Land of Confusion
by Zakira Souriya
As the Syrian Revolution of March 15th nears its two month anniversary, every day brings the more of the same: more dead, injured and vanished; more broken promises of reform; and more silence from Damascus and Aleppo. Instead of uniting the Syrian people against a ruthless regime, the blood-drenched revolution has split the country into factions. These factions are not along the supposed sectarian, “demographic” lines drawn by the Western media or even the Syrian President himself: Sunni, Alawite, Kurdish, Christian, Armenian, Druze, etc. Rather, the groups are far more divisive and treacherous, split along class and geographic boundaries that were once a celebration of diversity but are now like scars ripping open at the seams:
The Fearful: They are mainly the middle class, urban majority of Syrians who are willing to swallow the bitter pill of dictatorship in favor of stability. These people survived the brutality of the father’s regime and they consider the son’s minor economic (and self-serving) reforms during the past 11 years as good enough, and even generous. The older generation, knows there is a bloody price for freedom (that they are not willing to pay) and the younger generation, while not as scared or scarred as their parents, are content with the cell phones (tapped), internet (by proxy), and private schools and universities (overpriced and unaccredited).
The Usurpers: The affluent, privileged society of Aleppo and Damascus, from all sects and political backgrounds, whose economic interests depend on the regime. They are merchants, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs who bring in the businesses that Assad and crew divide up, Soprano-stye, among the “family.” They relentlessly declare their undying loyalty to Assad, but in reality, their only fear is that they will be replaced by another set of hypocrites, when and if, the regime collapses. They are a minority in numbers but unfortunately their influence in society is widespread and respected. They have the power to lead, if only they would break their criminal silence.
The Protesters: The people of the YouTube videos, marching, chanting, and dying. This impoverished, disenfranchised group, living outside the cities, have realized they have no future to lose. They have not gained much from the “prosperity” of the last decade as upward mobility is impossible in Syria. They can’t afford the fancy cell phones, the investments in the new private banks, or the glamorous private education for their children. They dream of jobs, meat, and bread. So, they are willing to die for freedom and change. These brave people are tired of living on the fringe of society, watching the privileged few suck the country dry.
The Outsiders: These Syrians in the West, the so-called “brain drain” population, are first and second generations of highly-educated, accomplished immigrants in the United States and Europe. Syrians have always looked up to and been envious of these influential figures who were able to get out of the country and make a new life for themselves and their children. But now as the expats living in freedom look east and openly criticize the regime, the Syrians in Syria have become humiliated and defensive. Instead of being influential assets and media ambassadors for their homeland, the expats are now despised traitors, dismissed with the simple response: “You don’t live here anymore.”
The “Friends”: A mix of all the above, made up of real and virtual kinds, these are the people watching, dividing everyone else into “muwali (loyalists) and muarid (opposition)” camps. They watch, record, and threaten, using all the fear tactics they learned under the regime to blame the media, spread conspiracy theories, and fortify the government’s lies.
We blame colonialism for instilling “the divide and conquer” mentality in the Middle East, but Assad & Sons created a special technique of separating the people across sects, geography, and classes, so when the time came to play them against each other, the people would shred under the torque tension. It worked in Iraq, it is at play in Libya, and we will see it again in Syria. They invent “others” to fear, like the new and improved Muslim Brotherhood: the salafiya; and new and improved secret police: shabbiha; and the strange non-existent threat of imarat, mini-kingdoms planned in Daraa, Banyas, and Homs. This gruesome, distorted narrative has made us forget who we were less than two months ago: a people proud of its diversity and tolerance.
Once upon a time, we had a clear enemy, one we whispered about behind closed doors; now the same enemy has gave us new enemies we can speak about openly: each other. This is how the regime brought out the worst in us and how we have become a people drowning in imagined suspicions and confused motives. It will be Assad’s greatest victory, when he is seen as the true, eternal father, consoling his bickering sons… punishing one, banishing the second, torturing the third, as they beg for mercy and forgiveness while they accuse each other of treason.
While we argue politely about ideology, while we fight over who has the right to say what, while we make our personal bets on Syria’s future, we continue to ignore the blood running right under our feet. It is red and it is real.