The bloody repression on Friday in Syria, with as many as 100 citizens killed, led to mass funerals protesting the slaughter on Saturday. And security forces responded to that by firing on the funerals. Bashar al-Assad has made his decision: he will not stand for a single word of dissent. He ended the emergency law and changed the cabinet, and now believes the people have nothing to complain about. So they will be shot on sight for any protest.
Twelve mourners died in the funeral shootings, and importantly, several members of the Syrian Parliament resigned rather than associate themselves further with the Assad regime.
Nasser al-Hariri, a member of Syria’s parliament from Deraa, told al-Jazeera Arabic TV: “I can’t protect my people when they get shot at so I resign from parliament.” Minutes later a second politician, Khalil al-Rifae, also from Deraa, resigned live on the channel.
The resignations – the first during this crisis – were a significant sign of unease at escalating violence. Security forces again opened fire at funerals for Friday’s victims, where large crowds of mourners were chanting anti-government slogans.
Syrian Christians were reported among the dead in the protest massacre. The usual Easter celebrations in Damascus were cancelled due to the unrest. The Christian minority in Syria turning on Assad would be significant, as he has skillfully used the fear of the Islamist unknown (like many other dictators in the region) to keep their loyalty.
The demands of the protesters have shifted from merely additional government reforms and individual freedoms to a toppling of the regime. We’ve seen this shift in the other Arab uprisings, and it suggests that a tipping point has been reached. But that doesn’t mean Assad’s days are numbered. In several other countries, brutality has been able to prevail over the will of the people, sadly enough. Syria has banned virtually all independent media and will be able to continue rounding up protest leaders and intimidating the rest with only a trickle of the other side of the story coming out on YouTube and Twitter.
Only in Libya have peaceful demonstrations morphed into civil war. Protesters in Syria have not taken up arms in their own defense. but some activists feared that prospect in the days to come. Because of the lack of an independent power structure in the country, which is tightly controlled by Assad’s Alawite minority, it would be foolish to expect any breach in the military or security forces (run by Alawite loyalists and members of Assad’s family). One activist told Reuters, “We will not follow the Egypt model. If things escalate here we are looking at Yemen, Libya and Bahrain models. None are good.”