Yassin al Haj Saleh writes: At an early stage of the Syrian revolution, which erupted in the context of the ‘Arab Spring,’ the billionaire Rami Makhlouf stated that ‘the government’s decision is to fight.’ Speaking without any official title except for being the cousin of Bashar Assad, Makhlouf added: ‘Each one of us knows we cannot continue without staying united together.’ Without clarifying in the name of which ‘we’ he was speaking, Makhlouf went on: ‘We will sit here. We call it a fight until the end.’ Makhlouf’s comments were published in the New York Times on 10 May 2011, after less than two months of peaceful protests. This was not only a declaration of the determination for war, but reveals also that this war was waged to keep the ‘unity’ of political and economic power.
Rami Makhlouf dominates major sectors of the Syrian economy through the companies that he owns, or presides over. In the years leading up to the revolution, the expression ‘Ramisation’ in relation to the Syrian economy became the name of the process of Rami’s control over it. Because partnership with him was forced upon other economic actors, a word pun became widely pronounced among Syrians- that all economic activity was either Makhlouf or mukhalif (Arabic word for unlawful) – to be ‘Makhlouf’ meant to be in-line with the regime.
The state, the dominant political-security-economic complex, began its war early. At dawn on 22 March, when a protest gathering was dispersed at an ancient mosque in the city of Dara’a, a number of local inhabitants were killed, and the time-honored mosque was destroyed. Not a day has passed without killing ever since.
For months, public protests remained peaceful. In dozens of sites around the country the people attempted to occupy public spaces for the longest possible duration, utilizing only their bodies and voices. The goal was to take back possession of the political and the public space: to gather, speak up openly, and to transform the mass of people to a political actor.
On 18 April 2011 at around midnight, at least two hundred people were savagely butchered in Homs. They were peaceful protesters trying to do a permanent sit–in in the clock tower square. In August of 2011, tanks occupied the two cities of Hama and Deir az-Zor, which had witnessed demonstrations by hundreds of thousands people in public squares. The politically marginalized also joined into the revolution: university students, young men and women seeking opportunities for life and work, and former political prisoners.
The people were forced to take up arms in self-defense, when their attempts to possess politics peacefully were faced with war. Finding that its monopoly on violence was broken up, the elite took this confrontation to the level of tanks, military helicopters firing exploding barrels over cities and country-sides, military aircraft, long-range Scud missiles, and chemical weapons.
Is this ‘Civil War’? Could be. Though it must be clarified that it is not a war of some of the population against others, but rather a ‘fight until the end’, waged by the elite, Makhlouf’ et al, against the general population. The ‘state’, public resources and the public army were instrumental in this war of Ramisation. [Continue reading…]