Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Redefining Syrians | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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An aerial view shows the Zaatari refugee camp on July 18, 2013 near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, some 8 kilometers from the Jordanian-Syrian border. The northern Jordanian Zaatari refugee camp is home to 115,000 Syrians. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN

Despite the murder, harassment and destruction inflicted by the government on the Syrian people, some government officials, and its media and propaganda tools, still say it represents Syrians.

This contradiction begs a logical question, related to which Syrians the regime is talking about. Does the regime’s vision match their definition, meaning all Syrian people who hold the Syrian nationality and belong to it in a similar way to the case of the Egyptians, the French, Spanish or any other?

The regime’s idea about the people is that of all those who are linked to it, as it considers Syrians to be those people who agree with its policies. The president pointed to the Syrians in one of his recent speeches as being those who voted for him and agreed with his policies, decisions and practices. That matches the regime’s idea about Syria and Syrians, and which had become entrenched since Assad the father took power in 1970, and since that day, everything in the country was linked to him, such as Assad’s institutions, Assad’s bridge, Assad’s lake, Assad’s hospital, even going as far as saying Assad’s Syria, an expression which has been widely used for decades.

If the whole country has been attributed to Assad, it is natural that the Syrians are attributed to him, and that is a situation which the regime tried to spread, especially among pupils and students, the army, and security forces, some of whom are described as Assad’s soldiers.

The conflict in Syria has revealed evidence of linking some sections of Syrians to the regime and its head, those described as the “minhibakjiyeh” (term referring to the Syrian Arabic dialect word used by some Syrians to say ‘we love you’ to Assad), and the supporters of the regime who Assad’s speech referred to in the definition of Syrians as those who support him.

This leads us to the angle from which the regime sees its opponents, as being not patriotic, meaning not Syrians, and even going further, describing them as traitors and agents, sometimes calling them agents of Israel, referring to the discovery of a cache of Israeli weapons in the possession of some of them, as well as Israeli currency, as if the currency had a chance of passing through a market controlled by the government.

The regime has excluded its opponents, individuals or groups, from being part of Syria, attaching to them the ugliest labels of treason, paving the way for the harshest of punishments, which include imprisonment, banishment, and torture, as well as murder and revenge on relatives and destruction of property or confiscation of it.

This policy was implemented in the father’s era against individuals and groups in the opposition, even including movements from within the regime’s party, before it became deep rooted, to become a general policy which only excludes a minority of Syrians after the eruption of the Syrian revolution in March 2011.

While the regime’s policy against the Syrians since the start of the revolution took a violent nature, which affected protesters, opposition, and their social groups, the policy took two paths: the first focused on individuals and activists, targeted by the regime’s operations, which affected around one million Syrians, killed or maimed, or missing presumed dead, or detained with unknown fates.

The second path touched social groups of the revolution in the towns and villages which witnessed widespread action against the regime, and where many residents were displaced. These came as a result of repeated security and military operations of bombardment, siege and starvation, and terrorizing the residents, to force them to move to different areas in Syria or others outside Syria.

The number of Syrian internal refugees is estimated at five million people, while similar estimates suggest a similar number had moved out of the country in fear for their lives. Another 20 percent of these people chose to stay in their areas for various reasons, despite the difficult living conditions and having to cheat death. In general, those who are affected by the regime’s oppression and terrorism are put in a category other than that the regime understanding of Syrians.

In parallel to those two paths, the regime has taken a different path in dealing with its supporters who are seen as real Syrians. The regime gave them weapons, organized them and provided them with income. It also provided them with protection and care, and organized all aspects of their lives, and turned their areas to protected security zones, which enjoyed the best living conditions.

A summary of the regime’s policy in dealing with Syrians provides a picture of the internal situation of strengthening its supporters who represent the elite minority, which does not exceed 20 percent of the total population, and making them the strong holders of power, which controls and takes over the people in the devastated areas, which had reached the level of destruction, making them easy to control, as the regime expects.

In parallel to controlling the weak in the devastated areas, the regime has purged the other part, by forcing them to become refugees in neighboring countries, facing daily difficulties and unable to return to their towns and villages, and thus, the regime would have freed itself of them and the repercussions of their presence in Syria, and left their burden on others.

Even Satan could not execute a plan like this, but the support provided by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and others, to the regime, in addition to the weakness of Syrian opposition, and the inefficiency of the friends of Syria group, as well as the silence of the international community, all play a nasty role in helping the regime draw and execute that policy.