Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The (Dis)Information War!

The Ministry of Interior now blames violence in Homs and elsewhere on Salafist infiltrators, protesters beg to differ by raising new slogans and renewing their call for Assad’s ouster, just as he set to announce lifting of Emergency laws.

Al-Jazeerah Arabic website conducted a three-day poll on whether “reforms” introduced by Assad would prove sufficient to stop protests. 35% said yes, 65% said no. Over 72,000 people took part in the poll. Such polls may not very scientific, but they do give idea of where things stand at this stage than the pontification of pundits who until revolt broke out thought Assad regime immune to recent upheaval.

We are now officially in Phase II of the Syrian Revolution, a phase marked by daily protests and straight out calls for the removal of Bashar Al-Assad. The upcoming repeal of emergency laws is way too little way too late. After all, the real problem is not confined to the law, it’s in the people making up the ruling junta, including Bashar and his family, the heads of the security apparatuses, and their clients and proxies in the Baath party, other loyal political movements and the society at large. So long as these people continue to be responsible for decision-making, and so long as free media remains chimera and the judiciary and legislative systems lack independence nothing will ever change in Syria.  That is in short why this revolution is changing the regime and ousting the Assads, and not just repealing laws and asking for reforms. The system is simply rotten to the core.

Today protesters took on the Ministry of Interior who accused the protesters of being infiltrated by Salafis. Many see this as an attempt to prepare the way for more violent crackdowns against protests. As such, some of the slogans today seem to have come as a response to this dangerous accusation. The people of Homs and Banyas also issued statements refuting the accusations and assuring their commitments to national unity and nonviolence.

Still, in Homs, eyewitnesses report that security officers dressed like Salafists have looted shops in the Zahira Neighborhood as others filmed the scene using their cellphones and cameras. After yesterday’s major protests, with more than 150,000 people taking to the streets, authorities are trying to pave the way for a major showdown by creating their usual disinformation campaign. The gamut of accusations already deployed by Assad propagandists and officials include: Saboteurs supported by Saad Hariri and Bandar Bin Sultan, Mossad and CIA agents, Members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and now Salafists. Tomorrow, expected Martians to be added to the list.

A major crackdown could already be unfolding in Talbisseh as we speak. The town is completely besieged by security forces and army troops in preparation, as we are told, for storming the town. Reports claim that many residents had already left. But since all communications lines with Talbisseh have been cut, it’s very difficult for us at this stage to get a clear idea of what transpiring or has transpired. We will keep monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, students at Damascus Medical School held a silent sit-in on campus demanding release of student activists, return of expelled students, respecting students’ rights, and punishing those responsible for bloodshed. Within ten minutes, according to eyewitness reports, 2 buses transporting political security officers entered the campus and officers came out and immediately started beating the students with batons, bludgeoning many. Many were also arrested, including those recording the event with their cellphones. Officers accused students of being Israeli agents.

Protests took place as well in several Damascene suburbs, including Zabadani and Tal, as well as in Banyas, Jableh and Deir Ezzor.

Homs / Sit-In: another video sheds more light on what happened in Freedom Square and side-streets yesterday. Protesters are marching through the side-street carrying candles and torches, and chanting “peaceful, peaceful” and “the people and the army are one hand.” Shooting from his balcony, the cameraman at the beginning is very enthused about the size of the crowd. “Look how beautiful they are,” he tells his female companion. At one point he says he wants to go down to join them. His female companion says something about the army being there. Suddenly, gunfire is heard, protesters run in panic, although many keep shouting “peaceful, peaceful.” The cameraman notes that one protester was killed. Indeed, a motionless body can be seen by a storefront near the end of video. The cameraman then tries to convince his companion that the protester is alive but is hiding, he tells her to move back into the apartment and shot the door behind her, then he says “they killed him.”
Compare with yesterday’s video
Homs Sit-In: high resolution video of yesterday’s nightly sit-in before the crackdown (10 minutes)
Damascus / Zabadani: “Neither Salafis nor (Muslim) Brotherhood, we salute our brave men” “the people want to topple the regime”
Damascus / Tal: “No ruler is forever, we want to develop this land”
Damascus / Medical School: a quiet protest by students carrying banners
Banyas: despite the earlier crackdowns and humiliations, Banyas protests preserved their festive spirits. Amidst calls of “the people want to topple to the regime,” and while carrying banners some of which simply said “leave,” sermons were delivered by imams, children read letters to their detained father, and there was music and dancing.
 Jableh: Coopting the Baath Party Pledge of Allegiance, protesters repeat: “Sunnis and Alawites together, with an eternal message.” Other chants: “Sunnis and Alawites want national unity”