Hanin Ghaddar

The Syrians are not different

The footage of Neda Agha-Soltan’s death by security forces in the 2009 Iranian uprising drew huge international attention, not to mention outrage. She became the symbol of the Iranians struggling for freedom and revolting against the disputed election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. At the time, it prompted the international media to publish numerous stories, accounts and articles about her courage and the brutality of the Iranian regime.

Today, many Nedas are being killed the same way in Syria. Their deaths are also being broadcast by amateurs on the internet, but the international media is covering the uprising indecisively. Western governments are not being as clear with the Syrian president as they were with the Egyptian and the Libyan leaders, for example.

Although Syrians are calling for the same freedoms and reforms, why is the West looking at the Syrian uprising from a different angle?

Western media is still dealing with the Syrian uprising from a political perspective by trying to answer questions about a possible alternative to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the role of the Muslim Brotherhood or other radical Islamic factions that are taking part in the protests, and whether the US or Europe could pressure the regime to implement the reforms it promised to make.

However, unlike the coverage of the Iranian protests and other Arab uprisings, Western media is still incapable of looking at the Syrian uprising as a humanitarian and democratic issue. The Syrian people’s demands are still not seen as genuine, and the conspiracy theories presented by the regime were not brushed off completely. Writers and journalists are debating the protesters’ demands as if Assad might have a point.

Also, the killing of protesters is not regarded as a massacre. In an interview on CBS News last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the US will not intervene in Syria as it did in Libya as long as Assad is not bombing the people with airplanes. So that means that Assad can murder as many people as he likes as long as it’s not from the air.

When asked about recent brutalities committed by the Syrian regime against civilians, Clinton suggested that "there's a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities, than police actions which frankly have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see."

Though on Wednesday Clinton strongly condemned "ongoing violence" by the Syrian government against demonstrators, saying Damascus needed to launch a "serious political process" to end the deadly unrest, President Barak Obama has been silent so far.

Hence, Assad has been using all atrocious methods possible to stop the people from demonstrating. Even lifting the decades-long emergency law didn’t work because it did not come with a package of reforms that the protesters have been demanding from the beginning. This was a cosmetic procedure that did not fool the demonstrators.

The regime justifies its brutality by saying that the demonstrators are part of a conspiracy against the state carried out by its enemies in Lebanon and elsewhere. They also said that the protesters are Salafists who are trying to topple the regime.

If that is accurate, why are they arresting liberal intellectuals and political activists, such as Suhair Atassi and Fayez Sarah? These two have nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalist groups. And if it were a conspiracy and “unknown individuals” were killing protesters, why is the regime only arresting, torturing and killing the demonstrators, including many children.

The regime does not want any news reporter or agency to work in the field because they might actually find out the truth: that these people have valid demands and that they are from all sects and classes.

But the truth is leaking out via Youtube videos that show the peaceful demonstrators being shot or arrested by violent security forces dressed in civilian clothes and known in Syria as shabbiha, or “thugs.”

Youtube, as in the Iranian case, is the only platform that is being used to show the cruelty of the regime against the protesters. The facts presented by these amateur videos hold more truth than all analysis and theories that have been written about the uprising so far. The truth is that the protests are peaceful and that the regime is brutal.

The protesters’ two main slogans so far are “Peaceful, peaceful” and “All united for Syria,” which are plastered all over the Facebook groups calling for demonstrations and which show that the conspiracy theory created by the regime is not valid.

These protesters are not radical Muslims. They start their demonstrations at mosques because mosques are the only meeting points for people in Syria, as the regime has managed over the past 50 years to separate Syrian society from all outlets of activism and free expression.

Plus, the Muslim Brotherhood, which everyone is afraid of, has only a weak connection to Syrian society. The regime managed to imprison, banish or kill most of their leaders.

The true nature of the protests can be sensed with a quick look at the videos showing hundreds of women – veiled and unveiled – protesting alongside men, or the images of thousands of women and children blocking the main highway earlier this month in Banias, demanding the release of hundreds who were arrested during protests in that region. The latter demonstrators were ordinary, rural women who were only moved by the spirit of the revolution, nothing else. Sure, many of them were wearing veils, but only the traditional village head covering that many Muslims and Christians in the Middle East wear – not the niqab or the burqa.

Now the question the West is asking, following Israel’s concerns, is who might govern Syria after Assad leaves while guaranteeing the stability of the Golan Heights?

