Opinion: Syria in Perspective: A student of Syrian descent reflects on her time living under al-Assad's regime

Posted by Kristina Kassis

The ongoing uprisings in the Middle East, specifically in Syria, have spurred wide debate and controversy all over the world. Personally, I believe that Bashar al-Assad's refusal to resign in the face of threats and civil war in his country is merely a result of his stubborn pride and lust for power and wealth.

If Assad genuinely cared about the Syrian people, he would swallow his pride and step down immediately. I admire the people of Syria for fighting valiantly for their rights and freedom, both of which Assad has denied them for nearly a decade, and I think it is high time this tyrant be brought to justice.

During the first summer I spent in Syria's bustling city of Aleppo, I was under the impression everyone loved the president. Though he is a member of the notorious Ba'ath party, Bashar al-Assad was initially viewed as a moderate compared to his father, whose massacre of the city of Hama took the lives of at least 10,000 of his own people.

When Assad the younger first came to visit Aleppo, festivals were thrown in his honor and his face adorned every building in town. However, I quickly learned that I was witnessing Assad's regime from a very limited perspective — that of wealthy Christians. As a demographic, wealthy Christians in Syria have benefited greatly from Assad's moderate regime.

My perspective of Assad's regime changed immensely when I went to work in a poor Muslim neighborhood. I was shocked to hear the whisperings of rebellion and hatred, and the stories of the injustices he had done to these innocent people.

When I heard that Assad had banned the wearing of burqas in universities, I was, frankly, shocked. This meant that thousands of women essentially had lost the right to attend college unless they abandoned the form of religion they believed in so strongly. How did he expect to get away with this in a country that is 90 percent Muslim? 

Decisions like these brought about the rebellion we see today. Initially, protesters assembled peacefully to exercise their right to free speech.  However, tensions escalated quickly as Assad himself resorted to force to suppress them.  His thirst for power over these people drove him to use brutally violent tactics. He should not be surprised that the very people he sought to oppress are fighting for their freedom from this nightmarish regime.

As a woman of Syrian descent living and studying in the U.S., I have heard many different accounts of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Assad is often referred to as a "tyrant" or a "terrorist." Some in the Middle East, perhaps marginally supportive of Assad, find this vocabulary offensive or misleading. But what is much more offensive is the labeling of the dissenters as "reckless." My question is this: How can you refer to people who are fighting for their rights and freedom as reckless? Would you not do the same under the circumstances?

For all intents and purposes, Bashar al-Assad is a terrorist. Though the early parts of his regime showed signs of progress and reform from the cruel dictatorship he inherited from his father, as soon as his people demanded a freer society he quickly resorted to violence and force,setting off the first of what became a series of withering crackdowns in April of last year. Assad sent tanks into restive cities as security forces opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, exercising their right to freedom of speech. Assad's actions, fueled by his lust for power, are unjustifiable and inexcusable.

It is clear that the time has come for Bashar al-Assad to swallow his misguided pride and realize that he is only asking for harm to himself and thousands of other innocent people if he continues to tighten his grip on a country that is already on the brink of civil war due to his unjust and unnecessary actions.  It is obvious that he does not care about his people, but rather only for his own status as a man of wealth and power.

Bashar al-Assad, like his father was before him, is a power-hungry tyrant who needs to be brought to justice immediately for the sake of millions of innocent people.

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