Syrians are approaching the first anniversary of one of the most unexpected implosions of people power and psychological liberations the region has seen. But they have yet to experience the exhilaration of watching a dictator flee the country or be forced to resign.
One year ago, as Syrians saw the fast pace of the Tunisian and the Egyptian popular uprisings, most knew that if they ever were to face the same situation, they would pay a much heavier price and that the regime would not hesitate to mow them down in order to keep the Assad dynasty in place. Having already lived through one of the most vicious massacres in modern history, the Syrian populace knew that the ruling clique would just as easily do another Hama, possibly more, to keep its grasp on the country.
It is unclear how the transition will be achieved, but the majority of Syrians are sure of one thing: we have reached the end of an era.
Save for a few die-hard civil society activists and intellectuals who kept banging on the drums of freedom, continuously paying with their own freedom for this lèse-majesté, most Syrians became realists by necessity. By seemingly letting bygones become bygones, and by humoring the regime with odes to its empty rhetoric about the Assad du jour’s eternal leadership, they thought they were buying themselves a slow but sure upgrade to a less stifling life, at the discretion of a corrupt and power-mad clique.
This was, in many ways, a reverse Faustian bargain, with the regime getting the power and the people getting the scraps – socially, economically and politically. As incredible as it may sound in this revolutionary era, Syrians felt they had no choice but to coax the regime into complacence in order so that they could breathe.
This de facto pact could have survived beyond the revolutionary era, had it not been for the arrest and torture of 15 schoolchildren in Daraa, triggering an uprising that spread through Syria. As their indignation finally manifested itself, the deal fell through as people’s demands for justice and dignity were met with live fire, and as brute force once again erased all pretense of civility.
It doesn’t matter how much support Bashar al-Assad’s regime still commands, nor does it ultimately matter why his fans still cling on to the illusion of his ability to remain in power. The regime has gone on a killing, torturing and jailing spree for nearly a year, and is still unable to crush the resistance that has now begun to arm itself and to exercise self-defense. It is a matter of time, and it is unclear how the transition will be achieved, but the majority of Syrians are sure of one thing: we have reached the end of an era.