Over a thousand people marched through London to Downing Street on Saturday, to mark the third anniversary of the start of the Syrian Revolution. Rima Majed and Nick Evans report.
This demonstration served as a reminder of the continued determination of Syrians to overthrow the Assad dictatorship. It also acted as a challenge to the British government: a government that talked about military intervention last year has now said that it will allow only 500 Syrian refugees into the country.
The demonstration was organised by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (UK). Coaches came from nine cities across the UK. There were large numbers of people carrying Syrian opposition flags, and placards that raised the slogans of the revolution, calling for freedom and the overthrow of Assad. There were chants such as, “Revolution until victory”, “Syria wants freedom” and “Oh God we only have you by our side”.
After the demonstration, a group of Syrian children took a petition to 10 Downing Street asking the British government to open up humanitarian aid into the country.
Demonstrators refused to accept the depoliticisation of the revolution through references to it simply as a “conflict” or a “crisis”, obscuring the responsibility of the regime for the violence that has ensued. As one placard put it, “Syrians Started the Revolution; Assad Started the War.”
The #WithSyria campaign, that Banksy has been involved in, is an example of this tendency to depolitise the revolution and has caused anger among Syrians. There is no reference to Assad or the slogans of the revolution in their campaign video. The crudeness of Banksy’s Orientalist adaptation of his image of a girl with a balloon, with the simple addition of a hijab, has caused further irritation.
It is reflective of how the Syrian Revolution has been declared “too complicated” that there was virtually no visible presence of the British left or wider progressive forces on the demonstration. There were no union banners or Socialist Worker placards visible.
One Syrian demonstrator, who had attended last year’s demonstration in solidarity with the Syrian Revolution in Paris, remarked on the contrast. There, French political organisations, including NGOs, marched with the Syrians. There were more flags representing other communities from the region; here only the Egyptian flag was visible. However, that demonstration was smaller than the London demonstration.
One of the great achievements of the Stop the War movement at its height was that it brought together Muslim and non-Muslims with organisations of the labour movement and broader progressive forces. Islamophobia in France that made demonstrations of this kind impossible there was rightly criticised by the British left at the time. But now we might ask: where then was the British left on Saturday 15 March?
It would be wrong to say that the entire British left has abandoned its support for the Syrian Revolution. The conference organised on the Syrian Revolution last month by activists from groups such as the Anti-Capitalist Initiative, the International Socialist Network and Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century made a contribution, and many of the same activists were active in building the demonstration this weekend. But it is clear that there is much work still to be done.
Further reading: This report on demonstrations within Syria highlights the efforts Syrian revolutionaries are making to remind the world that the Syrian revolution is not dead