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SYRIA: Anti-Assad protesters emboldened by Libyan rebels' success

August 22, 2011 | 10:32 am

Photo: A protestor steps on a portrait of of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration. Credit: Bulent Kilic / AFP / Getty Images Syrian protestors celebrated the accomplishments made by Libyan rebels on Sunday, heartened by the advances made by opposition forces in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

But, while they hope that Damascus will succumb to their push against the regime of President Bashar Assad, Syrian activists admit that differences between Libya and Syria call for different tactics in their  rebellion. 

"Achievements made by the rebels in Libya have only made us even more intent on removing Bashar," said one activist and member of the popular anti-regime Local Coordination Committee in Latakia, who goes by the honorific Abu Yousef. 

Arab countries which have been distant for decades have now been joined by a popular uprising that has engulfed the region. In the minds of protestors in Syria, the fate of their own movement is very much influenced by events unfolding a continent away. 

"I was never as involved and invested in Libyan politics as much as I am today. That is because our fight is one fight. We are unified in our resistance to dictators. We are unified by the greater Arab awakening," said Lina, a 26-year old resident of Damascus. 

In Hama, the scene of some the Syrian uprising's bloodiest days, residents and activists perceive the success of Libya's rebels to be a success of the so-called Arab Spring as a whole. 

According to one lawyer and activist in Hama, "All Arab dictators should look to Libya and tremble. The Libyans have taught us that autocrats can't subdue their own people and survive."

Anti-regime protestors, unlike the rebels of Libya, have neither militarized nor joined in forming an organized armed counterweight to the Assad regime. Unlike the narratives propagated by Syrian state TV, opponents to the four-decade Baath rule in Syria have remained largely peaceful. 

Though bolstered by the Libyan struggle for freedom, activists in Syria understand that armed resistance in their country is not the best option. 

"Our revolution will remain peaceful no matter what. We are happy for our brothers in Libya but Syria is not Libya," said Abu Yousef.  "Syria is a country with many different sects, under different geopolitical circumstances. We are fighting a regime that wants to foment a civil war, therefore we must remain peaceful."

Many worry that the months-long uprising in Syria will fall victim to sectarian tensions between the majority Sunnis and minority Alawites. Protestors have continuously cautioned against civil strife, denying that taking up arms was an option. 

"Different problems call for different solutions. Together with the Libyans, we fight brutal and criminal regimes. But in Syria we have other things to consider and watch out for. I don't think anyone really believes we can fight Bashar's security forces with guns. That is silly," said Rami, an activist in Homs. 

Even while protesters refuse to take up arms, plainclothes security officers continue to crack down on  protesters in Latakia as U.N. human rights delegations visit different parts of Syria.  

"U.N. human rights officers have made their way from the southern city of Banyas, and are coming to Latakia. Security personnel continue to crack down on protestors in Latakia, scaring people into submission before the U.N. arrives," said Abu Yousef. 

According to the Al-Riml resident, pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets to show their support of the U.N. delegations, but were met with gunfire by Assad's military forces in many cities. 

Shaky and chilling video footage uploaded on Monday reportedly shows a man shot in the head by security forces in Homs after allegedly displaying support for the humanitarian delegations. 

"It is troubling that Assad has not kept his word," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a news  conference in New York on Monday, referring to the Syrian president's promise last week that military offensives would cease in Syrian neighborhoods. 

Fresh violence came just one day after Assad made a speech vowing to stay in power and assuring that the siutation in Syria was “under control.”

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-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut

Photo: A protestor steps on a portrait of of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration. Credit: Bulent Kilic / AFP / Getty Images

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