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May 13, 2011

Syrian Protesters Defy Murderous Assad Regime, Return to Streets

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, through an advisor, made a vow prior to planned protests on Friday; he would not order protesters to be shot dead in the streets. At least, not this time. Because he’s a humanitarian. Sure, the UN estimates that 850 Syrians have died from government suppression. But today, the people will speak in a bullet-free manner.

I don’t think the protest movement had any reason to believe that. But braving the worst, they took to the streets anyway.

Thousands of protesters in Syria defied a ferocious crackdown and returned to the streets Friday, even in towns that the military had besieged only days before, in a relentless contest of wills that a leading dissident described as an emerging stalemate [...]

While some of the country’s most restive locales remained relatively quiet — namely Baniyas on the coast and Dara’a in the south — protesters took to the streets in at least four neighborhoods in Homs, Syria’s third largest-city and a center of the two-month uprising. Activists said protests ranged in numbers from hundreds to thousands.

“We don’t like you!” crowds chanted in Homs, referring to the president. “You and your party, leave us!”

Demonstrations were reported in at least six towns in the province around Dara’a. That protests erupted even in towns like Hara, where tanks entered this week, suggested that the Houran, knit by tradition and clan loyalties, was so restive as to be in revolt.

By the way, gunfire was reported in Homs and Damascus, with at least one death. So shockingly, Assad didn’t keep to his word. Where security forces didn’t shoot, they merely subjected protesters to tear gas and beatings. It was a kinder, gentler repression.

So we have to salute the incredible bravery of the Syrian protesters. Here’s an interview with Wissam Tarif, founder of the human rights group Insan.

It is extraordinary. It is courageous. Young people want to live with dignity and to live with freedom. The crackdown has proven for the last three weeks that is not effective. There are lots of people who want to go out and protest. The crackdown has failed to achieve its main purpose which is to make people scared. Now they have to answer the question what next?

We’re starting to forget about this in the chronicle of abuses and killing. The uprising has given courage to Muslims around the world, the courage to stand up to their abusers, to stand up to their own governments, to seek a different life, one of dignity and respect. We’re so caught in the grip of bin Ladenism in this country that we refuse to acknowledge this. But regardless of how Syria’s government handles this in the coming days and weeks, or Yemen’s, or Bahrain’s, or Morocco’s, the Middle East and North Africa have irrevocably changed. There is a spirit of participation and engagement that will never be extinguished. People are risking their lives for that participation and engagement. It’s easy to get discouraged by the brutality they’re experiencing. But they have not been discouraged by it.

Protesters are gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square today, to show cross-religious unity after sectarian attacks at a Coptic Christian church. This is a wonderfully different thing we’re seeing. It wasn’t brought on by bombs or invasions or decapitations. It was brought on by a people yearning for their own voice.

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