Assad Maintains a Vice-Like Grip on Syria’s Capital; Rastan

The last Friday of Ramadan in Damascus: Assad maintains a vice-like grip on Syria’s capital
26/08/2011, for Syria Comment
By anonymous in Damascus

The last Friday of Ramadan held a lot of expectation for the opposition activists in Damascus. While protests have certainly picked up pace over the last month they still haven’t managed to unsettle the capital, the bastion of pro-regime support. So the opposition hoped that today would see a suitably dramatic finale to the holy month. But during a tour of the capital after the midday prayers, it was clear that few protests had managed to gain enough momentum to beat the overwhelming security presence. In hot spots like Midan and Kafr Souseh, hundreds of shabeehah, the regime’s thugs, stand guard along with regular police officers and soldiers. Mukhabarat agents, the secret police, keep a watchful eye over everything, loitering in leather jackets next to their cars, occasionally barking orders into walkie-talkies. The shabeehah are better armed than on previous Fridays. Along with the usual batons and sticks many are also equipped with assault rifles and shotguns. A few carry riot gear. Pick-up trucks laden with paramilitary soldiers prowl the main streets of Midan.

But there is little sign of the opposition. Groups of 3 or 4, young men often dressed in white jalabiyahs, hang around leaning on cars, waiting for something to kick off but sufficient numbers never appear. Without a large group of protestors they wouldn’t stand a chance against the shabeehah. The few brave enough to start chanting are quickly beaten up and dragged off. An old bus parked beneath an underpass, its windows sealed with metal bars, acts as a holding cell for those unlucky enough to be arrested.

The lack of protestors is not surprising given the suffocating security presence. Abu Suleiman (not his real name), our guide for the day, explains that most of the residents of areas like Midan and Qaboun are committed opposition supporters: they have lost too many of their sons, experienced too much repression, to be anything but angry at the regime. But in recent weeks, the opposition movement in these key neighbourhoods has perhaps even diminished. While protests occur more frequently throughout the week , flaring up at unpredictable times and places, they are also smaller. After months of sweeping security operations, thousands of demonstrators have been locked away in Damascus’ secret prisons. The movement is currently short on participants.

But the move towards smaller protests is also, in part, a deliberate change in tactics. Small protests, which finish just as quickly as they appear, are a lot harder to track down and break up. The model is also being used in neighbourhoods where the opposition could never get away with large scale protests. A young activist heavily involved in the movement described to me a flash-mob which occurred along the Four Seasons Boulevard, next to the 5 star hotel of the same name and one of the wealthiest areas of Damascus. A small mosque is squeezed in between the boutique shops and trendy cafes, a token symbol of Islam and tradition next to all the consumerism and affluence. As the evening tarawih prayers finished, a group of no more than 25 started chanting anti-regime slogans, a daring display of opposition in the pro-Assad stronghold. They were quickly chased away by government supporters, apparently led by a general’s son who happened to be sipping a frapuccino in the Costa next door, but it would still have sent tremors through Assad’s support base in this fiercely loyalist part of town.

But as we near the end of Ramadan, opposition activists will be assessing the gains of the past month. Although many have been willing to risk death or imprisonment, the protests in the capital will not have worried Mr Assad unduly. Damascus, comparatively quiet throughout all of the past 5 months of uprising, has experienced a few upsets during the holy month but for the most part life continues unaffected. Commerce is still relatively healthy and many of the city’s inhabitants remain in comfortable denial of the death and chaos that has swept across the rest of their country. While pressure is increasing on the regime, most significantly due to international condemnation and economic weakness, Assad maintains a vice-like grip on Syria’s capital.

By another anonymous for Syria Comment
August 29, 2011

I was stuck for 4 hours yesterday on the Homs-Hama highway in Rastan. It was a car park from 5 to 9 pm with thousands of angry and frustrated families, busses and truck drivers. Rastanians were walking between cars chatting with the people and serving them water and sweets on Iftar/sunset time. The army was there too but they were not worried. I asked many rastan residents about the reason of the roadblock. Got several conflicting details to one story.. an oil tank accident on the strategic Rastan dam bridge. Felt satisfaction and some sort of pride in the eyes of many of the young Rastan shabab I talked with. It seemed like a made up story. The bridge had tar or oil spilled all over the bridge. The army brought trucks of sand and spread it all over the 0.5 km long bridge so cars to skid! The army who spent hours to fix this and clean the bridge and spread the sand wasn’t happy for sure. Saw some civilians working with the army to clean the bridge. Later when I crossed the bridge I looked for any signs of the accident or the truck but never saw any. It was either that some of the Rastan people spilled the oil on the bridge to sabotage the road or a real accident and the army cleaned everything. Later today there was news that army is surrounding Rastan. I don’t want to jump to conclusions. You make your own.

Comments (8)

Husam said:

Dearest Sheila:

I respect your opinion and I already knew that you were Sunni from earlier post. You can say, question, and do whatever you want about any religion, yours or others without offending or judging. I would like to share with you a very significant letter of one woman who chose to wear a Hijab.

Why I wear a Hijab:

I probably do not fit into the preconceived notion of a “rebel”. I have no visible tattoos and minimal piercing. I do not possess a leather jacket. In fact, when most people look at me, their first thought usually is something along the lines of “oppressed female.” The brave individuals who have mustered the courage to ask me about the way I dress usually have questions like: “Do your parents make you wear that?” or “Don’t you find that really unfair?”

