Sunday, March 27, 2011

Playing the Sectarian Card!

Anarchy on top. Anarchy on the bottom. Confusion in between.

In Lattakia, Tartus, and certain Damascene suburbs, a disturbing pattern is emerging: armed gangs are taking to the streets and terrorizing the population, including the local police, who have been targeted with a dozen reported deaths in their ranks, but more among civilians.  

From eyewitnesses’ reports, we can see that the Lattakia gangs are likely members of the smuggling rings operated by members of the larger Assad clans, especially Numeir Al-Assad. These rings have for long looked at coastal cities, especially Lattakia as their playgrounds. They probably viewed the protests as a challenge to their authorities, and have tried to punish both the local police and the local populations for their “audacity.

After army units blockaded the city, troubles later moved to nearby Tartus, with the armed gangs roaming the streets in their cars, and shooting widely into the air and at bystanders. No clear report of injury has emerged.

Al-Arabiyah Report on the Shabbiha gangs (Arabic)
Just as a background on Numeir Al-Assad: a few years ago Numeir was caught on camera  robbing a bank in Damascus with his gang. He was arrested later after a gun-fight, and was broken out of jail a few days later. He now lives as a “fugitive” near Lattakia, and his whereabouts are quite known. 
 

But in Kisweh near Damascus, three were reported dead, after police opened fire on unarmed protesters. Dozens of arrests reported.  

In Commune 86 in Mazzeh Neighborhood in Damascus , armed thugs opened heavy gunfire on passersby killing one, wounding many. In Harasta, another Damascene suburb, similar developments took place, but no report of casualty has reached us.

Meanwhile, in the city Homs, protesters have adopted a burn-and-run tactic with regard to removing every vestige of Assad’s rule from their city, as tensions continues to dictate the pace of life in the city, which is Asma Al-Assad’s hometown.

Homs

As for Deraa, people have now finalized formation of local council, and are effectively running their own affairs with minimal interference from security forces on the ground.

Lattakia itself seems to have gone the same route, with local notables and elders playing a major role in this.

Video of Sheikh Fahed Ra’yi given on an outdoor sermon in Selibeh neighborhood: “I’ve never been more proud than I was yesterday… because of your presence in the streets…. You are the best and most honorable people I know… No one loves this country more than us…. They didn’t give us a choice… our martyrs will not be forgotten… still, from now on, everyone who enters this neighborhood will be safe and secured… our demands and rights are many… you have all suffered… we will make our voice heard calmly…” Call for prayer interrupts.

The whole of today’s development were taking place against a background of  an assertion made by Bouthaina Shaaban, the Assads’ spokeswoman, toe the effect that the state of emergency will be lifted and Bashar will address the people soon. Bouthaina refused to give any details on what that actually means, and Bashar’s address never took place.

Many observers now believe that confusion at the top is currently taken place, and that Bouthainaa is either being given contradictory directives, and/or she is improvising. Syria seems to lack leadership at this stage, and probably the only consensus that exists among the Assads seems to center on the need to stop the protests by security means, even if it meant using armed gangs, and sectarian rhetoric. Bouthaina’s statement to the press that the Muslim Brotherhood to blame for Lattakia’s events and that they will fail again comes as not-so veiled threat and shows clearly that it is the regime that is trying to play the sectarian card. This tendency does not augur well for the future, as far as regime’s attitudes and policies are concerned.

Lattakia on Friday
Coastal city of Jableh on Saturday in support of Lattakia (“We Want Freedom for Sunnis and Alawis”)
Dmeir City near Damascus on Sunday (in support of Deraa)

Note:

Regarding the pro-Assad demonstrations that took place, they did not come as a major surprise to anyone. Many of the participants were employees of Syriatel, MTN and other companies and businesses owned by Rami Makhlouf, Bashar’s cousin, among other cronies. The regime’s upper echelon has full access to state institutions and can use that easily for mobilization. Still, for a regime that used to be able to organize million man marches at a drop of a hat, these demonstrations come a testament of extreme weakness and fragmentation at this stage.

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Ammar Abdulhamid: Syrian rebels don’t want U.S. aid, at least for now

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