Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, March 2011
Protests Spread All Over Syria in Solidarity with Dara'a, Demanding Freedom, Scores Killed and Injured
March 25, 2011
Syrians have already started their revolution against their dictatorial regime, with scores killed and injured in Dara'a and neighboring cities.
Protesters came out on Friday in Damascus and other major cities chanting, "Allah, Syria, Freedom only, meaning no loyalty to Assad or his Ba'ath party, as shown by Arabic TV stations today.
Thus, the Syrian revolution has been recorded forcefully after those of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Jorday.
Protests spread across Syria on Friday, challenging the rule of the Assad family after their forces killed dozens of demonstrators in the south.
In the southern city of Deraa, which has been in revolt for a week, gunfire and tear gas scattered a crowd of thousands after people lit a fire under a statue of late president Hafez al-Assad, whose son Bashar has ruled since his death in 2000.
Al Jazeera aired comments by a man who said security forces had killed 20 people on Friday in the nearby town of Sanamein.
In Hama, in the centre of the country, where the elder Assad put down an Islamist revolt in 1982 at a cost of many thousands of lives, residents said people streamed through the streets after weekly prayers chanting "Freedom is ringing out!" -- a slogan heard in uprisings sweeping the rest of the Arab world.
The same chant had earlier marked funeral processions in Deraa for some of the at least 37 people killed on Wednesday, when security agents attacked pro-democracy groups at a mosque. In all, 44 deaths have been reported in the past week in Deraa.
Security men, on alert across the country during weekly prayers at mosques, quickly stifled a small demonstration in the capital Damascus. They hauled away dozens among a crowd of some 200 who chanted their support for people of Deraa.
In Tel, near Damascus, about 1,000 people rallied and chanted slogans calling relatives of Assad "thieves".
In Deraa itself, a bastion of the Sunni majority which resents the power and wealth amassed by the Alawite elite around Assad, a Reuters correspondent saw thousands rally unchallenged until the sound of heavy gunfire sent them running for cover.
Unrest in Deraa came to a head this week after police detained more than a dozen schoolchildren for writing graffiti against the government. In Damascus, a couple of protests by a few dozen people shouting slogans were broken up last week.
Among the targets of the crowd's anger on Friday was Maher al-Assad, a brother of the president and head of the Republican Guard, a special security force, and Rami Makhlouf, a cousin who runs big businesses and is accused by Washington of corruption.
Allied with Shi'ite, non-Arab Iran against the Western powers and neighbouring Israel, Assad's Syria sits at the heart of a complex web of conflict in the Middle East.
His anti-Israel stance has protected him against some of the criticism aimed, for example, at Egypt's deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, who defended a peace treaty with the Jewish state.
Demonstrators in Deraa turned that hostility to Israel against the government on Friday, highlighting the use of force against them and the failure of the Assads to take back the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in a 1967 war.
"Maher, you coward!" they chanted. "Send your troops to liberate the Golan!"
In Deraa, before the Friday midday prayers which are the high point of social interaction in much of the Arab world, a procession of cars coursed through the streets honking horns and raising pictures of the president. There were also pro-Assad congregations in other parts of the city.
Minarets in Deraa echoed throughout the morning with the calls of imams to the faithful to attend funerals of some of the civilians killed, most of them when security forces fired on demonstrators in the mainly Sunni Muslim city on Wednesday.
A Facebook page called Syrian Revolution called on people to gather on the "Friday of Dignity" after prayers, "in all mosques, in all provinces, in the biggest squares".
Bashar al-Assad promised on Thursday to look into granting Syrians greater freedoms in an attempt to defuse the outbreak of popular demands for political freedoms and an end to corruption.
He also pledged to look at ending an emergency law in place since 1963 and made an offer of large public pay rises.
Syrian security forces pulled out on Thursday from the mosque where several people were killed. People later converged on the mosque to celebrate its "liberation", setting off fireworks and honking car horns.
As an aide announced Assad would study a possible end to 48 years of emergency rule, a human rights group said a leading pro-democracy activist, Mazen Darwish, had been arrested.
On Jan. 31, Assad had said there was no chance political upheavals then shaking Tunisia and Egypt would spread to Syria.
The Baath Party, which has ruled Syria tightly since a 1963 coup, would draft laws to provide for media freedoms, and look at allowing other political movements, Assad's aide said. The party would also seek to lift living standards.
Assad, who has strengthened Syria's ties with Iran, has come under criticism for his handling of the protests. The United States described the shootings of protesters as "brutal".
"For now, this remains a geographically isolated tragedy. But it also constitutes an ominous precedent with widespread popular resonance that could soon be repeated elsewhere," the International Crisis Group think-tank said.
Syrian authorities released all those arrested in the Deraa region since the protests erupted, an official statement said, without giving a figure.
U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that Syria should follow the example of Egypt, where the army held fire and helped the people overthrow the rule of Hosni Mubarak.
"I would say that what the Syrian government is confronting is in fact the same challenge that faces so many governments across the region, and that is the unmet political and economic grievances of their people," Gates said.
