Syria faces societal fissures
August 31st, 2012
08:45 AM ET

Syria faces societal fissures

By Stephen Starr, Special to CNN

Journalist Stephen Starr lived in Syria for five years, until earlier this year, and is the author of ‘Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising’. He tweets @stephenstarr. The views expressed are his own.

Syria is a country divided. Its poor, dusty towns and villages have exploded in rage against the ruling establishment, while life in the major cities often continues largely as normal. Christian neighborhoods and Alawite towns around the country continue to back the regime. And Sunni rebels and families have been massacred time and again.

Glued to state television, Syria’s minorities are charmed by a false nationalism that reinforces their own communal beliefs and hopes. “Syria is strong,” goes the regime’s rhetoric, “the army is winning” and “the crisis will be solved soon.” Many among Syria’s minorities espouse such delusions. To add to the sense of conspiracy, some minority communities have been armed by the Bashar al-Assad regime, which has preyed on the fears of Christians and other minorities.

Others in Idlib, Azaz and Bab Amr – areas that have been leveled by the government’s shelling campaigns – have a very different perspective of what has happened over the past 18 months. Once civilians, many among them are now rebels fighting for a Syria where their children and grandchildren can live without fear or intimidation. Equally, these individuals, those who have lost loved ones at the hands of the regime’s thugs and guns, cannot comprehend a return to life before March 2011. With more than 3,700 killed in the month of August according to opposition activists – the highest monthly toll yet – the discord between these two sets of groups is driving Syria to the brink.

However, it is simplistic to claim the divisions are sectarian only. The reason the revolts have ignited, but failed to achieve any genuine short term success in either Damascus or Aleppo is because there are thousands of families, the old Damascenes and the nouveau riche, who have done well under the al-Assad regime and do not want change. “Historically Damascenes do not get involved in the messy business of revolution,” a Syrian analyst told me in Damascus last year. “They will come up with a political solution and a government, but things such as uprisings are below them.”

Furthermore, to demonstrate in central Damascus is to bear a death wish. Security agents stand on most street corners armed to the teeth. Those opposing the regime have seen what happens to those that defy conventional order in other parts of the country, and few are willing to partake in suicide missions.

But even though many hate the regime, the residents of the major cities will not protest, initiate substantive strikes or take up arms. Repeatedly we have seen reports of how the fighting in Aleppo and Damascus was started by fighters from outside the cities, not indigenous populations. Over the first 12 months of revolution I spent in Syria people would speak of how they hoped the regime will fall; “soon, inshallah.” Instead of actively participating in bringing down the regime, they wait for the country folk, the poor who have initiated the revolt, to bring change to them.

Many such people point with frustration to the political opposition. New opposition parties, road maps for a new Syria and equally, divisions, appear almost every other day among their ranks. All lack the unity of vision to capture the country’s imagination. Even though it may greatly assist their cause in the short term, activists in the opposition have worked hard to prevent a unifying, Ataturk-like figure emerging as a leader.

In spite of these divisions and the bloodshed, Syria is charging towards a new path. We don’t know when or how, but the regime of Bashar al-Assad will end in its current form at least, and for the milieu of opposition groups the floor will then be theirs. When that day comes the deficiencies they are currently trying to hide will be exposed and, we hope, amended by the people of Syria.

The opposition’s intentions are noble and their promises of protecting minorities commendable, but few speak of the elephant in the room: the role rebel leaders will play once the regime falls. As I have discussed elsewhere, they are the people who have fought and died for this revolt; they are battle-hardened and motivated by the memory of their dead families and friends, and they are likely to seek a large slice of power in a future government.

Syrians themselves must take responsibility for their country following the seemingly inevitable fall of the current regime. Some activists have already done so where and how they can. But many others like to cast blame.

Al-Assad and his government cannot be blamed for civilians running red traffic lights, building illegal homes or stealing electricity from central power lines, as I have seen take place in various parts of the country since the revolt began. Under a new political system Syrians will no longer have the unscrupulous al-Assad regime as a scapegoat to blame for the ills in their lives.

The repercussions of Syrians themselves not soon coming to terms with the responsibility they hold for their own futures could be disastrous for the long-term future of the country. For towns and cities where Syrians of different religions live together, airing concerns and listening to neighbors will be key. Truth and reconciliation committees may serve as the best method of laying out such grievances and of ending local feuds.

