First Published: 2011-03-23

 

Unprecedented wave of popular protest hits Syria

 

Anti-regime protests are becoming increasingly heated despite Syria’s iron grip on security matters.

 

Middle East Online

Daraa the hotbed of anti-regime protests

DAMASCUS - After Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, a wave of unprecedented anti-regime protests has now hit Syria, a country known for its iron grip on security matters.

"We now live in a new climate, and Syria cannot remain outside the movement" that is sweeping the Middle East, said Burhan Ghalyoun, an Arab studies professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris.

"The regime is mistaken if it thinks it can settle these problems through repression," Ghalyoun said.

"The security services' old methods will only pour oil on an already burning fire."

Syria, which is still under a 1963 emergency law banning demonstrations, has seen a string of small but unprecedented protests demanding the end of the ruling regime of President Bashar al-Assad for one week now.

Daraa, a southern town that is home to large tribal families, has been the focal point of the rallies, the latest in a string of uprisings against long-running autocratic regimes across the Arab world.

Eleven people were reported killed in a security crackdown on the Daraa demonstrations, including an 11-year-old boy who died after on Monday after inhaling tear gas the day before.

And while the government of Assad, who succeeded his father as Syria's president in 2000, has promised to launch an investigation into the Daraa killings, the protesters seem far from satisfied.

The protests are becoming increasingly heated, with Daraa residents torching the local courthouse this week.

Facebook group Syrian Revolution 2011, which carries an Arabic version of its name that translates as "The Syrian Revolt against Bashar al-Assad," has called for more protests.

The group, which has been key in disseminating videos it says are of the protests and in calling for demonstrations, has attracted some 67,000 supporters.

"The tension is still latent at this point, but the situation is explosive," said Haytham Maleh, a Syrian human rights lawyer who was detained for five months in 2009 for criticising the government.

Like many opposition activists in Syria, Maleh has for years been demanding major reforms.

These include the release of all political prisoners, lifting the emergency law and the annulment of article eight of the constitution, which stipulates that the ruling Baath party is "the leader of state and society."

Added to that are Syria's economic woes: 80 percent of all revenues in the country are "in the hands of a mere handful of people," according to Maleh.

The authorities, who have been closely monitoring the popular revolts that have shaken the Arab world in recent months, announced a series of economic measures aimed at helping the country's poorest.

In January, well before the protests began to surface, the government announced the creation of a national welfare fund with an estimated value of $250 million to aid needy families.

An estimated 14 percent of Syria's 22-million-strong population is affected by poverty. Unemployment is an estimated 22 percent and mainly affects young people.

State-run daily Al-Baath on Tuesday announced a four-million-dollar project to provide Daraa residents with potable water.

And in a bid to improve access to information, authorities in February authorised direct access to popular Internet websites Facebook and YouTube, which had been blocked since 2007.

After a short-lived uprising demanding more freedom that came to be known as the "Damascus Spring" under Assad in 2001, authorities silenced the demands by jailing dozens of intellectuals, teachers and MPs.

"It is difficult to predict Syria's future," said Paul Salem, head of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Centre.

"The street now dictates the way events will unravel, and this is a complete novelty."

 

Iraq dismisses US call for Iranian-backed militias to 'go home'

Opposition calls on Iraqi Kurd leader to step down

IS ‘executed’ 116 suspected of Syria regime collaboration

Israel arrests 51 Palestinians for ‘terror-related’ crimes

Greening the Camps brings food and hope to refugees

UNICEF says 1,100 children malnourished in Syria’s Ghouta

UN says Yemen children in desperate need of aid

Orthodox Jews block Jerusalem entrance in protest

Six terror suspects arrested in Morocco

EU announces 106 million euros in aid for Sudan

French judges to rule on whether 'Jihad' is acceptable name

Saudi Aramco chief confirms IPO despite doubts

Lack of accountability hinders governing in Morocco, analysts say

Sudan editor convicted after Bashirs accused of graft

Russia’s Lavrov urges Iraq-Kurd dialogue

Kurds to arrest 11 Iraqis in response to similar Baghdad move

Car bomb attack kills 9 in south Yemen military base

Rouhani boasts about Iran’s greatness in region

Iraq unrest highlights long-standing political divisions

Bahrain temporarily frees female activist

Egypt court sentences 11 people to death for 'terrorism'

Israel police arrest 15 over anti Jewish-Arab dating campaign

Tillerson woos Gulf allies to curb Iran influence

Abadi, Sadr meet in Jordan

No clear US strategy in Syria after Raqqa liberation

Tillerson pushes to undercut Iran at landmark Saudi, Iraq meeting

Gulf share values plummet

US-backed forces capture key Syria oil field

More than half of Austrians vote for anti-immigration party

Washington sees potential Hezbollah threat in the US

UN ends Libya talks with no progress made

Cairo killing sparks security concerns among Copts

Iraq PM arrives in Saudi to upgrade ties

35 Egyptian police killed in Islamist ambush

Morocco recalls Algeria envoy over 'hashish money' jibe

Ceremony marks 75 years since WWII Battle of El Alamein

Somalia attack death toll rises to 358

Long road ahead for families of jailed Morocco protesters

How Raqa recapture affects complex Syrian war

Israel hits Syrian artillery after Golan fire

Germany advances Israel submarine deal after corruption holdup

Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later

SDF hails 'historic victory' against IS in Raqa

Hamas delegation visits Iran

Turkish court orders release of teacher on hunger strike