Article published in April 21 2011
The Syrians will not go back to their houses. They will continue their revolution in spite of the government’s decision to end the state of emergency and abolish the Higher State Security Court.
Although these were important demands of the protesters, the emergency laws will probably be replaced with new legislation which will be equally repressive – inspired by counter-terrorism laws in Europe and the USA, according to many protesters and activists. In addition, the interior ministry has passed a law stating that citizens must obtain permission to demonstrate. The head of the security police in Banyas and the governor in Homs have been removed from their posts in an attempt to comfort the protesters in town. But this was unsuccessful; demonstrations are still going on in both cities.
At the same time, the security forces and thugs of the regime continued their repression against protesters in different areas. On Tuesday, the interior minister issued a stern warning to protesters to back down or face the consequences. The security forces have also arrested leftist opposition figure Mahmuod Issa in Homs, while more detentions followed protests in different universities such as in Aleppo and Damascus.
The protest movement has radicalised and expanded through the weeks; it is determined to achieve their democratic and social rights by making the revolution permanent. Since last week, we have witnessed nearly daily students demonstrations in Universities across the country, especially in Damascus and Aleppo, despite arrests and protesters being beaten up by security forces. Students have called for a boycott of their classes.
On Tuesday, protesters in Homs began a three-day strike and vowed to continue demonstrations in al Saa Square after security forces opened fire and used teargas to disperse a sit-in. Protests in various towns were held in solidarity with Homs.
But are we witnessing a popular uprising or a foreign plot funded by US State Department to overthrow the Syrian regime? The US newspaper Washington Post has published an article this week saying that according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables, the State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that broadcasts anti-government programmes. The channel in question is Barada TV, which is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funnelled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The U.S. money for Syrian opposition personalities began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad. In January, the White House posted an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years.
This programme started In February 2006, when relations with Damascus were extremely tense. The Bush administration at the time was still pursuing the imperialist policy of the Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI), adopted in 2004, which was to transform this region into a pro-liberal and pro-US one. In relation to Syria, the US department was looking for regime change with the help of the Lebanese movement of the 14th of March, led by Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt. These latter strongly advocated regime change in Syria, and they advised the State Department of a coalition gathering with the former Vice President Khaddam and the Muslim Brotherhoods. This project was never realised and finally abandoned.
What we have witnessed in Syria since last week has nothing to do with any foreign conspiracy. The groups that the US State Department supports have no influence whatsoever in the protest movement today. Barada TV may have a growing audience in Syria but its viewer share is tiny compared with other independent satellite news channels such as al-Jazeera and BBC Arabic, or other Syrian channels in exile such as Cham and SNN. Although Barada TV broadcasts 24 hours a day, many of its programmes are re-runs. The Movement for Justice and Development, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, have not played a leading role in the protest movement, which is characterised by the absence of main opposition political parties.
As written in the document, not a single dissident inside Syria was willing to take the money, and the protesters in the streets now have repeatedly denounced and refused any foreign intervention. In Banyas, the town which was surrounded by the army and security forces after it demonstrated on a massive scale, we saw written slogans such as “no to Khaddam, no to Riffat, we do it our own way”; the protesters in the region of Banyas were accused of having links to these personalities, who are hated by Syrians in general.
Neither are we witnessing, as claimed by the interior ministry statement, “an armed insurrection led by Salafi armed groups”. This is a peaceful and national movement demanding dignity, freedom, social justice, economic opportunities, and political reform. The protesters’ main slogans are “one, one, one, the Syrian people are one” and “Silmiya, silmiya” (peaceful, peaceful), as well as “the people want to overthrow the regime”. In addition to this, as an answer to the accusations of the government of so-called Salafi-led armed insurrection, demonstrators in Banyas chanted “”Not Salafist, not Muslim Brotherhood. We are freedom seekers!”, while in Homs prominent figures signed a declaration calling on the army “not to spill the blood of honourable Syrians”, and rejecting official allegations that Salafist groups were operating there.
Since March 18, an estimated two hundred civilians have been killed and thousands wounded, while more than a thousand protesters have been arrested. The only violence to condemn is from the regime and its security forces, as well as “shabiha”, thugs, who killed many protesters. On Sunday night, security forces killed 25 protesters and wounded more than 50 in the cities of Homs and Tasbieh, while in Latakia 11 protesters were killed on the same day. On Monday, around 50 000 protesters demonstrated in Homs following the funerals of the martyrs. In the evening protesters started to raise some tents in the al Saa Square. They said they had renamed the Square ‘Tahrir Square’, a reference to the focal point of the uprising in Egypt. But after midnight, security forces had opened fire on protesters, killing a minimum of five people and wounding many more. Homs was shut down by the army, with three rings of checkpoints surrounding the city. Like in other towns following demonstrations, many injured people were forbidden or prevented to go to hospitals to be treated.
On Monday, demonstrations were also reported in the southern city of Daraa, in the Barzeh district of the capital Damascus, and in Ain al-Arab in the mainly Kurdish north. About 1,500 people gathered at the Shaghour bridge between Aleppo and Latakia in the morning.
This is a popular and national uprising, bringing together all the communities of Syria; it rejects sectarism, as demonstrated by the many banners saying “no to sectarism”. Last Friday we witnessed demonstrations throughout Syria, from the South to the North and from East to the West, including in the two main cities of Aleppo and in the suburb of Damascus. In the city of Qamishly, demonstrators were chanting for freedom and change in Arabic, Kurdish and Assyrian (Hurria-Azad√Æ- Houriyeto), and they released balloons carrying word freedom written in different languages. There were also banners in Arabic saying “Arabs, Kurds, Assyrian, Syriac, we are all Syrian”. On Saturday in Banyas, more than 1,000 women marched following the speech of Bachar Al Assad and chanted “Not Sunni, not Alawite. Freedom is what we all want”
The protesters in Douma held up yellow cards – a football-inspired warning to the regime. They added that this was their first warning, next time they would come with the red cards.
In the evening, between 50’000 and 100’000 protesters from the suburbs were heading to the center of Damascus, but security forces fired tear gas and beat protesters with batons to prevent them from reaching Jobar and Abasiyeen squares.
Mass protests throughout the country have been going on since Friday, despite President Bachar Al Assad announcing the lift of the state of emergency and pledging further reforms.
Activists called for protests across Syria on Sunday, which is Syria’s Independence Day, commemorating the departure of the last French soldiers 65 years ago. Notable demonstrations were held in Aleppo, Banyas, Homs and Deraa. In the town of Hirak, outside the southern city of Daraa, thousands of mourners at the funeral of a soldier chanted slogans calling on the president to step down.
The Syrian popular uprising has definitely entered a new stage, and protesters are determined to make the revolution permanent in order to achieve their democratic and social rights. This popular uprising is also anti-imperialist: it accuses regime of having sold the occupied Syrian Golan; instead of firing their ammunitions to shoot protesters, they should use them to free the occupied Golan, the protesters say. In Golan, Syrian protesters demonstrated in solidarity with the Syrian Revolution, saying: “freeing the people is the first condition to free the occupied territories”. The protesters also demanded social justice and a fair socio-economic system. For example, some protesters raised the issue of nationalising the two telecommunication companies which are in the hands of Rami Makhlouf, cousin of Bachar Al Assad and multi-billionaire buisnessman.
In conclusion, the sentence that best summarises the atmosphere in Syria at the moment is:
“Long live the permanent popular uprising of the Syrian masses! We are all Syrians and we all want bread and freedom”