A while back, a couple of girls in Montreal were kicked out of school for dressing like I do. It seems strange that a little piece of cloth would make for such controversy. Perhaps the fear is that I am harboring an Uzi underneath it! Of course, the issue at hand is more than a mere piece of cloth. I am a Muslim woman who, like millions of other Muslim women across the globe, chooses to wear the hijab. And the concept of the hijab, contrary to popular opinion, is actually one of the most fundamental aspects of female empowerment.

When I cover myself, I make it virtually impossible for people to judge me according to the way I look. I cannot be categorized because of my attractiveness or lack thereof.

Compare this to life in today’s society: We are constantly sizing one another up on the basis of our clothing, jewelry, hair and makeup. What kind of depth can there be in a world like this? Yes, I have a body, a physical manifestation upon this Earth. But it is the vessel of an intelligent mind and a strong spirit. It is not for the beholder to leer at or to use in advertisements to sell everything from beer to cars!

Because of the superficiality of the world in which we live, external appearances are so stressed that the value of the individual counts for almost nothing. It is a myth that women in today’s society are liberated! What kind of freedom can there be when a woman can not walk down the street without every aspect of her physical self being “checked out”?

When I wear the hijab I feel safe from all of this. I can rest assured that no one is looking at me and making assumptions about my character from the length of my skirt. There is a barrier between me and those who would exploit me. I am first and foremost a human being, equal to any man, and not vulnerable because of my sexuality.

One of the saddest truths of our time is the question of the beauty myth and female self-image. Reading popular teenage magazines, you can instantly find out what kind of body image is “in” or “out.” and if you have the “wrong” body type, well, then, you’re just going to have to change it, aren’t you? After all, there is no way that you can be overweight and still be beautiful.

Look at any advertisement. Is a woman being used to sell the product? How old is she? How attractive is she? What is she wearing? More often than not, that woman will be no older than her early 20s, taller, slimmer and more attractive than average, dressed in skimpy clothing. Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated like this?

Whether the 90s woman wishes to believe it or not, she is being forced into a mold. She is being coerced into selling herself, into compromising herself. This is why we have 13-year-old girls sticking their fingers down their throats and overweight adolescents hanging themselves.

When people ask me if I feel oppressed, I can honestly say no. I made this decision out of my own free will. I like the fact that I am taking control of the way other people perceive me. I enjoy the fact that I don’t give anyone anything to look at and that I have released myself from the bondage of the swinging pendulum of the fashion industry and other institutions that exploit females.

My body is my own business. Nobody can tell me how I should look or whether or not I am beautiful. I know that there is more to me than that. I am also able to say “no” comfortably then people ask me if I feel as though my sexuality is being repressed. I have taken control of my sexuality. I am thankful I will never have to suffer the fate of trying to lose/gain weight or trying to find the exact lipstick shade that will go with my skin color. I have made choices about what my priorities are and these are not among them.

So next time you see me, don’t look at me sympathetically. I am not under duress or a male-worshipping female captive from those barbarous Arabic deserts! I’ve been liberated.

August 31st, 2011, 9:13 pm


Aboud said:

How exactly is suppressing demonstrations only through a massive security presence, any cause for satisfaction? That’s like living an opulent lifestyle by borrowing way beyond your means.

Remember, when the end comes, it will come quickly, and no one will be able to foresee it. Just learn from the history of every single other protracted conflict.

August 31st, 2011, 9:34 pm


Some guy in damascus said:

The Damascus story is pretty pessimistic, but factual….although when demonstrations are occurring less than 450 meters from your house, you don’t really have a a grip on the city. Damascus is like Homs in the early days of the revolution. Midan, barzeh , qaboon,kafer suseh are hot spots. Mhajreen, Baghdad street occasional protests. Malki, abu remaneh, mezze broke the silence.

August 31st, 2011, 9:55 pm


Aboud said:

“Damascus is like Homs in the early days of the revolution.”

Exactly. All this talk about “quick demonstrations” reminds me of Homs back in April and early May. Look where Homs is now.

If nothing else, good job on Damascus’s part on sucking up so many shabehas and security personnel that would otherwise be deployed elsewhere. It’s only on this website where I’ve seen a dictator who arms militiamen with automatic rifles just to stop peaceful demonstrations, as being described as having a bastion of pro regime support.

Let the security presence stand down by even a half, and we’ll see how “vice like” his support is LOL!

August 31st, 2011, 10:05 pm


True said:

ABOUD is back! Poor Menhebeks lol

hey boys, “Betho” has divided the main Damascus into four foremost zones.

The first is the Southern, which starts from Bab-Musala square all the way to Sahnaya that includes (Midan, Zahera, Palestinian Yarmouk camp, Nahir Aeshea, Yalda, Babila, Alhajar Alaswad, Alqadam, Dayray and Sahnaya).

The second is the central, which starts from Albaramkeh all the way to Almalki next to his illegal presidential house including Mezeh.

The third is the Northern, which starts from Bab Sharqi all the way to Bollman bus station which includes Harasta and Doma.

The fourth is the western zone, which starts Rokin Aldeen all the way to Alhama including Mashroaa dumar and Aldahya.

Currently the northern and southern zones are kicking Betho in the butt and yet more to come. The protesters are doing a great job keeping all security divisions on their toes waiting for a protest to break out somewhere at sometime.

August 31st, 2011, 10:40 pm


Beirut Spring: Authoritarian Middle Eastern Regimes Are Paper Tigers said:

[…] Tripoli) fall. It might seem logical but observers don’t seem to learn. Here’s one article where someone is arguing that Damascus is a “bastion of pro-regime […]

September 1st, 2011, 6:02 am


Eid at the BBC « The Ajnabi said:

[…] My article on Flash-mobs in Damascus was also featured on Syria Comment. […]

September 3rd, 2011, 10:37 am


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