The American Kafir


Possible Demonstrations in Syria

Filed under: Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, Tunsia — Tags: , , — - @ 7:36 pm
Possible Demonstrations in Syria
Syrian President Bashar al Assad in October 2010


Opponents of the Syrian regime have made calls on the Internet for demonstrations Feb. 4-5 in various Syrian cities as well as in front of embassies abroad. A small population of Internet users in the country and a lack of clear support from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood mean these demonstrations are unlikely to attract a large number of protesters. However, Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime, fearing a spread of the Egyptian unrest, is taking the potential for an uprising seriously, announcing political and economic reforms while at the same time ratcheting up the security apparatus to contain any protests.


Opponents of the Syrian regime on Feb. 3 called for “Day of Rage” demonstrations Feb. 4-5 in the Syrian cities of Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and al-Qamishli and in front of embassies in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark. The group, mostly composed of young activists, is using a Facebook group called “The Syrian Revolution 2011” as its main platform for organization.

It is not yet clear how many people will take to the streets, but mass demonstrations are unlikely. Nevertheless, the Syrian ruling elite does not want to take any chances, fearing the spread of the current Egyptian unrest. The government seems to be taking a carrot-and-stick approach to containing possible protests, with the security apparatus gearing up while Syrian President Bashar al Assad discusses reform measures.

Only about 20 percent of the Syrian population has Internet access, according to 2009 estimates by the OpenNet Initiative, and Facebook has been blocked in the country since 2007 (though most Internet users have learned how to circumvent the ban). Thus, “The Syrian Revolution 2011” Facebook group has only attracted around 13,000 members. Moreover, some of the organizers live outside Syria, adding to doubts about their ability to organize protesters on the streets.

One way this protest group could gain some legitimacy and manpower in the country would be to connect with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the country’s oldest Islamist opposition group. The MB made a 10-point statement Jan. 31 demanding that the government change the constitution to end totalitarian rule and abrogate Article VIII (which imposes single-party rule and emergency law), as well as calling for other socio-economic reforms such as eradicating poverty, corruption, illiteracy and suppression of people due to their beliefs. MB Secretary-General Mohamed Riyadh Al Shaqfa warned that the group would encourage people to demand their rights “until this reaches the point of civil disobedience” if the Syrian regime does not respond to demands. However, the MB has stopped short of voicing full support of the fledgling protest movement. Moreover, the group has been weak since the government violently crushed its 1982 insurrection of the town of Hama, using tanks and planes to kill tens of thousands of people. Save for infrequent and minor Kurdish riots, Syria has not seen unrest since then.

Nonetheless, the government seems to be taking this unrest seriously. On Jan. 17, shortly after protests in Tunisia forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down, al Assad introduced new economic measures, increasing the heating allowance of public servants and pensioners by 72 percent and announcing a $250 million fund to improve living standards of 420,000 poor families. However, as the Tunisian unrest spread to Egypt, al Assad realized the need for political reforms in addition to economic ones. In a clear attempt to prevent the spread of the Egyptian turmoil, al Assad announced he would work toward implementing reforms to initiate municipal elections, granting more freedom to nongovernmental organizations and media through a new law.

Meanwhile, STRATFOR sources indicated that Syrian security forces have been placed on full alert and army units are being sent to the country’s urban centers. Syrians are allegedly keeping vigil on their borders, especially on the border with Lebanon, in anticipation that Syrian MB members living in Tripoli may be getting ready to find their way into the Syrian cities of Hama and Homs. Aleppo and Hama are MB strongholds and are cities where regime opponents could ignite demonstrations. If disturbances take place, they will be most likely to initiate in Aleppo (traditionally an oppositional city that is strongly anti-Damascus) and in heavily Kurdish al-Qamishli.

However, the MB is unlikely to want to risk becoming the primary target for a possible crackdown by the Syrian regime, especially not until the full consequences of the Egyptian unrest become clear. The Syrian MB, like other opponents of the regime, is testing the waters for now to see if a popular uprising will give it the opportunity to topple the regime — though there is currently little evidence for such an occurrence. Thus, the Feb. 4-5 demonstrations will be key to watch as the Syrian regime uses all its capabilities to avoid the same turmoil that has befallen Egypt.

Read more: Possible Demonstrations in Syria | STRATFOR


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