3b. Domestic Perspectives on the Syrian Uprising: Critics, Skeptics and Discontents

Chair: Dara Conduit, Monash University

The Uprising-Skeptic Syrian Oppositionists
Ferdinand Arslanian, University of St Andrews

This paper will address the case of three left-wing Syrian opposition activists (Nizar Nayouf, Fateh Jamous and Mhd. Sayyed Rassas) who’ve been in opposition to the Syrian regime throughout their political careers and yet have been highly skeptical towards the current uprising. The paper will examine their various diagnoses of the conflict, political strategies and proposed solutions in addition to their differences with the National Coordination Bureau (the main coalition of left wing and Arab Nationalist opposition parties) in particular and with the main body of the Syrian opposition in general. To begin with, the opposition narrative of the uprising is challenged in terms of its initial level of violence and sectarianism (Nayouf and Jamous) and its level of mass participation (Sayyed Rassas). Furthermore, the political practice of the opposition is fiercely attacked by all as being populist and unpatriotic while Nayouf extensively attacks its propaganda machine. More diverse patterns emerge with regards to the political paths pursued. Jamous will give priority towards exiting the crisis with least possible losses through establishing unconditional dialogue with all political sides. Nayouf will refrain from participating directly in politics and confine himself to the task of ‘investigative journalism’ with his online paper Syria Truth. He will initially call for a ‘Bismarckian’ change from above while becoming disillusioned towards any solution throughout the conflict. Whereas Sayyed Rassas, and despite many differences with the Bureau, is affiliated with them and shares the vision that a political solution stems from an international consensus on Syria.

The Liberation of Syrian Civil Society from within the Non-Violent Movements of the Syrian Uprising
Tamara Al-Om, University of St Andrews

In contrast to the restricted activities of civil society in Syria prior to the uprising the emergence of the non-violent movements have created a space which has provided the opportunity for the growth and expression of the social freedoms fundamental for a practicing “active citizen”. Their activities vary from such things as the dissemination of information through the avenue of the arts and new media to promoting reconciliation and attempting to counter pressure from extremist groups. The diversity and wealth of these movements in many respects show how, despite the current situation on the ground, civil society has been able to act more freely and creatively than was ever possible under the Assads. As such, it is the aim of this paper to draw attention to the development of civil society as a result of the activities undertaken by those in these non-violent movements. Furthermore this paper seeks to highlight the importance of these civil society advocates and movements and the vital role they play in any comprehensive plan for Syria, both during the conflict and also in the future rebuilding of the country for, “civil society [and it’s] institutions are not simply an indicator of the flourishing of liberal democracy, but rather they are also instrumental in realising the transition towards such a system”.

Syrian Uprising and Its Historical Consequences for the Future of Syrian Christians: Case Study of Syrian Christians in Armenia
Daria Vorobyeva, University of St. Andrews

Since the beginning of the Syrian Uprising in 2011, around 40% of Syria’s Christian population left the country as a result of the growing insecurity and increasing sectarianism as the conflict develops. Before the uprising around 80,000 Armenians lived in the country and played a very important role in the development of the Syrian economy. Since 2012 tens of thousands of Armenians have left the country, with more than 10,000 moving to their historical homeland, Armenia. This paper comprises empirical research, using both qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis. It uses Armenia as a case study and aims to examine changes in self-identity of Syrian Christians who have left their country because of the uprising. The study analyses the role of the Armenian government and its institutions, the church as well as local and international NGOs in the process of identity change. The paper also discusses the main problems faced by the Syrian Christians in Armenia and how these difficulties influence their perception of self and of their place in Armenia. Finally, the work discusses how these identity changes influence future plans of Syrian Armenians, reinforcing conclusions with statistical findings of the surveys conducted with Syrian Armenians in Armenia.

Did history repeat itself in Syria? Comparing the roots of discontent in the 1980-82 and 2011 uprisings
Dara Conduit, Monash University

The Arab Spring arrived in Syria in March 2011, with the scale of the protest movement catching most observers off-guard. With hindsight, Syria’s economic restructure in the 2000s has now been widely accepted as having created the settings for the conflict, because it marginalised the country’s rural poor and eroded the government’s political base. However, 2011 was not the first time that the Syrian government had faced popular unrest, with uprisings also threatening the regime in 1964, 1973 and 1980-82. To date, authors have largely resisted comparing the current uprising to previous unrest. This paper will draw parallels between the city of Hama in the lead-up to the 1980-1982 unrest and the city of Homs in the period preceding 2011. Hama formed the ‘heart’ of the 1980-1982 uprising, while Homs was an early centre of the recent unrest. This paper argues that while there are many differences between the two uprisings – including the specific socioeconomic group that was involved – the root causes of grievance were remarkably similar. Both uprisings took place following a major economic restructure that redefined Syria’s social contract and marginalised an entire socioeconomic class who had previously had a stake in the Syrian state. In both cases, Syria’s new marginalised class formed the backbone of the political unrest. This suggests that the pattern that unfolded in Syria in 2011 was similar to other Arab Spring states, and in fact had an important precedent in the 1980-1982 unrest.

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