How Syria dodged an Egypt-style 'day of rage'
Outside opposition groups had called for protests in Syria over the weekend. Why did only security forces and hopeful journalists show up?
Swaths of plain-clothed security forces and hopeful journalists were the only people gathered at the parliament building in Damascus on Friday and Saturday as protesters failed to respond to calls for demonstrations in the Syrian capital.Skip to next paragraph
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Outside opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned since an uprising in the 1980s, had tried to rally Syrians to protest against President Bashar al-Assad, who has ruled the country with a firm hand since the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.
But Syria appears to have dodged the "winds of change" in the Arab world that have led to mass popular protests in several countries. The extensive security apparatus effectively nipped any possibility of protests. But geopolitical factors as well as local support for Assad also make any imminent challenge to his ruling Baath Party, which has been in power since 1963, unlikely.
“The security forces have effectively suppressed civil society and scared people into submission,” says Mazen Darwish, a prominent Syrian activist who ran the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression until it was closed by the authorities in 2009.
Secret police, known locally as mukhabarat, asserted their presence in the week running up to planned protests, breaking up small gatherings in support of Egyptian demonstrators and warning local activists against protesting. Human Rights Watch, a New York-based rights group, said that on Thursday night Ghassan al-Najjar, the 75-year-old leader of a small Islamic group based in the northern city of Aleppo, was arrested. Najjar, one of the few active domestic figures, had been among those calling for peaceful protests.
Fears of sectarian fallout and the violence perpetrated by pro-Mubarak thugs in Egypt put off the remaining few who were considering turning out. And local activists decided not to back protests, pointing to a lack of organization.