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Could Syria see an uprising like Egypt's? Not likely.

In Syria, opposition activists are organizing their own 'day of rage' – but longstanding intimidation tactics and repression make it unlikely significant numbers will be out on the streets.

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Intimidation, repression discourages opposition

Syrian activists have used Facebook and Twitter to spread the word in the past week, calling for protests and demonstrations on Friday and Saturday. Although Facebook has been blocked in Syria since November 2007, many Syrians use proxy servers to sidestep the ban. President Assad himself has a Facebook page.

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“The storm against tyranny and monopoly must come to Syria,” says a statement released by the Popular Movement for Change in Syria. “Don’t be afraid and know the government does not have a choice but to listen to your voice when millions will demonstrate in the streets.”

The prediction of “millions” taking to the streets in the next two days seems overly optimistic judging from the small number of protestors who held a recent series of gatherings in Damascus in support of the Egyptian uprising.

Some 200 people turned up for a candlelit vigil outside the Egyptian embassy in Damascus on Sunday. According to Mr. Houry of Human Rights Watch, Syrian security officers also were present, taking photographs of the demonstrators and demanding to see the identification cards of some attendants. That security presence appears to have had a chilling effect on the demonstrators, as fewer numbers attended subsequent gatherings.

On Wednesday, the police stayed away, but some 20 men turned up to harass the protestors, questioning their motives, and accusing them of serving outside powers, says Houry, who is in regular contact with the activists. Another gathering was scheduled for Thursday afternoon to protest against Syria’s two cellular phone services, Syriatel and MTN Syria, which are regularly criticized for their high tariffs, the second highest in the Arab world. Rami Makhlouf, Assad’s cousin, is the majority shareholder of Syriatel, Syria’s largest private corporation, which fuels accusations of cronyism.

Anti-regime demonstrations in Syria are rare due to rigid state control and a fractured opposition. The strongest opposition to the the 48-year-rule of the Baath Party in Syria have been from the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian Kurds who live mainly in the northeast adjacent to Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq.

A rebellion by the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1970s was ruthlessly crushed in 1982. The organization remains banned in Syria and its leaders live in exile. The Kurds have demonstrated for greater rights on several occasions. The most recent uprising, in 2004, was heavily suppressed and followed by a campaign of arrest and imprisonment of Kurdish activists.


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