by Andrew Pollack
By the end of April, protests in Syria involved hundreds of thousands in every major city and town. In response, the Bashar al-Assad regime sent tanks, soldiers and security forces into several towns, including many suburbs of Damascus, and conducted raids on homes, detaining hundreds. Security forces have been following the wounded into hospitals and killing or arresting them. By May 1, at least 545 had been killed.
Eyewitnesses told Al-Jazeera that some army officers had refused orders by security forces to attack civilians and instead turned their guns on them.
Protests on April 22 were the occasion for the first public declaration of the Syrian Local Coordination Committee, a coalition of groups. The committee denounced the killings, torture, and arrests, and demanded the release of all political prisoners. It further demanded constitutional reforms to limit presidential terms, increase parliament’s power, and legalize parties other than the Baath.
As in every other Arab country where protests have been met by repression, demands for reform have turned into calls for the regime’s removal. And as in the rest of the region, the regime’s turn to neoliberal economic policies, leading to greater inequality, unemployment, and higher prices, has helped fuel the revolt. As in Libya, the current president’s father, Hafez al-Assad, had nationalized many industries while not eliminating capitalism.
The Syrian regime long justified its repressive Emergency Law by pointing to the formal state of war with Israel. Both Assads had used false claims of being fighters against Zionism to stifle dissent. But Palestinians have not forgotten how in 1976 the Baathist regime entered the Lebanese civil war against left nationalist and Palestinian forces, and massacred Palestinians in Tal al-Zaatar refugee camp.
The regime joined the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq in 1990 and the “war on terror” after 9/11. It tortured Maher Arar when he was handed over to security services as part of the [U.S.] controversial extraordinary rendition policy.
But Assad isn’t fooling the masses, who on April 24 revived a chant used earlier against him: “Bashar al-Assad, you traitor, you coward! Take your soldiers to the Golan,” chiding Assad for turning his forces on his own people instead of recapturing the Golan Heights.
> This article was originally published in the May 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.