Syrian American activist, Mazen Halabi, spoke to members of the Carleton community last week about the current Syrian conflict, which has taken upwards of 60,000 lives. Halabi covered a timeline of the revolution, starting from the political turmoil pre-21st century that led to the current situation.
Following the country’s independence in 1947, Syria’s government transitioned from a multi-party structure into a single party structure. Later, the government imposed martial laws that suspended the constitution, removing the state’s limits on power and risking people’s rights.
Protests grew, many in secret, against the new development. However, the Syrian government was quick to quell the rebellions.
Fear pervaded Syria due to the negative backlash of the government against protestors. “Dictators use fear to control the population,” Halabi emphasized in his speech.
The group of teenagers who painted anti-government graffiti in 2011 loosened this wall of fear, which the Syrian government felt the need to restore.
Halabi weaved in his personal experiences living in Syria. While in Syria as a high-school student, Halabi recounted that many buildings in his town had at least one person who had been arrested by the government, including one of his own friends. Halabi spoke of his acquaintance with Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s current president, as a youth.
“He was a nice kid,” stated Halabi, but “he was not groomed to be president.”
Once al-Assad became president, he initiated reforms that gave Syrian people more autonomy.
But, as Halabi eloquently said, “A dictator can’t be half a dictator. Once you let go, people can ask for everything.”
The Damascus Spring, a group of Syrian families that created an agenda for the president to lead them from where they were into better conditions had a hope that al-Assad would gradually reform the country. However, al-Assad’s regime clamped down on the group eventually because people asked for more and more.
According to Halabi, Syrian citizens did not feel they had an outlet to voice their concerns. Halabi asserted that the current situation is “an injustice that must be set straight,” but emphasized that, “there is no easy solution.”
While an overwhelming majority of the opposition agrees that the government must be ousted, there is still a question of foreign intervention by the United Nations and the United States.
“It’s a massive problem and there’s a lot to be done,” Halabi stated at the end of his speech.
Attendees of the talk found Halabi’s speech informative and meaningful. Alex Siemers ’14 has a long-standing interest in the Middle East. He spent time in Jordan this past fall studying abroad and saw how Syria’s domestic strife affected Jordan
“It was interesting to hear the history behind the revolution,” Siemers said.
Bailey Ulbricht ‘15, who has an interest in the Middle East because of its unique culture and political landscape, organized Halabi’s talk. Ulbricht has plans to work with Syrian refugees in Turkey this summer. She also plans to hold an on-campus fundraiser to aid displaced Syrian refugees.