To tell the truth, there are no guarantees, but there are many options. Why would Assad, an eye doctor, be more qualified for the presidency than former deputy and political prisoner Riad Seif, or leading human rights activist Muntaha Sultan al-Atrash, or established economist Aref Dalilah or sociologist Burhan Ghalyoun, to name a few?

What is happening in Syria is very similar to what happened in Iran, Tunisia and Egypt. The only difference is that the world saw the protests in those countries as a plea for freedom and as a humanitarian matter, while Syria remains until today a political issue. The West cannot pick and choose.

Hanin Ghaddar is managing editor of NOW Lebanon


    Today we are all Daraa and Bania residents and we salute their courage!

    April 26, 2011

  • Hassan

    Michelle, many of us all aware of political games, and meeting behind doors. It is done secretly and considered classified until it is leaked out. From Watergate, to many conspiracy theories, to even that Al-Qaeda was planned and created to accomplish goals. Also, of course every country will and should do what’s in their best interest; Lebanon, however, is unable to do that for many reasons: leaders from north, to south, to changing minds, to mentally not stable and the illegitimate arms. If Clinton has interest in Syria because it is a key factor for controlling the border for the safety of Israel, or even if it is personal and it for the safety of Clinton’s in-laws, just say so, or say something that humans can believe. But don’t make up superficial excuses. Anyways; I still remember 2 months ago the headline: “US turns to Syria as a partner in solving Middle East problems”, and “Syria would restrain Hezbollah from attacks on Israel”. We got it, the Syrians are different.

    April 26, 2011

  • Michelle Montreal

    Where should I start? I am always surprised by how naive some commentators are, please be aware that all we hear about in the media is still a part of politics and no one media will show the whole perspective of things. Whetehr it is the US, Iran, Syria, KSA or Zimbabwe we need to acknowladge the fact that each and every country will do what's in their best interest.....taking into consideration at times some of its close allies. KSA will never let Bahrain fall and want to keep the Sunni power in the tiny Kingdom, The US will push for a deal with the Assad regime that will involve both Iran and Israel, so as you see the picture is always a little bit more complicated. I just feel bad for Lebanon since history tells us that the ground for such international fights will always be on our land. Our loyalties to numerous counties like Iran, Syria, KSA, Jordan, US, Europe....just way too many to list. Do not put all your eggs in one basket and don't bet on one scenario only. Decent article!!

    April 25, 2011

  • Hassan

    I am glad Hanin is still writing about this subject. I prefer to comments on the Western lies now. After I felt the reaction from the western countries regarding, Syria, I am convinced that this is planned for selected countries; and this fake concern towards humanity is finally revealed with words and actions. I am really disgusted to write anymore. One day I am with Clinton, and the second day I wish she stops uttering nonsense and lies. Her logic on how you die, by air, sea, or land makes outrageous and comical sense. And now she gave Al-Quaeda a better option to commit a terrorist attach humanely and with different techniques. Aoun seems in Great health compared to her common sense. And Hanin, of course an eye doctor is better. He has better vision to look over Golan clearly whether near or far sighted. No only that, eye doctors teat ears too. They have good ears to listen to their alleged enemies, the west, some Lebanese and others.

    April 25, 2011


    The protests taking place in Syria and the reaction of the government has as the author clearly mentioned received minimal criticism from the West. How much can the West handle at one given time? With focus right now on eliminating the Qaddafi regime to extract Libyan resources, which will allow American companies to establish presence in this rich North African country, contributing positively once again to the American economy and placing us all on the path to financial recovery regardless of our location, therefore, we must stay in sight of the distance visible to ones eyes, its not time to go beyond, but our dreams continue. How can the West at this very moment facilitate actions in the Gulf region? This will only increase the price of an oil barrel which is equivalent to inflation leading to the creation of poorer societies the world over. The price stands at USD 120 now. Recall the good days we all experienced 2003-2008, this would now have a counter effect.

