|Assad announced himself a dictator’|
Syria’s president addressed the nation to appease growing protests – but his words failed to ease Syrian anger.
Hugh Macleod and a reporter in Syria Last Modified: 31 Mar 2011 17:04
They laughed when he laughed.
Their hearts raced in anticipation, not over those much heralded reforms which failed to materialise – “Weren’t emergency laws abolished last week anyway?’ asked one – but over the excitement and grandeur of the occasion: the packed parliament, the crowds of cheering supporters and, of course, President Bashar al-Assad himself.
“He is a very good man, he is very strong,” said one of the young women, watching on the TV of a café in the wealthy Shaalan area of Damascus as Syria’s president prepared to make his first speech to the nation in the wake of unprecedented protests against the 40-year rule of his family.
It had been a fortnight that had witnessed the previously unthinkable: Images of protestors in the southern city of Daraa hauling down the statue of President Assad’s father Hafez, the ‘eternal leader’ whose 30-year rule over Syria instilled such fear that, even today, Syrians dare not speak his name.
Images, too, of Bashar’s smiling portrait being torn and kicked. Blood of citizens staining the streets of a country whose rulers promise stability, above all else, but whose security forces had killed more than 60 protestors in a week.
But for the ladies who lunch in Shaalan, the call from the streets of Lattakia, Homs, Daraa, Al Tall and even parts of Damascus, for freedom, an end to oppression by Syria’s security forces and for multi-party politics, was all, as their president stressed repeatedly, not a part of the country they know.
“Those problems are caused by outsiders, not Syrians. There are groups from Egypt, Iraq and America,” said the teacher, a stylish woman in her late twenties, with immaculate make-up, a low cut top and diamonte jewellery. “They want to create sectarian problems, but they will not succeed because we stand together as one in Syria.”
Yes, the president had for many years wanted to change the emergency law, the bedrock of the security state, which allows sweeping powers of arrest and years in secret detention on catch-all charges such as “weakening national sentiment” and “opposing the goals of the revolution.”
“He wanted to from 2005,” said the teacher, “but you must understand that many in Syria are not ready for the changes, we need time. As the president said, ‘It’s good to be quick, but not good to rush.'”
From the opening remarks of the speech and a further near dozen times, President Assad referred to the “conspiracy”, “plots” and “sabotage” targeting Syria from outside, of which the protests for change which have centred in the southern city of Daraa, “a border area”, were a part.
“The objective was to fragment Syria, bring down Syria as a nation to enforce an Israeli agenda,” said the president, a message that resonates with his supporters.
“Now we are paying the price for supporting the resistance in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq,” said Noor, a 22-year-old student at Damascus University. “Syria has many ethnics and sects and we should protect our country form national division. We don’t want another Lebanon where they use freedom of speech to fight each other.”
But though he spoke much about the need to reform, with no clear timetable and no announcements of change, even government officials were left stunned by Assad’s speech.
“Thousands of people contacted me – top officials, deputy ministers, sons of ambassadors – saying, ‘You should expect big reform, you will be amazed’,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a former Baath party reformer, now editor-in-chief of the All4Syria news agency. “After the speech they were all shocked. No-one dared write anything back to me.”
Abdel Nour said the president’s original speech had been scheduled for two days earlier but a decision was made to wait until the army and security forces could pacify Lattakia and Daraa, the scene of the largest anti-regime protests.
“He received a report from the head of intelligence and the army saying ‘We have finished, everything is calm and we are the winner.’ He then re-wrote the original speech late into the night.”
‘Some changes, but not reform’
Certainly the message coming to the media from the president’s office was to expect the announcement of major reforms, including lifting the state of emergency.
Just as she did in 2005, when she announced at the Baath Party conference the decision had been made to review emergency laws and the formation of political parties, Buthaina Shaaban, the president’s senior advisor, told Al Jazeera English last week that the decision to lift emergency laws had been made.
