This Saturday 15 March, on the third anniversary of the uprising, there is a demonstration in London to support the struggle of the people of Syria for freedom and for an end of the Assad regime. It is called by National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and it will assemble at 12noon at Hyde Park Corner for a march to Downing Street.
The uprising against the Assad dictatorship started in March 2011. Three years later, there are over 130,000 dead, 4.5 million internally displaced and 2 million refugees in a country of 20 million.
The movement against Assad is a movement for political change, democracy, social justice and against religious sectarianism. It is part of the “Arab uprisings”. This political revolution has undoubtedly a mass base demonstrated by the fact that the Assad regime, after nearly three years of war, has been unable to defeat militarily the opposition.
The people face a repressive regime that has been in power since 1970 when Hafiz al-Assad took power in a coup. After 40 years, there is massive unemployment, poverty and corruption. Since the 1990s, the economic liberalization and privatization has led to dramatic wealth inequality, impoverishment of the population and the enrichment of a few people, in particular members of Assad’s family. Despite its secular claims, the Syrian regime is based on sectarian and kinship-based favouritism, with most senior political, business and military figures either related to the president or members of his minority Alawite community.
The Assad regime has been a useful ally to the US and Britain. It has maintained a peaceful coexistence with Israel, it entered Lebanon in 1976 to help crush the PLO, in 1990 participated in the US-led Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, and has allowed its prisons to be used by the US for torture.
Russia is Assad’s main backer, providing all the weapons necessary to inflict a defeat on the opposition. Russia’s only naval base outside the former USSR is in Syria, and it needs allies in the region who can help with its geo-strategic interests.
The forces that oppose the regime are extremely diverse and contradictory. There is a small but significant leftist, progressive and democratic element, organised mainly within the local co-ordinating committees, which is seeing a modest growth. The Islamist forces, backed by different external forces (primarily Qatar and the Saudi kingdom) are warring amongst themselves – militarily as well as politically. One of the most positive developments over recent months has been the resistance of large parts of the population to these Islamist forces. Women have been a significant part of the uprising including on the front line against fundamentalist forces that seek to restrict women’s rights even further. But fundamentalist Islamists are stronger now than at the beginning of the war. They have received money and resources from Gulf States, giving them an increased military advantage. Despite the hypocritical talk of US imperialism that they support the opposition, they have denied the weapons to the Syrian National Council which they asked for in order to defend themselves against Assad’s army.
Despite now calling for Assad to go, the US wants a solution in which the figurehead of the regime goes, but the regime itself stays. This means forcing the opposition to accept a form of power sharing with the Syrian Baath party. But the worst fear for imperialism must be a victory of the opposition against Assad, as it would re-energize the Arab uprisings that have stalled in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.
There can be no silence about the crimes of the Assad regime, and we cannot be neutral in this conflict. For socialists, the choice is clear: solidarity with the people of Syria in their fight for democracy against Assad, and support their right to determine their own future free from all foreign intervention, not just that of the US and Britain but also that of Russia.
In Britain, a conference over nearly 200 anti-war, socialist and peace activists met on Saturday 15 February to launch a Syria Solidarity Movement. The conference recognised “the need to oppose Western imperialist threats to attack Syria while also continuing to defend Syria’s popular revolution against the Assad dictatorship and its allies…. (and to) oppose all forms of imperialist intervention in the region while supporting popular struggles against all who would deny democratic rights or enforce economic exploitation”. The new Syria Solidarity Movement has the support of socialist organisations such as Socialist Resistance, the ISN, the ACI and RS21, but also that of Syrian organisations such as Syrian Community in the UK and Hand in Hand for Syria.