On March 15, 2011, around noon time, dozens of Syrian youth protested in the heart of Damascus chanting for freedom and singing in a confident loud tone ‘Syrian people are one’. This was the first protest against the Assad rule in decades, it shocked experts, politicians, and also, the Syrians themselves. Such a protest was beyond being a deadly taboo. The ‘kingdom of silence and fear’, was shaken with loud brave voices. This week, images coming from Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus of protesters chanting for freedom while waving revolutionary flags flashback the early days of the uprising in our memories; when the utopian dream was prevailing among anti-Assad Syrians. Yet, images coming on a daily basis of the so many ruined cities, drowned bodies, long bearded Jihadis, black flags, and refugee camps remind us of the bitter fact; the fact that a peaceful uprising turned into a bloody crisis and is entering its sixth year.
Set aside the transnational effects and the catastrophic humanitarian implications, there is no doubt that the crisis has lethal consequences for the future-Syria and for Syrians. Radicalisation of Sunnis, the rise of jihadism, ethnic and sectarian identity clashes, and the demise of national unity are the most explicit of these consequences. However, these are not new phenomena and cannot be blamed on the uprising per se. Rather, they are the creatures of decades of dictatorship rule, and were operating under the ashes, yet the uprising brought them to the surface. They were functioning from behind the scene and escalating as they were not tackled correctly throughout Syria’s modern history. Instead they were manipulated by the regime for realpolitik ends. And henceforth, the cure for these socio-political diseases cannot be found out of their initial context, and the overall solution for the Syrian dilemma.
On the other hand, paradoxically enough indeed, the uprising brought to the surface another hidden side of the Syrian community. A side that might contradict what was mentioned above; it is the rise of civil society, a very active civil society which was marginalised and manipulated for ages. Youth movements mushroomed with the onset of the uprising and although they are deemed to be fragile and lack the appropriate support and effective strategies, they operated and are still operating at the grass roots level seeking to establish a sense of cross sectarian unity and at the same time raising awareness on issues of democracy, equality and secularism. Such civil society sheds some hope on the very bleak picture we are witnessing of Syria’s future. More importantly, it reminds us that there is a historical opportunity for a healthy approach of state/nation building.
Lastly, it seems to be too early to assess the success or the failure of the 2011 revolution. Likewise any experiment, revolutions might succeed and might not. Besides, one should bear in mind that a revolution does not necessarily bring democracy. Modern history of this region assures us of this; Abdul Nasser, in 1952 carried out a successful revolution by which he overthrew king Farooq and established a Republic. Also, in 1979, Khomeini succeeded in his Islamic revolution that toppled the Reza Shah and built up a theocracy; introducing velayt-e-faqih. However, neither of them were democratic leaders nor did they establish democracies; both ruled with an iron fist.
In truth, it is not about revolution, rather, it’s about evolution. Evolution of society and the state. Those Syrian youths who protested on 15th of March 2011 have bravely marked the first step towards the evolution of Syria, the rest of the story is yet to unfold.