During the darkest and ugliest days of the recent conflict between Hizbollah and Israel, there was a small but bright ray of hope that shone from of all places, Syria. No, it was not the result of anything the regime or its cronies did, as nothing illuminating ever comes from them. I am talking about the graciousness and generosity with which the people of Syria pitched in to help their displaced Lebanese neighbors.
I must admit that when I first heard the stories, I suspected that it was the regime mobilizing for propaganda purposes. I was wrong. I should have known better that an insecure, paranoid, vindictive regime is incapable of thinking creatively in this way. From personal stories that I heard, "Official Syria" did not make it easy for Lebanese crossing the border and hampered relief going back in.
In fact the initial and bulk of the aid to refugees was the work of private citizens, civil society groups and private businesses. The stories abound of Syrians of all strata of society pitching in generously to help (Here, here, and here ).
As a Syrian, this is feel-good story at a time when there is little to cheer about and I am very proud of my compatriots. However, I think there is more to this story than meets the eye. Critics of the Syrian regime often attribute the regime's longevity to the passive, cowed attitudes of the Syrian citizens that are incapable of acting in the public sphere without direction from the government. This attitude, it is said would also impede the move towards reform.
Well, guess what? The citizens of Syria have proved the critics wrong. The citizens of Syria can think and act for themselves; they can mobilize their civil society groups to work effectively for a common cause. To me, this reflects a certain maturity among the citizens in their perception of their roles and responsibilities for the greater good of society, a maturity that I am not sure was present a generation ago. Now it is true that mobilizing to help Lebanese refugees is not like mobilizing to demand reform. However, the mere fact that citizens are capable of organizing independently on a large scale is significant. It makes me a little more hopeful about the stability of Syrian society should (when?) major changes happen at the top.