Day 53 of the Syrian Uprising; over Six Killed; Fewer Demonstrators; Clinton Says Reform Still Possible
Posted by Joshua on Friday, May 6th, 2011
Death tolls for this Friday have been hard to quantify, according to the Guardian. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least six people had been shot dead after security forces opened fire in Homs and Hama. The National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria put the toll at 16 people nationwide.
Secretary of State Clinton said that reform was still possible in Syria. She seems to be giving Assad more time.
The death toll since the beginning of the uprising seven weeks ago is high at about 550 but still remains almost half of the death toll in Bahrain as a percent of citizens. In Egypt, over 800 were killed, which is about half of Syria’s toll given that Egypt’s population is over three times that of Syria’s. In Tunisia 219 protesters were killed during the uprising. Tunisia’s population is less than half of Syria’s at 10 million. In Yemen, about 125 people have now been killed. In Libya, The civilian death toll from the war is already estimated in the thousands, while streams of desperate refugees keep pouring into Tunisia, Egypt and Europe.
Syrian state television said an army officer and four policemen were shot dead by a “criminal gang” in Homs.
About 80 of Syria’s deaths are soldiers, security, and police according to Syrian government sources. Many more have been arrested as the government tries to track down the leadership networks and activists who have been organizing demonstrations. One of the main activists in Deraa, who was reporting by satellite phone throughout the confrontations was recently killed.
The opposition claim that Syrian security forces are responsible for shooting teh 80 dead soldiers. They claim that cracks are developing in military loyalty and soldiers are being executed for refusing to shoot on protesters. I have yet to see a reliable report of this.
One journalist writes: “I can’t stand these contradicting sources. As a journalist, it is a HUGE HEADACHE!!! Am jubilant right now because the paper decided to drop the article on Syria today. Didn’t know what to write!!! Press agencies talk about tanks around Damascus and elsewhere, friends from there see no trace of them. Thank God I don’t have to write!!!
Today as a true eye witness and a Red Crescent FACT team (field assessment and coordination Team) we did an assessment Visit to Daraa city situation and brought some aid items and baby food with us, we also came up with the needs which we are working on for-filling ASAP.
some highlights from the report :
No mass destruction was noticed, water and electricity is available to almost all of Daraa, some shortage in food but not life threatening, army is distributing bread and essential materials to places since most of the shops are closed, shortage in some medicines because the pharmacies among with the shops are closed, water not reaching high floors since no electricity in some places to power the personal pumps, their maybe people whom are afraid to visit the national hospital so SARC will provide mobile clinic for those people in old part of Daraa city ASAP.
An opposition member reports: Day 53 of the Syrian Revolution; Friday of defiance.
Today’s protests in: Ankhel, Jasem, Sanamein, Zabadani, Daraiya, Harasta, Kisweh, Nawa, Al Tal, Barzah, Damascus (Meydan, Saliheiya, sit Zaynab, Hajar Aswad), Homs, Hama, Tal Kalakh, Baniyas, Jableh, Lattakiya, Al Bab, Idlib, Me’arit Nu’man, Salamiyah, Qamishly, Ain Al Arab, Hasakeh, Jisr Al Shoghoor….. (Despite the suffocating repression with live bullets and the threat of shabiey7a thugs..etc..)
Interesting tweets from Ben Wedeman (CNN legendary correspondent in Cairo):
“Good Egyptian source just back from Washington says israel is syrian regime’s most ardent advocate with congress, Obama administration.” Amid Syria’s turmoil, Israel sees Assad as the lesser evil
A regime supporter writes:
Aside from Homs, the total of people who demonstrated in Syria today was less than 5000. In Damascus there were about 500 protesters in the Islamist stronghold of Maydan.
In Banias, Al-Jazeera claimed that there were 10,000, but in the images they showed it was obvious that the protesters were less than a thousand people.
About 500 Kurds demonstrated in the northeast. The Kurdish demonstrations are the only demonstrations that can be called civil and I am glad that they all ended peacefully. The Kurdish demonstrations were the only demonstrations that had clear political demands and they were not motivated by sectarian or even ethnic motives as it appears from their slogans and the quality of people who participated.
In Aleppo as usual there were many failed attempts to start demonstrations. None of them gathered more than a 100 people.
Angry Arab writes: Al-Jazeera “clearly wants to have a day of rage and protests in Syria: so they keep airing the same phone video footage. They tell viewers that there were massive demonstrations, and then you count like 40 or 50 in the protests.
Khaddam: ‘I expect the Syrian army to topple Assad!’ Friday Lunch Club
From NZ in Comment Section (5 May 2011)
For those who are talking in sectarian terms and saying that Christians are not interested in regime change are wrong.
