Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous Post | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next Post »

SYRIA: In Damascus, dreams of a revolution amid fears of defeat

May 12, 2011 |  9:48 am

M_Id_206653_Syria_protestShe is a young Syrian who works as a schoolteacher and is one of those here who still has high hopes that the wave of anti-government protests that have rocked Syria for the last two months will succeed and overthrow the system.

 "There will be a long hot summer culminating in the victory of the revolution," says the woman as she puffs on a cigarette, her eyes glued to the TV screen. "Before the fall, we will be able to walk our streets again and see the change that we're fighting for with our own eyes."

Timeline: Uprising in Syria

Syria braces for another day of possible confrontations after prayers Friday between protesters and violent security forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. Despite the enthusiasm of protesters, many worried that the movement that has already cost hundreds of lives at the hands of Assad's forces would be crushed.

It is difficult to determine the general mood in Damascus and whether people have adopted increasingly positive or negative views about the protests, regime crackdown and upheavals in the country. Opinions vary greatly.

A political scientist, a historian and a doctor sitting on a balcony that overlooks Damascus say they are all optimistic about the protests. They say it's possible to change things in the country today.

Two of them are wanted by the police and say they have not been able to go home in two weeks. But no one here cares anymore, they say. The time for intimidation is over and scare tactics don't work anymore, at least for the trio on the balcony.

However, the regime's crushing of the protests and mass arrests do cripple demonstrations -- to a certain extent, suggested a prominent Damascus-based human rights lawyer.

The lawyer told Babylon & Beyond that it shouldn't come as a surprise if protests remain small in size on Friday after prayers because so many Syrian towns and cities are besieged by the military and thousands of people have been thrown in jail.

More and more opposition activists are hauled into custody daily. On Thursday, the prominent human rights activist Mohammad Najati Tayyara was arrested on a street in Homs, according to the lawyer.

Just the thought of being arrested by security forces or hauled into a van by government thugs induces terror among some. That was the case Monday around Arnous square in Damascus, where a sit-in was brutally broken up by thugs and security forces. The people in the shopping street where the demonstrators were marching froze when they realized what was happening.

Photo_1300471162630-1-0 A group of about 200 people went with quiet steps while singing the national anthem, a celebration of the country and the people. The people who were watching them did so with considerable fear because they know what would come next. They knew the brutality these people would face.

Seconds later, chaos and tumult broke out. People in police uniforms and plainclothes thugs surrounded the crowd and started running toward them from all sides. People got beaten with clubs and one old policeman hit so frenetically at people it seemed he had been personally offended by the demonstration.

The upheavals and the precarious security situation in the country make some worry greatly about what might happen in Syria if there is a power vacuum. They're the kind of people who say they hope that all this will be over soon and how they'd rather stick with the pain they're used to (the Assad government) rather than try out something else that might be worse. Assad might not be great but there is worse, they say, like Salafists -- hard-line conservative Islamists -- who might try to take command, in their opinion.

Then, of course, there are the regime supporters such as the elite athlete who says Assad is very popular among the Syrian people and speaks of dark outside forces targeting the Syria's national unity.

"Everyone here loves President Bashar Assad and the foreign conspiracy which is currently challenging the peace and stability of the country will not go unpunished," he says.

His message is echoed in the streets of Syria, where walls and bus stops have been flooded with ads, billboards and banners that seek to inform the public about the importance of national unity and how they must resist attempts to divide the nation.


Timeline: Uprising in Syria

-- A special correspondent in Damascus

Photos, from top: Syrian anti-government protesters shout slogans outside Damascus' Umayyad Mosque in March (credit: Associated Press); a picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, at the entrance of a store in Damascus (credit: Agence-France Presse).