By Noelle Fitzpatrick, Trócaire’s Syria Response Officer
The Arab Spring began four years ago, in December 2010.
It began in Tunisia but within weeks had spread to neighbouring countries throughout north Africa and the Middle East. It was the most widespread social movement the region had seen.
Within months protests had spread to Syria. Tragically, however, Syria would soon descend into a war which continues to this day.
The Syrian novelist Samar Yazbek kept a diary during the early months of the protests. There are multiple narratives, experiences and perspectives on what has happened in Syria. Her diary is just one account but it gives a glimpse into how she experienced the first four months of the protest movement.
Below is an edited extract of ‘A Woman In The Crossfire’, her story of the origins of the protests…
“I had no idea of the grumblings of the people until 15 March 2011. Nobody had.
Our demands weren’t only concerned with jobs and the cost of living, they were bigger than that. They had to do with freedom, with democracy and party pluralism, with changing the constitution that deified the single Party and enthroned the dictator.
In Damascus we would go out without any organisation. Because of the extreme repression security forces started choking the streets of Damascus, the protest movement withdrew to the suburbs.
We began to have real debates when we went out into the streets, because the entire street wasn’t cut from the same cloth – like in the mobilisation in Douma, which was led by the Socialist Union, who are Arab nationalists, and on the other side there were a lot of young Islamists with an Islamic way of thinking, but the former weren’t particularly partisan and the latter weren’t fundamentalists or extremists.
The mobilisation came first on the popular level. Some guys tried pulling the mobilisation in one direction, saddling it with ideological baggage. The mobilisation would lose its popular momentum and it would open up questions of the Islamists intimidating minorities, the scarecrow the regime uses to really frighten people. At the same time it would open up a gap separating the secularists from the Islamists from the liberalists. We came to the conclusion that the most important thing was to work together on the ground in a non-ideological way, that we wouldn’t propose any ideological angle.
Without realising it, people subsist on fear which has become as automatic as breathing.
One of the nurses told me they would never let them use ambulances to take the wounded to the hospital, that they were killing the wounded as well and that a number of the wounded had died outside the hospitals because the security forces would not let them inside.
There are stories of heroism that will be told for generations. Reluctant, non-sectarian and honourable people; old women, stronger than tanks.
What am I going to do? My daughter is far away from me, my mother is far away from me, I am forbidden from going to my own village and my own city. I can’t do anything. I am suspended in the air.
There is a rift between me and my daughter, a psychological boycott between me and my family – it’s unimaginable just how distant they have become – a break between me and my childhood friends, between and my entire environment in the village, between me and my sect. I never thought such a day would come.
I want a few simple things, like for my eyes not to tear up every hour, or not to jump whenever I hear a loud noise. I have been a bundle of raw nerves. How could I not? I fall asleep to news of killing and wake up to the stench of bloodshed and stories of imprisonment and torture.”