On March 15, 2011, the first mass protest calling for regime change took place in Syria. Protestors called for a free Syria, chanted slogans of unity, and praised God as they marched through the streets of Damascus. From there, many other protests followed, with each new demonstration generating great interest and support across the world for the unyielding spirit that would come to define the Syrian uprising.
Even with hundreds of thousands of Syrians dead and many millions displaced since 2011, mass protests calling for regime change (and, more recently, challenging ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra) continue unabated—a testament to the Syrian people’s incredible resilience. Nevertheless, with each passing year, coverage of these protests has diminished.
Throughout the month of March, for example, mass protests, which echoed the same sentiments as five years ago, erupted across Syria, without receiving much if any coverage from mainstream media outlets. On March 11 alone, there were over 100 protests that took place in various cities, towns, and provinces across Syria, with one of the largest occurring in the town of Azaz on the five-year- anniversary of the Syrian uprising.
One might argue that the on-going war is sapping media attention away from civil disobedience in Syria. But, while demonstrations on the outskirts of major cities like Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama were being ignored, a mass protest held in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on March 26, marking one year since Saudi Arabia’s invasion of the country, received extensive press coverage.
To watch the protests in Sanaa with one eye while ignoring Syria with the other is unjustifiably hypocritical – and points to another culprit.
Widespread neglect of the Syrian protests is partly the result of a perniciously false assumption that the Syrian people are reducible to the tripartite evil of ISIS, the Syrian regime, or “other crazy jihadist groups.” Painting everyone involved in the war as part of a similar evil (or simply as “all jihadists”) is blatantly orientalist. It is an uncritical way of understanding the Syrian conflict and, in turn, the significance of the protests that continue to take place across the country.
Ultimately, this negligent approach is a vile betrayal of the Syrian people and the principles that sparked the Syrian protests five years ago. Those who continue to adopt this view are no allies to the Syrian people.