The town of Salamiyah, in central Syria, was one of the first to join in the demonstrations against the Assad regime. Its uprising stood out because of the sheer number and contribution of women to the movement. Despite the ebbs and flows of revolutionary activity in the town since those early days, this distinguishing factor continues under the banner of the “Salamiyah Women Coordination Committee”.
The large participation of women in the town from early on came as a direct rebuke to the regime’s narrative of the revolution as the product of Salafists and radical Islamist elements. The town’s mostly Ismaili population (a small branch of Shia Islam) also dented the regime’s sectarian propaganda, and its self-anointed position as the “protector of minorities”. The two elements made the town’s participation in the uprising a truly scary prospect for the regime, which it faced down very early on with large scale detentions coupled with a massive propaganda and rumours campaigns about the “salafist conspiracy”.
The crackdown significantly reduced the protest movement in the city, into only smaller flash protests. The Salamiyah Women Coordination Committee was established in these difficult circumstances to stand up to this crackdown, and position the women of Salamiyah at the center stage of civil resistance in the town.
One of the first activities organized by the committee was a silent march through the city streets. Participants held up banners glorifying other rebelling towns, calling for the release of detainees and condemning the Assad’s regimes bombings campaigns against Syrian towns. The silent march was soon assaulted by regime thugs and security forces, and a large number of the activists were detained.
The crackdown against public protests pushed the activists to think of innovative, but safer, means of protesting. Thus was the idea for demonstrations organized inside homes. “We organized sit-ins inside of our houses, where we held banners and statements that presented our political views, and our resistance to the brutality of the Assad regime.” These domestic sit-ins were then filmed and distributed on social media. One of the poignant messages of the sit-ins read: “Our whole revolution can be summarized in these words: We want freedom, we want dignity, and we will demand these until the murderer falls and is finally executed.”
These domestic sit-ins have continued well into the revolution’s third year, despite the ever changing circumstances. The committee’s activists fully reject the regime’s narrative on sectarianism, and they feel, as members of one such so-called “minority”, that they are best placed to dissect this narrative as utter nonsense: “No one can fool us with this lie of protecting minorities. The Syrian revolution is one for all Syrians whoever they were, and wherever they lived. Its goal is clear, and that is to rid us of the regime of the Assad family and to create a new Syria that is based on active citizenship, pluralism and the rule of law.”
The committee’s forced recourse to domestic sit-ins did not prevent it from participating in other types of revolutionary activities including relief, providing help to internally displaced Syrians and to the families of victims and detainees. All of these activities are sustained by individual donations from committee members.
The group, while reaffirming its commitment to civil and nonviolent activism, nevertheless is clear in its support of armed resistance as well, albeit only under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). This is because the group believes that “militarization was an inevitable consequence of the regime’s brutality and massacres.” They, however, recognize the detrimental effects of radical Islamist militants on the revolution and civil activists, and regard groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as an extension of the regime rather than its opponents.
The women of Salamiyah have led their town’s struggle against the regime’s tyranny. With clear ideas and commitment they hqve turned their houses into a “thorn in the regime’s throat”. And they have proven themselves most worthy of their town’s most famous legacy, its internationally-celebrated poet, and eternal revolutionary, Muhammad al-Maghut: “Tyrants are like world records, they all eventually fall.”