Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 November 2011
Issue No. 1071
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A step towards civil disobedience

Several Syrian cities have declared a general strike to step up opposition to the regime; a preliminary step towards all-out civil disobedience in the future

After igniting the first spark of the Syrian revolution in mid-March, the residents of the southern governorate of Deraa declared a general strike in support of the revolutionary youth, reports Bassel Oudat in Damascus. Their 10-day strike completely paralysed the city and surrounding towns and villages, which angered the regime, worried that the strike would spread to the rest of Syria, as protests had done in the beginning of the popular Syrian uprising.

Five days into the strike in Deraa, opposition forces and parties as well as revolutionary blocs, activists in the field and revolution coordinators declared a general strike across the country on Wednesday, whereby people would stay home except for those working in hospitals and health clinics. The organisers said a general strike is the best course of peaceful resistance and more likely to topple the regime.

A general strike is "a form of expressing rejection of the crimes committed by the regime which are now considered crimes against humanity," they said. Other opposition forces said it would be "a slap across the face for the regime" and a "precursor for more comprehensive and wider strikes that would eventually become civil disobedience and would topple the regime by relying on the will of the Syrian people."

In a show of direct support for the revolution, several Syrian lawyers and political activists called on Syrian lawyers to go on strike and refuse to go to court in solidarity with the general strike. The Committee of Syrian Lawyers for Freedom accused the regime of undertaking "a brutal war of annihilation, using all types of weapons against unarmed peaceful protesters".

Both the Coordination Committee of Forces for Democratic Change (CCFDC) -- representing opposition inside the country -- and the Syrian National Council (SNC) -- representing opposition abroad -- supported the strike and warned that if the regime continues on the same path, they will escalate pressure through all available peaceful political, legal and diplomatic means, and will call for a general strike followed by all-out civil disobedience.

The strike coincided with a visit to Damascus by an Arab ministerial delegation formed by the Arab League to look into the Syrian crisis. The Syrian government and relevant authorities organised a march in support of the Syrian president on the same day. Hundreds of thousands took part in the pro-regime march that included university and school students, as well as public sector employees and workers, in an attempt to mask the general strike and send a message to the Arab League delegation that the people of Syria support the regime, according to the opposition.

Residents in many Syrian cities went on strike, making the strike an overall success by suspending 90 per cent of operations in institutions, schools, shops, industries, and in the transportation network in some governorates (Deraa, Hama, Homs, Edleb and rural Damascus). The success rate was less in other governorates, except for Damascus and Aleppo.

During the strike, army and security forces raided towns around Deraa, 100 kilometres south of Damascus and parallel to the border with Jordan. They attempted to end the strike through threats, coercion and arrests; they raided homes and destroyed property and sent immense military and security reinforcements out of concern of the outcome of the strike and its repercussions. But they were unable to end or curtail the strike, causing official media outlets to accuse "armed groups" of forcing citizens "through the threat of force" to participate in the strike.

"I would not describe the movement of the masses as civil disobedience, but a rejection of the reality they are enduring," asserted Ahmed Ramadan, an opposition figure and member of the SNC. "It is disobedience towards the orders of a regime we do not recognise and consider politically and morally illegitimate after committing massacres against the Syrian people."

Bassam Al-Malek, a businessman in the opposition, member of the executive committee of the CCFDC, and member of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, told Al-Ahram Weekly: "I don't believe it is time to call for a general strike or civil disobedience. There are still many ways to support the revolution before we reach this point; I believe the regime is driving the people to desperation. When we reach this point, civil disobedience will begin, we will call for it and support it by all means. The resolution of the Syrian crisis and avoiding destruction can only be accomplished through wise and rational action."

Meanwhile, some members of the opposition believe that a general strike is a declaration that the Syrian revolution -- or as Syrians call it "the revolution of pride" -- is entering a new phase of struggle to achieve its goals. It is a new expression that the people of Syria will continue their peaceful resistance until they are victorious.

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