Coffee House

Two years on, the Syrian revolution in numbers

15 March 2013

1:40 PM

15 March 2013

1:40 PM

The original defiance came without malice or forethought. A group of barely pubescent schoolchildren, buoyed by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, bought a can of spray paint. ‘The people want the downfall of the regime,’ they scrawled on the school wall, mimicking the popular slogan of protesters in North Africa. Syria’s already nervous Ba’ath administration would abide no dissent. The boys were arrested and disappeared.

Two years ago today protesters mobilised across the country in support of the missing children, marking the start of the Syrian uprising. It was too late. The boys had already perished. And when Assad’s forces opened fire on protesters, many others perished too.


The government crackdown only fuelled further dissent. Compounding this outrage was the near constant drip feed of footage on YouTube revealing a catalogue of truly unthinkable abuses. Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, a moonfaced 13 year old, was arrested at a protest in April. Days later his family received his corpse. No one needed ask what happened. Khateeb’s body was bruised, battered, and butchered – literally. His skin was torn, twisted, and shorn in a manner which would cause obvious suffering but not death. Cavities from bullet wounds replaced his kneecaps, offering a makeshift ashtray for Assad’s apparatchiks. Khateeb’s penis had been cut off. His father was then detained by state security and hours later appeared on state television wearing a stilted, rigor mortis smile. The deceit was complete when he thanked Bashar al-Assad for retrieving his son’s corpse after ‘terrorists’ had kidnapped him.

Khateeb remains one of the faces of the Syrian revolution in a war that could offer tens of thousands more. The Syrian conflict has, however, fallen victim to the jihadist synecdoche where this one part has comes to characterise the whole. Yes there are jihadists and Islamists fighting Assad, but the opposition is much broader than this.

Although the spectre of jihadist involvement in Syria is an alarming development, it should not overshadow the story of ordinary civilians on the ground. No one talks anymore of the original protesters who demonstrated peacefully under a volley of bullets. The many thousands of victims – male and female – who suffered terrible sexual violence in Syria’s prisons are largely forgotten. Little is written about the thousands orphaned by the conflict.

Two years into the revolution, this is where politicians need to focus their attention: alleviating the overwhelming humanitarian crisis engulfing ordinary people and destroying an entire nation. To contemplate the numbers is to gain an insight into the scale of the problem. In just 730 days around 70,000 people have died; 200,000 are missing or detained; 1.2 million are internally displaced; 1 million are refugees. The longer this conflict goes on, the more depressing those figures will become.

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Show comments
  • MaxSceptic

    Let’s steer well clear and let the Arab League and the generous oil-rich nations sort out this mess.

    Not one British soldier. Not one British taxpayers’ pound.

  • islamophobe

    Look, we just have to recognise that there are no good options for government in the Arab world: you can have Islamic dictatorship, or military secular dictatorship. We have to with the latter, as they keep the oil flowing, and imprison and execute Islamists: something we ought to be doing in Londonistan.

  • John Marshall

    “The Blade itself is an incitement to violence” Supplying weaponry to the rebels will not shorten the Syrian civil war it will complete the task of destroying what remains of the state organisations still operating. As the many are now realising a post Assad Syria isn’t a state at peace, it will be a country torn apart by sectarian milita’s. But I’m sure our observant media will pay the brutal peace as much attention as they did the violent war…..just like they have in Libya.

    • Tom Tom

      not just Syria, Lebanon too

  • BuBBleBus

    This just propaganda from maher. Appealing to the emotions rather than a reasoned assessment. Very poor from a spectator journalist.

  • Tom Tom

    Apparently 75 Jordanian and Turkish planes have airlifted 3000 tonnes of Croatian weapons from Zagreb to the Syrian rebels since November with US and UK connivance funded by Saudi money.

  • AY

    Britain will further support Sunni jihad by one simple reason – there is no sovereignety anymore, only illusion. We live in an emerging Islamic satrapy, where both foreign and home policy decisions are prepared in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, supported by sub-continental and african demographics, calibrated by the advance of violent, civilizational, and institutional jihad, ane enforced on population. And then made “intellectually acceptable”, disguised by writings of likes of Shiraz Maher, always promoting by hints or by deception the same familiar conclusions designed for us Europeans – naive, left-indoctrinated, desoriented dhimmi slaves.

    The only sane solution would be to declare all-out arms embargo and an ultimatum to all armed groups – to disarm immediately and start negotioations and demarcation of armistice lines. The one who refuses – will get air strikes, obliteration, no land and no future in new country. All heavy weapons should be or collected and decommissioned, or destroyed. Savages armed with tanks, military aircrafts, long-range artillery and ballistic missiles – this is nonsense, that leads to massacres and genocides.

    Presently, however, there is no leader in free world who would take responsibility and make such decisions, and implemented them systematically. Sadly, Middle East will burn. West can not save souls in Syria before regaining its own soul first.

    • Tom Tom

      Good post

  • yarnesfromhorsham

    This is an Arab issue so why not let them get on with it. Its not as though we dont have enough problems of our own. Lets sit this one out – but I expect the ego of the Government front bench will take over – its not as though we can afford it. Difficult decisions yeah right I go along with Austin Barry.

