‘Day of Rage’ for Syrians Fails to Draw Protesters

‘Day of Rage’ for Syrians Fails to Draw Protesters
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: February 4, 2011

DAMASCUS, Syria — In stark contrast to several other Arab capitals, where hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated against their governments, a planned “Day of Rage” in Damascus on Friday failed to attract any protesters against President Bashar al-Assad, a sign that the opposition here remains too weak to challenge one of the region’s most entrenched ruling parties. Campaigns on the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter called for Syrians to demonstrate Friday and Saturday in Damascus against the government of Mr. Assad, who inherited power in 2000 from his father, Hafez, who himself had ruled the country for nearly three decades with an iron fist.

In this Jan. 29, 2011 file photo, Syrian protesters hold candles during a vigil for those killed in the Egyptian demonstrations, near the Egyptian embassy in Damascus, Syria. The Arabic placards read:' Yes for freedom', background, and 'No for killing the Egyptian youth', foreground. By early afternoon on Friday February 4, no protesters had gathered outside Syria's parliament, where they were supposed to gather for the "Day of Rage" demonstration. (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman)

But Damascus was relatively quiet on Friday, save for a gentle rain that washed its streets. There was a heavy presence of security forces and police officers in front of Parliament, where the protesters were planning to stage their demonstration. Men in plain clothes and the black leather jackets popular among security forces here were scattered around the area. Others sat waiting in white vehicles.

“Syria is the last country where regime change will occur,” said a political activist, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, like others interviewed.

“The culture of protesting is not present here. They oppressed it until they killed it,” added another activist.

The authorities are taking few chances. On Friday, security officials arrested Ghassan al-Najjar, an Islamist who leads the Islamic Democratic Current, a small opposition group based in Aleppo, rights activists said. Mr. Najjar, who is in his mid-70s, had called on Syrians in his city to demand more freedoms and bring about peaceful change.

Aside from fearing the strong security apparatus, which has never been hesitant to use force to quiet dissidents, Mr. Assad had recently announced a 17 percent pay raise for the two million Syrians who work for the government, making them unlikely to participate in any protest, activists here said.

In addition, they said, the opposition is not strong enough to lead a street movement capable of changing the government, and many here fear a situation in which the banned Muslim Brotherhood would take over if Mr. Assad were toppled.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Friday that at least 10 people were summoned by the police in the previous 48 hours and pressed to not demonstrate. There were also reports that prominent opposition figures like Michel Kilo and Riad Turk, among others, many of whom spent years in jail for opposing the government, were also summoned.

On Thursday, 3 Syrians were briefly detained and forced to sign pledges not to participate in future protests, after they protested, along with 12 others, against corruption and high cellphone costs.

There are two cellphone companies in Syria, M.T.N. from South Africa, and Syriatel, which is owned by Rami Makhlouf, a wealthy businessman and relative of the president, who has been labeled as a beneficiary and facilitator of public corruption in Syria by the United States.

At least 100 Syrians held a vigil in support of their Egyptian counterparts last Saturday near the Egyptian Embassy in Damascus, and quietly lit candles as police officers kept a watchful eye nearby.

Eventually, witnesses said, one of them shouted: “Oh blow, winds of change. Yesterday Tunisia became green, tomorrow Egypt will be free. Oh, winds of change, blow and sweep away injustice and shame.” As she finished, they said, officers quickly moved in, ordering them to leave immediately or else they would be detained.

“It is still soon for us,” said a Syrian activist, also speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We have time. The street is definitely not ready yet.”

Rand Paul on ABC news

Paul defended his call to end to all foreign aid — including the $3 billion the U.S. gives to Israel every year.
“I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel,” Paul said, “but not with money you don’t have. We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries even if they are our friends.”

Paul has come under fire from supporters of Israel, but said Israel has enough financial resources to fend for itself.
“I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” Paul said. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”

And military resources, as well. “I think they’re probably 10 years ahead of any neighboring country,” he said. “I think that their defense is very significant and probably well in advance of any of their particular enemies.”

Israeli military maneuvers in Syrian Golan Heights, 2011-02-03

DAMASCUS, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) — The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched wide-range military maneuvers in Syria’s occupied Golan Heights, the Damascus Press news website reported Thursday.

