Demonstrations in northern Syria: the persistent prayers of the Syrian uprising

A demonstration in the city of Idlib - 7 October 2021 (Enab Baladi \ Anas al-Khouli)

A demonstration in the city of Idlib - 7 October 2021 (Enab Baladi Anas al-Khouli)

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Enab Baladi-Hussam al-Muhamoud 

Like a leading actor in a cinematic shot portraying conflicting emotions, Abu Raafat took to the streets in the city of Afrin, north of Aleppo in early November, to voice his support for the Syrian revolution; Abu Raafat, who was waving the green-and-red flag of the revolution, singing and dancing to the tune of the revolution songs, suddenly burst into tears after he recalled the sad truth: the banners have made the same demands for all these years, yet, none of them have been realized.

After the Syrian regime re-established its control over vast areas, northwestern Syria became one of the only platforms where the opponents of the Syrian government could call for their demands that have been raised since 2011, for which Abu Raafat cried in 2021.  

The demonstrations repeated the initial demands of the Syrian revolution. Despite their timid beginning, they quickly gathered steam in various cities, demanding the toppling of the Assad regime and for freedom, dignity and justice.

Since the Syrian revolution erupted in March 2011, Fridays in Syria have carried extra symbolism in the eyes of the opponents. Friday became a day with a different name, bearing voices, following its prayers, which call for a different reality. On the other hand, the Syrian regime dealt with Friday with excessive security caution that was oppressively reflected on the ground. 

Apparently, when Syrians could not demonstrate in a street following Friday prayers, they would go and demonstrate against the regime in a different street. 

“The rebellious man per se is a demonstration”

Firas Saraqibi, a displaced person from Hama governorate residing in the city of al-Bab, expressed his concerns in regard to the decline of the civil revolutionary movement in Syria as the  Syrian revolution is about to enter its 11th year.   

He said, “I take part frequently in demonstrations to let the world hear my voice. I also want to fulfill my duty towards the Syrian revolution.”

Saraqibi told Enab Baladi that demonstrations will be of benefit to the Syrian revolution. He reiterated his intention to continue joining them, hoping they would “be fruitful” one day.

He explained that what he is doing is a legitimate right to make his voice heard that “the Syrian people are present, patient, and steadfast until the fall of the Syrian regime.”

Numerous international conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights 1950(mainly articles NO. 9 and 11) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (articles No.18 and 22), guarantee the right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully.

Syria has seen a marked decline in anti-regime demonstrations. This decline can be attributed to several factors: the Syrian opposition has lost control over large areas to the Russia-backed Syrian regime. The economic crisis is hitting the Syrian people hard due to the depreciation of the national currency and the rise in prices. After a decade of upheaval, Syrian people are struggling to feed themselves.   

Anti-government demonstrations have declined in overall numbers and their geographic spread. Their aims, objectives, and messages they carried, and the slogans they advocated have varied, but they continue.

Ibrahim al-Zeir, who defines himself as a revolutionary activist, said that the least that can be done for the martyrs and detainees is to hold peaceful demonstrations. 

Al-Zeir said that it is essential to conduct peaceful demonstrations every Friday to shed light on the issues of the Syrian revolution regarding the martyrs and detainees and the humanitarian situation in northern Syria. 

Peaceful demonstrations are a way to express popular anger against the Syrian regime and remind the world of the just cause of the Syrian people and their legitimate demands for peace, democracy and freedom.

Apparently, international interest has declined in the Syrian issue. The international community has become preoccupied only with addressing the repercussions of the existence of an oppressive regime–such as the provision of humanitarian assistance and the conduct of the Syria Constitutional Committee and political process that have offered Syrian people nothing tangible since their launch.  

Revolutionary singer Qassem Jamous believes that when people keep participating in peaceful protests, this is clear proof that the Syrian revolution continues. 

Jamous stressed that “the Syrian revolution cannot be put down or given up,” noting that the spark that lit the Syrian revolution was through demonstrations during which the rebellious people chanted their goals, slogans, and aspirations.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Jamous pointed out that the geographic spread of protest is not an important characteristic to determine the depth of the revolution. The comparison in terms of the number of demonstrations taking place in regime-held areas and opposition-held areas is wrong because, from civilian homes, the Syrian revolution started when the Syrian regime was imposing its control all over Syria. “ 

Jamous said that “the revolutionary person is himself a demonstration whether he participated or not in demonstrations.” 

He added those who lost their loved ones under bombardment or have their children held in detention centers will never stop demonstrating against the Assad regime.  

