By Tariq Alhomayed
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 20/03/2011
Demonstrations emerged after the Friday prayers in several cities in Syria: Damascus, Homs, Baniyas, and in Daraa, in the south of the country on the border with Jordan. These demonstrations resulted in deaths, injuries and arrests, so are we now witnessing the Syrian spark?
Syria is by no means immune to what is happening in our region, in terms of demonstrations and uprisings, yet of course at the same time, Syria is not like other Arab states. As I have said repeatedly: Tunisia is not Egypt, and likewise Bahrain is not like either of those states, because there are sectarian motives there, and Yemen is also unique, for Sanaa is a highly complicated ticking time bomb, especially with the intransigence of the Yemeni president, whilst Libya remains open to all types of intimidation. As I noted above, Syria is not immune to what is happening in our region, but Damascus has always tried to avoid reality, using all tricks and excuses to postpone facing the truth. The problem it faces now concerns the internal situation and the Syrian people, rather than foreign affairs, which are somewhat favorable at the moment especially with the calm on the Israeli border. Indeed, the Syrian-Israeli border is currently less eventful than the Egyptian-Israeli border throughout the years of the Mubarak regime.
Syria's problems are similar to those of other states which avoid reality and believe that time stands still, and that their tricks always succeed. Their modern history reminds us of empty slogans, yet the reality must be dealt with, before an uprising becomes inevitable. The facts cannot be overlooked by patronizing or lecturing the people, in the manner of Bouthaina Shaaban's articles, who writes as if she's based out of Switzerland. The best way to deal with the facts is to confront them. It is true that Syria is not like other troubled Arab countries, but the Syrians have arguably greater cause for grievance and resentment. Syria is the most deplorable example of a lack of balance between the minority and the majority, something the international community staunchly advocates these days. Yet some media, and likewise certain news agencies, have not been as engrossed with the Syrian protests as they have been with Bahrain for example. This is either because they have been prevented from doing so, or because Syria does not have the readily available sectarian motives and background as we saw in Bahrain, especially as depicted by some photographers and many biased sources.
If this is the Syrian spark, then the coming situation will be very difficult, especially after the Security Council resolution against Libya, and the international emphasis on the relationship between the minority and majority. There is a lack of international confidence in the Syrian approach, which is the product of years of erroneous Syrian policies, and Damascus' historic hostility towards the Muslim Brotherhood. We can add the critical internal situation to this, both politically and economically, and the wider crisis facing Arab republics in general. Thus the forthcoming era will be a difficult one, for experience tells us that citizens will continue to defy their repressive regimes, such as in Tunisia. When internal resentment is evident, the outcome is usually explosive.
What is happening in Syria must be seen as a good development, for we must be aware of the anxiety and tension now evident in both Iran and Hezbollah, whilst noting the extent of their extremism, and lack of credibility. Will they condemn, for example, the use of violence against the Syrians, and support the protestors' right to demonstrate peacefully, in the same way in which they criticized Bahrain? I think the reader knows the answer!