Where are the Syrians? There are millions of protesters on the Arab street but Syrians are surprisingly missing from the crowd. This eerie absence is disturbing, to say the least. We are talking about a country with one of the worst human rights records. A dictatorship in the garb of a thin and contorted cover of democracy that essentially calls for a single-party rule. Add to that the repetition of the Bahrain formula: minority ruling the majority. These are the ingredients that could have cooked up a storm but there is not even a feeble thunder.
There have been reports of police beating up activists who were staging a peaceful sit-in outside the Libyan embassy in Damascus. They earlier dispersed a handful of supporters of the Egyptian uprising who were holding a candle-light vigil. The Guardian reports of a crackdown on the internet where people are even afraid to use proxy servers to access social networking sites. Those who dare end up in jail like Tal al-Mallouhi, who was 17 when she was rounded up by Bashar thugs in 2009. Her only crime was to write blogs about democracy and people empowerment. Other bloggers and journalists are facing a similar fate.
There is little attention being paid to Syria in the international press. United States is following the policy of re-engagement with Syria, almost on the same lines it did with Libya. Although some sanctions are still in place, there is a general feeling of warmth with the inauguration of the Obama administration. Which, if defined in layman terms, is a good start but not so when one looks at the situation in Syria. Bashar has been in power for almost 11 years. It has been a one-party dictatorship since 1970 when his father Hafez staged an intra-party coup. It appears that he will try his best to emulate his father's "success," which would be the most shameful insult to happen to Syrians in modern times.
His support among the minorities is waning; he does not represent the majority in the first place. He is from the Alawite sect that is less than 10% of Syria's population. An overwhelming majority of Ba'ath party members share his faith. This might protect him from inter-cine struggle or a coup. He does not represent the majority. This might work against him. He surely enjoys an unwavering support from Iran, with which his party shares religious and strategic ties. Perhaps in a bid to support their friend, Iranians have sent warships through the Suez Canal to participate in a war game. They might come to his help if they fear that the Assad empire is about to fall. This will, however, put them on the spot as they are supporting the current uprisings. How will they explain their double standards?
All things considered, it is the right time for Syrians to stand for their rights. It is true that they are afraid. They fear that Bashar might follow in his father's footsteps when he killed thousands of dissenters during the infamous Hama massacre in 1982. There is, however, a remote possibility of him repeating his father's crime against humanity. He can be as tough on protesters as his father's friend Qaddafi is, killing in dozens and hundreds. He cannot, however, afford to start a full-blown massacre sitting right in the heart of Arabia and with the changing dynamics. He is even trying to tame them by distributing aid after a wait of five years in which millions of Syrians living in rural areas lost everything to a severe drought. This, however, is too little and too late. It can't erase the decades of repression, poverty, and injustice.
This is where the Syrians diaspora comes into play. They can throw the first stone. They are free of the state oppression and can openly voice their opinion. They can also pressure the international community to get tough on Bashar. This will provide an impetus to their brethren in Syria to overcome the decades-old fear of brutal state repression. It is party time on the Arab street. Better not miss this opportunity.