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From the Blog
7 myths about the Syrian revolution
Big lies can take on a life of their own unlessÂ they are countered with the truth.Â Here are the seven of the biggest deceitsÂ and misconceptions about SyriaâŚand theÂ real facts you should know.
Given the growing crisis in Syria, nothingÂ can be more urgent than setting the recordÂ straight.
1. Assad has brought many reforms toÂ Syria.
Wrong. The only economic âreformsâ thatÂ Assad has introduced are those designed toÂ bring vast wealth to him and his family, leavingÂ the average Syrianâs economic conditionÂ to stagnate, and indeed get worse. His socialÂ âreformsâ are no less self-serving. HereâsÂ some context: Syriaâs experience withÂ âEmergency Lawâ dates to 1963, when theÂ Ba`ath party seized power in a military coup.Â Since then, arbitrary detentions, torture andÂ secret military tribunals have become theÂ norm.Â While Assad decreed the lifting of EmergencyÂ Law in a cosmetic attempt to showÂ the world that he is reforming in the face ofÂ growing unrest, activists on the ground confirmÂ that the arbitrary detentions and tortureÂ continue. This stroke of the dictatorâs penÂ has done nothing to erase a 50-year legacy ofÂ abuse. And Article 8 remains, institutionalizingÂ the brutality of the regime. As a result âÂ and given Assadâs continued public defianceâ the Syrian people have come to the logicalÂ conclusion that the regime is fundamentallyÂ incapable of reform, and that Assad and theÂ Ba`ath party must go.
2. Most Syrians support Assad.Â
Wrong. All repressive regimes have theÂ support of those who benefit politically andÂ economically from their brutality. But in Syria this group is by no means a majority. Not even close. Some comparisons help illustrate this point. Pro-revolution supporters have created literally hundreds of Facebook pages, including at least one with more than 200,000 followers. When the city of Hama temporarily fell out of government control in July 2011, the central square was packed with a sea of protestors estimated in the hundreds of thousands. YouTube video of theÂ protest clearly supports this claim. Yet when Assad addressed a Damascus rally in January 2012, he was able to muster only a few thousand attendees. This despite the fact that in a repressive state like Syria, the various intelligence and security branchesÂ of the government alone employ hundreds of thousands of people. And that their families and friends would be expected to attend an appearance by Assad. Some have noted the relatively few prorevolution demonstrations in places like Damascus and Aleppo. The reason for this is simple, according to recent arrivals from Syria: many of those walking the streets of Syriaâs larger cities are the âshabbihaâ â hired thugs who take their orders directly from the regime. Their presence is intended to intimidate any spontaneous demonstrations and break them up before they start. And all too often, it has worked.
3. Armed groups, terrorists, al-Qaida and other extremists are behind the violence.
Wrong. In a humanitarian crisis, it can be hard to get a clear sense of what is going on. Human rights agencies try to piece together an accurate picture by interviewing refugees and looking for consistencies in their stories â particularly in the stories told by victims who have not been in contact with each other. Naturally, these accounts are considered more credible than the propaganda of a regime notorious for its abuse. In the case of Syria, the many accounts emerging from unrelated refugees and army defectors in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon since the spring of 2011 have all corroborated the same basic story. It is the army that has been ordered to shoot peaceful protestors, and that has fueled the violence. While the government likes to point to the killing of members of the security agencies and military, many of these individuals were inÂ fact Syrian security forces shot from behind by their commanders for refusing to open fire on unarmed protestors. The regime itself kills them, and then shows their bodies in anÂ egregious attempt to support its lies.
4. The violence is caused by both sides.
Wrong. In the current uprising, the violence against civilians has come overwhelmingly from one side â Assadâs regime. For more than six months, the revolution was peaceful, responding to government bullets with roses tied to water bottles. Finally, with thousands dead and tens of thousands detained and tortured, many activists began to lose hope and some began to form armed gangs. However, those killed by such groups are a small fraction of the number killed by Assadâs forces in the streets and in detention, or by his snipers from the rooftops. Saying that the violence is caused by both sides in Syria is to be tragically uninformed and unfair to the thousands of brave protesters who have continued to maintain peaceful resistance in the face of the regimeâs massive, well-armed onslaught.
5. The revolution will disrupt the peaceful co-existence of Syriaâs diverse population and harm its minorities.
Wrong. Minorities have lived together in Syria for hundreds, and indeed, thousands of years. If we are to believe it took the Assad era to bring peace to Syriaâs beautifully diverse groups, then surely Syriaâs diversity would have self-destructed long ago through genocide and sectarian conflict. In fact, the diversity we see today is a testament to the ability of Syrians historically to co-exist. The Assad regime has actually increased sectarian tensions through its policies,Â but has been able to keep the tensions beneath the surface through elaborate systems of control and political repression. Syriaâs Sunni, Christian, Druze and other groups had greater involvement in Syrian public life before the Ba`ath party seized power in the early â60s than they do today. While the sectarian strife that has torn Lebanon and Iraq apart in the past should be taken as a serious lesson for what could happen in Syria, continuing Assadâs repression is not the answer. The best path forward was articulated by the signatories to the Damascus Declaration in 2000 (most of whom were subsequently jailed and harassed for most of the past decade): âdialogue and recognition of the other.â
6. The uprising is part of a secret plan by the U.S. and the West to divide up Syria.
Wrong. Syriaâs protesters took to the streets inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt. At first they called for modest reforms, not the overthrow of the government: Lifting the Emergency Law. Repealing Article 8 of Syriaâs constitution, which has cemented the control of the Ba`ath party. Releasing all political prisoners. Making media reforms to allow more freedom of expression. Rather than taking steps towards dialogue or reform, the regime returned the mutilated bodies of two teenage protesters to their families as a grimÂ warning to the protest movement. If there was a secret war against Syria, then Assad only dealt the CIA theÂ cards they needed by rapidly polarizing Syrian society into those adamant about overthrowing his regime and those committed to preserving his gripÂ on power. Since that time, the violence against the protesters has grown exponentially. To say that ordinary Syrians, protesting against their government despite the risk of bullets, are part of some Western conspiracy is an absurd claim voiced by the regimeâs adherents to deflect attention from the real abuses at hand.
7. Arab Gulf states have been funding this revolution and are spreadingÂ propaganda to topple the Syrian regime, which is supported by their arch-enemy Iran.
Wrong. Even though one would think that toppling the Syrian regime would be a top foreign policy objective for Arab Gulf States like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the fact is that these same states were very hesitant to recognize what was happening in Syria for months when protests first broke out in March 2011. The reality is that these very reactionaryÂ governments fear any change â whatever change it might be â more than they welcome a regional realignment that would diminish Syrian and Iranian influence. In fact, the Gulf States only began pushing the Arab League to act in the fall of 2011, after the Syrian revolution had been raging for at least six months. And their decision to get involved really came after they concluded that Assadâs days are numbered.