Syrian protests: No turning back.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
May 20 2011 1:55 PM

This Is a Revolution, Not a Protest

For the Syrians, there is no turning back.

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The same thing happened at the Lebanese-Israeli border in the southern town of Maroun el-Ras. Fifteen Palestinians were killed, and many more were injured.

Hussam, a Syrian activist from Homs found it ironic that Assad's regime allowed and encouraged the march to take place and then attacked the Israelis for killing peaceful protesters when it is doing the same thing inside Syria. "This happened on the same day that a mass grave was found in Deraa," he pointed out.

According to Rana, a young activist from Damascus, the international community must realize that if the regime survives, it will not be weak and ready to make compromises around the peace process, Iran, or Hezbollah. "This regime survives on conflict, and after murdering the protesters in the name of resistance, and after accusing them of being traitors and agents, this regime will not go for a peace agreement," Rana said.

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Both Hussam and Rana welcomed recent U.S. measures against the regime and President Barack Obama's Middle East speech, mainly because it did not include any hint of military intervention in Syria. "As long as they are decisive and tough with Assad, that's enough. We can do the rest," said Hussam.

However, the killing of peaceful protesters is generating anger and a desire for revenge. The regime is harvesting this anger and will probably use it to create sectarian conflict, especially between the Sunnis and Alawites. This will help justify its use of force against Syrians, as it will be "preventing a civil war" instead of simply suppressing peaceful protests. It has used this strategy in Lebanon for 15 years and won't hesitate to use it again inside Syria. It will push the same formula: freedom or security, never both.

But the Syrian street is aware of this. They have been using anti-sectarian slogans and rhetoric. And although there is as yet no clear Syrian opposition front, the protesters are using the same slogans everywhere. "Young Syrians have managed to use modern technology and knowledge to organize, and that's why there are unified slogans, which gives hope in an organized opposition," says Aref Dalila.

Dalila is a Syrian economist and former dean of the faculty of economics at Damascus University. He was a political prisoner 2001-08, and he was one of the Syrian intellectuals involved in the Damascus Spring, the period of political activism that started after the death of former President Hafez Assad. After he was released from jail, he was not allowed to return to his post at the university, and he has since been banned from teaching.

According to Dalila, the young people organizing and protesting in the streets have very little political experience, because the regime has successfully prevented the creation of an opposition movement for almost 50 years. "When this is over, it might be very difficult to create a modern and democratic system without going through a thorny process that could involve turmoil and unrest," he said. However, Dalila added, the most plausible scenario is that after a long complicated process, the Syrian people will have a new system, and the struggle will have been worth it.

Mohammad Abdullah, a U.S.-based Syrian journalist, agrees. "I'm sure there is no way back. Syrians are aware that the cost of stopping now is much heavier than that paid for protesting."

When asked how he thinks things are going to develop, Abdullah said, "I don't know what's next, but when I ask people inside Syria what's next, they say, 'Freedom!' "

Hanin Ghaddar is managing editor of NOW Lebanon.