Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Bad Man Behind Blue Eyes Loses Mask!

Following the example of Saif Gaddafi, Bashar Al-Assad sheds reformist guise.

This was it. Today was Bashar Al-Assad’s long-awaited moment to settle the decade-long debate on his so-called crypto-reform impulses. And he did. But in doing so, he dashed the hopes of his own supporters, further alienated the large segment of the population still considering its options, and hardened the stand of protesters.

Minutes after Assad finishes his speech, protesters in Daraa and Lattakia chanted for freedom and called for toppling the regime d Bashar’s ouster. Security forces immediately opened fire on protesters in Lattakia leaving one dead and a 10-year old boy fighting for his life. The Twitterverse became abuzz by statements of bafflements and amazements from Assad sympathizers, lending credence to assertions by Syrian activists that the ranks will swell with new recruits and that the revolution will continue.

All eyes are now fixed on next Friday when waves of protests are expected to hit the country. Judging from Assad’s speech, violence seems inevitable. But the protesters refused to be intimidated and seem intent on taking the struggle to its logical conclusion. The glove has been thrown, the die has been cast, this is about regime change, because regime change seems to be the only way out of the Lion’s Den.

Lattakia: Post-Speech Demos
“The People Want Freedom”
The Casualties
Another Sign of Mubarak’s Influence over Bashar & Co: security van runs down a protester
Daraa: “After humiliation, death” Kid’s Chest: “Don’t Cry Mother.” Kid’s Cheeks: “Freedom Freedom.” Kid’s Back: “Rise up Horan.”
CNN on Bashar’s Attack: considering that she had her young child with her, the woman in video is most likely trying to give Bashar a petition.

Articles & Interviews





Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Déjà Vu Revisited!

Away from the farce of pro-regime demonstrations, and media attention, a revolution continues to unfold, as major Anti-Assad rallies took place in Lattakia, Deraa and Douma.

News of the pro-regime demonstrations dominated news today, alongside those of Bashar’s cabinet resignation. But the most important tidbit in this regard was the confusion over when Bashar Al-Assad will choose to address the people and explain his reform initiative, if he has any. But in the parallel universes represented by the Province of Deraa and the City of Lattakia, and away from media attention, major protests continued to unfold. The Town of Douma on the periphery of Damascus also witnessed a major protest, with people shouting the by-now all too famous slogan “The People Want to Topple the Regime.”

The day started as predicated mass pro-regime demonstrations organized in the usual fashion: forcing public sector employees, college students and army recruits doping their obligatory military service to take part or else. Private sector employees working for the various companies owned by Bashar’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, among other relatives, partners and lackeys were also forced and/or cajoled to take part. Still, the results was less daunting than the usual million men marches that the regime used to be able to organize at the drop of a hat.  

Be that as it may, as far as protesters are concerned, the show served to render meaningless a scheduled speech by Bashar, seeing that by continuing to rely on such old tactics, he showed himself to be incapable of reform. For this, delaying was not of major substance for most protesters, albeit it did serve to fuel much rumors and speculations over potential dispute between Maher and Bashar as to how the current crisis can be bet handled.

All in all, spokesmen for the protesters in Arab and international media, including yours truly, were more interested in highlighting the following basic facts and observations:

1)     That the protests managed to cause of fall of the government within less than two weeks.
2)     That the pro-regime demonstrations were arranged to provide Bashar with a face-saving platform from which to announce his concessions.
3)     That whatever concessions offered by Bashar will not go far enough as far the protesters are concerned, as they are unlikely to include Bashar’s resignation and the handing of power to a transitional council.
4)     That by orchestrating the usual farcical demonstrations, Bashar’s reveals that could never be a reformer.
5)     That more people are now likely to join the protests due to sense of humiliation that accompanied the pro-regime rallies.
6)     That the revolution will continue and will engulf other cities and towns throughout Syria.
7)     That the lack of violence during the pro-regime rallies is clear indication as to who is behind the violence that took place earlier, i.e. the regime itself.
8)     That the violent slogans adopted by regime-supporters during the rallies, including “Don’t worry Bashar, you have behind you men who will drink blood,” is clear indication of where the threat of violence lies and who will be behind it.
9)     That the revolution will continue irrespective of this development.

