Since 1963 the Arab Socialist Baath Party seized power in a 1963 coup, transforming Syria into a one-party state governed under emergency law. The power shifted from the party’s civilian ideologues to army officers, most of whom belonged to Syria’s Alawite minority. This trend culminated in General Hafez al-Assad’s rise to power in 1970.With the start of protests in the end of January 2011 which escalated in March, the law has been suspended in late spring.
Despite promises that political reforms would be drafted at a major Baath Party conference in 2005, no substantial measures were taken. In October 2005, representatives of all three segments of the opposition—the Islamists, the Kurds, and secular liberals—signed the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change (DDDNC), which called for the country’s leaders to step down and endorsed a broad set of liberal democratic principles. In 2007, al-Assad won another term as president with 97.6 percent of the vote. Independent candidates, who are heavily vetted and closely allied with the regime, are permitted to contest about a third of the People’s Council seats, meaning two-thirds are reserved for the NPF the coalition supporting the regime.
Why the population is revolting?
- Regime officials and their families benefit from a range of illicit economic activities. Syria is slowly opening itself economically by removing heavy tariffs and eliminating subsidies, but these limited reforms benefit a small minority at the expense of average citizens.
- Corruption is widespread, and bribery is often necessary to navigate the bureaucracy. Syria was ranked 127 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index. Those arrested on corruption charges rarely face serious punishment.
- The regional instability plays an important role in limiting the development of democratic institutions and Syrian human rights and opposition leaders criticized the international community for ignoring internal oppression in Syria in order to pursue regional objectives.
- Freedom of expression is heavily restricted. Vaguely worded articles of the penal code, the Emergency Law, and a 2001 Publications Law criminalize the publication of material that harms national unity, tarnishes the image of the state, or threatens the “goals of the revolution.” Many journalists, writers, and intellectuals have been arrested under these laws. Apart from a handful of radio stations with non-news formats, all broadcast media are state owned. However, satellite dishes are common, giving most Syrians access to foreign broadcasts. More than a dozen privately owned newspapers and magazines have sprouted up in recent years, and criticism of government policy is tolerated, provided it is nuanced and does not criticize the president. The 2001 press law permits the authorities to arbitrarily deny or revoke publishing licenses and compels private print outlets to submit all material to government censors. It also imposes punishment on reporters who do not reveal their sources in response to government requests. Since the Kurdish protests of 2004, the government has cracked down on journalists calling for the expansion of Kurdish or regional rights.
- Syrians access the internet only through state-run servers, which block more than 160 sites associated with the opposition, Kurdish politics, Islamic organizations, human rights, and certain foreign news services, particularly those in Lebanon. Social-networking and video-sharing websites such as Facebook and YouTube are also blocked. E-mail correspondence is reportedly monitored by intelligence agencies, which often require internet cafe owners to monitor customers.Academic freedom is heavily restricted. Freedom of assembly is closely circumscribed. Public demonstrations are illegal without official permission, which is typically granted only to pro-government groups. Freedom of association is severely restricted. All nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with the government, which generally denies registration to reformist or human rights groups. In 2010,
- Professional syndicates are controlled by the Baath Party, and all labor unions must belong to the General Federation of Trade Unions, a nominally independent grouping that the government uses to control union activity. Strikes in non-agricultural sectors are legal, but they rarely occur.
- While the lower courts operate with some independence and generally safeguard defendants’ rights, politically sensitive cases are usually tried by the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), an exceptional tribunal established under emergency law that denies the right to appeal, limits access to legal counsel, tries many cases behind closed doors, and routinely accepts confessions obtained through torture.
- The security agencies, which operate independently of the judiciary, routinely extract confessions by torturing suspects and detaining their family members. The state of emergency in force since 1963 gives security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge. Many of the estimated 2,500 to 3,000 political prisoners in Syria have never been tried.
- Minorities face severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression. Syrian Kurds are deprived of citizenship and are unable to obtain passports, identity cards, or birth certificates, which in turn prevents them from owning land, obtaining government employment, and voting. Suspected Kurdish activists are routinely dismissed from schools and public-sector jobs. In 2009, the government made it more difficult to hire non citizens, resulting in the dismissal of many Kurds. Iraqi refugees face obstacles to employment and owning property.
- Gender discrimination. The government provides women with equal access to education, but many discriminatory laws remain in force. A husband may request that the Interior Ministry block his wife from traveling abroad, and women, unlike men, are generally barred from taking their children out of the country without proof of the spouse’s permission. Violence against women is common, particularly in rural areas. The government imposed two-year minimum prison sentences for killings classified as “honor crimes” in 2009; previously there had been a maximum one-year sentence. State-run media estimate that there are 40 such killings each year, whereas women’s rights groups put the figure at 200. Personal status law for Muslims is governed by Sharia (Islamic law) and is discriminatory in marriage, divorce, and inheritance matters; church law governs personal status issues for Christians, in some cases barring divorce.
"Why Western powers and the UN are acting in favour of Libyan insurgents and are not for Syrian ones?"
- Libya, , is a dwarf compared with Syria, which has 22 million inhabitants, borders directly with key countries such as Iraq, Turkey and Israel, with whom it is still at war . Syria is a strategic partner for Russia and became an ally of Tehran in the Middle East . Intervene heavily in Syria will mean taking incalculable geopolitical and military risks (Syria is the 8th country worldwide for military expenditures with a 6% of the national GDP) . Moving to Syria will mean to open a conflict that might easily explode across the Middle East. And the West can not afford more wars (because of war is not peace missions) and even more onerous than those already underway.
- Unfortunately Syrians protesters, differently from Libyan rebels don't have a "representative" government , an "army" or a resemblance of it, and a territory under the control where to inject and transport aid, find weapons and defend themselves.
- Despite the fact that the people participating to the rebellion is systematically disarmed bombed, killed and tortured in prisons, protesters cannot count on the wide international community support also for economic reasons. The country is not rich in natural resources and this explains the fact that the international community is limiting its is intervention just to the adoption of economic sanctions. Western countries, in the middle of a tough global financial crisis, cannot justify to open another front of instability in such a delicate area simply for secondary economic interests.