By CARLOS SAPIR
Despite more than a decade of brutal repression by state forces, protests have been appearing across Syria since late August. While the demonstrations started in response to fuel price increases and poverty, protesters have been quick to revive the slogans of the beginning of the Syrian revolution, calling for the downfall of the Assad regime. Protests have included general strike actions, and have taken place in diverse locations, from Druze-majority regime strongholds such as Suweida, to historical centers of resistance such as Daraa.
“The Syrian regime is economically cornered, offers no prospects, and has no solution or project to revive the economy,” said Johad Yazigi, editor of The Syria Report.* “However, the ongoing protests are not only due to the economic situation, but also to the lack of any hope for the future.”
In the meantime, despite a cease-fire arranged in March 2020, Syrian government and Russian forces have continued to shell civilian areas in Idlib, the province in the northwestern part of the country where many war refugees have sought shelter. “Our teams have responded to 711 attacks by the regime, Russia, and their affiliated militias since the beginning of this year until Sept. 12,” a member of the White Helmets told Al Jazeera (Sept. 24). He reported that 61 people were killed in those attacks and 261 wounded.
As written previously on this website, the uprising against Bashar al-Assad first began in 2011 with a series of protests against police brutality and state repression, which grew into generalized protests with numerous economic and social grievances against the regime. The Assad regime responded with minor reforms, before baselessly denouncing the protesters as sectarian Sunni Salafists and increasing repression.
The U.S. briefly attempted to send arms and training as well, but failed to consolidate a Syrian base of support for its intervention, and its materiel was appropriated by other groups—with its overall impact on the conflict minimal. Rival, genuinely sectarian factions, including the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, funneled money and arms to Islamist militias, which waged war against both the Assad regime and rebel-controlled cities, in addition to winning popular support in some regions.
The Assad regime appeared to be at the point of collapse, but was brutally reanimated by the support of Iran and Hezbollah in 2013 and Russia in 2015. Backed by Russian imperialist air power, regime forces unleashed a campaign of merciless airstrikes, flattening cities held by Islamists and rebels alike, leaving hundreds of thousands of civilians killed and millions more displaced, with the ensuing refugee crisis itself becoming a catastrophe of epic proportions as these people struggled to reach Europe, facing the risks of indefinite detention, death, or myriad other dangers.
After a decade of total warfare, including a further invasion by Turkish forces in collusion with the Assad regime against Kurdish forces and a U.S. imperialist bombing campaign against Islamist factions, the Assad regime has regained military control of much of Syria’s territory but faces widespread economic destitution as well as the correctly-placed resentment of the survivors of its civil war. According to the UN, as of 2022 90% of the Syrian population is living in poverty and 80% face food insecurity—conditions that have been caused in part by the effects of climate change and long-term drought.
While Assad’s state, which is plagued by mounting debt, has managed to fund its budget by producing the narcotic Captagon and exporting it abroad, this has not translated into a general betterment of the Syrian economy. Syria’s Captagon trade has had a further, counterintuitive effect on its diplomatic standing: Rather than isolating Syria, which was already suspended from the Arab League and treated with hostility by its members, Assad has used the Captagon trade as blackmail against its neighbors, promising to cut the flow of drugs in exchange for normalized relations.
Last week, Assad took a further step to alleviate his regime’s isolation by visiting the Chinese city of Hangzhou to confer with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Before parting, Xi and Assad were able to announce the formation of a “strategic partnership” between the two countries, in which China pledged to help with Syria’s reconstruction through the Belt and Road initiative. However, China made no immediate offers of aid.
While China and the bourgeois dictators of the Middle East are happy to make amends with unrepentant butchers, despite the threat of the most brutal state repression and imperialist invasions, the people of Syria continue to defy Assad and demand democracy and an end to poverty. Now as before, the people want the downfall of the regime!
!الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام
* Quoted in The Teller Report, Sept. 5, 2023.