In 2011, profound civil discontent in northern African countries found a conduit in social media to ignite a series of revolutions, commonly referred to as the Arab Spring.
In the following months and years, regimes were toppled, heads of state replaced, and bloodthirst quenched. But not in Syria. Since then, every head of the conflict’s chimera has been met with the same unblinking vitriol by the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. Hundreds of thousands have died, almost as many are missing, and more than half of the 22 million population have been uprooted from their homes.
On Monday, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) updated its Syrian Conflict Tracker, estimating that more than 5.6 million Syrians are registered refugees, most of them fleeing to neighbouring countries, from Lebanon to Jordan. More than 6.2 million people are internally displaced within Syria, according to the UNHCR. To compound these abysmal statistics, the CFR also specifies in its report that a decade later the conflict’s status is still “unchanging”. The civil war rages on, with no end in sight.
Domestically, a surprising political scenario is being enacted for international viewership. The rise of Asma Assad, the president’s wife, has raised concerns that not only will the regime endure, but in shifting power to Asma – a British-born, King’s College-educated, former City investment banker – the west might even soften to it.
As humans, we become accustomed and apathetic. The daily news cycle triggers short-term reactive emotions in all of us, but the ability to hold onto feelings of dismay and disbelief elude us over time. Which explains why, as the tenth anniversary of the Syrian war came and went this week, we mostly lay dormant, victims to the sense of familiarity that monotony begets.
But within this jumble of international alliances and domestic power-plays, things may, slowly, be shifting. At the beginning of the week, the Metropolitan Police launched an investigation into Asma Assad, the president’s wife, over claims she supported and encouraged terrorism. As a British citizen, she could be extradited were she to leave Syria, and face justice in the UK. Separately, the Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok has recently joined the Canadian government to bring a criminal case against Bashar al-Assad, on the grounds that the Syrian government allowed detainment and torture “on an industrial scale”.
Opinions will differ as to whether there is any prospect of achieving justice this way, with sceptics probably having more reasons to justify their position than optimists. However, with Syria confirming it will engage in talks, diplomatic negotiations can now begin and the first tentative steps on what would appear a long road to justice can be taken.