Every one wishes a free Syria without bloodshed. The way this regime dealt with the latest unrest will no doubt have an organized opposition. They can not be given the benefit of doubt, no more. Their actions spoke volume. The autocratic management style of this regime will end up uglier than any other. Change is imminent. With millions, with or without tanks, they dug out there ending. They are exposed nationally and internationally. Game over.
From John Khouri in Comment Section (5 May 2011)
N.Z – I’m a Christian living in Homs and have relatives living in Aleppo And Damascus and Deir el Zor. I find it absolutely outrageous that people like yourself say that Christians want regime change. Stop speaking on behalf of the Christians of Syria. Come to Syria and see what is happening on the ground. My cousin’s wife in Daraa has packed up and moved in with us in Homs. The Christians in Daraa have had their churches firebombed for not participating in the anti-government demonstrations. Their priest has been threatened with his life. Wake up to ourselves. In Homs, all church ceremonies have been kept indoors due to the fact that thugs from Khaldieh and Bab el Omr keep entering the Hamadieh Christian area and screaming sectarian slogans throughout the night. 99.9% of Christians support the current Syrian government. All these so called freedom demonstrations have been hijacked by Islamists and Salafi’s. Stop being in denial and stop trying to promote these freedom demonstrations, which is completely opposite from the reality on the ground.
How the Syrian Government Refuses to do Public Relations
The United Group, which has been contracted by the Syria Government to help spread their message is not a PR company according to one friend who knows people there. It is a small (in regional standards) media and publishing company. The Syrian government is for some reason allergic to professional PR. The Syria Trust (associated with Assma) was the only entity to hire PR to promote their work. Now the Trust seems to be on hold and the PR guy in NYC, who was helping on the now postponed April 4-6 Historical Culture event, contacted Syria to see if the want help now. The answer was a predictable NO.
Construction and design of several worthy projects meant to boost tourism and promote Syrian culture are on hold such as Masar Al Thaqafi Al Suri and a planned modern arts Museum. Many big Gulf companies are pulling out or putting their work on hold because of the uprising and because their partners are none other than Rami and Maher associates.
Syria’s political crisis puts it on edge of economic precipice
Last Updated: May 6, 2011
DAMASCUS //At a staff meeting this week, employees at a small but successful private company in Damascus were told they would be working without pay this month, a sign of gathering economic storm clouds, as Syria struggles with a grave political crisis.
According to one of the workers, managers announced pay would be halted for most staff members immediately, with employees asked to stay on effectively as volunteers in order to keep the firm ticking over. Crucially, no timetable was set for when payment of salaries would be resumed.
“They said they didn’t know when things would be back to normal, and that it would depend on what happened on Friday,” he said, on condition of anonymity. He also asked the company not be named because it has made no public announcement of the decision.
“If things are quiet on Friday, maybe it will be OK,” the employee said. “But if it’s another one like we had last week, then I’ll probably lose my job entirely. I expect that to happen.”
The Syrian authorities have been insisting all is well, projecting an air of confidence and normality, and trying to allay any sense of panic that the country might be teetering on the brink of an economic precipice, after more than six weeks of political unrest that has shaken the nation……
Hizbollah’s Most Serious Challenge
By Randa Slim Tuesday, May 3, 2011 – in Foreign Policy
The popular uprisings in Syria represent the most serious challenge to Hezbollah since the 2006 war with Israel. A regime change in Syria would threaten a major arms supply route to Hezbollah; deny the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis its Arab linchpin; weaken Hezbollah’s deterrence capacities vis-à-vis Israel; and deny the Hezbollah leaders and their families a safe haven when they feel threatened by Israel, as was the case in 2006. This poses a unique challenge to Hezbollah, which had comfortably sided with the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. When Hezbollah’s Iranian mentor Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour was dismissed from his official post last April because of his sympathies with the Iranian opposition, Hezbollah was silent despite a heated debate inside the party ranks. The uprisings in Syria pose a challenge similar to the one they faced with the 2009 repression of the Green Movement in Iran.
How does Hezbollah really view the prospect of regime change in Damascus? In a recent round of interviews I conducted with Hezbollah officials in Beirut, all those I spoke to agreed that a regime change in Syria would not occur easily or peacefully. So far, Hezbollah officials believe that Bashar al Assad will survive. They believe that unlike Hosni Mubarak or Zein Ben Ali, Assad still enjoys a wide base of support especially in major cities like Damascus and Aleppo. As a senior Hezbollah official pointed out, “Alawites and Christians will not abandon Bashar.” The Assad regime and its wide base of support, they said, will fight back. Should Bashar al Assad fail to rein in the protests quickly, they fear a protracted civil war that would engulf Syria, spill over into Lebanon, especially in the north, and destabilize other countries in the region, including Turkey. Above all, even more than the loss of military and financial supply lines, these Hezbollah leaders fear a mortal blow to the “Resistance Axis” which has been central to their place in the Middle East.
