Syria protests escalate, but could revolt really take root?
Syria protests continued for a third day in Deraa with security forces reportedly using tear gas and firing live ammunition to disperse demonstrators. Eyes are now turning to the restive Kurdish population.
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A Kurd from a prominent dissident family in Qamishly says that between an ubiquitous police presence during the festival – Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem has said that 1,000 soldiers will guard the festivities outside Hassakeh – and the fear of a violent crackdown, he does not expect a major uprising to come from tomorrow’s events.Skip to next paragraph
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“I’ve lost my mother, sister, and brother, and I have nothing more to lose,” he says. “At the same time, looking at what’s happened in previous years, I don’t even want to think what the reaction would be if we step out of line.”
But in a hint of regime unease, activist Abdel-Nour says that the security forces in the Kurdish region were under strict instructions not to clash with the Kurds. “Otherwise, they will lose the battle with 2 million organized Kurds because they are very nationalistic, some of them have arms and they are well organized,” he says.
Mixed mood in Damascus
In Damascus, where the streets are calm, but lined with a heavy security presence, the mood is mixed. Many residents are fearful, citing the shootings in Deraa as evidence that any uprising would provoke a violent response similar to the crackdown launched by Libya’s Col. Muammar Ghaddafi.
“People are watching Libya. The longer Qaddafi holds on, the more power it gives them [the Syrian government]," says the young Syrian in Damascus. He and others say that the Syrian regime has taken cues from Qaddafi’s use of mercenaries, and there are rumours that Hezbollah fighters have entered the country.
Many young people in Damascus identify with President Assad and view him as a reformer who needs time to push through changes.
“I think change is needed but I don’t want a revolution. What would happen then?” asks Nour, a student at Damascus University.
“We have stability, why challenge that?” says a secretary who requested anonymity.
Last month, Assad confidently declared in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Syria was immune to the uprisings that toppled the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. But that self-confidence has been shaken by the violent demonstrations in Deraa and the sense that Syria could soon join the long list of Arab nations from Bahrain to Morocco reeling from popular demonstrations.
“No one is immune in the region,” says Abdel-Nour, the Syrian activist. “This is a new wave and a new atmosphere and the young, the unemployed, the poor the regular citizens have realized that they have rights.”
Two correspondents in Syria could not be named for security reasons.