This circular sent to city-councils and local branches of the Baath Party by the Governor of Tartous shows that the spontaneous pro-Assad demonstrations were indeed organized by his security apparatuses.

Meanwhile, Lattakia witnesses major protests in which participants called for toppling the regime. The protesters ended up gathering in Sleibeh Neighborhood, and when the army moved to besiege the protesters, they received them with joy and gave them water to quench their thirst. The people of Deraa had done the same hours before the massacred. Will the same take place ion Lattakia now? It’s anyone’s guess, but the situation remains tense, and the protesters are still camped in the Streets. The death toll of the crackdown over the last few days has now risen to 25, with 20 bodied having been removed by the army from hospitals in order to prevent funerals.  The protesters of Lattkia are encouraging colleagues in cities across Syria to emulate their example.

Lattakia: protesters marching to Sleibeh. “The Army and the people are one hand.” “We sacrifice our soul and blood for you o Martyr.” “God, Syria, Freedom, and nothing more.”
Chants: “Hurriyeh Hurriyeh (Freedom Freedom) Karameh Karameh (Dignity Dignity) Silmiyyeh Silmiyyeh” (Peacefully Peacefully) “We’ll sacrifice our sold and blood for you Deraa.” “Blood of the Martyrs Will Not be Wasted.” “Where are the Syrian People?” “Homes are meant for the womenfolk, the streets belong to the heroes.”
Army arrives
Protesters distribute water to the army
Previously: March 28: gang members and security officers march together against protesters, one gang member seen throwing stones at protesters from top of a fire truck.
(March28): “People Want to Topple the Regime”
(March 26): clashes

Deraa City and environs, too, witnessed mass protests, with protesters raising slogans against the official Syrian media accusing it of treason for not portraying the truths about developments in their province. 

Deraa: Protesters chants: “Listen Bashar, Deraa’s paradise has become a hellfire.” “O Horani rebel, the blood of martyrs is boiling.” “O Buthaina Shaaban, the Horani is not hungry.” “No to the establishment, no to Baath, we demand freedom.”  
“Hurriyyah Hurriyyah, Horan is Proud.” “The People Want to Topple the Regime.”
Deraa – Atman: A Funeral “Listen Bashar, the blood of martyrs is not for sale.”
Chant: “Syrian Media – A Traitor” Sign: “People Want to Freeze Assets of Assad and Makhlouf” Chant: “People Want to Topple the Regime.” “From Aleppo to Horan, the Syrian People Will not Be Humiliated.”
Deraa (Road between of Jassem and Ankhel villages): “Rise Rebels, Rise from Jassem, Rise form Ankhel.” “People Want to Topple the Regime.”
March 26: Another Poster of Bashar defaced

There was also a major demonstration of protests in Douma. The point was to show that even as staged pro-Assad rallies were taking place in Damascus, protesters were capable of holding their own demonstrations with respectable turnout as well. Too bad media was absent there as well.

Articles



Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Page Out of the Old Book!

All Not So Quiet on the Western Front.

Appearances aside, things were not so quiet in Syria today. Deraa witnessed mass protests which led to the usual crackdown by security forces leaving a reported 5 protesters dead. Meanwhile, Lattakia’s Sleibeh Neighborhood was transformed into a new Tahrir-like square, all with a central platform, speakers and public debates over nature and extant demands. Reports say that some troubles took place early on the day as the stage was being set, but there are no confirmed reports of casualties.

Damascus was not completely quiet as small, with a small demonstration in Jeramana Suburb leading to a swift crackdown.