Joshua and Munif Atassi on The Take Away – NYCity’s NPR Radio today

We’ve seen a domino effect in the Mideast as protests in Tunisia sparked the continued unrest in Egypt. Over the past week opposition activists in Syria have gathered in small groups to pay homage to the protesters in Egypt, while a Facebook group, run mostly by Syrian expatriates, is trying to organize a “Day of Rage” in that country.

Comments (12)


1. fhmetkom said:

this wave which hit Egypt and Tunisia will have its bad influence on us in Syria. the oppression will increase, almukhabrat will double their effort, if there was any possible discussion to open FB or twitter or loose on the freedom of speech a bit in syria, absolutely is canceled now.

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February 5th, 2011, 3:20 am

 

2. FHMETKom said:

and i couldn’t agree more with the above said that we don’t have the culture of demonstrating. the youths in egypt are used to demonstrate in streets every friday sine ever , small demonstrations maybe , but they are used to have it all the time in the streets . here in syria never, the youths are not used to such things, and see when they want to do something , they lit candales, which is something they are doing in imitations of the demonstrations which happen on ur sides, i beg their pardon, ur governments would respond to candles, but ours never, did u hear any such scene in the arab countires?? we are the only youths whose perception of demonstrating is to lit a candle and that’s it.
secondly , it’s known that those who called for demonstrations are the so called the syrian oppositions. that’s all, and they are the most stupid opposotion ever seen in history, they don’t have a title, they don’t have a representative, a sopken for them , a program, a plan to follow, nothing, they just opposing . if you can read arabic, open the invitation wrote by them on FB, you would laugh at it, it’s not even a political statement . look at the opposition of the muslims brothers in Egypt. they a program, they are gathered under one label under unite program.
thirdly, Damascuenes are not going to move, simply coz the situation in Damascus is fair. everything is available in it. while those who are having low standard of life are spread around syria , and all the possible channels for them to communicate and unite their calls has been shut down right from the beginning.

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February 5th, 2011, 5:11 am

 

3. majedkhaldoon said:

Rand should run for president in 2012

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February 5th, 2011, 8:42 am

 

4. Norman said:

sun-sentinel.com/news/nationworld/sns-ap-ml-syria-protests,0,3573959.story

South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Syria weathers Mideast unrest for now; ‘Days of Rage’ fail to come off
ZEINA KARAM

Associated Press

10:08 AM EST, February 5, 2011

Advertisement

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s president recently boasted that his country, one of the Arab world’s most stifling regimes, is immune to the upheaval roiling other Arab countries. He was proven right — at least for the time being.

A weeklong online campaign failed to galvanize the kinds of mass protests that have rocked Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks. In fact, no one showed up Friday and Saturday for what were to be “days of rage” against the Syrian president’s iron-fisted rule.

By Saturday afternoon, the number of plainclothes security agents stationed protectively in key areas of the old city of the capital, Damascus, had begun to dwindle.

“The only rage in Syria yesterday was the rage of nature,” wrote Syrian journalist Ziad Haidar, in reference to a cold spell and heavy rain lashing the country.

But it was more than just the weather that kept Syrians at home. A host of factors — including intimidation by security agents and President Bashar Assad’s popular anti-Israel policies — kept Syria quiet this weekend.

“Syria has its own set of peculiarities that make it quite different from Egypt and Tunisia,” said Mazen Darwish, a journalist who headed the independent Syrian Media Center until it was closed down in 2009.

A major difference is that Assad — unlike leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Jordan — is not allied with the United States, so he is spared the accusation that he caters to American demands.

Assad, a 45-year-old British-trained eye doctor, inherited power from his father, Hafez, in 2000, after three decades of authoritarian rule. He has since moved slowly to lift Soviet-style economic restrictions, letting in foreign banks, throwing the doors open to imports and empowering the private sector.

Although he keeps a tight lid on any form of political dissent, he is seen by many Arabs as one of the few leaders in the region willing to stand up to Israel.

His backing for Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups opposed to the Jewish state, as well as his opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, appears to have helped him maintain a level of popular support.

Israel’s continued occupation of Syria’s strategic Golan Heights also stokes nationalist sentiment, said Darwish. “This gives credibility to the Syrian leadership which is seen as fighting a legitimate cause.”