In Paris, Syria's colonial ruler between the two world wars, the foreign ministry said: "France condemns in the strongest terms the violence of recent days that have led to the deaths of several dozen people and many injured."
Protests erupt in Syrian cities in solidarity with Dara'a marchers
DAMASCUS, March 25 (Xinhua) --
Hundreds of Syrians took to the streets on Friday in some Syrian cities including the capital Damascus, in solidarity with people in Dara'a who are demonstrating for the eighth day against the regime.
Eyewitnesses told Xinhua that protests erupted just after Muslim Friday's prayers at some mosques in Damascus and Homs, 200 km north to the capital.
They chanted in favor of thousands of marchers in Dara'a who marched the streets on Friday to mourn their sons that have been killed in recent clashes with security forces.
Meanwhile, pan-Arab Al-Jazeera TV reported that Syrian authorities denied news agencies access to Dara'a, 100 km south of Damascus.
Violence flares in southern Syria, but protests fail to spread any further
France 24, 24/03/2011 / SYRIA
Violent protests have raged in the southern Syrian city of Deraa since March 18. Syria is the latest Middle Eastern country to see an uprising against a long-established autocratic regime. Just as in Tunisia before it, the hub of the movement has not been the capital, but an underprivileged, provincial city. According to activists in Deraa, a mainly Sunni tribal city 120 km south of Damascus, security forces opened fire on protesters on Wednesday, killing at least 100 people. The report could not be independently confirmed. On Thursday a media advisor to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad put the death toll in Daraa at 10, while a hospital official told Reuters that at least 37 had been killed. International rights groups on Thursday reported mass arrests across Syria, among them several opposition bloggers.
Injured protester in Deraa on Wednesday, March 23. The protesters, who have not yet been identified, have been holed up for the past week in the Omari mosque in Deraa. Syrian authorities accuse them of being Salafis, followers of an austere branch of Sunni Islam. On the night of Tuesday, March 22, security forces launched an assault against the mosque. However, life in the capital city Damascus and other parts of the country remained largely unaffected, although short-lived protests were reported in Damascus on Thursday. Syria has been ruled by the Al-Assad family since 1970 when general Hafez al-Assad came to power after a bloody coup. After his death in 2000, he was succeeded by his by son, Bashar. . Contributors
"The protests were initially to demand the liberation of 15 kids detained by the police"
Ayman Al Aswad, 47, is a mathematics teacher in Deraa. He participated in several protests at the Omari mosque. We were able to reach him on Monday, but since then, it has become increasingly difficult to reach people in the area by phone. At first, those who were protesting were mostly young people. Initially, the aim of protests was to demand the liberation of 15 kids, aged 11 to 13, who have been detained by the police for over a month because they were caught scribbling anti-government slogans they’d heard on TV on the wall. The first protests were on Friday [March 18]. Thousands of youths decided to protest in front of City Hall, but they were greeted with police who fired tear gas, followed by live rounds. Two people were killed and dozens more injured.
Protesters carrying an injured youth on March 20 in Daraa. Then the demonstrators regrouped in the Omari mosque, which quickly became the epicentre of the protests. Injured protesters were brought in on bicycle to be treated in the mosque, because people were afraid they’d be arrested if they went to the hospital.
Volunteers taking care of an injured protester at Al Omani mosque. In the following days, the tension continued to increase. In addition to asking for the liberation of the 15 teenagers, the protesters began demanding an end to corruption in government, the abolition of the military emergency law [which has been in place since 1963], and the resignation of the state governor and chief of police. On Sunday, protesters from Daraa and several surrounding villages forced through a police security cordon and set fire to every symbol of power they came across: the central court, a cell phone company that belongs to the president's cousin [Rami Makhlouf], and the state governor’s car and house. On March 21 the president announced his intention to fire the state governor, in an effort to calm protesters. But it’s not enough. The youth of Daraa want to continue protesting, because what they want now is true freedom."
Protests in Daraa on March 20.
“It is more difficult in Syria than in other Arab nations to turn a local protest into a nationwide political movement”
Omar is a translator in Damascus. He tried to organise a small protest in the city centre to condemn the death of demonstrators in Dera'a, but a heavy police presence deterred many people from showing up. It’s hard for people in Damascus to know exactly what is going on in Dera'a. On the one hand, there is the official version of the authorities, who say that there are just a handful of troublemakers in Dera'a. On the other, we hear reports of major unrest, without really knowing who the sources are.
This lack of transparency confuses Syrians and discourages them to mobilise. Everyone agrees [in principle] with condemning the protesters' deaths. But the solidarity stops there, because we still don’t know who is behind the movement. It’s more difficult in Syria than it is in other Arab nations to turn a local protest into a nationwide movement. The single-party system and the emergency law have stifled any kind of political conscience in the Syrian people.
There’s almost no chance that calls to protest on the Web would have a large following: very few Syrians have Internet access. When Facebook and YouTube were legalised two months ago, a poll found that only 200,000 Syrians had joined the social networking site, out of 23 million citizens [in comparison, Tunisia counts 2 million Facebook users for a population of 11 million].”
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