What Led to the 'Unprecedented' Uprising?
For about three decades President Hafez al-Assad held the office of the President of Syria. Despite the many modern reforms introduced to the constitution during his reign, President Hafez drew immense criticism for the Hama massacre, for violation of human rights in Syria, and for having kept the country in a state of emergency since 1963. The emergency was justified by the government as necessary due to the ongoing war with Israel. But this also meant that all constitutional laws were suspended, elections denied, and all opposition banned. In 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad took over the office. Emboldened by the success of the public outrage and revolution in Tunisia, the Syrians protested against the regime and demanded the recognition of Khurdish rights.
The primary demand of the protesting Syrians was for a regime change and for President Bashar al-Assad to abdicate. The Imposition of Emergency Law since 1963 also meant that the constitution and elections in the country were suspended. No party apart from the ruling Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party was allowed to form. Basic freedoms such as the freedom of speech and assembly and the freedom of the press were denied. Syrians demanded a total reversal of the prevailing conditions. The Kurdish people were traditionally denied equal rights in Syria. The uprising demanded the recognition of Kurdish rights and immediate administration of democratic reforms. Adding to the protests were the low levels of employment and standard of living in Syria.
Progress of the Revolution
The protests in Syria were sparked of by the self-immolation of Hasan Ali Alekh in Al-Hasakah on January 26, 2011. On January 28, 2011, demonstrations were held protesting the death of Kurdish soldiers in Ar-Raqqah. Through February a series of demonstrations and protests were staged in Damascus and Al-Hasakah. The isolated protests exploded on March 15, 2011, when hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets of Damascus, Aleppo, Daraa, Homs, Hama, Deir ez-Zor, Baniyas, and Latakia. Daraa became the center of a mass uprising on March 25 and by the end of the month Prime Minister Muhammad Maji al-Otari resigned. In April 2011 the uprising was marred by many incidents of violence. The revolution had spread to other Syrian cities including Harasta, Douma, and Al-Qamishli. Over eighty-eight Syrians were killed in the firings on April 15, 2011. The air was rife with rumors of the army executing its own staff for a refusal to shoot the protestors. The Syria-Jordon boundary was shut down. USA imposed strict sanctions against Syria following the death of sixty protestors on April 29, 2011.
By May many parts of Damascus, Telkalakh, Daraa, Homs, Latakia, Hama, and Baniyas were under the control of the army. Most of these cities saw a full-fledged civil war. Jisr ash-Shugur, Daara, Hama, and Maarat al-Numaan were besieged. The President's efforts to placate the protestors were in vain. The Arab League protested the ongoing violence in August 2011. Through the next three months many lives have been lost to the violent clashes between protestors and the military personnel. International pressure is now mounting for the Syrian authorities to find an amicable solution to the protests.
The Use of Force
With the escalation in the scale of protests in March 2011, the Syrian Government took to the use of force to suppress the revolution. Besides the use of tanks and rifles against the protesting masses, the supply of basic amenities including electricity and drinking water to the major Syrian cities were turned off. An artificial scarcity of food was created in cities such as Damascus, Aleppo, Daraa, Homs, Hama, Deir ez-Zor, and Latakia. The army took control of these cities and others including Douma, Talkalakh, Baniyas, Rastan, and Jisr ash-Shughur. According to UN reports on December 1, 2011, over 4,000 Syrians were killed in clashes since March 2011. Over 3,000 have been reported injured. As of October 31, 2011, over 30,000 Syrians have been reported to be in detention. Torture following arrest and detention has been reported by human rights agencies.
Economic Fallout of the Revolution
Since March 2011, the Syrian pound has lost over 25% of its value to the dollar. As of late November 2011, the Syrian pound traded at 59.4 to the dollar. The Arab League has imposed rather rigid economic sanctions against the country causing a steep decline in the Syrian economic condition. The sanctions include a ban on the travel of the top Syrian officials and a blanket freeze on any assets linked to the Syrian President or his government. The country is in a state of economic isolation and businesses continue to suffer as protests mount in Syria. Following the example of the Arab League, Turkey has imposed a number of economic measures against the country. This is likely to further cripple the country's finances.
The response of the international community to the Syrian Revolution has been mixed. While many western countries and the United Nations have been singularly vehement in their condemnation of the use of force against protestors, some countries such as China and Russia have spoken in favor of the Syrian Government. Both China and Russia have oil projects in Syria and have drawn criticism for their reactions. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed outrage at the alleged crimes committed by the government against protesting Syrians. The U.S. reaction to the custodial death of the Syrian human rights activist Ghiyath Mattar has been vehement.