Syria, a predominantly Sunni country ruled by minority Alawites, closely controls the media and routinely jails critics of the regime. Facebook and other social networking sites are officially banned, although many Syrians still manage to access them through proxy servers.

Most of the Facebook groups that called for protests are believed to have been created by Syrians abroad — which could help explain why the planned protests fell flat.

Organizers also spoke of intimidation.

Suheir Atassi, who helped organize a small vigil this week in support of Egyptian protesters, told Human Rights Watch that a plainclothes officer accused her of mobilizing people and working for Israel.

“He called me a germ. He got angry when I would answer him back, and he finally slapped me heavily on the face and threatened to kill me,” said Atassi, a longtime Syrian pro-democracy activist.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Atassi were unsuccessful.

Human Rights Watch also quoted witnesses as saying Syrian security forces intimidated people trying to organize support for protesters in Egypt.

The New York-based watchdog said security services arrested Ghassan al-Najjar, leader of a small group called the Islamic Democratic Current, from his home in the northern city of Aleppo on Friday, after he urged Syrians to demonstrate and press for more freedoms.

It also said a group of 20 people dressed in civilian clothing beat and dispersed the demonstrators, including Atassi, who had assembled in Damascus on Wednesday to hold a candlelight vigil for Egyptian demonstrators.

The Syrian regime has a history of crushing dissent. Assad’s father beat down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising in the city of Hama in 1982, killing thousands in the violence. In 2004, bloody clashes that began in the northeastern city of Qamishli between Syrian Kurds and security forces left at least 25 people dead and some 100 injured.

Joshua Landis, an American professor and Syria expert who runs a blog called Syria Comment, said Syrians are wary of rocking the boat and have been traumatized by the sectarian violence in Iraq.

“They understand the dangers of regime collapse in a religiously divided society,” he wrote in a recent posting.

Syrian state-run newspapers have reported extensively on events in Egypt, suggesting Syria may be feeling vindicated.

An editorial this week in the Baath newspaper, mouthpiece of the ruling party, said the uprising in Egypt is proof that all the troubles of the Arab world stem from “the complete acquiescence of some (Arab) regimes to the U.S. and their acceptance to take Zionist dictates.”

Assad told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Monday that Syria is insulated from the upheaval in the Arab world because he understands his people’s needs and has united them in common cause against Israel.

In downtown Damascus on Saturday, Syrians casually walked over an Israeli flag placed a few months ago on the cobbled pavement and followed the events in Egypt on TVs placed in crammed shops.

A 17-year-old student, Tayyeb, said some Syrians have legitimate grievances against the government.

“But I am against staging such mass protests,” said Tayyeb, who asked that only his first name be used because of security concerns. “Look at what’s happening in Egypt, it’s total chaos.”

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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February 5th, 2011, 10:24 am

 

5. Ghat Albird said:

The overriding issues in the US are becoming somewhat over whelming. The comments by Rand Paul reflect a sobering realisation that the US economy,and the number of close to 36 million Americans unemployed, thousands losing their homes, teachers being fired, etc, that “domestic welfare” comes before foreign welfare.

The present conditions make it quite dangerous to consider that the welfare of Israel supercedes the welfare of American citizens. Mr. Paul views about foreign aid and sepcifcally to Israel reflect an increasing awarenes of changes in US national policy determinants.

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February 5th, 2011, 10:29 am

 

6. Shami said:

The syrian film director Omar Amiralay dies.

http://www.romandie.com/ats/news/110205164552.7dojlwfl.asp

“Omar Amiralay a attendu le début d’un mouvement démocratique dans le monde arabe et il est mort”, a déclaré l’épouse de Michel Seurat, Marie Seurat, à l’AFP.

Allah Yerhamo

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February 5th, 2011, 12:50 pm

 

7. Friend in America said:

There is a statement near the end of @2 that Damascenes have access to goods and have a better level of income than much of the country and therefore are not inclined to demonstrate, whereas the poor and very poor of Syria are spread around the rest of the country widely dispersed and lack ability to communicate with each other.
1. Do those living in Syria agree with this account of the distribution of wealth (and political influnce)?
2. Am I correct that no one thinks the demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere were a “poor peoples march?”

