By Ahed Alhendi
The opinions expressed are his own.
Twenty years ago, I was a school kid chanting with my peers, “Our leader forever, the father, Hafez Assad!” Back then, I could not have imagined that one day I would see his statues destroyed all over Syria by the people — a sight now common within the country.
Most of those demonstrating in Syria are young people who were taught to love and adore our only president, and later his son, Bashar. As young Syrians, we have always treated the Assads as something of a holy family. We all were forced to join the Baath Party Pioneer Organization at the age of six and we grew up soaking in the Assads’ propaganda — the school system, the single TV station, the official newspaper; they all had a picture of Assad as their logos.
Now, the voices of freedom are sounding louder than the engines of armored vehicles and the whistling of tanks shells. Bashar Assad thought that the military would intimidate and quiet the protesters, but the shout “Bashar must go!” is only getting louder.
Those shouts, however, are not particularly well-organized. Because Syria has been ruled by the Assad clan for more than 40 years, the country’s political life is effectively nonexistent. Nearly all leaders and members of serious opposition parties — both Islamic and secular — have been kidnapped, exiled, jailed or killed.
The year 2000 brought with it a so-called “Western-educated doctor” to inherit the “republic” from his father. Syrian dissidents thought that they would be able to recover from three bloody decades of Hafez’s rule that resulted in more than 30,000 deaths and 15,000 forced deportations.
The exhausted opposition groups succeeded in forming an alliance called the Damascus Declaration. This alliance brought together a multitude of diverse groups calling for democratic change within the country, creating what was widely seen as a shadow government.