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2 min cheat sheet: Protests in Syria

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Syria is locked in a violent struggle with its people over who should rule, and how, with no end in sight.

Protests and revolution against the al-Assad regime (led by Bashar al-Assad) which has been in power through two leaders (a father and his son) for more than 40 years are have gained the attention of the world.

It’s a revolution set to ‘simmer’ that has been gaining traction, and seeing even more lives lost, over weeks.

Here’s what you should know.

When did the protests start?

Like the uprisings in Egypt and Libya (among numerous other Middle Eastern and North African nations), Syrian protests began early in the year and quickly gained momentum. It’s strange how these things take hold. In Syria, it took hold with a group of kids about 10-years-old who tagged anti-Government messages in spray paint on a wall. Their treatment at the hands of the regime struck a chord with the people.

What happened next?

The Government took the children away without telling their parents. They were aged 10-14, remember. The townspeople from the boys’ home began a protest, as you could well imagine. It’s not an easy thing to do, protesting in a country that blurs the lines between rights without necessarily being seen as a ‘dictatorship’. And the regime responded with force, killing 6 people at first. More followed. The protests escalated. 20,000 turned out for the funerals of the dead. Thousands more turned out for a national ‘Day of Rage’.

Protestors hold images of 

But surely there must be more to it than that?

You’re right, there is. Syria (like any nation!) is a country formed on the back of complexity. It’s a relatively stable state wedged between Lebanon and Iraq, no easy feat with such unsettled neighbours. But Syria, like many countries subject to protests and revolutions, has a long and pockmarked track record of human rights violations. The country itself has been under ’emergency rule’ since 1963. This was only lifted more than a month into the protests as an attempt to quell protests. The emergency rule is basically a stripped down version of governing without recourse to usual rights and privileges for citizens because the country is technically at war with Israel.

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The Government claims there are armed, extremist Islamists driving the uprising. Syria, for all its tightly controlled security and citizen freedoms, is a moderate Muslim country. Bashar al-Assad himself has many connections to the West and enjoys, moreso than most other leaders in the region, substantial support from his people.

But it’s not enough, and as protests intensify, the regime unravels slowly.

How many people have died?

Since violence has escalated and protests have snowballed, the al-Assad regime has arrested more than 10,000 activists and killed at least 1,100. There have been deaths on the Government side too, as protestors and security forces continue to go head-to-head.

Hamzah was tortured and killed by the regime. He was 13.

Nowhere are these hard-to-grasp figures and statistics made more stark than in the case of Hamza al-Khatib, a 13-year-old Syrian boy. Hamza enjoyed football and raised pigeons, but was brutally tortured and murdered by armed security before his scar-riddled body was returned to his family after his capture. He became the face of a nation, in death. A Facebook group attracting thousands was raised called ‘We are all Hamza al-Khatib’.

The apparent arrest of lesbian blogger Amina Arah has now been proven to be a hoax.

What have the protests achieved?

Nothing quite as concrete as protestors would have hoped, but President Bashar al-Assad has made a few concessions over a period of months as the situation worsens. One concession was ending emergency rule, though this appears to have had no effect on violence as some of the worst atrocities have taken place after mid-April.

The children arrested for the pro-democracy graffiti were released alongside about 200 other political prisoners, teachers have been allowed to wear the niqab again and a litany of ‘economic and democratic’ reforms have been announced, though it remains unclear what – if anything – these will achieve.

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