Tensions boiled in a volatile Syrian community Thursday as thousands turned up for the funerals of people killed in unrest, while the government blamed the instability on outsiders and announced plans to study popular demands, including the lifting of the country’s decades-old emergency law.
Syria is the latest in a string of Arabic-speaking nations beset with discontent over economic and human rights issues. And Syrian discontent centers on Daraa, a southern city in the impoverished country’s agricultural region, where violence has been escalating between security forces and anti-government protesters since late last week …. The al-Omari mosque, a significant landmark in Daraa and the focal point since protests began last week, is occupied by security forces and will most likely be the site of clashes on Friday. [CNN, March 24, 2011]
“The government is cracking down on the people of Deraa. The gloves are off,” Joshua Landis wrote in his blog ‘Syria Comment’ on Wednesday. He is director of the Center for Middle East Studies and associate professor at University of Oklahoma.
Landis continues in his blog: “Deraa is very poor and Islamic – it optimizes everything that troubles Syria – a failed economy, the population explosion, a bad governor and overbearing security forces. It is an explosive brew. Even if the government can contain violence to Deraa for the time-being, protests will spread. The wall of fear has broken. Apathy of the young has turned to anger. Youtube, Aljazeera and cellphones have changed the game and given the people a powerful weapon to fight authority. The country is under intense pressure and ready to explode. There is too much unemployment and too little freedom.”
“We saw the first direct sectarian slogans yesterday among the opposition that until now has stuck to a moderate message of dismantling emergency law, promulgating a new party law, and winning freedom. But on Thursday, the demonstrators abandoned their gentler slogans and chanted: “No Iran. No Hizbullah. We want a Muslim who fears God”,” Landis wrote in his blog.
He told CNN that the unrest in Daraa is spurred by a number of factors, including the arrests two weeks ago of young people who scrawled anti-government graffiti, widespread poverty, dislike of the country’s decades-old emergency law, and calls for freedom.
He said the opposition is trying to generate demonstrations through webpages and Facebook, spurred by a “universal desire for change.” So far, he said, the rallies been localized to Daraa but it’s possible that there will be demonstrations elsewhere on Friday.
The Obama administration released a statement on Thursday condemning “the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrations, in particular the violence and killings of civilians at the hands of security forces.We reject the use of violence under any circumstances. We are also deeply troubled by the arbitrary arrests of human rights activists and others. Those responsible for the violence must be held accountable…We call on the Syrian government to exercise restraint and respect the rights of its people and call on all citizens to exercise their rights peacefully.”