“People were no longer prepared to beg for bread or tolerate being beaten in the streets by the police” - as an activist from Daraa in southwestern Syria near the border with Jordan explained to the Financial Times (1/4/11). These are the grievances that lie behind the revolts and protests across the Arab world this year, from Tunisia to Bahrain. In Syria there have been demands to know what became of the thousands who disappeared in the 1980s after the 1982 rebellion was drowned in the blood of tens of thousands, indignation at the arrest of schoolchildren for anti-government graffiti, and then at the murder of the mainly young men who protested against this.
The Syrian bourgeoisie have reacted just as murderously as Gaddafi – and Bahrain backed by Saudi Arabian troops – using teargas, live ammunition, baton charges, arrests and detention. In little over two weeks at least 60 people have been killed, including 55 in Daraa and another four after the demonstrations in Damascus. As Al Jazeera’s senior analyst points out “The complication of the situation in Libya, leading to internal violence and international intervention and great destruction, will clearly dissuade many Syrians and Arabs from attempting more of the same in Syria”. Despite this, unrest has now spread to the Kurdish northern cities. The sacking of the governor of Daraa, the sacking of the entire Syrian government, and Bashir al-Assad’s announcement of a panel to look at replacing (or renaming) the emergency powers instituted in 1963 with anti-terror legislation were never going to satisfy the protesters.
Inevitably after half a century of the brutal dictatorship of the al-Assad dynasty there are huge illusions in the prospects democracy, illusions which have not helped the movements in either Egypt, where the military continue to rule having pushed Mubarak aside, or in Libya where different factions of the ruling class are sacrificing the population in a civil war.
Nor can the population rely on the democratic credentials of the ‘international community’ – currently embroiled in Libya as well as Afghanistan and Iraq. Not that this ‘community’ of thieves will fail to take any advantage they can out of the current unrest in Syria. Despite all the evidence of state repression over more than a decade, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken of a potentially reforming Syrian presidency and Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney of “an important opportunity to be responsive to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people” (FT). Not because they are “at best fooling themselves” as Democrat Congressman Gary Ackerman said, but because the US administration sees opportunities as well as risks in the situation and particularly wants to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran. As ever, the ‘humanitarian’ statements of the bourgeoisie only serve its imperialist interests.
Faced with poverty, murderous repression and the manoeuvring of great powers, the protesters in Syria, as elsewhere, have shown great courage. The best way to show our solidarity is to develop our own struggles, for it is only the international struggle of the working class that can put an end to the system responsible for their misery.