CNN got the same story, from Reem Haddad, a government spokeswoman.
“The regime rules through ambiguity. It is not capable of reform, that’s a simple fact of life,” said Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who spent eight years working in Syria as a journalist and is the author of an upcoming book on the country.
“Bashar has support among the minority networks surrounding the Assad family which overlap the intelligence services and the military, so this galvanises the regime against what happened in Tunisia and Egypt,” said Tabler, but added it was a situation that could not last.
“Bashar does not feel he has to change. He might make some changes, but not reform. Yet the winds of change are blowing through the Arab world. Maybe these protests in Syria will not lead anywhere today but in the long term they are a problem for the regime.”
In the wake of the speech, American policy makers would be re-thinking Syria policy, said Tabler, a strategy that had previously sought to break Damascus’ ‘resistance axis’ – its alliance with Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran – through peace talks with Israel.
But with Assad tying his legitimacy as leader to his resistance against Israel through proxies, the US might now follow a path of expanding existing trade sanctions which target specific regime members, such as Rami Makhlouf, the president’s cousin and gatekeeper of the Syrian economy.
Pro-regime figures in Damascus framed Syria’s choices as “Bashar or chaos” and had duly welcomed the speech on behalf of the nation with “a sigh of relief” as the country once again got back to “business as usual”.
‘Fuel on the fire of the anti-regime protests’
But for those Syrians, young and old whose numbers are impossible yet to judge, who say they suffocate in the regime’s stability, finding neither bread nor freedom, jobs nor liberty, and who have seen their friends and family gunned down for demanding the same rights as Arabs in Cairo and Tunis, the speech was anything but a return to the norm.
“He said nothing and promised nothing. We were waiting for him to end the state of emergency, set free all political prisoners and establish a law for political parties,” said a young woman speaking over the phone from Daraa, the city at the centre of the uprising, which has now been sealed off to all media.
“Our people were killed in cold blood by the security forces but he didn’t apologise to them or their mothers. Rather it was as if he was speaking to the Arab summit, in language from the 1960’s. Next Friday we will call for a ‘Friday of Martyrs’. We will keep on demonstrating until we get freedom as in other countries. Today, I am demanding reform of the regime but after next Friday I can expect the people will ask for more.”
Wissam Tarif, a founding member of Insan, a human rights, democracy and development agency, who is currently gathering reporting in Syria said Assad had only thrown fuel on the fire of the anti-regime protests.
“Assad announced himself a dictator. He did not address the nation, he addressed the regime,” said Tarif. “People are angry and will continue to be angry.”
Within hours of Assad’s speech, several hundred residents of Lattakia took to the streets to protest for freedom.
Gunfire was heard and by evening activists in Syria had uploaded a video to YouTube datelined to the city showing a man lying flat on the concrete, blood pouring from the wound where a bullet had hit him square between the eyes.
COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA ENGLISH
The Bad Man Behind Blue Eyes Loses Mask!
Following the example of Saif Gaddafi, Bashar Al-Assad sheds reformist guise.
This was it. Today was Bashar Al-Assad’s long-awaited moment to settle the decade-long debate on his so-called crypto-reform impulses. And he did. But in doing so, he dashed the hopes of his own supporters, further alienated the large segment of the population still considering its options, and hardened the stand of protesters.
Minutes after Assad finishes his speech, protesters in Daraa and Lattakia chanted for freedom and called for toppling the regime d Bashar’s ouster. Security forces immediately opened fire on protesters in Lattakia leaving one dead and a 10-year old boy fighting for his life. The Twitterverse became abuzz by statements of bafflements and amazements from Assad sympathizers, lending credence to assertions by Syrian activists that the ranks will swell with new recruits and that the revolution will continue.
All eyes are now fixed on next Fridaywhen waves of protests are expected to hit the country. Judging from Assad’s speech, violence seems inevitable. But the protesters refused to be intimidated and seem intent on taking the struggle to its logical conclusion. The glove has been thrown, the die has been cast, this is about regime change, because regime change seems to be the only way out of the
Reflection by Canadian Television CBC
PLEASE LEAVE US YOUR INPUT!
