An ongoing civil war, grave human rights abuses, political unrest, and civilian uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad, all describe life in Syria.
Political clashes between two groups – Alawite Shias and Arab Sunnis – have further escalated conflict. Former President Hafez al-Assad was a prominent leader of the Alawites – a variation of Shia Muslims, who are deemed “heretical” by many Arab Sunnis. Today, Alawite Muslims control Syrian government.
One of the earliest government measures to halt political opposition came from former President Hafez al-Assad against the Muslim Brotherhood – a Sunni Islamic group. The Muslim Brotherhood protested Alawi and Ba’ath Party (characterized by secular, anti-Western) rule in 1982. The government stalled the uprising in the Hama Massacre resulting in the deaths of about 10,000 to 40,000 Syrian Sunni civilians. An archived New York Times clipping reveals a statement on the massacre by Syrian authorities.
The 2011-2012 Syrian Uprising continues the Sunni message to end Ba’ath Party rule, and begs for current President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation. In a January 2011 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Assad spoke of political reform, noting, “… it is about doing something that is changing; to change the society, and we have to keep up with this change, as a state and as institutions. You have to upgrade yourself with the upgrading of the society.”
CASUALTIES & UN ROLE
The United Nations estimates that over 9,000 civilians were killed in protests against Assad since the uprising began. In March 2012, the UN announced a six-point peace plan for Syria, hoping to end conflict. However, violence continues and as of last Sunday, the UN ‘observer mission’ has ended in Syria.
SYRIAN PRISON SURVIVOR
One Syrian has survived an arrest and [likely] politically motivated imprisonment in the notorious Syrian Tadmor prison. To this day, Dr. Bara Sarraj is unsure of his arrest in 1984, when he was a college student in capital city Damascus.
I recently spoke to Dr. Sarraj about his childhood, his experience at Tadmor, his hopes for Syria, and the role of the UN in Syria.
How can Syria move past differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims? How have citizen uprisings provided hope for the politically oppressed? Does social media play a major role in spreading important messages?
To follow Dr. Sarraj’s updates on Twitter, go here.