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Discontent in the Middle East

Just over six months ago the expression “Syria, the kingdom of silence”, appeared in the press in reference to the silence of the country regarding uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Everyone believed in the strong popularity of the young president, the ethnic and confessional heterogeneity, the absence of a multiparty system and the consequent Syrian citizen’s loss of interest in politics. These are symptoms of apparent calm and an ultraconservative policy; these were deterrents for the outbreak of any uprising.

The situation in the present day is completely different. An authoritarian regime, as well as corruption and economic difficulties, are characteristics that also this country – seemingly silent – share with its more troubled North African cousins.

From February 2011, emulating Tunisian and Egyptian revolts, the Syrian social networks started to make pleas for the mobilization against the president Bašār al-Asad. The plea to the uprising was based on a genuine discontent towards the ten year government of the Baʻṯ party who, especially in the last few years adopted economic reforms and were always more oriented towards free trade (much to the discontent of the masses). The uprisings broke out in the city of Daraa in the south of Syria and then extended to Lattakia, the president’s city, and then on to Homs and Damascus.

From the 18th of March Syria became a theatre of demonstrations and conflicts, to which the government replied with a hard military operation and with bloody repression. The result, according to several sources interpreted by Arabic translation services, was the death of thousands of people and hundreds of arrests. The arrival of spring, the 21st of March, brought with it the real answer to those social network invitations: Syrian people continued to protest in the streets of three cities of the south. Also, in nearby Daraa, people continued demonstrating against repression, corruption and against the state of emergency.

Anti government processions continue to this day in this country. As mentioned, citizens protested against the Bašār government and there was a sincere demand for change and for political and economic reforms. Privatization policies, which started in the 1970s, opened the doors for the unready economy of the country to western capitals, building the basis for the social gap that exists between people. This gap is amplified because of recent economic policies. Moreover the Baʻṯ party management of the economy built a privileged system for some groups of interest, among which existed the party’s leaders, trade unionists, local businessmen and public sector managers. These processes were the cause of a corrupt system which was tolerated from institutions and which today represents a remarkable source of popular discontent…