Commenting on the significance of attracting more people to participate in civil demonstrations in northern Syria, Jamous indicated this was important at the beginning of the revolution. In the first months and years of the Syrian uprising, it was absolutely necessary to have the largest number of protests against the Assad regime because the Syrian people wanted the world to know more about the actual image of the revolution, not as portrayed in the Syrian regime’s official narrative.  

Jamous said that the facts have become more evident. In other words, the Syrian file and its details have become clear to the Syrian people and the international community; before the very eyes of the whole international community, Syrians have been subjected to killings, bombardments, destruction and forcible displacement. That’s why there is no need to attract more people to take part in demonstrations as long as there is an implicit agreement on principles and objectives.

Jamous pointed out that the reasons for the lack of demonstrations and their reduced capacity to create an effective impact on the revolution and the de-facto authorities are due to the difference of opinion between the Syrian people and the opposition’s military commands. They do not work under one all-encompassing roof. In fact, the demonstrations that took place in the early years of the revolution were running a parallel line to the revolutionary military action. They were able to attract international public opinion. However, today’s demonstrations lack united enthusiasm.  

Qassem Jamous, aka Sada Houran, based on his revolutionary activity and chants in demonstrations, attributes the decline in protests in northern Syria to “intruders on the Syrian revolution.” These introducers were contributing to derailing protest activities from their noble goals. They were after pursuing personal goals. 

Various problems solved via demonstrations

Over the last ten years of war, the Syrian people have faced various problems. Now, demonstrations are taking place either as an expression of rejection or as a call for demands. Therefore, people no longer demonstrate on a specific day, usually on Friday. Moreover, their demands are no longer restricted to the overthrow of the regime and the removal of al-Assad from power. Now, people are also holding demonstrations in more than one area in protest against the precarious living conditions and the deterioration of the political climate and others.

Last October, the people of Idlib city protested against the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) policy and the lack of services. 

At the forefront of these requests was the reduction of fuel prices, which are now governed by semi-weekly bulletins that raise their prices according to the exchange rates of the Turkish lira against the US dollar.

From early July to late September 2021, residents in various areas in Daraa governorate staged demonstrations calling for lifting the deadly siege on Daraa al-Balad. They also denounced the Syrian regime’s security crackdowns, which forced Daraa residents to surrender their weapons.

In solidarity with Daraa residents, several people took to the streets in the governorate of Deir Ezzor on 30 July to protest against the military escalation carried out by the Syrian regime. The Syrian regime turned to use the policy of starvation, siege, and military escalations to subjugate the cradle of the Syrian revolution, Daraa. 

On 29 October, people left the Great Mosque located in Atarib, in the western countryside of Aleppo, after Friday prayers. They began to chant against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which was fighting the foreign factions of al-Muhajeern in Turkmen Mountain, instead of fighting the Syrian regime and its allies. The protesters called for the release of detainees from the HTS-held prisons.

A path to civil society

Political and military researcher at the Jusoor Center for Studies Abdul Wahab Asi confirmed that the demonstrations in the opposition-controlled areas have become an integral part of the means of expression for the people of those areas to assert their rights; Syrian protesters want a safe and dignified life. 

Asi confirmed that people continue to demonstrate in northern Syria despite the waning of hopes for tangible and impactful results that might be achieved in light of the changes surrounding the Syrian file.

The continuation of demonstrations means that people insist on confronting the Syrian regime regardless of the change of the map of control in favour of the Syrian regime; the regime has a greater military and political influence.

Demonstrations are a method of supporting the armed opposition factions and putting pressure on them to confront the regime, whether in the case of defence, deterrence, or attack and if the appropriate conditions are available.

The researcher stressed the necessity and importance of the protest in northern Syria because people are scared for the fate of the areas where about four million Syrians gather. The Syrian regime and its Russian ally constantly threaten them with military action, while the international community does not take any action for a permanent ceasefire and provide a stable environment that ensures a decent life for Syrians.

Referring to the positive messages carried by the continuation of the demonstrations, Abdel Wahab Asi explained that the continuation of the demonstration means the crystallization of a civil society capable of developing the tools of protest, which the Syrian regime may fear.

The regime has worked since 2011 to quell the revolution and prevent the population from expressing their rights. The regime would permanently confront the population even if it regained control over the entire country.

The Daraa model can be brought up in this regard to indicate the regime’s inability to restore sovereignty, even though it recaptured the governorate, which was under the control of the opposition. 

The continuation of the demonstrations in northern Syria could encourage people living in regime-controlled areas to hold demonstrations and demand their rights. People in regime-held areas have recently conducted demonstrations using different goals and slogans to demand better living conditions.

Asi ruled out the cessation of the protest phenomenon in the opposition areas, despite the possibility of a change of pace from time to time, for security, political, military and economic reasons and factors.

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