What stands between Syria’s freedom and Bashar al Assad is Damascus. As an Al Jazeera correspondent once claimed, “only when the uprising really reaches Damascus will we see its final stages.” Damascus is the last fort for Bashar al Assad; as Gaddafi fought from his fortress of Sirte until his dying day, so it seems will Bashar.
Eight months ago, the capital city had started turning into something quite similar to a state of emergency. Bab Touma, the old city, was completely shut off to Syrians and, strangely enough, open to foreigners. Soldiers as well as security forces dressed in plain clothes were all holding guns and AK-47s. Lined up or sitting down, the soldiers formed a wall around Syrian homes. A brave Syrian friend screamed down the phone that he was forbidden to leave his house.
We (the foreigners) roamed the eerily empty streets of Damascus, completely aghast at what we were seeing. But this, a cheerful Syrian taxi driver explained, was because it was a Friday, any other day would be a normal busy day here in Damascus.
Eight months on and Damascus continued to see its “busy normal days”, until just before the arrival of the Arab League observers.
Twin bomb blasts and a “suicide attack” saw, even before the dust had settled, the government pointing their fingers at al-Qaeda or terrorists or whoever tickled their fancy. The Syrian National Council (SNC) was quick to respond and claimed they were not responsible for the attacks, but instead blamed Assad’s regime for planning these attacks to “discredit its critics”. This is clearly a possibility as the bomb blasts that took place on December 23 had actually targeted security and intelligence buildings in central Damascus.
The “terrorists” behind this can be responsible for generating two crucial reactions, both of which will influence the course of action on Syria’s revolution.
First, Bashar al Assad may actually get his way and have successfully instilled enough terror and fear among the Syrians in Damascus to persuade them that only he can secure their safety. Or that fear could evolve into anger, and the residents of Damascus may turn against the Assad regime. Then the possibility of a strong uprising from Damascus can lead to the point of defeat against the Assad regime that hundreds of thousands of Syrian protesters are fighting for.
Is this too optimistic? Maybe, but one of the main factors shared by all the Arab revolutions is the influence the capital city has on a revolution. From Cairo to Tripoli, capturing the capital was proof of victory to the rebels and revolutionaries.
Revolutions only really gained and maintained international attention when they were happening in the capital cities. Likewise, the capital cities tend to become the final battlefield, as it’s the strongest base the dictator has. Once claimed by either the opposition or rebels, the capital symbolises the conquest against their dictators.
As Damascus slowly enters into a state of emergency, Bashar al Assad will pull all his tricks to ensure that his capital does not become occupied by “terrorists”; he is fully aware this is his last battle ground. But unlike the Libyan rebels, the Syrian opposition are not receiving any arms, funding or, in fact, any sort of help by the international community.
As I’m writing this now, a pro-government rally is taking place in central Damascus. Regardless of the situation, there is no turning back. One thing is certain: Bashar cannot expect Syria to return to what it was ten months ago.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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