While Syrian President Bashar al Assad was initially taken back by the protests, he and his close associates quickly closed ranks and opted for brute force to deal with future protests. Hezbollah’s reading of the Assad speech made on April 16 is that while responding to the people’s demands by offering a series of reform measures mainly focused on the lifting of the emergency law, Assad also made it clear that further protests will be met with an iron fist. Hezbollah officials to whom I spoke viewed the internal opposition as old, disorganized and decimated by years spent in Syrian jails. If regime change were to happen soon, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is the only organized political force in the country and would likely emerge as the main power broker in the country.
Hezbollah officials now believe that negotiations between the regime and the protest movement can no longer be expected to occur. They further argue that the critical factor in other Arab revolutions was the neutral role played by the army. In the case of Syria, they believe that the army still sides with the regime. It has yet to show signs of dissension, especially at the top levels. When questioned about the possibility of an internal coup d’etat led by an Alawite army official, these Hezbollah officials discounted this scenario – as one of them put it, chiefly for lack of an acceptable alternative to Bashar al Assad. They also pointed out that both Alawites and Christians fear the consequences to themselves of a Sunni take-over. A protracted civil war in Syria would eventually lead to a break-up of Syria into a number of mini-states divided among the country’s three major religious and ethnic groups: Alawites, Sunnis, and Kurds…. (an important article. Read the entire thing.)
Untangling Dictators’ Webs
By Brendan Greeley and Nicole Gaouette, BW Magazine
The State Dept. is funding tools to help online activists abroad
Antigovernment protesters in Syria have a hard time reaching the outside world, since the government selectively blocks cell-phone coverage in protest areas, and most use a slow dial-up Internet connection. Some of them rely on a contact overseas. The Syrian, who has seen the inside of prisons before and asked that his name not be printed, receives video files from activists in Daraa. The Syrian helps format the videos and posts them to YouTube. He’s exactly the kind of person the State Dept. would like to help right now: a pro-reform dissident, enabling others to get their story out through the Internet. But the Syrian is skeptical.
As the Administration struggles to keep up with the pace of change in the Arab world, the State Dept. is set to announce $28 million in grants for tools and training to help activists like the Syrian and his compatriots interact and organize online. The grants are a way to combat “repression 2.0,” as Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State for the agency’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, puts it. Autocrats and their intelligence operatives are increasingly turning to social media and sophisticated technologies to track and infiltrate dissident groups. Before the fall of dictator Ben Ali, for instance, Tunisian authorities uploaded phony Facebook and Gmail login pages with the aim of stealing the passwords of activists. In the past, U.S. officials thought that if dissidents could simply get to Facebook, Twitter, and other unrestricted sites on the open Web, they could organize themselves. Posner now says that training activists to avoid traps and giving them the tools to stay safe in digital environments is “perhaps the most critical part” of countering online repression.
According to Posner, State has already held training sessions for 5,000 digital activists around the world, including one in February in Beirut that brought together participants from Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria. The sessions, quietly run by local organizations, teach participants which websites and technologies are most vulnerable to government monitoring—and which government-seeded rumors about technology are false. Daniel B. Baer, the deputy assistant secretary in the democracy bureau, says that in one country, the government spread rumors that police took screenshots of every computer every five minutes. Baer says State pays for travel to a safe place for the training and describes the program as “an underground railroad of trust.”
The agency has already awarded about $22 million in Internet freedom grants and plans to raise the total to $50 million by the summer. The current round of grants will largely be dedicated to building the kind of digital tools activists need. To keep up with both activists and governments, the State Dept. will have to start acting more like a venture capitalist, says Posner, doling out seed money to developers.
Katrin Verclas runs MobileActive.org, a New York-based nonprofit. MobileActive has received State funding to build a “panic button” that allows activists, if arrested or pursued, to send a text message to a group of contacts in a way that doesn’t show up on the phone’s call log. The app also erases potentially incriminating data. MobileActive developed the tool to run on Java-enabled phones, such as BlackBerrys and the low-end Nokia phones that overseas activists are more likely to own. The group has made the code freely available and hopes to develop a community to sustain it. An Android version is in the works. “It’s like having a baby,” says Verclas, “you need to keep feeding it.”
