Like Egyptians, Syrians have been under siege for the past 40 to 50 years. Syria is a brutal police state. Like most Middle Eastern countries, they have been under "emergency" law for half a century. The military and security apparatus in Syria has been brutalizing, torturing, and raping the people for half a century. People like to blame the economy and the high unemployment rates. But that's only half the story. Syria's economy has been stagnant for 60 years. Why now?
Corruption, police brutality, and dignity. That's what people want. Freedom from a torturous, indignant life.
Economic corruption and greed has destroyed the people's morale. When Bashar Al-Assad took over in 2000, he promised economic reform. But his father's old guard was resistant to economic reform. Bashar continued his father's economic repression and corruption and did not open up the economy like he promised.
Like Egypt, Syria has an ultra-elite upper class. Millionaires and billionaires. While over 90% of the country lives under the poverty line on less than $2 per day. Prostitution, ghettos, and crime has been running rampant. Like other countries, a new young generation of educated youth find themselves in a hopeless situation; educated and unemployed. They have nothing to lose. And absolutely nothing to gain.
Talking to some of these youth is depressing. "Why should I go to college? I am just going to work in this little shop selling shoes anyways. Why should I waste my time struggling in school." Said a 30 year old man living in Syria, when asked why he didn't pursue college.
There is no middle class at all. Rami Makhlouf, Assad's cousin and brother in law, is awarded nearly every business and government contract. Further, favorable judiciary rulings worsen the corruption. As an example, Mr. Makhlouf was awarded a government contract to start SyriaTel. The only cell phone service in Syria. He acquired an Egyptian partner and investor. After getting all of the startup money and getting the company off the ground, Makhlouf sues his Egyptian partner. The Syrian appointed judge ruled in favor of Makhlouf, and his Egyptian partner was out.
This type of corruption has scared off larger corporations and European venture capitalists from investing in Syria. Mr. Makhlouf has bungled a number of large businesses and has destroyed Syria's economy through corruption. It's because he is the only player and their is no competition. He personally controls 40% of Syria's economy.
Mr. Makhlouf is one of the few international figures that is wanted in the United States on corruption charges. That's how bad it is in Syria. You can't trust the government nor police.
Police brutality is rampant and state sponsored terrorism is rampant. For fifty years, Syria's government has been torturing, raping, and killing it's own people. Anyone who isn't an avid supporter of Assad and isn't vocally and emphatically supportive at all times, is an enemy of the state. People can be thrown in jail and tortured without trial for not praising Assad when his name is mentioned in public. This is not an exaggeration.
While detained in jail, you may be massacred in cold blood. Assad has unleashed his security forces on jails all throughout history to just go and "kill everyone". There are plenty of historical accounts of massacres in Syria's jails. This happens every few years. they kill off about 10,0000-15,000 detainees at a time. These are not common criminals. These are just "political" prisoners. Anyone who may not have emphatically praised Assad, is a political prisoner. We aren't talking just men. Women are targeted as well and tortured and gang raped repeatedly while detained. All for "action that is detrimental to the morale of the state".
Nearly every Syrian citizen has been placed in jail and tortured for some period of time. There are very few that haven't. Professors, journalists, and every day citizens aren't allowed to have their own opinion or even question anything the government does. This is a complete totalitarian dictatorship in the truest sense of the word.
In the most recent incident, Syrian government officials jailed school children between the ages of 8 and 14 for drawing pictures that were "detrimental to the morale of the state". School children were detained, and likely tortured, because of paintings and drawings. They were making murals of the uprisings in Egypt and Libya and apparently this was "anti-Syrian". This actually really happened two weeks ago. Jailing prepubescent school children. Really?
They are so arrogant that they cross boundaries time and time again. This is just the latest incident in a long history of incidents. This police state began in the 1960s and hasn't ended yet. The massacre of the city of Hama in February of 1982 is the most unbelievable exercises of a government's military against it's own people history has ever seen. The Syrian government mobilized it's military and shelled the town for days. Then troops went in and slaughtered whatever was left; man, woman, and child. They even raped schoolgirls and then killed them. Over fifty thousand people were wiped off the face of the earth in a few weeks. The entire city became a flattened parking lot.
The people of Syria have began revolting and uprising in the city of Daraa in southern Syria, the city where the school children were jailed for being anti-government. It's not just about the school children. They torched the local police station (the security apparatus) and the local SyriaTel, Mr. Makhlouf's company. They are saying clearly that they are done with police brutality and corruption.
Other cities are also revolting, and Assad's government is under a lot of pressure. They knew this was coming but are so arrogant that they think they can weather it. In January in 2011, Assad was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and said that he thinks a revolt would never happen in Syria because he stands against Israel and with Iran. He thinks that that is all that Syrians care about. He is in for a surprise.
Like most Middle Eastern countries that have had a recent revolts, it has nothing to with Israel. It has to do with their future and their children's future. It's about dignity, economy, poverty, corruption, freedom, and brutality. People don't like being beaten down and tortured with no hope of economic advancement and no future.
It's not just the economy, stupid!