The wave of popular revolt sweeping across Syria is entering its seventh month. The United Nations estimates that government repression of the movement has already left more than 2,600 dead
. We asked our Observers in different Syrian cities if they still believe, despite the repression, that the uprising can still prevail.
"For now, aside from Homs, the major cities aren’t very mobilised"
Nabil (not his real name) is a translator. He lives in a suburb of Damascus.
The violent repression that we experienced and the presence of thousands of soldiers in the city streets have deterred us from organising more protests. But opposition activists continue to get together. They want to create a national opposition council, like the one that was formed in Istanbul
, but inside the country [the opposition announced the formation of a "Syrian National Council
" on Thursday]. Personally, I think doing that would only stoke tensions between protesters and those who claim to speak for them, but don’t really represent them.
Today, we’re waiting for the movement to spread. For now, apart from Homs, the major cities like Damascus or Aleppo aren’t really mobilised. The revolt continues mostly in smaller towns and villages. And even according to the highest estimates, the number of protesters was at scarcely 4 million last Friday, in a country of 23 million citizens. That goes to show that not all Syrians agree with the protest movement.”
Demonstration in Al Kaswa, near Damascus, 14 september. Video posted on YouTube.
"Protesters’ demands have gotten more radical"
Ayman al-Aswad lives in Deraa, the city where the Syrian uprising started. He used to be a teacher, but was fired well before the start of the movement because of his political opinions.
The lesson I draw from the past six months is that the position of protesters in the street hasn’t wavered. On the contrary, their demands have gotten more radical. At first, they were just asking for political reforms; now they are asking for regime change.
The government tried to fool us by promising reforms and naming a new prefect in Damascus. But we weren’t duped, because the repression has continued as strongly as ever. We have reached a point of no return.”
Demonstration near Deraa, 14 september. Video posted on YouTube.
"Fewer protesters killed, but more arrests"
Waleed Fares (not his real name) is a young activist from Homs who often films street protests.
Homs was one of the first cities to revolt against the government. We were out in the street on March 25, ten days after the first protest. In our city, more than 930 people have been killed – and that’s just the official number. There are people whose bodies have never been found.
What I’m noticing now is that security forces are no longer shooting at protesters in broad daylight. I think that’s because they know we are filming the repression and that footage will get out somehow. They are afraid of retaliation against soldiers identified in the videos.
However, there are a growing number of arrests, and protesters are increasingly dying in jail after being tortured. So the violence is still there, it’s just harder to see. But we will continue to fight.”
Demonstration in Homs, 14 September. Video posted on YouTube.
"There’s a limit to the price Syrians are prepared to pay for their freedom"
Laurence Valin (not her real name), 34, is a French expatriate living in the city of Lattakia, where there have been no protests since April.
At first, Lattakia residents did protest. There was a real thirst for freedom. But I think people were really put off by the violence with which the protests were met. There’s a limit to the price Syrians are prepared to pay for their freedom. In Lattakia, for now at least, they’ve chosen safety over freedom.
But I also think there’s another reason the protest movement weakened. Most of the people out in the streets wanted a peaceful movement, and it did turn out that some protesters were carrying weapons [the Syrian state media say that unrest during the protest is caused by armed thugs]. I don’t know if they are protesters or ‘chabbihas’ [regime militias] operating undercover to undermine the protests’ credibility. All I know is that all this has scared people."
"The protest movement is already bearing fruit. The country is going through a political and military leadership crisis"
Khaled Jamil Mohamed is a professor and writer in Qamishli, Syrian Kurdistan, where protests are still organised every Friday.
We hoped that the Syrian uprising would garner the same amount of international attention as the conflict in Libya, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Unfortunately, countries like China and Russia haven’t changed their pro-regime position at all. And the Arab League won’t support the protests because its members fear that it might happen in their countries next.
We urge the international community to act. But the protest movement is already bearing fruit. The country is going through a political and military leadership crisis – illustrated for example by the high number of defections within the army.
We will continue to fight.”
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.