Posts Tagged ‘Friday’

The shabeehah were out in force last night, hundreds of young men armed with sticks and batons, sitting outside the main mosques of Meedan and Kafr Souseh, waiting for protests to emerge. Large green public buses ferried them into the centre so that they could stand around, intimidate and make the odd arbitrary ‘arrest’. A young guy in a cream coloured shirt lead in handcuffs towards a minivan, the curtains pulled shut.

Qaboun, north east of the Old City, has experienced growing demonstrations over the past two weeks. Last night however, it was completely deserted. The only proof of the neighbourhood’s dissent is the opposition graffiti on the walls which has since been blacked out by loyalists, leaving ugly dark patches on the white walls. Pro-regime slogans have been scribbled next to them in denial of the area’s growing frustration and anger.

Further east, Harasta was in complete darkness. The region is regularly denied electricity by the regime to thwart opposition attempts to organise and mobilise. Residential buildings shrouded in a gloomy dark loomed above the beams of car headlights below. “It’s as if there’s a war”, said our taxi driver. Despite the blackout, a few shops were still open, lit by torches and candles. A glowing furnace provided the only light in a pizza shop.

The deliberate power outages will have been particularly annoying as residents of Harasta hoped to spend their Ramadan evenings watching the season’s best television series and staying up all night eating and socialising. People did their best to enjoy their Friday evenings, gathering outside on plastic chairs or congregating in front of the few shops with a generator. But still, the area was eerily quiet.

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The opposition in Damascus will have been waiting for a day like this. They needed it. For almost 5 months, the rest of the country has been taking to the streets, shouting, chanting and dying. But the capital remained frustratingly quiet.

But the first Friday of Ramadan has brought change. It’s hard to gauge the exact number at this point but reports from al Jazeera, Twitter, and first hand accounts suggest that the scale and ‘spread’ of last night’s protests were greater than anything seen before in Damascus. And the death toll keeps rising.

From the information that I have been able to gather so far the largest demonstrations were in the Midan area, just south of the Old City. Accordingly, Midan is also generating the most reports of dead and injured protestors. A YouTube video supposedly shows plainclothes police officers firing on protestors.

The other flashes of protest have occurred in a loop around central Damascus, a circle of dissent. There are unverified reports of protests in Al-Qadam, al-Hajar al-Aswad, Kafar Souseh, Harasta, Zamalikah, Maamouniyeh, Doumah and Rukn al-Deen, amongst others.

There have been no sequels to Tuesday night’s protests in Abu Roumaneh, Roudah and Salihiyiah but the fact that the opposition hit the area at all this week is quite a feat. Security is tight and, as mentioned in the last post, the area is staunchly pro-regime. But there is no doubt that the opposition activists and organisers will be eyeing the area up. If they can manage a repeat – angry protestors marching through the streets of the commercial and political heart of Damascus – it will be a major blow to the regime’s confidence.

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There’s a lot of speculation as to what will happen once Ramadan starts on either 1st or 2nd July. No one doubts that the violence will escalate but to what degree and for how long is open to speculation.

Business in the Middle East slows down considerably as Ramadan lethargy sets in and one would expect that it would have a similar effect on an uprising. No one wants to shout for the downfall of the regime when you haven’t had a drop to drink since 4 in the morning. The problem with that argument, as a recent article in the National explained, is that “Ramadan will be like a month of Fridays. Every night people will leave the mosques and protest”.

One young Syrian that I spoke to predicted that Fridays alone will continue to be the big protest day but that gatherings will be on a scale greater than seen before as more people attend prayers during the month of Ramadan.

Whatever happens, there’s a good chance that August will be the defining month in the Syrian uprising.

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