Across the Bay

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nothing Left But Repression

Bashar Assad has been a dismal failure in co-opting the opposition. The reason is simple: he's the head of a narrow Alawite family regime presiding over a frozen edifice that's incapable of an iota of change. His task was in fact to preserve it, never to change it, as Ammar Abdulhamid rightly observed.

His failure to co-opt the opposition has led to more reliance on repression to keep the opposition from coalescing any further. The latest example took place today. Kurdish groups (Yekiti, Azadi, and the Kurdish Future Current) had called for a rally to mark the anniversary of the 1962 census which has resulted in over 200,000 Kurds being denied citizenship.

Khaddam and Bayanouni's National Salvation Front was first to call for the Syrian Arabs to join their Kurdish compatriots. Salah Badreddine, the Kurdish representative in the NSF, wrote about this event presenting it as a day of national solidarity. The Damascus Declaration groups soon issued the same call (even when Yekiti, Azadi, and Future Current are not signatories to the Damascus Declaration), so did other groups in exile (RPS, etc.), and indeed today they gathered to hold the sit-in.

True to form, Bashar dispatched (English version here) the security thugs to violently and forcefully disperse the protestors, beating and arresting an unknown number of them despite the peaceful nature of the rally. Many were beaten and arrested based on their IDs: if they came from Hasake or Qamishli (Kurdish regions), they were beaten up and/or arrested. Streets were blocked off to prevent them from reaching their meeting point.

The last time there was a similar display of Arab-Kurdish solidarity in Syria, the regime -- surprise! -- did the same thing. Not only did they beat up and arrest the participants, they also made sure to segregate the Arabs from the Kurds. Riad Seif for instance, was arrested on that day for participating. One participant, Najati Tayyara, was "lifted" off the streets of Homs in following days and held incommunicado for two days. Ali Abdallah, who also participated, was also kidnapped, with his son, and held incommunicado for over a month. Only after a massive campaign to find out his fate did the regime disclose his and his son's whereabouts. They quickly invented trumped-up charges about them "insulting" the President and the head of the state security court. Their trial was therefore delayed for months, and they were prevented from presenting their case on ridiculous grounds (not having proper IDs!). Finally, their sentences were handed down: six months in jail. Of course, they were kidnapped in March, so they ended up serving longer than their sentence. They were let go... for now.

Knowing Abdallah's past, he won't give up, and Bashar, having no other tool than repression, will put him back in jail again. Other Arabs who dared sympathize with the Kurds, like Riad Darar or Muhammad Ghanem, were also imprisoned and harrassed. Muhammad Ghanem, who has a history of pro-Kurdish activism (and thus, arrest), was recently released after serving his six months on trumped-up charges -- the same as Abdallah: insulting the President. Not the "old guard" mind you. The spanking new guard Prez! In fact, none of the Damascus Spring detainees were arrested for insulting the "old guard." It was only when the criticized Bashar and his cousin Rami Makhlouf, that they were thrown in jail. Another indication of the failure to co-opt.

Ghanem recently disclosed how he was abused and mistreated. Ghanem has been writing about Kurdish issues for a long time on his website, which, naturally, was shut down by the "internet wunderkind" of Syria. A recent report by a human rights group notes the kind of abuses against the Kurds that is not only sanctioned by the regime, but openly encouraged. That includes land and property confiscation, deforestation, etc. For bringing attention to these practices, Ghanem was charged with "inciting sectarian strife."

Assad is a murderous thug, and is as much a reformer as I am an astronaut. But one thing he does not lack is a sick sense of humor. But I'm sure his flaks can polish that up and present it as an indicator of his "reformist impulses."

Update: More on the story from IRIN News.