What an irony. Fear of the Syrian government and its many-tentacled security apparatus is even greater now than it was before the revolution began. Why should that be? The government is generously offering “reconciliation” deals across the country, with gracious amnesties like the one that enabled several hundred rebel fighters to leave the exhausted city of Homs with light weapons in early May. Yet anyone who knows Syria from the inside knows full well that the Assad regime’s generosity and grace is to be feared above all else.
When peaceful calls for dignity and reform were met in March 2011 by crushing violence from the outset, the protesters knew what awaited them if they were arrested. Their bravery in breaching the fear barrier even to take part in such demonstrations is beyond admirable. Tens of thousands have gone missing over the past three years, detained in prison, never seen again, or sometimes simply returned to their families in a body bag as a warning, like the mutilated body of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, early icon of the revolution. Like so many, Hamza was not even demonstrating – he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As the presidential election is held tomorrow in regime-held areas only, Syrians know full well what it means. It is not so much an election – everyone knows the result after all – it is more like a head count of government supporters. To vote for anything other than Bashar al-Assad is to sign your own death warrant and that of your family, and not to vote at all means you are forfeiting your chance of any kind of future in Syria.