  • Mynydd

    A few of my questions. Will the arming of the anti-government forces in Syria decrease or increase: the number of killings, the number of refugees, the number internally displaced? Why is a jihadist car bomb treated differently from a government rocket strike? Why is a jihadist kidnapping of UN peacekeepers just one of those things and of no consequence? Why as Mr Hague not gone to the UN to get an agreement to arm the jihadist? Why is a jihadist in Syria good, whereas a jihadist in Afgainistan bad? Why is no planning for after the war in Iraq bad, whereas no planning for after the Syrian collapse good?

    A possible answer. The government is using the problems in Syria to divert attention away from their problems at home. You will note that all newsbroadcasts and newspaper headlines are pro rebels. How many times have the Syrian government side of the conflict been aired? A good example, from yesterday Mr Cameron is in deep trouble over press regulation, today he is at the EU demanding that the jihadist in Syria be armed.

    • Tom Tom

      According to Die Welt it is Hollande who is isolated inside the EU where the arms embargo was extended at the end of February to May. He switched tack and Britain is hesitant inside the Eu whatever is said in public – Austria and Scandinavia are against arming with Merkel fence-sitting

  • Daniel Maris

    Why don’t you mention the Jihadists torturing members of Assad’s less sectarian/more secular forces? Why don’t you accept that the whole of the rebellion is, for the rebels, a Jihad?

    There was a good programme by Dan Snow showing the reality of the situation in Syria on TV the other night. If the Muslim Brotherhood Jihadists win that will be the end of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and it will mean there will be widespread massacres of Alawites.

    There is absolutely no reason for us to favour one side or the other, though we must oppose ethnic cleansing and call for protection of minority religious communities. I think on balance we should send purely humanitarian aid targetted at civilians (not the fighting forces, though it is difficult to make the distinction) and call for a ceasefire as a ceasefire will save lives and prevent any more ethnic cleansing.

    • HookesLaw

      Everyone is a muslim of one sort or another in Syria. So what? if they have a democracy its up to them who they vote for. ‘Jihad’ just means ‘struggle’. its an invention of your own to say there is a holy war going on

      • Daniel Maris

        Ignorant. THere is a large Christian community .

        • HookesLaw

          The place is overwhelmingly muslim.

      • Daniel Maris

        You really think those fighters of the FSA we nightly hear shouting Allah Akbur don’t believe they are engaged in Violent Jihad.

      • Tom Tom

        Sunnis consider Alawites to be heretics. Saudi Arabia wants the Caliphate without the Ottomans so it can eradicate Alawites and Christians and Shias

      • chan chan

        Mohammed and Allah disagree with you about Jihad. They say so themselves in Islamic doctrine. As does Sunni and Shia jurisprudence in the last 1400 years.

        Are you telling us that Mohammed and Allah’s words, and the actions of Mohammed, which are perfect, eternal, and non-negotiable, are wrong? In a discussion about Islam between you, Mohammed and Allah, I am only ever listening to them, as they are always right – no exceptions.

  • Austin Barry

    “Yes there are jihadists and Islamists fighting Assad, but the opposition is much broader than this.”

    But you can bet that the Jihadists and Islamists will prevail over the opposition’s rump.

    We should just leave this Muslim mess alone and let it fester. With luck some of the barmy army of touring ‘British’ Jihadists will perish in paradoxical Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

  • zanzamander

    We interfere in a Muslim country at our own peril. I heard on the Today programme that Britain and France are thinking of going it alone in arming the rebels. This is a dangerous development. Due to his intervention in Mali, Hollande has put French citizens around the world in danger, not to mention threats of bombs on streets of Paris. Best thing we can do is to leave it to OIC.

    And listen to this:

    At the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, chaired by Pakistani on behalf of the Islamic group, Syria accused Israel of violating human rights of children in the Golan, while diplomats met in another chamber on the same day to discuss a Syrian-drafted resolution, to be adopted next week, entitled “Human Rights in the Occupied Syrian Golan.” There will be five other resolutions targeting Israel, and about the same number on the rest of the world combined.

    Can you effing believe it? Has the world gone bonkers? Syria and Pakistan lecturing Israel (and us) on human rights!

    No, these people are best left on their own.

    • Vrai Telemachus

      In other circumstances it might seem shameful, but our Government, or rather the state which uses our Government for its own ends, will certainly support all manner of very evil people in Syria. But this will be considered necessary, because our national support for terrorists, agents of violence and repression, and Islamic fundamentalism will in turn be used to teach the British people to support and even commend the same behaviour here.

      If it is good to use force to eliminate opposition in Syria then we will become accepting of the use of political violence here. All in the name of a greater freedom, however difficult to discern.

    • Daniel Maris

      Pakistan has the vilest human rights record going.

      • HookesLaw

        The quote refers to a Syrian resolution not a Pakistani one.

    • Tom Tom

      The Chinese and Russians are waiting for Britain and France to find another Afghanistan. Just as in Orwell’s 1984 our new decadence requires Perpetual War

    • Daniel Maris

      I think both Britain and France are off their heads. Plus, with their colonial history in the area they are the last people who should be involved.