'Saturday's ceasefire has given residents of "free" areas a rare respite from war and allowed civil movements to re-emerge from the periphery of Syria's war. Over the past five days, activists and residents have taken to the streets in rebel-held towns to protest against the regime. They also reaffirmed their commitment to freedom and democracy, and called for rebel unity.
Many of these colourful protests were led by the same activists who organised demonstrations in 2011, but were later made impossible due to regime sniper fire, mortars and bombs. "The people want the downfall of the regime," people chanted on the streets of Damascus' suburbs this week, just as they did during the early days of the revolution in 2011.
"In many ways it wasn't surprising, because I've often thought that if the bombs stop falling civil society may regain its former place in the movement," said Leila al-Shami, a British-Syrian writer who co-authored Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War. "But it's amazing to see Syrians' strength and courage and their unwavering commitment to be free. It's also good to see women taking to the streets in some areas. They've often said that the security situation has prevented them from doing so."
The Syrian regime has sought to exterminate these sights from the eyes of the world, since pro-democracy, peaceful and civilian protests sprung up across the country five years ago. Mass rallies calling for reforms in 2011 were broken up with broken skulls, when riot police charged into the peaceful crowds. Later, bullets did the job, and led brave soldiers to defect their posts and join the demonstrators.
Damascus had sought legitimacy by portraying itself as a secular government protecting Syria's mosaic of ethnic and religious diversity. When mentioned in the media, Syrian opposition and rebel groups are often faithfully affixed with "Sunni", "Islamist", "extremist" and occasionally "terrorist". Meanwhile, Damascus bolstered the ranks of its army which was decimated by defections. Shabiha gangs, Shia militias and Iranian troops have now transformed the so-called Syrian Arab Army into a confederation of theistic tribes and thuggish militias.
The protesters' calls were not for sectarian-tinged revenge, or even sharia law, but stayed true to the original principles of the revolution - freedom for all, and oppression by none. When the bombing and fighting ends for good in Syria we might see a country emerge from the ashes that people hoped for in 2011. But at the price of hundreds of thousands of dead. Yet the past week has shown that it is possible for Syrians to overcome the nightmares they have experienced, and perhaps one day their differences will become the building blocks for a better, stronger and united Syria.'