Syria Does Not Believe in Barack Obama(Time)
Damascus, it seems, does not care for Barack Obama’s advice. In a much anticipated policy speech on Thursday, May 19, the U.S. President urged Syria’s President Bashar Assad to take steps toward political transition or else “get out of the way.” Said Obama: “The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests.” It wasn’t as if no one was listening. That evening, people in Damascus sat in shops and cafés drinking mint tea and smoking from water pipes as they watched the speech, which was dubbed into Arabic. The American President’s remarks were also shown in major squares around Damascus on large displays that normally screen commercials.
On Friday, however, reports of deaths filtered in from throughout Syria as security forces fired on demonstrators who took to the streets after noon prayers, as has been their custom for the past couple of months. According to activists inside and outside the country, perhaps 30 people have been killed and scores more injured — a clear indication that Obama’s words have not had the desired effect on the country’s ruling clique. In fact, the Syrian regime rejected Obama’s advice and accused him of propagating unrest. “Obama is inciting violence when he says that Assad and his regime will face challenges from the inside and will be isolated on the outside if he fails to adopt democratic reforms,” the official news agency, SANA, said.
Thousands took to the streets on Friday in Banyas on the Mediterranean coast, in Homs in central Syria and outside Dara’a, a southern town that has been the focus of Syrian protests and where human-rights groups say mass graves have been found. There were also rallies in the two major cities of Damascus and Aleppo, despite an increased presence of security forces.
The protests were quickly dispersed by police, in many cases violently, according to activists. The government insists that many protesters are armed criminals or militant extremists. As the holy day for Muslims, Fridays had usually been quiet until the uprising in Dara’a turned Friday prayers into an occasion to gather and to march. But the past week has seen the government impose an unnatural calm.
In fact, this Friday, Damascus was eerily silent all day. In a leafy residential area, there were no signs that the country was going through a crisis — even though word was that a protest had taken place in the neighborhood earlier in the day.
People say they are afraid to wander around, as they might be suspected of attending rallies and get arrested. Only the odd shop remains open, and the secret police can be seen, in their leather jackets, drinking coffee and eyeing the few pedestrians.