A billboard sign found around Damascus in the early months of the uprising claimed that “with freedom comes responsibility.” At some point in the future, 21 million Syrians will live with a degree of personal and political freedom they have never previously experienced, be it with the help of international intervention or not. How they react to such liberty will have implications not just for their own country, but for the wider Middle East. Once the al-Assad regime falls, their futures are truly in their hands.

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Topics: Syria

soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Aaron Chaney

    SANA (TEHRAN) – India and Azerbaijan Reiterate Rejection of Foreign Interference in Syria

    India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, reiterated his country's rejection of foreign interference in the internal affairs of Syria, saying the solution to the crisis in Syria should be through a comprehensive political process that achieves the aspirations of the Syrian people.

    During his meeting with Prime Minister Dr. Wael al-Halqi, on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting in Tehran, Singh stressed that the main goal now is halting the violence, strongly pushing forward the reform process and widening the political participation of all the spectra of the Syrian people.

    Singh hailed the deep cultural and historical ties binding India and Syria.

    Al-Halqi, for his part, said Damascus values the Indian role in support of Syria at the international forums, particularly at the Security Council and the UN General Assembly, hailing the cooperation relations between Syria and India.

    Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Stresses Rejection of Military Interference in Syria, Calls for Maintaining Sovereignty and Territorial Unity

    During meeting in Tehran with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign and Expatriates Minister, Walid al-Moallem, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister, Elmar Mammadyarov, underlined his country's rejection of military interference in Syria and the need for maintaining its sovereignty and territorial unity and ending violence by all sides.

    Mammadyarov, whose country occupies a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council, stressed that the political solution to the crisis in Syria should be carried out through a national dialogue.

    Minister al-Moallem clarified to Mammadyarov the violations committed by the armed terrorist groups and their responsibility of the continuity of violence in Syria.

    At the end of the meeting, the importance of the ongoing coordination between the two countries' delegations to the UN in New York was stressed.

    August 31, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
    • amen-ra

      where is the sory about how the rothschilds have opened a bank in syria... oh because that would give out clues to the real reason for UN inclusion

      September 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Reply
    • deniz boro

      I hope they keep the country clean of polution this way. All of them. May Allah bless them.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Reply
    • Kenneth O

      Manmohan Singh is a pimp. We should shave his beard off and bring him into the current millenium. India is playing a double game with Americans everywhere. These people are not to be trusted.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  2. Andrey

    Syrians should learn to live together or die together: that's their own choice.

    August 31, 2012 at 11:04 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      The learning process you mentioned could take years to perfect. The Syrians have had this Assad regime for decades, which serves as a Leviathan. Once this authority is gone, the Syrians have to unite and get their act together. Common good is more important than particular interests.
      For the time being the rebels need a Charles de Gaulle, who can form an exile government and be the leader of the free Syrians.

      September 1, 2012 at 5:00 am | Reply
  3. S.V.P.YADAV

    Respected Mr.Stephen Starr Garu,
    About Syria, Having and following good traditon and following customs, and Financially day by day developing in front of International community, but suddenly Al-Assad Garu,Govt.facing so many problerms, That all arising from outsiders of the country.In mean while U.S doing some malpractices about Republic Govt of Syria.But Syrian Govt will Win this conflict. Mr. Al-Assad Garu having public support is much.

    August 31, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
    • deniz boro

      If the privilaged minority is formed of Christians and Alawites they would have predictable short term allies. And that would perfectly show the strength o' the Assad siders verses the whatsoever. That will also bring a light on some Kurdish action on the region since Turkish Alevi's tend to believe they are the same as Alawites. Almost half of the Kurdish Turks are Alevi. This article also brings to mind the action of Sunni's from the rest of the world. However, the rest of the social respose seems genuine to me. In short THE WITCHES BREW WENT TOTALY BERSERK

      September 1, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Reply
    • deniz boro

      If you care to write without abbreviations, more people-including me- can understand you.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  4. Jim

    http://www.aina.org/news/20120615125537.htm

    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/22/world/la-fg-syria-christians-20120822

    Your a liar and a disgust to what we call freedom of press. Terrorist rebels are 'clearly' targeting christian minorities and you say they are disillusioned? The only disillusionment is you and this article. These sources deny your propagandist claims. Please stop spreading lies.