    April 24, 2011

  • Miumiu

    Don't be surprised to see some violent incidents in Lebanon & other places such as Bahrain,Kuwait,Iraq or even Saudi Arabia , instigated by the Syrian Regime & it's hangers-on to divert attention from what's going on in Syria & to cover their brutality in controlling it..Where is the so allegedly claim to be the 'protector' of the weak & minorities , the Holly & Devine' Hizbollah from protecting in this case the 'majority & peaceful' of the Syrian people ..the mask has now totally came off..or they are true to their claim of protecting the minority(the regime) and some say they are ALREADY on the ground in Syria doing so,together with Iranian & others from Lebanon's Bath Party, Arab Nationalist Party,Palestinian faction such Hamas/PFLP-GC..etc, your worst enemy don't do such killing of innocents in such a way & numbers in a short period time...Finally, the illegal constructions is possibly one way of starting violence in Lebanon,just before the Summer Season start ,perfect timing !!

    April 23, 2011


    Clearly Americans are trying to make a deal with Assad by helping him stay in power in exchange of distancing himself from Iran. This is a stupid policy and a stab in the back of freedom seekers in Syria. Yes Islamists may be taking the lead in courageously demonstrating against Assad criminal regime, but Islamists like in other Arab country represent 10% to 20% of population at most and will never take power like in Gaza. They deserve their rightful representation in parliament and cabinet but clearly the successor to Assad will be some of Syria's brightest and best educated that will not compromise on freedom or democracy. The days of despot tyrants like Assads, Khadafis, Ayatollahs, Hizbollahstan, and Useful Idiots are gone. They are only staying in power by brute force but their days are numbered. Lebanese missed an opportunity by not showing solidarity with Green Revolution. Would we now create a human chain from Tripoli to Tyr in solidarity with freedom and liberty in Syria?

    April 23, 2011

  • Emile

    Assad regime and family overdue now. the days are gone when they could shell Ashrafieh for 100 days, and kill thousand of people over night. Since assad family took power, De Gaulle, Pampimdou , D'estaing, Mitterrand, Chirac, Nixon, all the way to bushes , Bregenev all the way to Putin are gone.. and Assad family still camping in Damascuss.. I started to believe this family is divine...world is moving forward and syria is standing still.. change is good and beneficial to move ahead.

    April 23, 2011

  • Mehdi

    you guys are right how didn't i see this, the west doesn't care about what's going on in bahrain, oman, ksa and the rest of the gulf states so that gives bashar the right to murder his people.

    April 22, 2011

  • Beiruti

    It should be clear that Assad is getting a pass from Washington due to the intervention of Israel on behalf of Assad. This is what makes the Syrian case different. It has always been the case that successive Israeli governments have always favored the Assad Regimes since 1969 when Hafez al Assad first came to power. Israel has a long standing strategic policy of supporting ethnic and religious minorities in the region. Israel has been allied with Turkey and Iran in the past, as well as with Ethiopia under the "periferal doctrine" believing that the Sunni Arabs were the main strategic threat to the survival of their state. They supported the Maronites in Lebanon and quite clearly the Alawites in Syria. Now with instability on the southern border, there is even a greater imperitive to keep the Assad in power in Syria where the Assad Regime has kept, by observance of the 1974 Kuneitra Disengagement Accords, the most peaceful of Israel's borders.

    April 22, 2011

  • ffauzia

    Everybody knows that all the people want dignity,freedom, equality and justice!People are tired of these regimes and their ideologies!People are tired of these security states!People do not want to live under constant fear!!There is no more place for the one party rule!!These regimes have to understand this!The West has to understand this too!It must not only look for its interests ,but the interests of the people!If this were true ,a lot of would change!!!

    April 22, 2011

  • anthropophysicist

    If we take the guys mindlessly repeating the almanar mantra of how about Bahrain every time the murderous Syrian regime is mentioned and we rub their head together will there be sparks. I suspect that's how fire was discovered.

    April 22, 2011

  • Killuminati

    Lebanon is probably the only country in the world with members in its parliament wanting it to become part of another country. It is also probably the only country that has an ex-army commander turned deserter who ran away as his troops were being summary executed by an invading army declare, from the invading army's capital that regular armies don't execute captives. But this definitely and without a doubt the only country that has something calling itself a liberating resistance that organized a special day to thank an occupying army for it's occupation and lament the fact that it was withdrawing. This is also the only place in the world with a Muslim party calming to fight for the freedom of Arabs and Muslims all over the world except the ones in Iran and Syria who obviously have no buisness being free.

    April 22, 2011

  • gawwar

    Actually Clinton called Assad a reformist, that was a surprise to everyone in Syria including Assad himself.