Some Sacramento Syrian Americans with ethnic roots or ancestry in Lattakia, are watching the Syrian Uprising from the comfort of local news online and in the mainstream media, what little coverage Sacramento has of the uprising. Finally, the people of Syria are demanding that the Syrian President leave office. Sacramento has a growing Syrian American community made up of diverse ethnic groups such as Christians, Moslems, Armenians from Syria, Druze, and other ethnic groups that at one time lived in Syria. Some Sacramento women are married to Syrian nationals or spouses of Syrian ancestry who have relatives in Lattakia and other Syrian cities. View the video on uTube where Syrian Americans protest in front of the White House in Washington, DC, along with Americans from Libya and Yemen on March 27, 2011.
Sacramento teachers, students, and people taking courses in Middle East area studies or history are becoming the latest news watchers. With the lack of media coverage on mainstream TV in Sacramento, the people themselves with family ties to Syria are keeping in touch through the Internet and uTube videos when Internet connections are available and wondering whether the mainstream media or the people involved in the uprising and their families, some of whom are in Sacramento, have become the major media sources to the uprising and quest for democracy.
So the local community also has joined in wishes for a truly democratic government to finally come to Syria. If you’re an American from Sacramento, don’t travel to Syria. There’s also the situation where American wives of Syrian nationals are affected as well as travelers in general. See the article,Syrians detain 2 Americans during demonstrations – Sacramento News.
Lattakia, Homs and Mouddamiyyah as well as Dara’a still are having bloody clashes. The BBC Arabic service reported that at one point there were more than 300,000 protesters demonstrating in different parts of Syria. Finally, protesters are openly demanding end of Assad rule, chanting “Assad Go Out” and “The People Want To Topple The Regime,” defacing Assad’s posters wherever they found, and destroying Hafiz Al-Assad’s statue in Deraa.
Some are shouting, Bashar, Get the (expletive in Arabic) out, and giving the posters the sign of the back of the shoe (an insult). The beautiful beach resort town of Lattakia and the symbolic significance of Hama’s major demonstrations are now involved in the uprising. Yes, Lattakia is under siege.
Unlike Deraa, Lattakia is ethnically mixed, with Sunnis, Alawites and Christians living together. So the regime is playing the ethnicity card, showing its sectarianism. The President and his family are Alawites. Hey, if you’re not related to the President’s family or Alawite, you have a snowball’s chance at a barbeque of getting the type of job you trained for in college or med school, for example.
The regime is enlisting groups of Alawites from nearby villages to join in the crackdown against protesters, and depicting the protests as being anti-Alawi in character despite the absence of any sectarian slogans from the protesters’ chants. Four have been reported dead, the situation could escalate further over the weekend, according to the latest news from the Syrian Revolution News Round-up.
In Douma (Damascus suburbs) protesters established a Liberty Square and wanted to stay there until regime-fall. They were dispersed after several hours by security forces using tear gas and live rounds, several were injured, but protesters to have regrouped after security forces left, reports the news from the Syrian Revolution News Round-up site.
If you want to keep up to date on what’s happening in Syria, you might put your email address on the Syrian Revolution News Round-up to find out what’s happening. It’s free news and is sent to anyone interested in the news from Syria.
Here’s hoping the population finally gets what it wants for Syria, democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion….And for those struggling to support their families, jobs in keeping with the people’s training and education. You have a Syrian diaspora of 16 million people around the world, including those in the USA, who want the ability to survive in peace.
It’s about human rights and family life. The large Syrian American population representing diverse religions and groups include Syrian Christians, Moslems, Armenians from Syria, Druze, and other groups want peace in their country, a chance to earn a decent living using the skills that they were trained for, and a democracy for their friends and/or relatives in Syria. The iron-fisted torturer whose family has ruled since 1970 needs to give way to a true democracy focused on human rights, peace, and freedom of the press. It’s about health.
