Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Debate: The West never stood with the Syrian opposition | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Members of ‘Free Men of Syria’ (Ahrar Suriya) brigade, operating under the Free Syrian Army, gesture and hold their weapons as they head in a convoy to Sadd al-Shouhadaa on the Euphrates river in the eastern countryside of Aleppo to declare the formation of the Eastern Front August 18, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

From the time it came to power in Syria in a military coup on March 8, 1963, the pan-Arab Ba’ath party has endeavored to alter the social makeup of Syria. The authorities put Syrians under pressure, prompting many to leave the country, while others were assassinated and many jailed. As the years passed, the Ba’athist regime deliberately obliterated the patriotic figures who had made enormous sacrifices for Syria.

Under the guise of the Ba’ath Party, Hafez Al-Assad—in cooperation with some family members and colleagues from the Military Committee, which was established in Cairo in the brief period when Egypt and Syria were united—ruled Syria from 1967. At the time, Hafez Al-Assad planned to liquidate anyone who opposed him or who could have posed a threat. He, along with his immediate family, monopolized power and inflicted the worst kinds of oppression. They also adopted a carrot-and-stick strategy to persuade the corrupt among Syria’s citizens to follow Hafez. What’s more, Assad found in the Alawite sect a strategic space in which he could achieve his evil ends.

Assad based his rule on two principles: corruption and security. Assad encouraged all state officials to be involved in corruption, starting an era of bribery that engulfed the entire pyramid of power down to minor officials—even janitors. Corruption and bribery spread to all sectors, including the judiciary, education and the military. He also gave the security apparatuses a free hand to do whatever they wanted and to commit all sorts of violations, provided that he remained in power. Thus, the interests of the security services and the corrupt intertwined. Assad also recruited large numbers of Alawites as agents in the security services and commanders of the military, as well as minor officials in government directorates. In fact, the entire nursing profession was dominated by Alawites.

These practices threw the Syrian street into turmoil and protests were staged here and there, particularly in the workers’ union from 1978 to 1980, after which the union was dissolved and its members jailed. Later, the Hama massacre of 1982 created 48,000 martyrs, with more than 15,000 killed in the Tadmor and Mezzeh prisons. Massacres were also carried out in Aleppo and Jisr Al-Shughur, among other places. There were 70,000 people missing, though they remain registered alive at the Civil Status Department even today. Thousands of houses were confiscated on the pretext that they belonged to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a quarter of a million Syrians was forced to leave the country; to this day they have not been able to return. All of these events took place between 1980 and 1990, and troubled nobody outside the country.

Contrary to the constitution (which was hastily changed to allow his takeover), Bashar Al-Assad succeeded his father as the president, with the West—particularly the US—giving this hereditary handover their blessing. All sides treated the young leader of Syria with utmost generosity, and he was supported and embraced in the Arab region and the entire world. In contrast, ordinary Syrians groaned under the weight of poverty and unemployment. The authorities controlled 85 percent of the national income, leaving 30 percent of people out of work and 60 percent of Syrians below the poverty line.

Authorities dominated all social and political aspects of life, jailing thousands of citizens for their opinions. I was among them. Public turmoil grew, and in March 2011 the public erupted with modest demands for freedom, dignity and reform. Authorities turned a deaf ear to the voice of the people. During the first six months of protests 5,000 martyrs fell and public freedoms were violated by the security services, who wreaked havoc on people’s homes and emptied water reservoirs. The authorities had started a war against the people, and the world did not act to stop the bloodshed in Syria.

Bashar Al-Assad later deployed 3,000 tanks to confront the revolution, using all sorts of weapons, from planes and warships to rockets and chemical weapons. The death toll among civilians exceeded 125,000 and 2 million Syrians fled the country, with another 8 million internally displaced.

Without going into unnecessary detail, so far the Syrian revolution remains without real allies. No-one in the world is willing to lend a hand. Everyone is discussing whether or not to provide military and humanitarian aid. After being the most outspoken among EU countries about providing arms, France and Britain changed their minds.

In my opinion, everything happening in the corridors of the international community, from the US to Europe, falls into the category of leaving the Syrians to fight with Iran—that has fielded 60,000 fighters from the Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Iraqi Shi’ites—until they exhaust one another. In the meantime, the West finds pretexts to refrain from arming the rebels. At the top of these pretexts is the presence of radical elements such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front, as well as the use of chemical weapons.

The West resorts to these pretexts to refrain from arming the rebels, ignoring the daily bloodletting of Syrians. This is despite the fact that everyone used to talk about providing aid of all sorts, particularly at the meeting of the Friends of Syria in Marrakesh.

Even humanitarian aid falls short of what is needed. All the steps taken so far have not only disappointed Syrians, but have also conspired against them. Syrians have realized this, prompting them to say: “We only have God to turn to.”

The counterpoint to this piece can be read here