party on Thursday outside its Damascus headquarters, and countrywide demonstrations on Friday.

After dismissing the government, Assad blamed the protests on foreign conspirators plotting against the “nation”, while only making a short reference to the protesters’ calls for change, acknowledging that reforms have been delayed since 2005 mainly because of regional developments. He declared to be in favor of reforms without offering any specifics or details.

Assad also announced the creation of investigative committees to look into the deaths of protesters, including the 1962 census in east Syria, which resulted in around 300,000 Kurds being denied nationality. He issued a decree on 7th April, following meetings with Kurdish representatives the week before, granting persons registered as foreigners in the governorate of Hassake Syrian Arab citizenship, while 48 prisoners, mainly Kurds, were also released. These decisions were made to appease to Kurdish population, but the different representatives of Kurdish opposition political parties have nevertheless said they would continue to mobilise and protest to achieve their political, civic and cultural rights.

On 3rd April, Assad issued a decree appointing Adel Safar, former agricultural minister in the previous administration, to form a new cabinet. Adel Safar is a Ba’ath party member, who was a Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture of Damascus University from 1997 to 2000 before becoming minister in 2003. The appointment of the new Prime Minister was not welcomed in any way as a gesture of opening by the protesters.

On 4th April, Assad appointed a new governor to the southern town of Deraa, Mohammad Khaled al-Hannus, who has already been criticised and rejected by the people of Deraa for his implication in the massacre of Hama in 1982, as well as his involvement in corruption practices notably the smuggling of tobacco and other products with the border of Jordan.

According to different sources, the authorities have started distributing financial compensation of 21,000 dollars to the families of each martyr killed during the uprising. Some agreed to receive the compensation, but most have refused. The regime has also launched a campaign of dialogue between official government media, including regime members, and independent intellectuals. This is an attempt to try and co-opt the forces of opposition and neutralise others through secret negotiations, thereby breaking the spirit of the uprising and its continuity. The governmental newspaper Teshreen, called two prominent writers, Fayez Sara and Louaï Hussein, former prisoners of conscience who have accepted this initiative to organise a dialogue on political reforms. The daily official newspaper al-Baath has published an article on the emergency law from Haitham Maleh, a fierce defender of human rights and long-time opponent, released from prison just a month ago. Various official television channels have for several days given citizens of different regions a chance to express their demands, mainly debating on social issues.

Protesters are learning in the struggle

The protesters have not been appeased by these symbolic decisions, while no serious reforms have been implemented and no clear date have been set up for the lifting of the state of emergency, which as been ongoing since 1963. These actions are an attempt to cover up and hide the measures undertaken by the authoritarian Syrian regime.

Syrian protesters have been organising themselves since the beginning of the movement, despite the difficulties of co-ordination and repression. Slogans are being developed and now the dominant one is becoming “the people want to overthrow the regime”. The opposition has also increasingly put forward its national and non-sectarian credentials against the sectarian threat of a civil war manufactured by the regime in order to scare people and to present this false option of the president, or chaos.

Demonstrations were also organised in “spontaneous” ways by small youth groups at night or early in the morning in different cities. They contact and organise themselves with different networks such Facebook, Skype or telephone whenever they can and gather.

Demands of the protesters have also been better formulated and developed, and now go beyond the simple slogan of freedom. They ask, for example, for the release of all political prisoners, the lifting of the state of emergency, the end of secret service influence, as well as for a multiparty democratic system. There are also socio-economic demands, for example, the demand for a transparent plan to eliminate poverty and unemployment in Syria. It was no accident that protesters in the cities of Deraa and Latakia went after the property of the corrupt Rami Makhlouf, al-Assad’s cousin, more than anyone else. Makhlouf’s riches are symbolic of the corruption within Syria’s ruling elite, a growing point of frustration for many in the country. His connections earned him lucrative deals for oil exploration and power plants, and give him virtual veto power over foreign firms seeking to do business in Syria.

The protesters will nevertheless have to expand the movement and reach further stratas of society to achieve a critical mass. The bourgeoisie and the residents of Damascus and Aleppo, many of whom had been involved in the insurgency 30 years ago, have not yet joined the movement. The merchant class has considerably enriched itself thanks to the recent economic liberalisation.

The demonstrations in support of Assad, by those who belong to the Baath Party or those who believe the president to be the guarantor of stability. The Iraqi or Lebanese scenarios of civil war are still in the minds of many Syrian people, who fear this kind of outcome and therefore favor stability. This prevents more people going in the streets to demand change, in addition to the fear of the violence of the security forces. The protesters have to address all these elements in order to expand their movement. But most people have not been appeased by these symbolic measures, which fail meet basic demands for real change. This is a popular uprising, a popular Intifada.

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