Syrians are tired of secret police breaking into their homes at night, dragging away men at random whether they have an opinion or not about the government, and being tortured by being dumped into a barrel of feces and given electric shocks or beaten on the head with wooden boards. Often charges are trumped-up for no reason at all.
And especially vulnerable to torture are Syrian Americans returning to visit relatives in the old country. Anyone can be jailed for any trumped-up reason the secret police are ordered to make up. The only way out of Syria in some cases are by bribing the jailers to let the men and women out. It could happen to anyone. That’s why the people are rising up and won’t take the iron-fist of torture any longer. Power to the people’s quest for true democracy and human rights. It all starts with freedom of speech, education, and freedom of religion. What happens to Syria now, depends upon its citizens.
According to the NY Times, security services and the military sealed off Latakia (a northwest-coastal Syrian town and palm-lined beach ‘resort’) one day after witnesses and human rights groups reported that government forces opened fired on demonstrators and protesters. That flare-up of violence followed days of protests in the southern Syrian city of Dara’a, where government forces also opened fire, killing dozens.
The protests began after the police arrested and held a group of young people who scrawled anti-government graffiti. The government has blocked reporters from entering in Syria. As a result, no accurate figures of how many people were killed can reach the mainstream media in the US or around the globe.
Syrian Americans are getting news updates also from Internet emailing lists and Yahoo groups as well as uTube videos. Some of the people have become their own reporters, where reporters are not allowed, if the people in Syria with video cameras can hold onto their recordings and find ways of releasing videos online. For more information on getting news about the uprising in Syria check out the websites, Yahoo groups, and/or mailing lists, “We love Syria” and news groups in addition to Twitter. Check out the Syrian Revolution Digest(Damascus Bureau) online, in English. And for information on the global Syrian Diaspora, see the site, Syrian Diaspora.
Day 8 – Massacre in Daraa: Wednesday, 23 March 2011
The main focus of the uprising continues to be Daraa in Southern Syria. Assad regime seems to have made the decision to end the uprising in Daraa through the use of force. A full-scale attack was mounted at early dawn on Omari Mosque in downtown Daraa, which has become a gathering place for the protesters and a field hospital of sorts. Heavy gunfire and numerous casualties reported. Imams called from Minarets on people to come to the rescue. Power supply is down all over the city, and thousands of people have poured into the streets. Explosions also reported. Syrian security forces is the party responsible for the attack. Twitter-verse managed to provide immediate coverage resulting in prompt media reports and live interviews on Al-Arabiya TV.
The numbers of how many dead and injured are hard to confirm on account of the information blackout imposed by the regime. Most news agencies seem willing to report that 15 are confirmed dead, but activists on the ground report that the number is well beyond 150, as many of the wounded were in serious condition when they were removed from the streets by army vehicle and taken to unknown destinations. Sources confirm that they were not taken to any hospitals in Daraa or surrounding counties.
The massacre received wide international attention, with many media outlets reporting on it as it happened, due to buzz generated on Twitter and outreach efforts by exiled activists and human rights groups. Meanwhile, Syrian officials are mounting an extensive public relations campaign, as their spokesmen flood TV stations speaking as if they were members of the opposition, calling for reforms, admitting mistakes, saying the “President” intends to call for a major conference on political reform, all while raising all sorts of doubts about foreign agendas, infiltrators and suspicious happenings in Daraa. This is an old tactic and, despite the greater exposure by Syrians to different versions of the “truth” thanks to social media tools satellite channels, it can still be effective, among those too scared to act ad are in search of excuses and justifications for their behavior.
How effective this tactic will be demonstrated on coming Friday. Activists are calling for mass demonstrations to take place following the Noon prayers, the size of the crowds willing to respond will divulge much about the pace, course and nature of events in the days and weeks to come.