Arab Spring Continues
Syrians advocate against authoritarian regime
By now, we’ve all heard the story: On December 17, 2010, a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest against the confiscation of his wares and harassment by a municipal official and her aides. Unbeknownst to him, this action would soon become the catalyst for the uprising in the Arab World, known today as the “Arab Spring.” To date, four rulers have been forced from power, with civil uprisings and major protests breaking out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan and other countries.
Syria has joined the list of Arab countries calling for a change in political rule. On January 26, 2011, after a reported case of self-immolation, Syrians took to the streets calling for political reform and the reinstatement of civil rights. Over 120,000 protesters have called for the resignation of the President, Bashar al-Assad, who has kept Syria in a state of emergency since 1963.
Azmi Hauron PZ ‘15, whose parents are from Syria, told the Port Side that the uprising “was absolutely justified and necessary. Syria’s authoritarian regime mirrors many of its neighbors’ governments that have collapsed, and I believe it is finally time for democratic change in Syria as well.”
However, the government is not without support. As Hauron explained, “a larger percent of the country does not support the current president, mainly from populations in rural areas. However there is still a respectable amount of support for Bashar coming from other Alawis as well as upper class Syrians, and many average Syrians who are simply worried for their lives if they were to speak their minds. Bashar al Assad was initially praised as a reformer of security and economic conditions, yet the uprisings begun as a result of the terrible economic conditions and lack of civil liberties.”
The Syrian Army has clamped down hard in response to the protests and is essentially massacring its citizens. According to the United Nations, there have been between 9,100 to 11,500 uprising-related deaths in Syria since January 2011. There have also been reported cases of kidnapping and torturing of anyone who dares to speak out against the government, whether they are a declared protester or not.
Though Syria is halfway across the world from California, the issue is not as distant from the Claremont Colleges as one may expect. Many students and faculty were born in the Middle East or have close connections with the Arab world. Hauron is just one student who has been personally affected by the issue. “Before the uprising started, my family travelled to Syria every summer for about a month. Not being able to visit the country itself is very emotionally taxing because I feel a genuine connection with my family and Syrian culture. What hurts even more is not being able to seriously improve the situation quickly and watch the death toll increase,” he explained.
Hauron raises an important point about the limitations of aid, especially by individuals. When asked what Syrians in the Diaspora — and, by extension, students in Claremont seeking to alleviate human rights abuses — can do to support the people of Syria, Hauron could not provide many options. “There are many online groups that anyone can donate to or sign a petition for, but unfortunately no matter how interested someone is, there are large restrictions for humanitarian aid. Much international pressure has been applied to Bashar’s regime through sanctions and removal of foreign ambassadors, yet the final blow to the Assads has yet to be struck.”
In light of the massive support for the Syrian people, there are several hindrances to their movement. The involvement of Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Hizb-ut-Tahrir has prevented the United States from supporting the movement with arms because of fears that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist organizations. Also, despite the increased pressure against President Bashar al-Assad, there are countries such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran who continue to support the Syrian government.
It is appalling when a government starts killing its own people. Leaders are elected to help their citizens, to protect them, and above all, to serve them. Syrians are more than validated in asking for their rights, and in demanding accountability in their government.
However, the ethnic and sectarian undertones in this struggle leave people wondering about the future stability of the oil-rich nation. Hopefully, the voices of the Syrian people remain strong and the international community will assist in championing their aspirations for basic human rights and an accountable government.