Syria – an update on the revolution
|September 15, 2011||Posted by Tom Wooldridge under international|
There is one country in the Middle East that has endured civil unrest for the past 6 months, but, due to its government’s suppression of the media, has not received the same amount of attention as the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions. Syria has been ruled by the Assads since 1966, when the current leader’s father, Hafez Al-Assad, took over running the country from a Baathist government of army officers. Hafez died in 2000 and his son, Bashar Al-Assad, succeeded him. Bashar was more liberal and instigated an economic plan that has transformed the nation’s economy from one based on central planning to a “social market economy”, which has produced growth rates of 4-5% in the past three years, despite the financial downturn. Unfortunately, this growth has not benefitted the bulk of the population, with unemployment at 8.3%, and many of these are young adults that are now participating in the revolution.
The death toll is at least 2600 according to the UN, and all international human rights and diplomatic agencies have had problems entering and travelling around the country. Many more citizens have been arrested, partly due to the government’s practise of filming every demonstration and arresting the dissidents in the ensuing days. Due to the government clampdown, there is no figure available for total number of arrests, but it is believed that 500 people were arrested in Daraa following unrest in May. Reports of torture by the authorities are common and the Foreign Office also raises significant concerns over human rights issues. One of the few stories to be verified by international journalists (official international journalists were all expelled in March) was that of a 13-year-old boy called Hamza Al-Khatib, who was arrested by the authorities at a demonstration. The government claims that he died of his wounds, but his family received his mutilated body back from the authorities in May. It showed clear evidence of torture.
The country is under strict EU, US and UN sanctions, although Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed stronger sanctions at the UN. Cameron called on Medvedev, an ally of Syria, to “apply more pressure” on the government during his recent trip to Moscow. Medvedev replied that it was “absolutely not needed”.
Bashar Al-Assad promised reforms in June in a “national dialogue” and ended fifty years of emergency rule that suspended any human rights, following this with a cabinet reshuffle, but failed in his efforts to end the protests. On the 13th September, the state news agency SANA reported that 350 leading figures met to take part in the “national dialogue” the day before. Click here to see the agency’s report. According to the report the talks “focused on the current and future political challenges and [the] means of maintaining national unity and confronting foreign conspiracy as well as party, elections, local administration and media laws.” It is reported that violence is still occurring in Daraa, Damascus, Hama and Homs. This is being suppressed by the army with tanks and even jets flying over Homs on the 12th September. For videos of the unrest just search for the town names on YouTube; most of the protesters have camera phones and there are lots of pictures and films.
The importance of social media in this unrest has been crucial, as the unrest began with a “day of dignity” in March organised through Facebook. Twitter has also been important; just search #homs, #hama, #damascus, #syria or #hamza for news. The people are committed to overthrowing Assad and have called for a no-fly zone over the country, but the international community has repeatedly ignored their pleas.