Thursday, February 02, 2012

30 Years Later, The Hama Massacre Revisited

Thirty years ago, Hafez al-Assad cracked down against the Muslim Brotherhood that had risen up to oppose Assad's dictatorship. Instead of compromise, Assad launched a full-scale military operation that all but razed the city of Hama. At least 10,000 people were killed, and some estimates put the figure as high as 25,000 or more.

That episode was recounted by Thomas Friedman in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem in the chapter called "The Hama Rules".

The rule basically goes like this: Rule by fear — strike fear in the heart of your people by letting them know that you play by no rules at all, so they won’t ever, ever, ever think about rebelling against you.

Violent and brutal crackdowns struck fear in those who might contemplate rising up to topple a regime. It worked in Syria for more than 30 years.

This past year, Friedman noted that the Hama Rules worked, until they didn't during the Arab Spring uprising against the totalitarian regimes across the Middle East and North Africa. However, Syria's Bashar al-Assad is continuing to use the rule to great effect despite the greater role of the Internet and social media to join together people opposed to the regime and to publicize the atrocities committed by the regime. Yet, Assad remains in power and continues murdering those opposed to the regime.

Syrians attempted to mark the anniversary by spraying and pouring red dye and paint on the streets to indicate all the blood shed by the Assad clan over the decades. Assad's loyalists came through with fire hoses to wash away the paint, but they can't wash away the death and misery that the Assads have imposed on the Syrian people and those who dare oppose the regime.
yrian security forces fanned out in Hama on Thursday as protesters splashed red paint symbolizing blood in the streets to mark the 30th anniversary of a notorious massacre carried out by President Bashar Assad's father and predecessor.

The Hama massacre of 1982, which leveled entire neighborhoods and killed thousands of people, has become a rallying cry for the Syrian uprising that began nearly 11 months ago in the hopes of ending four decades of the Assad family rule.

Hundreds of troops and security forces were in Hama on Thursday, closing off public squares and setting up checkpoints.

"There is a checkpoint every 100 meters," said Ahmed Jimejmi, a Hama resident.

Activists painted two streets in Hama red to symbolize blood, and threw red dye in the waters of Hama's famous and ancient water wheels.

Graffiti on the walls read: "Hafez died, and Hama didn't. Bashar will die, and Hama won't."
The death toll in the current uprising continues climbing and is closing in on at least 6,000 dead (the overwhelming majority civilians) though no one knows the true death toll. Assad's regime claims that over 2,000 killed are his security forces, though that could also be a combination of his loyalists and those defecting from his regime that the loyalists have killed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights continues reporting on the situation inside the country, but they too are limited by what they can report.

Meanwhile the fighting continues to become more sectarian as Assad's Alawite sect is coming under increasing fire from rebel opposition groups that are fighting against the regime. The Alawites are a minority among Syrians, and have benefited from the Assad regimes such that there is likely to be lingering animosity that will carry on long after Assad is gone.

This video purportedly shows rebel groups firing on loyalists in Homs:

The fighting continues across the country, but I don't think it has gotten to the point where Assad would ever entertain exile. The National Post seems to think that the time is approaching where Assad would consider this (two countries in the Middle East are apparently prepared to give him sanctuary). Rebel groups may have held on to territory near the capital of Damascus for a short period, but the loyalists pushed them back. Had the rebels held on to the territory and made inroads inside Damascus proper, Assad may have responded with an even more violent crackdown but I don't see exile in his future.

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