Idlib, Syria – Thousands of Syrians protested across the country against several Arab countries’ normalization of relations with the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the country’s return to the Arab League.
The protests on Friday coincided with al-Assad’s participation in the Arab League summit held in Saudi Arabia, marking the Syrian president’s return to the summit after 12 years.
Thousands protested in Idlib, al-Bab, Azaz, Jarabulus, and Afrin, among other cities, under the slogan, “Criminal Al-Assad Does Not Represent Syria”.
Demonstrations also took place in six cities outside Syria: Vienna, Amsterdam, London, Vaile, Stockholm and Lyon.
In the northwestern Syrian rebel-held city of Idlib, hundreds joined the protests.
“We present today to remind those who want to normalize their relations with the al-Assad regime that the Great Syrian Revolution that spontaneously began as a response to the internal oppression that we suffered under the Assad regime,” Ibrahim Aboud, one of the participants in the demonstration and a displaced civilian from Maarat al-Numan in northern Idlib, told Al Jazeera.
“When we first protested in 2011, we did not ask permission from anyone, and we did not consider the regional and international environment surrounding Syria.”
Aboud said that he does not accept the move of the Arab countries, be it political, diplomatic, military, or economic, considering that the government has killed, deported and imprisoned millions of Syrians for 12 years.
“We are determined to achieve the goals of the revolution and free Syria from the Assad regime and thugs,” Aboud said.
‘He was made to answer’
The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in May 2011 following al-Assad’s brutal handling of the protests, as well as civilians that started the Syrian revolution that year.
“Today, we send a message to the Arab and international community rejecting the return of the criminal Bashar al-Assad to the Arab League. They should have held him accountable instead of shaking hands with his hands, stained with the blood of the Syrian people ,” said Naif Shaban, a human rights activist and displaced civilian from Wadi Barada in the Damascus countryside.
“Normalization won’t change anything for us because it happened under the table for the last 12 years. Now, it’s happening in public,” Shaban said.
Syria’s war erupted after al-Assad’s crackdown on peaceful anti-government demonstrations in 2011 led to a deadly conflict that drew in foreign powers and various armed groups.
More than half a million people were killed and about half of the country’s pre-war population was forced from their homes.
Idlib is home to about three million people, half of whom have been displaced by the war.
‘Our revolution will continue’
In the city of Al-Bab in Syria, about 1,000 people held a similar protest.
Jalal Talawi, one of the organizers of the protest in the city, said that the demonstrators showed their strong rejection of al-Assad’s presence at the summit and the normalization of this “malicious regime”.
“Many people are now lost to al-Assad’s regime and its supporters,” Talawi told Al Jazeera.
“Our message is very clear: Our revolution will continue until it achieves its goal and that is freedom and liberation from this regime.
“Al-Assad does not represent us as Syrians and we are sending a clear message today to all those who support or oppose the revolution, that we will not accept this regime and continue until it falls and until we get all our prisoners. We will continue even if the whole world stands in our way.”
In Azaz, a haven for Syrians fleeing from other parts of the country amid the war, 700 people gathered to protest.
‘We greatly appreciate Qatar’s stance’
Nor is the return of Syria to the Arab League around the world embraced in the Saudi city of Jeddah where the meeting took place.
Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani left the city after leading the Qatari delegation to the summit. While there was no confirmation, the Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed Arab official as saying that Sheikh Tamim left the summit before al-Assad’s speech began.
Qatar previously opposed Syria’s return to the Arab League. After its return to the Arab League, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar said that the country’s position “on the normalization of the regime has not changed”.
The spokesman added that Qatar will still support the “Arab consensus and will not be an obstacle to that”.
Shaban, a protester in Idlib, added that people “appreciate Qatar’s stance against normalization and their support for the rights of the Syrian people”.
“We want other countries to have the same stance,” Shaban added.