Guest post by DaveM
“We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in spite of that Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence between your policy and the people’s beliefs and interests, you will have this vacuum that creates disturbance. So people do not only live on interests; they also live on beliefs, especially in very ideological areas. Unless you understand the ideological aspect of the region, you cannot understand what is happening.”
–Bashar al Assad interview with The Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2011
Just under two months later: Al Jazeera, March 25 2011:
It was a Syrian day unlike any other in which the winds of change which are raging throughout the area, shook the towns in its south, its centre and even its coast.
It was a day marked with blood in the town of Sanamin, close to the southern town of Daraa , where the security forces added a number of its residents to their list of victims when they shot at citizens who were marching in a demonstration in solidarity with Daraa.
After they heard the President’s consultant state that he had issued an order not to shoot at protesters the residents didn’t expect the security forces to react by firing live rounds on them. Yet they were surprised to find themselves subject to heavy gunfire which dispersed their ranks, killing and wounding of a number of them.
The scenes of the casualties are still flooding the streets of Daraa which is mourning its sons who were killed by the security forces.
The sparks of peaceful protests which began last week appear to have unified Syria’s different social and ethnic groups and pushed them into following in the footsteps of its [Daraa’s] residents by marching in solidarity with them and demanding political and social reforms along with the eradication of the phenomenon of corruption.
The extent of the protests has widened and the demonstrations have made their way towards Damascus where of a number of marches in solidarity took place in a number of the capital’s streets and areas.
Among the most noticeable were those witnessed in the Marja region in the city centre and others in Kafar Sousa.
While a crowd of worshipers were arranging a sit-down in the Sheikh Abd al Kareem ar-Rifaa in the city, hundreds of other protesters from the town of Tella and the region of Manadamia on the outskirts of Damascus were marching expressing their solidarity with the people of Daraa– and there were reports of a number of its people killed by the security forces opening fire on them.
The protest continued its upward march making its way to the city of Homs where after Friday prayers thousands went out to protest in the streets demanding freedom while other groups opposed to the town’s mayor were demanding his removal. The same scenes were repeated in the nearby town of Hama, where its citizens after Friday prayers took to the streets demanding freedom.
The echoes of these cries [for freedom] reverberated in the coastal town of Latakia.
It now appears the demonstrations have divided the Syrian “street” in two– one side opposed to the country’s politics and is demanding reforms reactivating the role of civil society. Yet the other side wasn’t going to stand by with its arms folded so they organised marches in support of the regime, with its organisers traversing the streets of Damascus, Suwayda, Tudbor and Hama.
With that Syria has now entered a stage where the international community isn’t going to stand by with its arms folded vis a vis this bloodshed.
This is the response from Syrian channel Adounia’s news bulletin on March 25:
News summary from the Adounia TV newsroom, peace be upon you.
Under Bashar al Assad’s instructions yesterday saw the release of all of those held during the latest events which were witnessed by the region of Daraa.
And an atmosphere of relief permeated Daraa and the surrounding regions following a package of decisions and decrees which were issued by Bashar al Assad. The most notable being the formation of a committee to call to account the instigators of the events.
The package also includes the carrying out of a full review of the government’s– local and national– performance along with the administrative leadership’s performance.
The decision has been made to put effective mechanisms in place to combat corruption, including the looking into completely ending the state of emergency.
Also included is the re-legislation of laws pertaining to political parties and the issuing of a new media law, strengthening the judicial law [at the expense of emergency law], the prohibition of random arrests and the resolving citizens’ issues on a wide scale.
There will also be increased opportunities for work– both creating jobs for the unemployed and securing work for those who are temporarily employed.
As for Daraa’s atmosphere of relief, Al Arabiya broadcast it to the entire Arab world in their evening news report:
Footage has emerged from the Internet showing people in Daraa’s main square tearing down a picture of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. [Shouts of “freedom”]
There has also been other footage of people in Homs taking down a picture of the departed president Hafez al Assad. [Shouts of “allah akbar!” and “tear it down!”]
There have also been demonstrations in Damascus in support of president Assad. [Shouts of “Allah, Syria, Bashar!” and “With our souls and blood we sacrifice ourselves for you, oh Bashar!”]
Of course only a cynic would suggest that the pro-Assad rallies are anything other than spontaneous. The camera crews just happened to be there by accident. Happens all the time.
It appears the demonstrations have moved past the point of simply demanding reform. These are demonstrations calling for the end of the Ba’athism in Syria. Here you can hear the demonstrators in Latakia shout the slogan which rang out in Egypt and Tunisa: “The people want the regime to fall”
Syria has entered a new stage, and the world is watching.