February 2011 shook the world with the popular uprising known as “the Arab Spring.” The Arab Spring began with a Tunisian street vendor who lit himself on fire in protest of government corruption.
The Tunisian regime peacefully gave over power, but the spirit of revolution spread into Tahrir Square in Cairo, and then to the rest of the Arab world. Mubarak of Egypt was forced give over power because the military refused to break up protests. Bahrain’s revolution failed because the government had a strong hold over the military and media. In Libya and Syria, some military members defected to the protestors’ side in light of violent responses to protests.
The situation in Libya turned into a full-scale civil war, and Syria is in a state of “civil unrest.”
Although Syria became a major topic in the Western news only recently, unrest began in March of 2011 when the government detained and allegedly tortured 14 schoolchildren in Deraa for writing revolutionary slogans on a wall. Protestors were shot by security forces.
Without any legal way to peacefully congregate, the opposition cleverly used the funerals of those killed to organize and continue their protests. At those funerals, the Syrian military fired on the crowds. Protests quickly spread across Syria in response to the military violence. What had begun with calls for democracy had turned into demands for President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power.
Continued violent crackdowns prompted the formation of the Free Syrian Army on July 29th 2011. The anti-regime militia’s stronghold is in the city of Homs, and is composed of over 40,000 military defectors as of the beginning of 2012.
The fighting in Syria was happening with similar levels of violence as in Libya, at around the same time. However, the difference in the level of international attention was drastic. Libyan coverage was extensive while the Syrian conflict was downplayed.
Explanations for this disparity cover a wide range of possibilities. In Libya, more power is distributed among tribes and other ethnic divisions, which left Ghaddafi less control over information.
Syria, on the other hand, was supported by the Arab league, and lacked Libya’s ethnic divisions. China and Russia also refuse to permit any UN-sanctions against Syria in light of the civil war which escalated in Libya after international intervention.
This discouraged international intervention and made media coverage less popular. President Assad’s abuses grew until the Arab League revoked their support in November 2011.
More than 8,000 civilians have been killed, and reports of children being detained and tortured are beginning to leak out. On April 11th, 2011, Assad ended 40 years of ‘emergency rule.’ On February 26th a new constitution limiting his power and setting term limits was voted into place. On March 14th, Assad promised elections to occur on May 7th.
However, most Syrians do not believe that Assad will stand by the new constitution or his promises as long as he continues to command the military to kill Syrian civilians.
[Ed. note: citations can be provided upon request]