Not everyone is eager to take State’s money, particularly when it’s for on-the-ground training. The Syrian, for one, doubts that the money always makes it to the right people. He’s seen foreign aid go to groups with no domestic credibility and seen other groups quietly take U.S. funding and then denounce America. Several other Internet activists reached by phone last week expressed similar sentiments. Hisham Almiraat, a Moroccan blogger based in France who asked to be identified by his pen name, traveled to a conference in Budapest in 2010 that was funded in part by the State Dept. He faced criticism online for attending. “Your credibility, your online reputation, becomes fundamental to your work,” he says. “We cannot afford to be seen as agents.”
The latest Middle Eastern anxiety — America spreading its influence over the Middle East through the Muslim Brotherhood. The new strategy of the US: Using the MB Sunni ‘newlook’ to counter the Iran Shia influence in the region.
La Syrie reste au cœur des spéculations
Par Scarlett HADDAD | 06/05/2011, L’Orient-Le Jour
…..Certains analystes estiment à cet égard que la nouvelle stratégie de l’administration américaine reposerait justement sur l’utilisation des Frères musulmans dans l’ensemble du monde arabe pour combattre l’Iran et ses alliés. Ces analystes ajoutent que maintenant qu’ils se sont débarrassés d’Oussama Ben Laden, les Américains peuvent de nouveau miser sur le courant islamiste pour juguler l’influence iranienne au Moyen-Orient. Ils auraient confié la mission de rendre les Frères musulmans « fréquentables » au parti au pouvoir en Turquie qui représente un islam moderne jugé tout à fait acceptable par l’administration américaine. Cette dernière devait toutefois auparavant frapper un grand coup pour justifier le recours à ces organisations longtemps considérées comme terroristes et non fiables. Ce fut la mort de Ben Laden, considéré comme l’ennemi public numéro 1 des Américains et de la communauté internationale en général.
Les États-Unis ont pendant des années justifié leur appui au régime de Hosni Moubarak en Égypte par le fait que la seule relève possible est formée des Frères musulmans. Ces derniers s’apprêtent aujourd’hui à se lancer dans la prochaine bataille électorale en réclamant la moitié des sièges au Parlement, après avoir formé un parti officiellement laïc, comme l’exige la Constitution du pays. En parallèle, les Frères musulmans de Syrie, qui se sont choisi un nouveau leader, Riyad Chakfa, ont le champ libre à partir d’Istanbul. Championne de l’islam à visage acceptable pour les Américains, la Turquie serait ainsi visiblement appelée à remplacer l’Égypte comme leader des pays musulmans proaméricains dans la région. En même temps, les États-Unis ont rapidement réussi à démanteler ce qui était considéré comme l’axe fort de la région et qui était formé de la Turquie, de la Syrie, de l’Iran et du Qatar. Le Qatar s’est ainsi aligné sur la politique turque qui, elle, ne dissimule pas ses critiques à l’égard du régime syrien…..
Tunisia’s ousted leader charged over shooting deaths…. An arrest warrant has been issued for Tunisia’s former interior minister, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, on charges of murder,
In a packed courtroom, a Cairo judge sentenced the former security henchman to seven years for corruption and five years for money laundering, and fined him 15m Egyptian pounds ($2.5m). But Adly still faces the much graver charge of giving the order to kill civilians during the 18-day uprising, as well as misusing public funds. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. “This is just an appetiser,” wrote Khaled Tawfeek on a Facebook page commemorating an activist who died in police custody. “Let’s hold our breath [for] when he falls for killing protesters.”
Adly has been held along with roughly 30 senior members of the old regime, including the deposed prime minister and Mr Mubarak’s two sons, following the uprising. Most face corruption charges, but some will face allegations related to the handling of the protests. Adly will next appear in court on 21 May to face trial for the deaths of protesters.
Mr Mubarak, 82, has also been detained on similar charges and the country’s justice minister has warned that the former president, who is convalescing in hospital after a heart attack, could face the death penalty if convicted.
One of Egypt’s most publicly reviled officials, Adly was the public face behind the feared security services, which tortured its citizens with impunity. Fury at police brutality was one of the primary reasons for the uprising, with the Police Day holiday on 25 January chosen as the first day of the protests.
More than 800 people were killed during the nearly three weeks of protests, many of them shot in the head and upper body, which has been used as evidence by some that security forces aimed to kill.
ROME — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Friday that global shortages of food and spiraling prices threaten widespread destabilization and is urging immediate action to forestall a repeat of the 2007 and 2008 crisis that led to riots in dozens of countries around the developing world.
Clinton told a meeting of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization that urgent steps are needed to hold down costs and boost agricultural production as food prices continue to rise.
Although the situation is not yet as dire as it was four years ago, she said the consequences of inaction would be “grave.”
“We must act now, effectively and cooperatively, to blunt the negative impact of rising food prices and protect people and communities,” she said at the FAO’s headquarters in Rome.
The U.N. estimates that 44 million people have been pushed into poverty since last June because of rising food prices,