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The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Syrian protests continue in Damascus


The Syrian capital of Damascus — one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities — has been swept by a torrent of new, unexpected change as anger against the regime of the Ba’ath party — led by President Bashar al-Assad — came to a head in the form of massive protests across the nation.

The outcry for reform began weeks ago when government police in the southern Syrian city of Dara’a opened fire on youths who had scrawled anti-government graffiti, reports The New York Times. In response to government arrests, protesters in several cities burned the offices of the Ba’ath Party and tore down posters of President al-Assad.

In attempts to console demonstrators, al-Assad announced the resignation of the Syrian cabinet on March 29. On March 30, he addressed Syrians in a speech in which he offered concessions, which included the lifting of emergency laws that ban free speech and assembly, according to The New York Times.

“The emergency law is a cornerstone of Ba’athist rule and, once it goes, everything else might go with it,” said researcher for the Institute of Strategic and International Relations Karim Bitar to The New York Times. IRIS is a foreign policy think-tank based in Paris.

“Things could collapse for them if they’re serious about lifting it — liberation of political prisoners, multiple parties, no more harassing activists. People are going to use this to air more and more grievances,” said Bitar.

More recently, renewed violence erupted in Dara’a on Friday, April 8 when security forces fired live rounds of ammunition to disperse stone-throwing protestors, reports Al Jazeera.

“What happened is that, after Friday prayers, the marchers started to chant, ‘Freedom! Freedom!'” said London-based political activist Ausama Monajed to the Guardian. “When the protesters tried to collect the dead and wounded, the security forces opened fire again.”

According to The New York Times, while 21 protesters have been confirmed dead, the numbers are expected to rise. Ammar Abdulhamid — a Syrian dissident living in Maryland — reports that the death toll may be as high as 100, while the number of wounded is expected to reach 500.

“The situation there is disastrous,” said a Damascus-based activist — who chose to remain anonymous — to the Washington Post in reference to the violence in Dara’a, where the Post reports that demonstrators had converted the city’s al-Omari mosque into a hospital.

According to Al Jazeera, President al-Assad has attempted to respond to the violence with a number of reforms, including granting full citizenship to Syria’s Kurds, who constitute 10 percent of Syria’s population.

However, nationwide dissatisfaction with the Government’s limits of free speech and other human rights violations have continued to foment.

“This President himself is the hostage of the security complex,” said Haytham Manna, a Syrian Human Rights activist living in France of the political situation, in an email interview.

“The executive is in the hand of security apparatus and presidential team. If reforms can be decided, it will be by Bashar al-Assad himself,” said Manna.

“No Kurd, no Arab, the Syrian people are one. We salute the martyrs of Dara’a,” chanted Kurdish protesters in the northeastern city of Al Qamishli, reports Al Jazeera.

Despite crackdowns by the Syrian government, observers remain optimistic of events-to-come in a nation which rarely sees organized opposition to the ruling regime.

“We saw thousands of protestors taking to the streets, from all walks of life — young and old, professionals and not professionals, educated, not educated,” said Field Correspondent for Al Jazeera Rula Amin. “It’s a new situation in Syria.”

“The future of our beloved country cannot be built on grudges and hatred, it can only be built with love and forgiveness” said Ribal al-Assad, a cousin of Bashar living in exile in England, in an email interview.

“Let’s hope that all parties would listen and start thinking about how we could all work together, as one, to move towards our common goal — and, it is only by being united that the regime would feel the pressure and start conceding to the people’s demands,” said Ribal.

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