Richmond World Affairs Council

Syria, Part 5: The Goals

Ever since its publication in 1532, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Princehas caused many debates over one of its most famous lines- “the ends justify the means.” This thesis has been embraced and rejected alike by a wide variety of monarchs, politicians, and leaders, and it can still be applied and utilized today. As one looks at Syria, one wonders if the ends the Syrian opposition is pursuing justify the horrid road it is currently travelling. A closer look at those ends and their progress towards being accomplished is below.

Though the opposition is extremely diverse in their demands and philosophies, they have some basic goals that they share in their revolt against Assad. The most basic demand is the fall of the current regime and the resignation of President Assad. He has given no indication that he intends to step down, still claiming that he has the majority of popular support and that armed terrorists are to blame for the revolt. 

The second goal shared by the opposition is the end to the 48-year emergency law. Though Bashar al-Assad removed the law in theory in April of 2011, the repeal has done little to nothing in terms of ending the oppressive conditions the Syrians live under. Syrian secret police have continued to detain people without arrest warrants and the army has continued to fire on demonstrations.

Thirdly, the opposition wants an end to the killings and torture currently going on in the country. Though the regime continually denies the accusations of torture, the UN Human Rights Watch published an 81-page report on the numerous violations that have taken place in Syria (New York Times). In the report, 200 witnesses testified about the locations of these centers, their methods, and their leaders. After its examinations, the Human Rights Watch deemed it an “Archipelago of Torture”- a string of torture centers in 27 major cities throughout Syria. The methods described by the witnesses are extremely brutal, sometimes used to force false confessions to possession of weapons or participation in demonstrations from civilians. With no end on the horizon, this goal seems like one that will not be achieved without a hard-fought battle or the complete fall of the current regime.

Due to the large number of detained political prisoners and protesters, the opposition is also demanding the release of those detained. No forward progress has been made, despite the regime’s show of letting go of prisoners. Witnesses have said that the government seized random civilians off of the street and staged their release to pacify the international community that was demanding the release of prisoners.

The final demand of the opposition is the gradual transition of Syriato a free and democratic society. On the surface, strides towards democracy have been made. A new Constitution was approved by referendum in February, which allowed multiple parties and limited the president to two seven-year terms. Additionally, there were parliamentary elections in May. However, the opposition denounces both of these improvements as mere shams by the regime. The parliamentary elections in May had an extremely poor turnout with boycotts called by the opposition. Assad claimed that the elections showed that the people supported the reforms made to the current government, but with such a poor turnout, the elections do not hold much credibility.

The ends to which the Syrian opposition is striving are honorable goals, and if achieved, will be well worth the massive struggle. However, Assad shows no intention of stepping down or ending the government crackdown on protesters. The opposition shows no sign of weakening despite the tactics being employed against it. Only time will tell if the revolution will succeed or fail. 

~ Rachel Smith