Syria is in the midst of a popular uprising against the long-repressive Assad regime.
The Arab Spring arrived in Syria in March 2011 when street protests erupted around the country following the arrest and torture of a group of children who had spray-painted the word “freedom” on a wall in the small southern town of Deraa. One child, thirteen-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb, was killed by security forces. His body was returned to his family severely burned and disfigured, his genitalia cut off, as a warning against agitation. As word of this atrocity spread, rather than being subdued, Syrians from all backgrounds joined together and began protesting en masse across the country against government repression and for a free and democratic nation. The wall of fear that once prevented people from going to the streets crumbled and ever since, every Friday has been marked by mass public protests.
Instead of carrying out democratic reforms, Syria’s president, Bashar Al-Assad, resorted to violence to suppress peaceful protests. The Assad regime deployed tanks and snipers to kill unarmed protesters. The regime also resorted to massive arrests and sexual violence against men, women, and children. The violence only exacerbated calls for freedom and democracy.
Recent estimates put the number of civilians killed at more than 80,000, with more than 200,000 detained, more than one million refugees and well over two million internally displaced. A quarter of Syria’s population has been displaced by this conflict.
After months of regime violence, thousands of soldiers began to defect from the army rather than carry out orders to shoot and kill unarmed civilians. They formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with the support of civilians who have taken up arms to protect their neighborhoods and communities from Assad’s brutality.
The various political opposition groups, along with the democratic-leaning elements of the armed opposition, coalesced and formed the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (SC) in late 2012, agreeing to a vision of a future Syria that operates democratically and responsibly, respects human rights, and protects and empowers women and minorities.
The FSA now controls much of the countryside and large swaths of territory in the North and Northwest. It has taken the fight to the regime’s strongholds with heavy fighting in Aleppo and Damascus, the country’s two largest cities. Civilian opposition is sufficiently organized that the U.S. and over one hundred other countries and multilateral organizations have recognized the Syrian Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The international community is also are supporting the SC’s interim government, which coordinates immediate relief and the democratic governance efforts of local civilian councils and the FSA.