Lattakia Demonstrations
“Hurriyah. Hurriyah. Allah, Syria, Freedom and Nothing More”
“We’ll sacrifice our blood and soul for you Deraa”
Lattakia: “We’re not Terrorists” – Protesters take on Bouthaina Shaaban’s statement yesterday that the Muslim Brotherhood was behind the events in Sleibeh, and urge people to give an accurate picture to the media. “There is no sectarianism. We need to decide what we want, and who can speak in our name. We came out in peaceful protests, but on TV, they’re depicting us as terrorists. They’re putting guns and bullets next to our martyrs and videotape them. Our most important demand that the truth gets told. Today we buried six martyrs and today 2. Bouthaina Shaaban said that we killed 10 security people yesterday, but yesterday we protected two of them and delivered them to the Mayor, although they came to destroy…” Protesters chant: “One Hand, One Hand.” Another Speaker: “Please don’t spread rumors. There is no more fear… Put any knives away.”
 

Tomorrow is set to witness big demonstrations organized by the state in support of Assad. The event is being planned in the usual way: forcing army recruits doing their obligatory military service to attend dressed in civies, alongside middle and high school students, college students, public sector employees, and, with a new twist in these last few years, private sector employees working for companies owned by Bashar’s cousins, other relatives and their lackey and partners.

Bashar may choose to speak in one of these demonstrations and may introduce his reforms, or at least address recent turmoil.  But whatever he says, the very nature of the show: staged demos in which people are blackmailed and bribed into feigning support, dancing and shouting their hearts out for the love of the Syrian Idol, serves to reinforce the protesters in their demands for Bashar’s ouster and regime fall. In other words, regardless of what happens tomorrow, the very f act that it will take place has already strengthened the resolve of the protesters, and the revolution will continue with eyes already set on this coming Friday: the Friday of Martyrdom. 

Deraa – Bashar's Poster Get the Traditional Shoe Treatment
Deraa: New High Quality Videos of March 23 Massacres revealed
Troops open fire on inhabitants of Al-Hirak Town as they tried to enter the besieged Deraa City
The Beginning: “He who kills his own people is a traitor”
The Official Response:
(Heavy Gunfire)
(People Hiding from Sniper)
(The wounded)
(The Dead)


Song to Deraa by Local Singer (with English subtitles in box below video)

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.

Interviews:

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

Articles & Reports:



The Battle Moves North!

Anarchy in lattakia. Relative quiet on the Southern Front.  

The momentum of Syria’s ongoing revolution shifted northward on Saturday, with the coastal city of Lattakia becoming the stage for the major events of the day.  The city had joined the revolutionary fray on Friday, and clashes between protesters on the one hand, and security forces supported by gangs of smugglers, known as the Shabbiha, many of whom are of Alawite descent and closely affiliated with different members of the Assad-Makhlouf Clan and who for long treated Lattakia as their favorite in-country playground, continued through the night. 

After the Shabbiha opened fire on protesters from their cars and from rooftops, killing around 17 and wounding dozens, protesters withdrew to the narrow alleyways, where people through rocks and garbage cans on passing security cars.  By late Saturday evening, local notables formed councils that worked on reconciliation with the security forces and some of the Shabbiha. The situation seems to be under official control now.  But the city remains under siege, with no one allowed in or out.

Lattakia - Sheikh Dhaher: “Release the captives, o Bashar”
Lattakia: Protesters carrying bodies of the fallen and talking about attacks by Military Police. One says: “Those who’re shooting are dogs.” Another says: “Fuck Military Police”
Lattakia: Sleibeh
Lattakia – Abbadah Village
Lattakia: one of the fallen protesters, killed by sniper.


The Maher Al-Assad Video at Seydnaya Prison
We have included this video earlier saying that it claims to show Maher Al-Assad standing in the midst of the Seydnana Prison courtyard after his Defense Brigades stormed in July of 2008. We are now more positive asserting that this is indeed Maher Al-Assad, every person who saw this video and who is known to have met numerously with Maher al-Assad until recently had confirmed his identity. A well-known dissident and former political prisoner has also identified the second person in civilian attire shown in the video as being one of the officers who took part in his arrest.

On the basis of this video and of the reports prepared by Human Rights Watch (here and  here) on this matter, as well as the massacres that have recently taken place in Deraa and Lattakia, we believe that the ICC has ample reason to look into this matter closely. We believe that by taken a more proactive attitude on these issues at this early stage might put enough pressures on the Syrian regime to refrain from further acts of bloodshed.

