Syrian protesters face more violence in campaign against Assad
At least 12 protesters were reportedly killed today in demonstrations across Syria, where greater instability could alter the balance of power in the Middle East.
(Page 2 of 3)
In the Kfar Susa suburb of Damascus, several hundred protestors locked themselves inside the Al-Rifai mosque when they were surrounded by plain-clothed security forces who were armed with clubs, electric batons, and pistols. The security forces reportedly beat anyone who attempted to leave the mosque.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Video footage posted on the Syria Revolution 2011 Facebook page showed a crowd inside the mosque chanting, “There is no God but God.”
With media access under tighter than usual control, it was impossible to confirm the scale of each protest. But initial reports suggest that crowds were in the hundreds or few thousands, perhaps an insufficient size to guarantee that the uprising will develop an unstoppable momentum.
“We need to adopt new tactics. Things are getting too predictable,” says one Syrian opposition activist.
Syria's surprising uprise
Developments in Syria have taken many by surprise, including Assad himself, who confidently declared in January that his nation was "immune" from the uprisings sweeping the Arab world that have toppled two regimes and threaten several more.
While authorities have a history of using repression to safeguard the regime, Assad has said that its stability rests on his anti-Israel stance and his refusal to yield to the dictates of the West. But opposition protests have shaken that confidence.
In his speech Wednesday, Assad blamed the unrest on "foreign conspiracies." He said "the final goal is to weaken Syria, fragment Syria, and remove the final obstacle in the face of the Israeli plan. This is what concerns us," he said. He became president in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad.
Assad acknowledged that reforms have been slow in coming, but said delays were due to traumatic distractions over the past decade, including the 2000-05 Palestinian intifada, the 9/11 attacks, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war.
"We want to speed [reforms] up, but not be [too] hasty," he said. However, in keeping with past addresses at times of crisis, Assad gave away little in terms of what reforms the regime is considering or when they might be implemented.
Syrian officials had hinted that more would be offered in the rare public address. "It would have been better if he had said nothing than to raise everyone's hopes beforehand only to crush them again," says one Syrian activist who requested anonymity.
The opposition's next moves
The question now is what the opposition does next. Radwan Ziadeh, a Washington-based Syrian human rights activist, says that Assad "was very clear in saying that there is no neutrality – either you are with us or against the country.
"We ask the international community to act now and not to wait for more victims from the Syrian side," Ziadeh says.
So far, the demonstrations have been badly organized. But opposition activists say that a new young leadership is beginning to emerge and coordinate. Among the demands they have agreed must be fulfilled by the Syrian regime are a new democratic constitution, an end to the state of emergency, the release of all political prisoners, and a new political parties law.