Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 October 2020

As I watch Syria suffer, some of my compatriots are still blind

Three months into protests in Syria, the big question is why some people still support the regime. For the elite, the answer is clear. But there's also a striking urban-rural divide in support for the uprising.

Wednesday marked the three-month anniversary of the start of Syria's pro-democracy uprising. Some 1,500 people have been killed and more than 10,000 detained. Nearly 9,000 have fled to Turkey.

As a Syrian living outside the country, I can only stand in awe at the bravery of the protesters. In terms of horror, the Syrian regime is arguably comparable only to that of Saddam Hussein.

There is something peculiar about Baathist terror; it is pathological. What the Baath regimes of Saddam Hussain, Hafiz al Assad and Bashar al Assad have inflicted on their citizens is beyond imagination.

It is unclear where Syria is heading or whether it will be saved from itself, but certainly it will never be the same. The change is already here, and there is nothing the Assads can do to reverse it. Syrians - at least the hundreds of thousands of them who took to the streets - have overcome fear and integrated liberty into their belief system.

Yet the question that bothers me the most, as I follow the news from afar, is this: why do many ostensibly open-minded Syrians still defend the regime's tyranny? Part of the greatness of the Arab Spring is that it has revealed who is a true believer in freedom and who is not. While everyone in his or her right mind would acknowledge the despotic and corrupt nature of the Syrian regime, those who oppose change fall into two categories. The first category is obvious: the ruling business elite and Alawite oligarchy. The other group is harder to define.

Pro-democracy rallies emerged in Syria's "third world", and participants were snubbed by regime apologists as "losers". By that they mean the Kurds and the underprivileged unemployed who live in the suburbs of Damascus, Deraa, Deir al Zour, Hasaka, Raqqa and Hama.

Before the protests erupted in mid-March, a young man from Deir al Zour posted a video calling on all Syrians to rise up against Baath tyranny. He was made a subject of mockery. One Damascus resident recorded another video posing as a "fallah" (villager) to ridicule him.

"This is a communique for Syria's Day of Rage," the man says sarcastically. "All revolutionaries and freedom-fighters must show up in striped clothes and dirty shoes [a stereotype of residents of these areas] so that we know each other."

Agricultural areas have been marginalised by the government for years, if not decades. In recent years, so-called reforms were restricted to raising salaries, exacerbating the situation for farmers due to inflation. High fuel prices made it costly for farmers to pump water to the fields. Bear in mind that Syria suffered its worst drought on record last year, and up to a third of the wheat crop was damaged by disease. Rural areas are less subject than cities to the regime's scrutiny and propaganda, and so are less loyal.

For me personally, the situation is getting worse: tanks are being deployed to my hometown, in Abu Kamal. The response of many Syrians, especially the middle class, is frustrating.

"Look at these losers!", a friend who visited Syria this month quoted her relatives in Damascus as saying. "Most of them are unemployed and rascals. They have failed in their studies and now they take to the streets to scream, take pictures and send them to Al Jazeera and what not. They also get paid."

Rumours in Damascus say "foreign elements" distributed clean clothes to protesters in Deraa villages "so they look good". Some of my friends - at least on Facebook - went so far as to organise demonstrations: "Today, we will all go to Arnous Square [in Damascus] to call on the army to exterminate the traitors," says one friend, a university student.

Such views cannot be justified as personal opinions, I believe, but must be explained in psychological terms. One tends to justify one's failure to do good or prevent harm by coming up with "reasons" (excuses, rather) to not act. It's a defensive mechanism. We require a level of courage to make objective judgments on tragic situations. It's our moral duty to summon that courage vigorously, and not wait for it.

It's hard to see my country slowly falling apart while the Assads cling to power.

It is not a political choice but a moral duty to denounce this whether by "action, words or heart". Syrians, who should know better, would be morally wilful accomplices with the regime in its atrocities if they remained silent or failed to recognise the crimes of the Assads.

 

hhassan@thenational.ae

Updated: June 17, 2011 04:00 AM

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