    April 22, 2011

  • abc

    Some try to justify the Syrian brutal action by comparing the regime to others..for starter,Syrian dictatorship is a 1 Party State,non-elected, 50 years of Emergency Law...etc, where Bahrain,Saudi Arabia,Oman are Monarchies & Yemen Democratically Elected ..They may be not that good to govern to some, but can't be compared at all. Bahrain uprising demands were diverted from its original track that were & still required & will be implemented,but when 'other' demands to over-throw the Royal Family & turn it into an Iranian controlled then action had to be taken, if you only hear/'read/watch certain Media channels then you better widen your horizon seeking facts.

    April 22, 2011

  • Slow

    The fall of the Syrian Dictatorship will trigger the fall of some (Ahmedinajat Policies)), the demise of others(PFLP-GC & similar) & at worst, the containment of others (Hizbollah,Hamas)..so the 'victims' so to speak of the fall of the Syrian Regime will do whatever to keep the Regime in power for their own survival & I wouldn't be surprised if they are already on the ground doing so violently..The US & West would rather keep the regime for its known Policy towards Israel (Talk but no action' and also the lack of a strong & know alternative, I hope this despot murderous dictatorship goes goes with its leaders put on trial,soon isn't soon enough

    April 22, 2011

  • mlk

    These demonstrations have shattered the "resistance" myth of the Assad regime, for it's nothing but an Israeli stooge. What's bemusing is the fake stability that this regime is providing the narrow minded Israelis. Lets forget about Syria's endless arms to Hezbolla, its constant interference and undermining of any stability in Lebanon or among the Palestinian factions, not to mention Syria's failed attempt to infiltrate and influence events in Iraq - they just had to settle for allowing al-Qaeda to inflict more damage on the Americans there. Yeah, this regime is worth saving for the gullible US senators who come on their 'fact finding' missions end up doing nothing but what Israel demands of them.

    April 22, 2011

  • strider

    alex, yes this article and every lebanese can pick and choose. the syrian tyrrany does not only involve syria but it involves us... 30 yrs we have been ruled by this tyrrant and now we are being ruled by his proxy hassan... so we have every right to pick and choose.

    April 22, 2011

  • harris

    Syrian people are no different from other people, they demand freedom, transparency, free election, and have a say in their political life.Syrian people wants to end Assad family grip on power.They want to choose their representatives and their president freely with no intimidation. We the free people support our brothers and sisters in Syria to gain their freedom.As for USA and Israel it is obvious that these two countries would be worried about any change in syria because this regime protected the border with Israel for the last forty years. We are confident that syrian people will eventually get their country back from this tyrant but this might take more time and more sacrifice. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK1

    April 22, 2011

  • alex

    Everyone sees what they...including this article...what about Bahrain,saudi a Arabia,Yemen,Oman,morocco.....this article is no different to the wests perceptions....this article cannot pick and choose what it wants either....to state who would be better qualified that Assad being an eye doctor is ridiculous....watt makes hariri qualified to be pm.....?? Wat makes qadafi,king of saudi a Arabia,Jordan, or Ali saleh of Yemen, or khalifa of Bahrain and on and on....questions need to be asked of all not just what certain people want

    April 22, 2011

  • What planet this guy on?!

    If Clinton had said anything else, such as, for example, "America will intervene" to protect civilians well then that would have been like the biggest possible gift to the Baathist Party in Syria! Clearly the U.S. will not tolerate democratic reform in the Gulf, such as Bahrein. The diversion intervention in Libya - which is a small country by population and not important - takes attention off the regimes in Bahrein, UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia while they do their Big Purges. But of course the US and all governments (except Iran) will welcome the collapse of tyranny in Syria - the best contribution the US can make is the words Mrs Clinton has given - she is giving no "free gifts" to the tyranny

    April 22, 2011

  • halim

    Mrs Ghaddar YOU cannot pick and choose. The West can.

    April 22, 2011

  • cs

    I am supporting the Syrian people in this struggle and have been with my comments, however, I am disappointed they are asking for support from the "West", namely the USA. When I visited Syria and from the comments I heard from Syrians they despise America, always ridiculing the American people. Now, they want their support.You want to overthrow your brutal regime? Do it yourselves, you loudmouths......Everyone hates America, until they are struck by a natural disaster and need assistance, or when they finally wake up and realize they are living in the DARK AGES, under a brutal dictator who has not worry about shooting them between the eyes.

    April 22, 2011