Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Timeline of the Syrian Uprising

The following is a subjective take on the key events:

  1. The Syrian Reform Group based in America and led by Faride Ghadry called for demonstrations in Syria on Saturday 5th February. They were jumping on the Egypt bandwagon. Not to be outdone the Muslim Brotherhood jumped on Faride Ghadry's bandwagon and called for demonstrations a day earlier on Friday 4th February.  Nothing happened which was particularly humiliating for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
  2. Facebook pages were established, the largest of which is now the Muslim Brotherhood run group, "The Syrian Revolution 2011" (currently with over 200,000 members), though there are many other small groups such as the English language "Syrian Uprising Information Centre" (3,500 members).
  3. In an apparent response to Facebook activity, children in the town of Deraa started spray-painting anti-government slogans as graffiti on walls. Some were arrested on 6th March on orders from Atif Najib, head of the Political Security Directorate in Deraa province.
  4. A delegation of tribal leaders came to see Atif Najib. The tribal leaders asked for the release of the boys imprisoned for graffiti. In a traditional gesture, they took their headdresses from off their heads and placed them on the table, saying they’d take them up again when the matter had been resolved. By way of response Atif took the khaffiah (headdresses) of the senior tribal leaders from the table and threw them into the rubbish bin. Protests broke out. (Deraa Governor Faisal Kalthoum was subsequently sacked on 22nd March and Atif Najib was dismissed on 9th April - as a sop to the protesters).
  5. On 30th March a widely anticipated speech from President Bashar Al Assad was a damp squib. Instead of heralding hoped for reform beginning with the lifting of the State of Emergency, the President alluded to foreign conspirators - thus breathing new life into the rebellion.
  6. The rebellion began to lose headway over time and numbers involved in demonstrations dwindled. On Thursday 19th May President Obama gave a speech in which he addressed the Syria issue. Demonstrations on the subsequent Friday / Saturday were modest. But the number of demonstrators killed in these smaller demonstrations remained just as high if not higher than those killed on previous weekends. This caused a reaction which resulted in greater numbers of protesters returning to the street on the next weekend. (note however that numbers involved in demonstrations have never been vast - the very largest demonstration being of 50,000).
  7. On 31st May the President issued a decree offering a general amnesty - a pardon for all crimes committed before 31st May. But the measure was dismissed as too little too late.
  8. On 31st May a group of some 300 opposition activists gathered in Anatalya, Turkey. Largely young people and Muslim Brotherhood members, they refused to allow the main secular groups (Ghadri/Khaddam/Rifat) to join them and were themselves boycotted by the main Kurdish groups.
  9. There were demonstrations in the area around Jisr Al Shugur in the North. A number of Syrian soldiers were subsequently shot. There are two differing accounts of these events: (a) The Turkish Government allowed armed exiled Syrian Baath opposition (i.e. Baath party members exiled to Iraq and Jordan following internal squabbles 40 years ago) to cross the border into Syria. They were responsible for the shooting of a number of Syrian soldiers near the town of Jisr Al Shugur on 10th June. Which is why Turkish authorities did not allow a journalists to meet the first refugees from Jisr (they included people with non-Syrian accents). (b) A number of Syrian soldiers refused to turn on the demonstrators and were gunned down by their own side as they fled. Whatever the truth of this matter, Jisr Al Shugur became a new cause celebre.
The generally accepted view is that despite errors, the Syrian Government will come out of this stronger (internally) provided:

  • There is no coup d'etat
  • The uprising does not extend to Aleppo (note in this context that Bashar al Assad has not been killing Kurds. He has been very careful not to provoke a Kurdish uprising).

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