The student movement in Syria and its role in the revolution

Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, the students played an important and essential role in the revolutionary popular movement. Universities were center of resistance against the repressive regime.

Scenes of students throughout Syria coming out from their university dormitories to demonstrate against the regime and security forces, while militias used force to disperse them, have become more and more observed.

The latest massive demonstrations in various universities and especially in Aleppo University, which has been active since the start of the uprising and is the symbol of this student resistant that has gathered revolutionaries students from various regions an religious sects in the largest university campus of the country.

These demonstrations were suppressed in Aleppo University with great violence and repression, like other student demonstrations across the country and in other universities, at the hands of the security forces. In Aleppo University, during these demonstrations (May), the security forces killed four students and arrested hundreds of others. The university decided to shut down the university and its housing complex under the orders of the security services, only allowing exams and graduating projects to be held on campus

Despite the raids, arrests and threats of expulsion, students continued to protest on almost a daily basis.

Today not one week passes without the voices and chants from students of Damascus University are heard at the presidential palace only hundreds of metres away or demonstrations are witnessed in Deraa and Deir Al-Zur universities. Aleppo University suspended classes out of fear of the youth revolution, while bullets have outnumbered books at Homs University.

Even expensive private universities have witnessed demonstrations against the regime, such as Yarmouk Private University and Kalamoon University. Students at these universities organised many protests on campus demanding freedom and in solidarity with cities in revolt. University corridors have been plastered with slogans and flyers demanding the overthrow of the regime, and these students were also subjected to a crackdown by security forces and in some instances were forced to lie on the ground and chant in praises of the president.

In several statements, these students asserted that they are “part of the student body of private universities that were established by the corrupt Syrian regime” where they are treated “as clients, not students“. They add that their revolution is “for the sake of their future“.

The students represent a quarter of all the martyrs in Syria since the beginning of the revolution in March 2011, according to the Syria Free Students Union (SFSU), which was founded on September 29, 2011 to struggle against the regime and to be a democratic, political and syndicalistic station in the life of the free Syrian students’ movement (see founding statement

The main goals of the Union of Free Syrian Students are:

• Combine the energy of the free Syrian students in all the Syrian universities

• Work closely to organize demonstrations and general strikes inside universities and schools, and outside them in civilized and humanitarian ways while being committed to the peacefulness of these activities.

• Work together with the rest of the revolution’s groups, unions and committees in order to topple the regime that has already lost its legitimacy, while maintaining national unity in the process.

• Work on building a civil state that has a democratic and pluralistic system to ensure freedom, justice and equality for all citizens.

The SFSU played an important role in the strikes and the campaign of civil disobedience in January and February 2012 (see statement in February and the last weeks.

The students of Aleppo University were at the forefront of the protest movement in the city of Aleppo.

The conference for the establishment of the SFSU’s branch of the University of Aleppo was held on 5/3/2012, while for Idlib’s University on 10/3/2012. These conferences were organized with the presence of the executive body of the Organization of the Conference formed with previous experience in the field of union work from students, professors and doctors from the University of Aleppo and Idlib, which were concluded by the election of members of the SFSU in the two universities.

They also demanded the dismantling of National Union Syrian Students, which is affiliated to the regime and the Baath Party, declaring that it has become a tool of suppression and organized regime terrorism of students.

A Union of Free Syrian Professors (UFSP) organization has also been formed and it issued a statement on January 24 2012 outlining its goals and ways to support a Syrian revolution ( see statement

UFSP stated that it will work with academics not only to campaign against the regime but also to achieve a restructuring of Syrian universities, turning them into beacons of science, justice and freedom in line with international standards and purging them of the presence of Syrian intelligence and security forces, and corruption.

In addition they claim that they want to move forward and continue in the march of freedom until victory or martyrdom. They declare as well that the victory is in the will of the people in the overthrow of the regime with all its Assad symbols

It is important to remember that universities were the main sectors of society, with the army, to which the regime imposed its full control on them. The regime has banned all political activities except for the activities of the Baath Party. The Baath Party was the only political organization which had the right to organize events, lectures and public demonstrations on the campus of a university or military barracks or to publish and distribute a newspaper at the university and the military.

Even the political parties allied to regime in the National Progressive Front, linked to the regime, did not have the right to organize, to make propaganda or to have a small official presence in these institutions.

The regime imposed its domination on these two fundamentals sectors of the army and the student movement. A paragraph of the Charter of the National Progressive Front indicates that the parties linked to the NPF are prevented of any political work and activities in the sectors of the army and among the students at the university.

The students’ movements have indeed a history of resistance and protests in the country. Since the French occupation and until the end of the last century, Syrian student movements were very often at the origin of many activities against occupiers and authoritarian regimes. This role evolved in the first half of the 20th Century until the Baath Party came to power and the student movement was crushed. It was actually this student movement which triggered the revolt against military rule in 1954 before the Syrian army announced a coup against the regime from Aleppo. The movement also played a key role in confronting the Baghdad Alliance in the 1950s and demanded unification between Syria and Egypt.

The arrival of the Baath to power changed all that, and no immunity was granted to university campuses in any way. Security agencies could actually arrest students inside lecture halls and or on campus.

In a similar manner the regime imposed its domination on the bureaucracy of the trade union workers, and this is what prevented and hindered the labor struggle against neo-liberal policies pursued by the authoritarian regime since 2000, which has caused the decline of standard of living of the majority of the people, as well as political repression, and these were the main causes which launched the wave of protests, and that were in the past years turning around the economic question. For example, in May of 2006, hundreds of workers protested at the public construction company in Damascus, and clashed with security forces, and at the same period taxi drivers went on strike in Aleppo.

Workers have also been target of the repression.  Successful campaigns of general strikes and civil disobedience in Syria during the period December 2011 paralyzing large parts of the country also shows the activism of the working class and the exploited who are indeed the heart of the Syrian revolution. For this reason, the dictatorship has laid off more than 85,000 workers from January 2011 to February 2012, and closed 187 factories (according to official figures), to break the dynamics of protest.

The students were not only victims of the repression of the regime, but they suffered also of its neo liberal policies which left many graduates unemployed at the end of their studies.

In 2010, the unemployment rate amounted 20 to 25%, to reach 55% for  the people under the age of 25 (in a country where people under 30 years old represent 65% of the population).

In spite of this situation the universities became center of resistance against the repression, like the universities in Egypt and Tunisia where. The Tunisian regime actually closed by force the universities few days before the overthrow of Ben Ali because of its important role in the protests and the revolution.

In Egypt, the students created new and independent unions throughout the country. They participated and organized many protests. In both countries, as well as in Syria, the students, with the workers, are the vanguard of the struggle, and they want to continue and achieve the goals of the revolution!

Many students have declared and pledged that they will not continue their education before they complete their revolution. “No education without freedom” could be seen in different students’ demonstrations.

The watchword is definitely: Permanent Revolution until victory!

7 thoughts on “The student movement in Syria and its role in the revolution

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