This report on Syria is from a text circulated by a friend.
From April to June I’ve been sending you some reports on the situation in Syria. After briefly returning to Germany, for about a week I’ve now been back in Beirut with Rami Nakle (aka. Malath Aumran) in order to support him in his activities against the Assad regime in Syria. Unfortunately, the situation in Lebanon has deteriorated dramatically since last time I was here. The Syrian intelligence services and their local allies in Lebanon are doing all they can to track down anti-regime activists. We know from trustworthy sources inside Western intelligence agencies that Rami is one of their key targets. Unfortunately he cannot currently leave the country because of his refugee-status, which means that we spend most of our days trying to manage and plan his security situation. Last week alone we changed hiding places three times – something that is not only both physically and mentally exhausting, but also keeps us from doing our political work. The situation is simply not very pleasant. Depending on the security situation I will probably stay in Beirut until the end of August and keep you all updated on the constantly changing situation. But to start with, here’s a short analysis of the current state of play in Syria.
Not much longer, but ever more brutally – symptoms of the collapse of the Syrian regime
The situation in Syria is bad. Over the past weeks and months the military has laid siege to and shelled, with tanks and heave artillery, one Syrian town after another. Alongside the military it is the brutality of the Shabih (militias under the command of the president’s cousin) and the security services that is spreading fear and terror. And unlike in previous months, there is now not a day that passes without dozens of peaceful protesters being shot and killed. There are targeted hunts for activists, many of whom simply end up disappeared. More than 25.000 people have been arrested since the beginning of the insurrection. Temporary prisons and torture camps are being created, most recently in Latakia, where hundreds were held and tortured for days inside a sports stadium. All the while the security services are becoming ever more brutal: shots targeted to faces, the maiming of limbs, doctors who are killed simply for treating the wounded… There is also a dramatic increase in reports of rapes by security forces, but unfortunately we are seeing very few reports about this issue, as talking about sexual violence remains a major social taboo here. This is the worst the situation has been for people in Syria at any time over the five months that the insurrection has now lasted, never has the security forces’ violence been so brutal, massive and indiscriminate.
At the same time, never have the prospects of success been better than today. The months-long stalemate between the regime and the protesters is shifting ever more in favour of the rebels. Since the beginning of Ramadan (on August 1st) we are seeing demonstrations not every Friday, but every day. Demonstrations that gathered a few thousands in April have grown to hundreds of thousands in July. In spite of all the brutality the people are taking to the streets with great endurance and tenacity, making it basically impossible for the security forces to keep the situation under constant control. Although the major protests in Deir Zur and Hama have, for the time being, been crushed so that the total number of protesters has declined, Syrians’ outrage and anger has increased manifold: not just in these cities, but also in Damascus, where we have thus far not seen any major demonstrations because of the intense security measures deployed in the city centre. Two friends from Damascus tell us that many people there are incredibly angry, and that it is only a matter of time until this anger turns into major protests.
But the growing intensity of the protests is only part of the broader picture – we are also seeing increasing signs of the slow collapse of the regime itself. Former ministers and members of parliament have publically criticised the government’s brutal actions. Assad has been forced to replace five governors of the provinces Hama, Homs and Daraa; last week the defence minister was forced to resign; a number of businesspeople have been refused exit from Syria for fear that they might not return; from diplomatic circles we hear increasing reports that especially very well-off Syrians are beginning to approach Western embassies in order to assure themselves of contacts there; and soldiers at most of the checkpoints have largely been reduced to searching for other soldiers as the number of desertions is increasing rapidly. To be sure, these are only small signs of decay that cannot cover up the fact that we have yet to see massive ruptures in the military and/or the wider System Assad, but these small signs keep growing in number, and every day we can see new ones.
International isolation, too, has increased in the wake of the US’ and EU’s demands that Assad resign. While the US’ almost entirely lacks the potential to impose effective sanctions, the EU does at least have the possibility to economically damage the Syrian regime by halting oil deliveries from Syria. Unlike with oil sanctions imposed on other countries there is a good chance that in this case, they could not be compensated for, as Syrian crude is extremely heavy and can only be refined in a very small number of refineries worldwide. But whether the EU can really bring itself to do this will probably not be decided until early September. The linchpin for the continued survival of the System Assad, however, remains Turkey. It possesses significant economic sanction potential that would directly affect the middle classes of Aleppo and Damascus. It is hard to imagine how Turkey would avoid responding to the passage this week of its ultimatum to Syria without resorting to tougher measures.
Finally there are hopeful signs that the Syrian opposition is coalescing. Over the past ten days there have been many informal meetings of different oppositional groups in Istanbul, while plans for a transitional council seem to be taking on more concrete form.
There is still, however, no answer to the single most important question of how this brutal, criminal regime can be deposed as long as the army doesn’t defect to the people. Nor are there any signs that the inner circle of the system is cracking. And yet, I feel that at no point in this revolution has the political situation been as promising for the insurrection as they are today. And as I wrote some time ago in my last email: everybody knows that Assad’s days have long been counted – and maybe fewer of them remain that we dare to hope.
P.S. To be sure, Gaddafi’s fall will further encourage the Syrian protest movement. Last night Bengasi resounded with chants that promised: “Syria have no fear, you will be the next”. Let us hope that they are right.