Interviews:
Ammar on PBS NewsHour  Friday, March 25, 2011 (Video) (Transcript) 

Articles & Reports:

Rumors
Summary: Maher and Bashar are reported to have disagreed on the issue of handling protests. Also, after VP Farouq Al-Sharaa voices disagreement on how the issue of Deraa was handled, Maher is reported to have shot him, and w are told that Al-Sharaa is now being hospitalized.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Bashar Get Out!"

New Massacres in Deraa. Deaths and Turmoil in Lattakia. Protests pockmark the face of Damascus.

As our quick update showed, the day did not exactly begin quietly with major protests in Deraa and environs featuring over 100,000 participants, and with Lattakia, Homs and Mouddamiyyah featuring bloody clashes. Still, and the day unfolded, the picture grew clearer. Indeed, the BBC Arabic service reported that at one point there were more than 300,000 protesters demonstrating in different parts of Syria. More importantly perhaps is the fact that the protesters are now openly demanding end of Assad rule, chanting “Assad Go Out” and “The People Want To Topple The Regime,” defacing Assad’s posters wherever they found, and destroying Hafiz Al-Assad’s statue in Deraa.

Of particular significance, however, are the situation in Lattakia and the symbolic significance of Hama’s major demonstrations.

Lattakia is now the Deraa of the North in that the entire city rebelled and is currently under siege. Unlike Deraa, however, Lattakia is ethnically mixed, with Sunnis, Alawites and Christians living together. This gives an opportunity to the regime to play the sectarian card, and there are indeed reports that it did, by enlisting groups of Alawites from nearby villages to join in the crackdown against protesters, and depicting the protests as being anti-Alawi in character despite the absence of any sectarian slogans from the protesters’ chants. Four have been reported dead, the situation could escalate further over the weekend.

Now, we’ll let videos do the talking:

Deraa: Statue of Hafiz Al-Assad Destroyed
Bashar’s Poster in Deraa gets torn as protesters shout Freedom Freedom
Hafiz  Al-Assad’s Poster in Homs gets torn


Hama: the city that has more reason to fear than any other, on account of the Hama Massacres of 1982, defied fear and gangs wielding knives. Chant: “We sacrifice our blood and soul for you, Deraa”
Lattakia: Sheikh Dhaher Neighborhood, gunfire can clearly heard, 4 protesters reported dead, but number expected to climb
Deraa – Sanamayn: major protests with 50,000 estimated participants, met with force, 20 reported dead


Deraa - Sanamayn: Heavy Gunfire heard
 Deraa Mayor: describes bloodshed, assails Assad in interview with Al-Hiwar


Lattakia


Homs: “The People Want To Topple The Regime,” “Out, Out, Bashar Get out”


Homs: Fire near the officers club


Douma – Damascus: protesters were slightly ambitious: they established a Liberty Square and wanted to stay there until regime-fall. They were dispersed after several hours by security forces using tear gas and live rounds, several were injured, but protesters to have regrouped after security forces left.
Deir Ezzor: small protest in support of Deraa. “No more Fear”
Dariyyah: protest in support of Deraa. “Syrian People Will Not Be Humiliated.”
Idlib: Small but vociferous and straightforward.  “Arabs and Kurds United Against The President Of The Country.”
Zabadani: “Syrian People Will Not Be Humiliated”
Zabadani: “We’re Coming Deraa”
Kisweh: “Syria Wants Freedom. Deraa Wants Freedom. We Want Freedom”
Mazzeh – Damascus: “They Took Everything And Left Us Nothing.”
Mouaddamiyyah – Damascus: “Where Are You Syrians,” “We Sacrifice Our Soul and Blood For You, Deraa” and “Silmiyyeh, Silmiyyeh, Peacefully, Peacefully, We Want Freedom.” One protester explains to crowd: “this means we don’t have weapons.” Three were shot dead later by security.
Berlin: In a protest near the Syrian Embassy, an Alawite women explains that Alawites have been hurt by Assad and most are against him.