Freedom vs. security issue continues to divide Syrians

Freedom vs. security issue continues to divide Syrians

March 18, 2016
Protesters shout slogans and carry Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest in the Al-Sukari neighborhood of Aleppo. — Reuters
Protesters shout slogans and carry Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest in the Al-Sukari neighborhood of Aleppo. — Reuters

Dina al-Shibeeb

AS the Syrian crisis marks its fifth anniversary, the divide between Syrians prioritizing their security over those valuing their freedom continues.

A survey conducted by ORB International in late 2015 found that 47 percent of Syrians believe Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has a positive influence in Syria in comparison to 35 percent for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and 26 percent for the opposition.

In early February, Assad’s Russian-backed forces and their allied militias made some advances on the ground, which was good news for his supporters, but irritated rebels and those who wanted to see the demise of the leader’s regime in Damascus.

For a Syrian engineer now living in Dubai, this was a comforting omen that “old Syria” is returning back once again under Assad’s control. “I was never with the revolution, because there was never a real revolution!” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It (the uprising) was all started by other superior countries, who funded mercenaries with money and weapons,” he said, emphasizing that these parties had wished “just to destroy everything.”

The Syrian is representative of those who are not necessarily die-hard Assad supporters, but rather see the leader as a lesser evil than a disintegrated country further troubled by encroaching foreign and radical militants the likes of Daesh (the so-called IS).

“I’m not saying I am with the president. But I am with a system that keeps things under control,” he explained. “No matter how bad it is, security comes first.”

But as the cessation of hostilities took effect on Feb. 27, the FSA flags – the emblem of the Syrian revolution – were soaring high again, reminding observers that the uprising was organic and had been peaceful from the start.

“People started peacefully protesting [in March 2011], even now when there is ceasefire, people are back again demonstrating to show that the revolution itself is focusing on demands for freedom, dignity and human rights,” Ghassan Ibrahim, a London-based Syria analyst, told Al Arabiya English.

In the early spring of 2011, a peaceful protest against Assad’s government turned violent after the regime suppressed dissent, morphing the uprising against the embattled leader into a civil war.

Conspiracy theory

Since then, Syrians were largely split into two camps, including many shades of gray and bench sitters. But the starkest divide remained between those who prioritized security and those who are willing to make sacrifices to have a new, “free” Syria.

“Those who prioritize security, I think that subdivides into different groups,” London-based Robin Yassin-Kassab, co-author of the upcoming novel “The Road from Damascus,” told Al Arabiya English.

“I think there are some people, a small minority, who believe in conspiracy theories. They believe is in such a mess because it was attacked by other countries and reject that this was the regime’s fault.

“I think there are other people who stick to the regime because they have no other options,” he added.

On the other hand, the writer says there are also those who believe their security is “already destroyed” like the Alawites, who believe alternatives to the Assad regime are Daesh or the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front.

Robbin-Kassab also said the Assad regime had undertaken “false flag operations” to exasperate sectarian tensions and fears to keep Alawites “loyal,” and blamed it for releasing extremists from prisons as well as prepping them with logistics.

Syrian Alawites have long appeared to be supporters of Assad’s government. But recent reports indicate that the minority group is increasingly feeling frustrated with the government and feel they were manipulated by Assad’s regime to keep it alive in the face of the rebellion.

In Syria, Sunnis Muslims make up 74 percent of the country’s 22 million-strong population, Alawites make up 12 percent, Christians make up 10 percent and Druze make up 3 percent. Ismailis, Yezidis and Jews make up the rest of the population.

The romantics and the fearful

Asked what is the fundamental difference that makes a person pro or against the revolution, Robbin-Kassab said: “It is about the people’s social context and their survival instincts.”

He explained: “If one’s uncle worked in the intelligence, then any dreams they have of freedom don’t really matter. That person might be so terrified that someone might come and shoot their family, because his uncle may have tortured them in prison, so you stick with the regime.”

For Ibrahim, there are the bench sitters, who want to have the best of both worlds. He dubbed them the “romantics.”

“They believe the [revolution] is a long challenge, a costly one with a lot of sacrifices. These romantic politicians are usually in between the regime and the revolution,” Ibrahim said. “They want the democracy part only.”

Instead, Ibrahim urged people to be “realistic” that sometimes we cannot have it all but could possibly have a transformation, just like the French revolution.

“Every revolution, even one of the most famous like the French revolution, was extremely bloody but at the end the country progressed by almost 100 years toward freedom.”

March 18, 2016