    August 31, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Reply
    • Ruhina

      i dont think these are lies

      September 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  5. James Davidson

    It wouldn't surprise me if Assad is still in power. 5 years from now.What is to prevent him prevailing? Certainly not the International Community.

    August 31, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
    • Peace

      You mean 5 or 50? Would he ever leave voluntarily?

      September 2, 2012 at 12:49 am | Reply
  6. Joseph Zrnchik

    Turkey would have no reason to establish any safe zones if it would stop funding, supporting and providing a base of operation for al Qaeda and other Sunni radical militants from which these forces attack Syria. This war would end tomorrow if the US and NATO would stop using these jihadists as proxies to attack Syria and thus Iran. The Saudi and Turkish calls for safe haven are a joke as Turkey committed genocide against Armenians thereby killing many millions and oppressing 30 million Kurds. The Saudis oppress millions of Shiites and funded the 9/11 attackers. They are one of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in the Middle East. The Syria situation clearly demonstrates that Saudi Arabia continues to fund al Qaeda terror. The Saudi regime must be crushed. This collusion with al Qaeda proves 9/11 and the Global War on Terror was a scam to establish a police state and interventionist government for imperial theft. How many Syrians attacked the US on 9/11? Zero. They were all Saudi Sunnis and a few Jordanians. The Syrians are enemies of the 9/11 attackers. So, why are we helping al Qaeda against Syria?

    September 1, 2012 at 8:30 am | Reply
  7. Making a point

    It is very interesting to note the parallel in situation and arguments in the case of syria today and Afghanistan during 80s when the rebels were fighting the central government and its Russian backer. Afghan "freedom" fighters and many "foreign" fighters ( sunni arab fighters) came to free afghanistan. US called them freedom fighters and supported them with money and weapons. We know the rest of the story. Only fools repeat the same thing over and over and somehow expect a different result. LOL

    September 1, 2012 at 8:39 am | Reply
  8. deniz boro

    This article is seriously directed. Althought it looks to be a sensible and sincere expression of an on-site person who is capable. Even if her/his comments are wrong, it is at least a free expression of a person on the spot. Whether you like it or not.

    September 1, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  9. deniz boro

    Sorry my previous comment went unpublished. Or maybe I made a mistake in posting. However, it expressed my respect in all Syrian people, their history and a hope for their future unity. I am sorry if I triggered some hard feelings in you.

    September 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Reply
  10. Professor

    This is the first I have seen reference to Syrian Christians supporting Assad. You would think that might be important information for a free press to reveal. Or would that put the medias Al-Queada and Muslim Brotherhood allies on the defensive?

    September 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  11. akud

    Turkey can with tanks and helicopters against terrorists, Syria can not, why????

    September 3, 2012 at 5:20 am | Reply
    • deniz boro

      Do please include the "verb" when you right a sentence. Otherwise it all seems as a list of "Good guys" and "Bad guys" with no description of action.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  12. Trevor Bryant

    From every report I have seen, this is GENOCIDE. Shia neighborhoods go untouched by Assad, Sunni's and any others are slaughtered. How is this not a civil war? Iran is their largest supporter... they are Shia. Taliban? Shia. Problems in Yemen? Oh yeah, Shia. Why is it every time I hear about Arabs killing each other, the primary antagonists are Shia? Meh, if they want to kill each other, whatever. Shia animals killing sunni animals. Don't see other religions killing each other (anymore) over which son of abraham is the "real" successor. Might as well argue over which color is better, beige or tan.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  13. Say it As You See It

    Let us turn our attention towards India for a moment. The disenchantment of minorities is evident by the recent uprising in India. From Bangalore to Mumbai, to Goa to Kerala and Chennai and Pune not to forget Assam and onto New Delhi ..... this is a premonition of epic proportions. We are witnessing the implosion of India..some will grasp it now while others will need to see it in the rear view mirror.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  14. Richie Brosco

    It is no secret that Hitler and his Nazi cronies sought inspiration from Indian extremist groups including the branding of his Nazi Party by adopting the Swastika, a traditionally Hindu symbol and representation of Hindu god Ganesha, as its marketing tool. The thesis being that like the Norwegian massacre, the Jewish holocaust orchestrated by Hitler was inspired by the inherently violent cult of Indian Hindus and the manifesto of its then extremist/terrorist groups still in existence today. These groups are now the successors to and carrying out the vision of Al Qaeda all over the world.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Reply

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