Sunday, March 18, 2012

One Year Of Protests Has Left Every Syrian In Uncertainty

By Jasmine Roman
Shadi Ghanim for The National
With joy and enthusiasm, and a bit of envy, we watched our Egyptian friends in Tahrir Square and admired their determination to topple a dictator last year. Syrians were stunned by their massive, peaceful protests and we remembered: Masr, umm al dounya, (Egypt, mother of the world).
We were united in our mocking comments about Hosni Mubarak, and how he was clinging to power even as his people were asking him to leave. The 18 days spent watching while the dictator manoeuvred seemed like ages, each day marked by the regime's desperation and the attacks by his thugs against protesters.
Syrians supported the righteous demands of the Egyptian people with intensity; we shed tears of happiness when Mubarak finally fell and we openly discussed the Egyptian revolution, forgetting that we lived in a different country with a different reality. The irony was that we could be revolutionaries for Egypt, yet when it came to our own country we were still weighed down.
One year ago, most Syrians could not have predicted that our own uprising would take such a lengthy and bloody path. Just yesterday, bombings again hit Damascus, blamed on Al Qaeda by the regime, which itself has so much blood on its hands.
The complexity of the situation has driven people to hesitate as they try to figure out what stance to take, or whether it is safer to just stay on the fence. The same complexity has forced both the regime and protesters to a standstill. There is no turning back, but there is no breaking point either.
It is easy to find the causes of this struggle and its escalation into so much violence; the harder issue is to find a way to stop the mounting death toll and save the country.
This is precisely the dilemma that was framed by Rafif Jouejati, a spokesperson for the local coordination committees that represent the opposition within Syria: "Whether you are pro-Assad or anti-Assad, you have got to be anti-death."
One year after Syrians began the uprising, thousands have been killed, and thousands of others have been detained and tortured. Many families have been internally displaced, lost their property or been forced to take refuge in neighbouring countries. Many families have members who have been traumatised or harshly treated by the regime. Some people actually believe that they have no hope and are simply waiting for their turn to be murdered.
Almost every Syrian citizen has lost a loved one, experienced a detention or an assault, or been a witness to the violence of the past year. Those who have not been directly affected are being crushed by sanctions and the economic collapse, and the daily struggle in these harsh living conditions.
When I heard of the first siege on Deraa almost one year ago, which was carried out on the pretext of targeting the "armed terrorist groups", I cried for hours. It was not just because Deraa is the home of many of my relatives; I simply couldn't imagine the children there under siege, deprived of even the basic necessities of life.
At that time, it was a struggle just to find out if relatives were alive or not, as communications had been cut off. But since then, many cities have been ruthlessly besieged, and neighbourhoods shelled. People, even children, have been slaughtered. The Syrian martyrs used to be counted on every Friday; now, they are countless.
As people talk of the anniversary of Syria's uprising, no single day can define when people broke through their deep-rooted fear: the first Day of Rage, the day the first protesters were killed, or the first time when people tore down the posters of President Bashar Al Assad and his father. Every single day has become a mark of people's courage in this grim Syrian timeline.
The Syrian people have been polarised, as has the international community. The world has been "morally" debating military intervention, and the steps to exert diplomatic pressure on Mr Al Assad. This back and forth has seen the Arab League initiative, Russian and Chinese veto at the UN Security Council, and the constant mounting sanctions, with little pointing towards a resolution.
There have been many players in this race to debate the Syrian impasse, each bringing followers and allies to support its arguments as if it only wanted to win a personal battle. Each has claimed a "moral" duty toward Syrian civilians, and the result is more Syrians have been harmed. No magic single solution for Syria is looming on the horizon, but the determination and bravery of Syrian people continues to write their own history.
Could this year have gone any differently? Hala Gorani, an international news anchor with CNN, asked that question on Twitter: "A year ago, Syrian regime doesn't crack down on Deraa, holds child tortures [sic] accountable. Where would we be today?"
My initial reaction is that we would be exactly where we are today. A country cannot be built based on revenge and sectarianism, or a selectivity about whether or not to mourn the dead.
How long will Mr Al Assad remain in power? Last August, people hoped to celebrate Eid Al Fitr with a double celebration of the new year and a new Syria. In the back and forth that has happened since, however, there has been plenty of space and time for Mr Al Assad to tighten his grip and lead Syria into a frightening vacuum.
-This commentary was published in The National on 18/03/2012
-The author writes from Damascus under the pseudonym of Jasmine Roman

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