Syria: The People Revolt

Feb 16, 2012 By Anita R
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Syria seems to be on the brink of civil war and the United Nations is concerned about the lives of Syrian citizens. On Feb 16th, UN’s General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution condemning the violence in Syria by a vote margin of 137 to 12. This is the strongest message from the World body to President Bashar Al-Assad’s one party rule, to hear the protests of its people and step down.

Syria has been in turmoil for nearly a year and there seems to be no relief in sight for its people. Let’s take a look at what is happening in that country.

Background of Syria

Syria once the centre of the Islamic empire is an area that has seen invasions and occupations over the ages - from Romans and Mongols to Crusaders and Turks.  It is a country of fertile plains, mountains and deserts and is also home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Christians, Druze, Alawite Shias and Arab Sunnis. The Sunnis make up a majority of the Muslim population.

Modern Syria gained its independence from France in 1946 but has lived through periods of political instability driven by conflicts among its various ethnic groups. From 1958-61 it united with Egypt, but an army coup restored independence. An Alawite-controlled party headed by Hafez al-Assad took control in 1963. After his death in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad took over the Presidency. Syria has seen a dictatorial rule for nearly 50 years now

Tracing the recent conflict

The wave of popular unrest against dictatorships and military regimes, known as the ‘Arab Spring’, came late to Syria. But since the first protests in March 2011 in the city of Deraa, at least 5,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the UN. Protestors are calling for political freedom, an end to corruption, action on poverty and the lifting of an emergency law imposed in 1963.

The Assad government in Damascus - the Syrian Capital, is putting down by protests with an iron hand and says it is fighting ’terrorists and armed gangs’. It claims that 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed. The Government also believes it is facing an international conspiracy seeking to destabilize the country.

With an increasing death toll of unaramed civilians, on Feb 4th, the UN’s Security Council had tried to pass a resolution that would have urged Assad to step down, install a transitional government in Syria and follow it with elections. The resolution was however vetoed by Russia and China on the grounds that the country should resolve its own internal conflicts. Besides the UN, the Arab league - a 22 member regional group of countries in Africa and the Arabian peninsula, of which Syria was a member until Nov 2011, has also called for a peace-keeping mission to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Syria.

Very clearly Assad is isolated, both within the region as well as by the rest of the world. Assad has offered to hold a referendum, but few within and outside the country believe him in the light of the large scale human rights violations. Before things worsen, a quick resolution to the conflict is very necessary for peace in the region and safety of its citizens.