Labor Movement Absent in Syrian Revolt
Published Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The Arab revolts cannot be understood in isolation from one another, and the Syrian uprising is no exception. It erupted in a region that is bursting with revolution. And though it is genuinely fueled by people’s hopes and aspirations for a better world, it didn’t spring from thin air. Already two long-standing dictators have been unseated in Tunisia and Egypt. The consequent ripple effect that initially swept through Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain threatened all the Arab regimes.
In light of these circumstances, it was only natural for an uprising to erupt in Syria. Granted, there are vast differences between the Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan, Bahraini, and Syrian regimes, in foreign policy and, more specifically, in the struggle with Israel. But what they all had in common was the exclusion of the vast majority of their people from any say in the decisions that affected their lives. Even the most banal decisions made under these regimes were often devised to ensure their stability and power before the interests of the people.
Let’s consider, for instance, the Egyptian and Syrian regimes. The Egyptian regime under Sadat and Mubarak opted to compromise with Israel and ally itself with the US as a way to maintain their hold on power. The Syrian regime took the same approach, albeit by way of a different set of alliances. In both cases, the people had no say in the matter. Not surprisingly, both regimes took the same approach toward the protesters that filled their streets, calling them conspirators and foreign agents.
But defaming the protesters just wasn’t enough to quell the rebellion in the streets. The tyrants decided to take more serious steps by unleashing their security forces and planting gangs of criminals in the ranks of protesters. But that didn’t stop the activists from organizing on the internet or continuing to insist on revolutionary change. The uprisings in the region have been characterized by the resilience of the people and their willingness to sacrifice themselves in order to achieve their goals.
The Arab regimes had raised nationalist slogans before. They have even called for liberation and unity. In most cases, however, such efforts have failed, simply because the people were not included. Today, the Arab revolutions are reviving hope in a new type of nationalism, made by the people for the people.
Considering the nature of the Syrian regime and the violence it has unleashed on its people, the revolution there is perhaps the most important link in the recent chain of revolutions. The relatively long duration of the revolt in Syria has delayed the outbreak of other revolutions in the area. The whole region is waiting in anticipation to see what will happen. It is worth noting in this context that the speed of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings facilitated the spread of revolution elsewhere in the region.
However, the main difference between the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, on one hand, and the Syrian uprising, on the other, is the role played by the labor movements in each country. The declaration of a general strike in Tunisia quickly prompted Ben Ali’s flight to Jeddah; while in Egypt, the spread of strikes on February 6 extinguished any hope Mubarak had of surviving.
The labor movement is simply absent in Syria. This may be because Syrian unions are controlled by the state and have been relatively listless compared to those in Egypt and Tunisia. The existence of semi-independent Tunisian unions and an increasingly active Egyptian labor movement in the past few years helped catapult the organized workers into the heart of revolution. In both cases, this led to a quick resolution of the uprising in favor of the people.
The role of the Syrian labor movement seems more crucial today than ever before. Syrian workers can end the deadlock in Syria, and collectively they are capable of bringing down the system. Calling for foreign intervention and asking for international protection may backfire and work in the regime’s favor. The labor movement alone can paralyze and destroy the dictatorship in Damascus, as was the case in Tunisia and Egypt.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect al-Akhbar's editorial policy.