Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) said: “The heartland of the Abode of Islam is Ash-Shaam” [Haythami]. Bilaad-ush-Shaam or the Levant today includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Cyprus, Turkey and Iraq. Damascus, Syria’s capital is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It came under Muslim rule in 636 CE. Damascus was the glory of Umayyad Dynasty, which extended from Spain to India from A.D. 661 to 750 CE, when the Abbasid caliphate was established at Baghdad, Iraq. Syria was occupied by France in the early 1900s. But with continuing pressure from Syrian nationalist groups forced the French to evacuate their troops in April 1946, leaving the country in the hands of a republican government that had been formed during the mandate. Syria has been under authoritarian military-dominated Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party regimes since March 1963. On November 13, 1970, Minister of Defense Hafiz al-Asad successfully staged a bloodless military coup, assuming the role of prime minister.
During the late 1970s Sunni Muslims rejected many of the basic values of the secular Ba’ath program and objected to rule by the minority Alawis who valued the actively secular character of the Ba’ath state. The Syrian constitution of 1973 required (and still requires) that the president be Muslim but does not make Islam the state religion (secularism). Although the judicial system in Syria is an amalgam of Ottoman, French, and Islamic laws, the Ba’ath Party policies included secularism and socialism. Most of the key military and security positions are held by the minority Alawis (President Asad’s own minority sect), while Sunnis have held many positions in the Ba’ath Party Regional Command. From 1982 until March 2011, public manifestations of anti-regime activity or uprisings were very limited. However in February 1982 the Muslim Brotherhood revolted against Hafez al-Assad. He ordered the Syrian army to bombard the town of Hama in order to quell the revolt This is known as the Hama massacre, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people were killed, including about 1,000 soldiers an thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hama massacre is only one of many incidents. Syria has seen internal violent conflict as of 2011 and it still goes on today. 15 March 2012 marked the one year anniversary of an uprising that is still raging in Syria.
Syria’s population is 90% Muslim-74% Sunni, and 16% other Muslim groups, including the Alawi, Shi’a, and Druze, and 10% Christian. There also is a tiny Syrian Jewish community. Officially, Syria is a republic. In reality, however, it is an authoritarian regime under the guise of a democratic system. Although citizens vote for the president and members of parliament, they have little choice and electoral results are often adjusted. Syrians have not had the right to change the role of the Ba’ath Party. (US State Gov) The Assad’s are somewhat sanctified in Syria by force if I may add. Huge portraits of Hafez, his mother and now his son can be seen hanging from buildings. Teachers would begin each lesson with the song “Our eternal leader, Hafez al-Assad”. In some cases, he portrayed himself with apparently divine properties. (Syria Beyond the Peace Process, By Daniel Pipes). Now tell me that is a democracy!
After the death of Hafiz al-Assad on June 10, 2000, after 30 years in power the Ba’ath parliament ammended the constitution to reduce the mandatory minimum age of the president from 40 to 34 years old. This allowed his son, Bashar al-Assad, legally to be eligible for nomination by the ruling Ba’ath Party. On July 10, 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected President by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote, according to Syrian Government statistics. He was inaugurated into office on July 17, 2000 for a 7-year term. Here in South Africa, term for presidency is 4 years. It is hard for me to imagine not being able to vote for change in almost double that amount of years! Initially many Syrians hoped that Bashar al-Assad would be a fresh start to a truly democratic republic but hopes were dashed when Bashar quickly showed that he was afterall his father’s son.
The protest movement in Syria was at first modest, and took a while to gain momentum. The events began on 26 January 2011, when Hasan Ali Akleh from Al-Hasakah poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire, in the same way Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi had in Tunis on 17 December 2010. According to eyewitnesses, the action was “a protest against the Syrian government”. (Middle East Transparent) Two days later, on 28 January 2011, an evening demonstration was held in Ar-Raqqah to protest the killing of two soldiers of Kurdish descent. (free-syria.com)
15 March 2011, the protest movement began to escalate, as simultaneous demonstrations took place in major cities across Syria.
19 March 2011- In Damascus, protests erupted after noon prayers at the Umayyad Mosque in the old city. Protesters were calling for the release of political prisoners and increased freedom. Several protesters were beaten and arrested.
Over 100,000 people reportedly marched in Daraa on 25 March, but at least 20 protesters were reportedly killed. (Haaretz)
The Shabiha “death squads,” as activists in Syria call them, have been blamed for killing and torturing thousands of protesters. They grew out of a criminal organization in the 1990s and has always been privileged and closely tied to the Assad family. Bassel al-Assad (Bashar’s brother) is reported to have created the secretive militia for the government in times of when it was in crisis. (http://www.saudigazette.com.sa) But anti-Assad Syrians allege that the president is now directing the unofficial mercenaries, who can commit atrocities while providing Assad with a measure of deniability about his role. Witnesses say that some of the ruthless mercenaries are Farsi-speaking. Hamza, a 25-year-old Sunni doctor from the coastal town of Banyas, told British journalist Olivia Holmes (reporting for The New Republic/tnr) that the Shabiha swept through neighbourhoods of known demonstrators, arresting and torturing the men while stealing valuables. “The Shabiha were shouting sectarian offensive words to provoke us and some were ripping the veil off women,” he said. “I’m afraid of the sectarian problems that this will cause in Banyas.” Lauren Wolfe, director of the advocacy group’s Women Under Siege project said regarding the rape of women “The stories are more atrocious than I could have imagined. We have evidence that there’s possible sexual enslavement going on, mutilation – really horrific atrocities. Generally women are shunned when they are raped in war. They sometimes are not allowed to go home, and whole families can be dishonored,” she said. “But what’s really interesting is that we have a report that an imam, Sheikh Adnan al-Aroor, called for Syrian women who were raped to be honored, for people to embrace them. He said they’re raped and so they are heroes.” The rape of men has also been reported.
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood accused Hezbollah and Iran of providing equipment and training to the Assad government in order to suppress protesters. Comptroller Riad al-Shafqa stated that “Hezbollah and Iran are providing the Assad regime with equipment and training to suppress the Syrian people, and we have information that confirms that in the Operation Room in Syria there are experts from the Iranian Republican Guard leading operations against the Syrian people.” Iran denied any involvement in suppressing the protests. (Tehran Times). Russia has shipped arms during the uprising to Assads government for use against rebels. Israel has been unconvincingly accused of support for Assad. (Elhanan Miller- 26 April 2012). “Israel is backing Assad, claims Syrian Muslim Brotherhood official in scathing interview”. (The Times of Israel).
Syria is indeed bleeding and this is very serious in the Muslim world. We are supposed to be united but when those in power abuse their position and usurp the rights and trust of the people, believe that we are close to Qiyaamah as the Rasoolullah (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) said “If my Ummah bears 15 traits, tribulations will follow it. (al-Qiyaamah) Someone asked “What are they O Messenger of Allah?” He said “When any gain is shared out only among the rich, with no benefit to the poor; When a trust becomes a means of making profit; When paying zakaah becomes a burden; When voices are raised in the mosque; When the leader of a people is the worst of them; When people treat a man with respect because they that he may do; When much wine is drunk; red wind or the earth swallow them, or to be transformed into animals.”
Imran ibn husayn said: ‘Rasoolullah (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) said, ‘Some people of this ummah will be swallowed by the earth, transformed into animals, and some will be bombarded with stones.’
One of the muslims asked, when will that be O Messenger of Allah?’ he said, ‘When singers and musical instruments will become popular, and much wine is drunk.”