Thousands of Syrians took to the streets across the country in lively demonstrations of Friday of last week. The protests were reminiscent of the popular movement that started the revolution five years ago.
They come after a fragile ceasefire negotiated by the US and Russia in Munich had come into effect a few days before.
Benefiting from the ceasefire and a pause in the bombings, people organised peaceful protests in more than a hundred different localities in the liberated areas.
Protests took place in areas such as Aleppo, Idlib and the Damascus suburbs and countryside as well as Daraa and Homs
The ceasefire is the first nationwide truce, although it excludes Isis and the Nusra front- since the beginning of the armed conflict in 2011.
Virtually every area not controlled by either dictator Bashar al-Assad or Isis saw a protest, although most were on a limited scale.
The slogans echoed those of the 2011 uprising. They called for the overthrow of Assad in favour of a free, democratic and united Syria.
Like in 2011, the placards and chants expressed a rejection of religious sectarianism and foreign intervention.
In the city of Douma some protest signs echoed the slogan that swept the Arab world in 2011—“The people want the downfall of the regime.”
Another linked the imperialist carve-up after the First World War with the most recent deal—“Sykes-Picot 1916. Lavrov-Kerry 2016”.
Soldiers from the Nusra front, a Jihadist armed group, attempted to confront protesters near Idlib. A few of them showed up with black Islamic flags, chanting slogans rejecting secularism and democracy but they were dismissed by protesters.
Ridiculously, the regime’s state media recycled its 2011 lies by claiming that protesters were paid by foreign agents.
Unfortunately the regime’s devastation machine is more effective than its media. Millions of Syrians remain vulnerable to barrel bombs and artillery strikes should the frail ceasefire collapse.
The protests show that in spite of the years of civil war and devastation the ideals of the 2011 uprising still inspire many across the country. It is a testimony to the deep effect that the revolution has had on Syrian society before it was defeated by Assad’s repression.
Hundreds of thousands in Syria took part in peaceful protests as part of the Arab revolutions in 2011.
But the Assad regime’s barbaric repression forced the popular movement to retreat. It ignited a civil war which opened the door to foreign intervention by international powers as well as Jihadist armed groups.
The Assad regime conducted daily bombing and shelling on the besieged cities and villages in the areas of Syria that it abandoned. The assault spread devastation throughout the country.
Last Friday’s demonstrations serve as a reminder of the values of freedom and solidarity that drove the uprising in 2011.
But they must also remind us that only a mass movement by ordinary Syrians can ensure that those values triumph once the war has ended.