Until a week ago, most observers believed that Syria was immune to popular anger sweeping across the Middle East. But unfolding events in the country have proved both pundits and Assad wrong. With protests snowballing throughout Syria, the coming days will show whether Assad will be able to dodge a bullet, or whether the winds of change will reach Syria.
Unrest broke out in Syria on Tuesday, 15 March after an unknown group of Syrian activists had called for rallies on Facebook. At first, the regime did what it knows best: It unleashed an excessively brutal force against the few civilians who showed up to protest in Damascus. Security personnel in plainclothes outnumbered the 50 Syrians demonstrating at Suq Al-Hamidiyeh and Marjeh Square by more than three to one, assaulted them and arrested 25 of them.
Syrian state media reported that a delegation of relatives of political prisoners had showed up to the Interior Ministry to hand the minister a petition demanding the release of their loved ones. But the day after saw even more protests as Syrians took to the streets of Hims, Deir El-Zour and Banyas. Daraa, a town of 70 thousand Syrians to the south of Damascus, was the scene of unprecedented clashes when thousands of demonstrators forced security personnel out of the city. For their part, regime operatives shot dead a few protesters, further inflaming the situation.
The days that followed witnessed a growing anti-regime movement, mainly in Daraa. Feeling the heat, the Assad regime sent its elite forces—with their tanks and helicopters—to encircle the rebelling city. More funerals meant more confrontations and the situation was getting out of hand until Assad decided to contact families of the victims to express remorse, promise to punish the perpetrators and sent his senior officials to help defuse the tension.
A week after 15 March, Syrian security had shut off Daraa, but avoided clashes with its residents, apparently in an attempt to bring the confrontation to an end. But meanwhile, hundreds of Syrians across Syrian cities were protesting and shouting anti-regime slogans.
Observers are so far divided over the outcome of the Syrian clashes. Some argue that if Aleppo, the largest city with Sunni majority and loose regime control, erupts, the situation might take a drastic turn and Assad might find himself on the edge. Until now, Aleppo has not showed any signs of unrest.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011