Crisis persists in Syria

Updated: 2011-12-22 09:27


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DAMASCUS, Syria - The year of 2011 was one of the toughest years that Syria has ever gone through in its modern history, and the crisis that has plagued the country since nine months ago is still dragging on with no looming solution, at least in the short run, as the country is facing piling internal and external pressures.

Anti-government graffiti by some 15 young men in Daraa, an impoverished province in southern Syria, stirred up the unrest in mid March and later triggered off widespread protests that are still raging unabated.

Initially, the government has sought to downplay the unrest, blaming it on Jund al-Sham, an obscure fundamentalist group with links to al-Qaeda, and Fatah al-Islam, another Islamist outfit, which was routed by the Lebanese army in a months-long standoff at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp back in 2007.

To placate protesters, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responded quickly to the protesters' demands that were confined to political reforms, and an end to pervasive corruption and the decades-old emergency laws.

A package of reforms has rolled in by the Syrian government to quell protests. A number of governors were cashiered, scores of prisoners were pardoned, and a number of controversial laws were amended.

However, the protesters' demands have stepped up and opposition activists have formed different gatherings, some were supportive of a national dialogue with the government and others have staunchly rejected the idea and overtly said they would not accept anything short of a regime collapse.

This coincided with a spate of violent acts across the country, which the government has blamed on armed groups and foreign conspiracy and vowed to track down terrorists.

Syria's woes have snowballed and it was accused by some Western and Arab countries of using excessive force in its crackdown on protesters.

The criticism has turned later on into sanctions that targeted Assad and his inner circle.

The 27-nation EU bloc instituted an assets freeze and a visa ban on Assad and other high-ranking officials. The US also teamed with the EU and imposed its own sanctions. Sanctions have targeted Syria's banking system, oil sector and even media.

Turkey, a long ally of Syria, has followed suit and imposed sanctions on Syria.

The Arab League (AL) was the last to introduce its penalties against Syria after the latter's failure to sign a protocol sponsored by the regional bloc to send observers into the country to monitor the situation on the ground.

Assad has repeatedly vowed that he would not bow to pressures and would confront what he described as a conspiracy against his country for its supportive stance toward resistance groups in the Arab region.

Over the past couple of months, reports of protesters taking up arms as well as army defections gave rise to fears that the once- called peaceful movement has turned into an armed insurrection.

There have been several attacks on government establishments and army bases, whose responsibilities were claimed by the so- called Free Syrian Army, an anti-Assad militia group, reportedly comprised of Syrian army deserters, who have been given refuge in Turkey.

Those defectors were supported by the abroad-based Syrian National Council (SNC), an opposition umbrella, which has been backed by Western powers with the aim of assuming power in Syria after toppling Assad.

The SNC has also been roaming across Europe, soliciting the West's recognition of its members as a solo legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Their attempt, however, hasn' t been fruitful, as some of the EU countries said that it's still too soon for recognition.

The Syrian opposition at home detests the SNC for its stands that call for a foreign intervention. The opposition at home believes that solving the crisis should be within the Syrian home without any foreign intervention "that aims at nothing but to apply its agenda to impose its sway on the region."

President Assad recently said about 1,100 members of the armed forces were killed during the unrest which started in March, while the United Nations put the number of the upheaval's victims at 5, 000.

Despite the pressures, life in the capital Damascus is still as usual and all armed aspects that have marked Damascus' suburbs and other areas in the north and the south of Syria, are non-existent in Damascus.

Ali Haider, a Syrian dissident, told Xinhua that the country is open for two eventualities in the coming days: "either an increase in violence so long as there is an influx of weapons, funds and military and political support by Syria's foes, or a start of a political solution via a national unity government that might lure opponents to shape out a political vision to emerge from the crisis."

He confessed the crisis has had bad repercussions on all aspects of life, mainly the economic sector.

The crisis led to a sharp drop in the Syrian pound that has lost around 10 percent of its value in exchange for the dollar. Tourism is at its zero scale and business is dipped.

Syria has recently announced that it would search for new markets and conclude new trading deals with friendly countries such as Russia, Iran and other supportive states.

Fears are now high that the country is on the verge of a military intervention and an internationalization of the Syrian crisis has the Arab League's efforts reached a deadlock. The Arab League has warned it would raise the Syrian issue with the UN Security Council should its mediation efforts fail.

Under the mounting Arab pressure, Syria agreed Monday to allow in Arab observers to monitor the situation in the country. However, it remains unknown whether the presence of Arab observers could soon help defuse the protracting tensions in Syria.

The country is in a state of alert and apprehension hoping the next year will bring the hoped-for solution and restore security and stability to it.

Mohammad Ali Barakat, a clothing store owner, told Xinhua that "as for the 2011, the ongoing events have had a negative impact on the people's situation and on the market in particular. The trade movement in the country is weak and people in general are uncomfortable with the current situation that we hope we would overcome soon."

Yunus Mohammad, a retired Syrian, expressed hope that the next year will be better. "We hope that 2012 will be a good year for all people and I really hope the peace and security will overwhelm us as before," he said.