Syria. The year was marked by the regime’s brutality against the protesters who, in the spirit of the Arab Spring, demanded the departure of President Bashar al-Asad. The protest rallies broke out in March when some teenagers were arrested in the city of Daraa in the south where they spread political slogans on the walls. The arrests caused thousands of people in the city to gather in protest after Friday’s March 18 prayer. Military was deployed, i.e. by helicopter, and several people were killed. The pattern then came to be repeated, albeit on a larger scale, every Friday in the spring: thousands, or sometimes tens of thousands, of people gathered in cities like Hums, Hama, Tel Kalakh, Jisr ash-Shagur and Latakia. They demanded freedom, a stop to the corruption and, more and more often, the departure of al-Asad and his Bath Party. Throughout the Internet, every Friday was named “Friday of Dignity”, “Friday of Honor”, “Martyrs Friday”.
According to Countryaah official site, al-Asad responded violently. The security apparatus – military, security police and civilian-clad militants – fired sharply at the protesters. Tanks and armored vehicles were deployed, entire cities were besieged, thousands of protesters were arrested and tortured. In December, the UN estimated the number of casualties to 5,000, the vast majority of civilians. In addition, there were 2,000 soldiers who had been killed by the regime. The protests were strongest in smaller cities and in the suburbs of Damascus. The tone was secular but in Sunni Muslim heterogeneous cities like Hama and Daraa religious slogans were heard. In Hums and Rastan in central Syria, protesters offered armed resistance. In Hama, the riots in July and August became particularly bloody and loaded with the memory of the 1982 revolt, when al-Asad’s father Hafiz al-Asad massacred nearly 40,000 residents there. The location was relatively quiet in the interior of Damascus, as well as in the second largest city of Aleppo. Those cities were tightly controlled and support for al-Asad was strong among those favored by the regime: the middle class and the Shiite Muslim Alawite clan (Nusayrians). Several giant demonstrations in support of al-Asad were held in Damascus.
al-Asad made some concessions. The state of emergency that has prevailed since 1963 was formally revoked. The government is replaced. Several hundred political prisoners were released, the ban on wearing a comprehensive veil at the university was lifted, 250,000 stateless Kurds were granted citizenship and in August al-Asad pledged multi-party systems.
The opposition was divided: Would violence be used? Ask for outside help? Negotiate with al-Asad? But parts of the opposition agreed within the umbrella organization Syria’s National Council (SNC), whose chairman was Burhan Ghalioun, regime critic in French exile. In the spring, the US and the EU imposed sanctions on al-Asad and his closest associates. The EU also introduced a boycott of Syrian oil. In August, the UN Security Council condemned the regime’s violence, but in October the Russian Federation and China used their right of veto in the Council to stop a resolution threatening “measures”. The Russian Federation, long a Syrian ally, also continued to sell weapons to Syria.
Countries with predominantly Sunni Muslim population were clearer in their criticism. Turkey imposed sanctions on Syria and allowed the opposition to establish itself on Turkish soil. Jordan’s King Abdullah urged al-Asad to resign. The Arab League mediated and announced in November that Syria had accepted a peace plan that included meant that the security forces would withdraw from the streets. But just days after that, 60 protesters were killed. The Arab League then ruled Syria for an indefinite future, imposed sanctions on the country and sent an observer group there in December. The violence drove tens of thousands of people to flee, mainly to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
Expectations for reforms and modernization of the Syrian community, with the softening of the political system, contributed to the spring of Damascus, a period of great political activity following the death of Hafez al-Assad in June 2000. Political, legal and economic reforms were demanded. The government met several demands for liberalization. Among other things, amnesty was introduced and political prisoners released. Independent organizations were allowed to work openly.
The Damascus Spring economic reforms went beyond political ones. Already during Hafez al-Assad, a shift away from a socialist-oriented economy to larger rooms for private business was made. At the 2005 Baath Party Congress, Bashar al-Assad announced that the government would promote a social market economy, with gradual market reform, without removing social security networks. It was opened to private banks in 2004; The Damascus Stock Exchange opened in 2009. Market liberalization led to lower subsidies and deductibles for public services, which exceeded the welfare of the poorest.
The reception of around one million refugees from Iraq in 2003 put pressure on the Syrian economy and public services.
Fighting poverty was a priority area in the time before the uprising in 2011. Nearly one third of the Syrian population lived below the poverty line. Economic and social conditions contributed to the discontent that led to the uprising.
The turmoil during the Damascus Spring was short-lived; followed by the so-called Damascus Winter 2000/2001. Independent discussion forums were closed by the authorities, and several of the leaders of the democracy movement were arrested, including Michel Kilo and Riad Seif. In doing so, the burgeoning opposition was crushed before it was able to organize itself and continue to challenge the regime.
In October 2005, several of the leaders of the Damascus Spring stood behind the ” Damascus Declaration “; a statement calling for the introduction of multi-party government, with a peaceful transition to democracy.
Rebellion and Civil War
The response of the Baath regime to the Damascus Spring in 2000 and the renewed demands for democracy development in 2005 was a prelude to the Arab Spring of 2010. The inspiration from the Arab states of North Africa contributed to the Syrian uprising in the spring of 2011. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, the regime’s power apparatus in Syria was deployed with great force to quell the uprising in the beginning, and the conflict developed – as in Libya- to full civil war, from 2012. Security forces intervened with increasing violence as the revolt spread, with more people killed and wounded as a result. At the same time, several thousands were arrested and torture used. The regime’s use of force led to the opposition also seizing weapons, and the revolt developed from political protest to armed conflict.