Destroying Daraa: Assad looks to wipe away memory of resistance

#SyriaWar

The violence and political power play in Daraa is emblematic of the Syrian people's struggle for dignity and freedom

Nadine Almanasfi's picture
Thursday 12 July 2018 13:01 UTC
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Over the last few days, reports have come through social media of a number of opposition-held areas in Daraa going through processes of "reconciliation" with the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). The SAA, backed by Russia, is pushing through the province in southwestern Syria as part of an offensive known as "Operation Basalt". 

Roots of revolution

Daraa is a place of significance. It is recognised as the birthplace of the Syrian uprising that began in early 2011, when a group of teenagers were arrested for their anti-regime graffiti demanding the "downfall of the regime".

The sacrifice of Daraa's population, and the momentum their demonstrations created across the country, still lives in the collective memory of the Syrian people.

What is happening in Daraa also adds further reason to be concerned about the hopes of a progressive and pluralistic future political system for Syria 

As the regime reclaims territory, capturing some areas in eastern Daraa and isolating pockets of opposition-controlled land, we are seeing the total and indiscriminate destruction and displacement of civilian populations.

On Monday, the United Nations reported that 270,000 people are now displaced in Daraa, with 60,000 civilians gathering at the Jordanian border, which has been closed off by the kingdom. A further 164,000 are moving towards Quneitra and the Golan Heights.

While residents of Eastern Ghouta - the last rebel-held area to fall into the regime's hands - were given the option of either moving to Idlib or remaining in settlements, in Daraa there are reports that civilians are not being given the option of re-settlement. They are, it is said, left stranded between a military offensive and a closed off border. 

With only Idlib left to regain, Syrian government forces are showing little mercy. 

Same patterns

Daraa is part of one of the four de-escalation zones outlined in the Astana agreements between Turkey, Russia and Iran. The rebel-held province has been neutralised by a ceasefire agreement between Jordan, the United States and Russia since July 2017. This offensive, however, shows that these de-escalation zones were nothing more than temporary measures to appease the international community's pleas for an end to violent hostilities. 



Displaced Syrians in Daraa (AFP)

What we can see from these de-escalation zones is that they were being earmarked for future assaults, demolition and mass expulsion. This was the case in Eastern Ghouta, now in Daraa, and inevitably in Idlib once the time comes to consolidate power there. Civilians have fled their neighbourhoods in Daraa, concerned and fearful of the ramifications of remaining as the regime makes its advance.

There are reports of the SAA looting and destroying homes as they make their way through these now "liberated" areas.

We see the same patterns of destruction in the cases of Eastern Aleppo and Ghouta; civilians are conflated with terrorists and as a result, this narrative justifies whole neighbourhoods being razed to the ground. 

Refugees' right of return

This level of urban destruction not only physically removes the regime's problem, but it seeks to wipe away the memory of resistance from the physical makeup of the city. It produces a blank slate on which to rewrite national narratives. 

The Assad regime has been institutionalising this erasure of the Syrian uprising in its plans for post-conflict reconstruction since 2012, when it signed decree number 66 into law. 

This decree enables the re-development of certain suburbs of Damascus, such as Basateen al-Razi, which will now be home to the "Marouta Project", a new luxury commercial and residential area intended to attract wealthy Syrians and, as a result, completely change the demographics of a neighbourhood that was once a site of anti-regime protest and opposition.

With these two laws, it is clear that the government intends to introduce a brand of gentrification that benefits a class of people it believes is more attuned to its way of thinking

In 2018, Law 10, which enables the regime to take control of residential property if it is not claimed within a certain period of time, was also introduced. This raises questions about the right of return of internally displaced people, as well as refugees.

The areas where the uprising against the regime took place are largely known as poorer neighbourhoods. With these two laws, it is clear that the government intends to introduce a brand of gentrification that benefits a class of people it believes is more attuned to its way of thinking.

This is particularly important since these key strategic areas, on the outskirts of Damascus, circle the country's political and economic centre. They will be turned into pro-regime strongholds, or so the government hopes.  

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 Syria's war is far from over

The violence and political power play we are seeing this week in the south is emblematic of the Syrian people's struggle for dignity and freedom, and is another example of the games that have been played with their lives and futures by the international community, non-state actors and the regime alike.

This military offensive on a beleaguered population and its abandonment by the United States and Jordan in particular - with the US last week telling rebel forces they were "on their own" and Jordan closing off its border with Syria - represents another significant blow to the incredibly weakened anti-regime opposition movement in the country. 

What is happening in Daraa also adds further reason to be concerned about the hopes of a progressive and pluralistic future political system for Syria.

The military phase of the conflict is likely to end soon but right now, the post-conflict reconstruction phase would appear to be under the regime's control. The physical and metaphorical erasure of resistance to the Assad regime is a profound part of that. 

- Nadine Almanasfi is currently a research fellow at the Centre for Syria Studies at University of St. Andrews, focusing on the interrelationship between urban re-development and sectarianism in Syria. She holds an MA in International Conflict Studies from King's College London.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A man carries a child rescued from rubble after Syrian regime and Russian air strikes in the rebel-held town of Nawa, about 30 kilometres north of Daraa in southern Syria on 26 June, 2018 (AFP)