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February 5th, 2011, 1:54 pm

 

8. why-discuss said:

Why the egyptian army is hesitant about a change…

NPR : Why Egypt’s Military Cares About Home Appliances
The Egyptian military has been notably non-confrontational during the recent wave of protests, defending the right of people to protest and protecting the protesters from attacks by pro-regime forces.

One reason for the military’s peaceful response: the unique role it plays in the Egyptian economy. The military owns “virtually every industry in the country,” according to Robert Springborg.

Springborg, a professor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, has written several books about Egypt, he’s lived in Egypt, he’s consulted with the Egyptian military, and he’s an expert on the various businesses it runs. Here’s a list he rattled off from the top of his head:

…car assembly, we’re talking of clothing, we’re talking of construction of roads, highways, bridges. We’re talking of pots and pans, we’re talking of kitchen appliances. You know, if you buy an appliance there’s a good chance that it’s manufactured by the military. If you … don’t have natural gas piped into your house and you have to have a gas bottle, the gas bottle will have been manufactured by the military. Some of the foodstuffs that you will be eating will have been grown and/or processed by the military.

The reasons for this arrangement go back to the ’60s and ’70s, when the Egyptian military was very large as a result of the wars with Israel. After the peace treaty with Israel was signed, the need for such a large fighting force disappeared. But leaders worried about all those young men released from military service suddenly flooding the job market.

So the military transformed itself from a fighting force to hiring force. And some of the businesses it got into were pretty far away from its traditional mission. For example, the military had all these forces stationed on the coast — a really pretty coast that lots of people would probably pay to visit. So, Springborg says, the question arose:

What are we gonna do with this military zone that is huge and in the most desirable part of the country and has extremely beautiful beaches, and some of the greatest … coral reefs in the world and was absolutely crying out for touristic development?

The answer: The military gave private developers access to the land, and the developers made military officers shareholders in big tourist developments.

No one knows for sure how many resort hotels or other businesses in Egypt are run by the military, which controls somewhere between 5 percent and 40 percent of the nation’s economy, according to various estimates. Whatever the number, Springborg says, officers in the Egyptian military are making “billions and billions and billions” of dollars.

These billions would be threatened if the protests devolved into full-on civil conflict. People in the middle of violent political chaos don’t buy dishwashers.

“The military wants stability above all,” Springborg says. “It’s not focused on war fighting; it’s focused on consumption.”

One of the few glimpses we have into the role of the Egyptian military in the economy comes via a 2008 diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks.

The cable discusses the various businesses the military is involved in, and considers how the military might react if Egypt’s current president, Hosni Mubarak, were to lose power.

The military would almost certainly go along with a successor, the cable’s author writes, if that successor didn’t interfere in the military’s business arrangements. But, the cable continues, “in a messier succession scenario, it becomes more difficult to predict the military’s actions.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/02/04/133501837/why-egypts-military-cares-about-home-appliances

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February 5th, 2011, 2:16 pm

 

9. Shai said:

Joshua,

Do you think recent developments in Egypt can also have a paralyzing effect on the U.S. Administration in the short term, with regards to Syria?

They seem to be going out of their way to announce their support of “immediate reform”, without going into details, but presumably meaning “anything-but-Mubarak.”

Does this mean they’ll be more reluctant to engage other dictatorships in the region? And if not, how will they explain public support for any of the regimes and their leaders?

If there’s a powerful Muslim nation in the region that Washington must now woo more than ever, I believe it is Turkey. And that, too, is good for Syria.

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February 5th, 2011, 2:40 pm

 

10. Akbar Palace said:

Egyptian FM tells Iranian gov’t to “F off”:

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/02/05/egypt-tells-iran-mind-business/

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February 5th, 2011, 3:51 pm

 

11. why-discuss said:

AP

The FM of a hated regime may actually be helping Iran by attacking its leader. It may bring more sympathy from the egyptian crowd. I thought Abu Ghait was smarter than that, but I guess in the turmoil he lost his self control.
I guess that’s the deep fear of Israel: the emergence of a military alliance Iran-Egypt-Iraq.
I guess it is in the making…

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February 6th, 2011, 3:44 am

 

12. Ashley said:

i couldnt believe what i read! the usa gives money to israel every year? when the f*ck are we gunna stop kissin israels ass? this is messed up

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February 6th, 2011, 4:18 pm

 

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