Robin Yassin-Kassab

Syrian Bloodbath

with 12 comments

Some (I hope exaggerated) reports say that well over a hundred people were killed in the southern Syrian city of Dera’a yesterday. And after Friday prayers today, enraged Syrians took to the streets in nearby Sunamayn, in central and suburban Damascus, in towns such as Tell and Ma’adumiyeh in the Damascus countryside, and in the cities of Homs, Hama and Lattakiya. They chanted “God, Syria, Freedom – That’s All,” and “With our Souls and Blood We Sacrifice for You, O Dera’a.” And they did sacrifice; reports suggest that many more were killed and injured by the state’s bullets this afternoon.

The officially-sanctioned chants usually heard in Syria promote sacrifice for President Bashaar al-Asad. Today a group of pro-regime demonstrators rather lamely replaced Freedom with Bashaar, as in “God, Syria, Bashaar – That’s All.” But it doesn’t work any more. Bashaar, previously perceived by many as innocent of his father’s regime’s crimes, now has blood on his hands. His name sounds like the antithesis of freedom.

The president’s spokeswoman (and Minister for Expatriate Syrians) Butheina Sha’aban said she had personally heard the president ordering that live ammunition not be used against unarmed protestors. That was last night, after several days of violence in Dera’a and before today’s further slaughter. Her statement therefore leaves us with two possibilities – either Bashaar is not in charge of Syria, or the image of Bashaar – as a gentle, thinking leader hindered by a lumbering old guard – is a carefully constructed lie. A week ago a Syrian friend said to me, “Now we’ll discover that Bashaar is no different from Qaddafi.” It seems he was right.

As well as a set of economic bribes, Sha’aban announced the immediate end of restrictions on press freedom, a review of the state of emergency, and a new law to allow the formation of opposition political parties. This would be great news if it were sincere. It almost certainly isn’t. Even if it were, it comes far too late. These reforms should have been announced before the slaughter in Dera’a. They should have been implemented while the revolution was raging in Egypt. They should have been put in place when Bashaar inherited the presidency over a decade ago. (At that time there was a brief ‘Damascus Spring’, when criticism was encouraged, the critics became visible, and were then imprisoned. The excuses made for Bashaar at the time were that he still hadn’t established his own power base, and that the ‘war on terror’ environment didn’t allow for reform. Such excuses have passed their sell-by date.)

Sha’aban tried the line that Syria is being targeted because it supports the anti-Zionist resistance. Who exactly does she think she’s fooling? The Dera’a episode was catalysed by the regime’s cack-handed arrest of grafitti-spraying school children. The people of Dera’a targetted the regime because the regime had targetted them. Sha’aban also rehearsed the story of foreign infiltrators “from the Taliban and al-Qa’ida, who take their orders from America.” This is so weak it smacks of desperation. Hasn’t the entire Arab world spent the last three months laughing at Bin Ali, Mubarak and Qaddafi’s characterisations of their own people as CIA and Mossad-backed al-Qaida operatives? Jordanian Salafis may well have come into Dera’a in recent months, and they undoubtedly pose a potential threat to Syrian unity – but they weren’t the ones who killed so many. We have youtube videos to show us who did that – and we’ve seen no pictures of dead or wounded police.

What Sha’aban and those behind her are playing out is the good cop bad cop routine, which has lost its credibility entirely.

Syrian reformist Ma’moun Homsi, one of those imprisoned when the spring failed, unwisely called today for the ‘international community’ to intervene to save the lives of Syrians. Because Syria borders (and is partially occupied by) the Zionist state, because the regime (to its great credit) aids Hizbullah and Hamas, foreign intervention would be fraught with much more danger than in the case of Libya. But who will protect the Syrians?

I was planning to write about a stupid sectarian slogan heard in Dera’a and repeated by protesting Syrians in Dubai. That seems irrelevant now when compared to the enormous stupidity of the regime’s response to protests. But sect and sectarianism matters. It means for a start that the army will not stand with the protestors against the regime. And that means that this is not a moment of hope but the start of a period of great division between Syrians, a period of blood and fear in which Syria’s vital regional role will be problematised, to say the least. It is a tragedy for all Syrians of all sectarian backgrounds, and the regime bears the responsibility.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 25, 2011 at 8:01 pm

12 Responses

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  1. before I’m accused of it, I do NOT support Ma’moun Homsi’s call for foreign intervention, for the reasons given above. Syria is in Israel’s neighbourhood – unlike Libya – which means that foreign intervention is far too dangerous.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    March 25, 2011 at 9:25 pm

  2. Robin…

    Please stop writing anything till you are sure of what is happening… Phone your relatives in Latakia and ask them….

    This is not the revolution you and me support… This is an attack against Syria…. The thugs in Latakia are not after reforms or changes… They are in it for the killing!!!

    My sister live in Latakia. Sunni and Alawii are defending their houses from the thugs…. All my uncles, cousins and relatives are in their houses behind closed doors, or in the streets to protect their neighborhood (Sunni or Alawii). They are in the streets to protect the city and their families and not the regime. Hundreds of military personals were admitted to Al Assad hospital with wounds and injuries (5 dead)…. Friends of mine work in the hospital… I am not just repeating what the Syrian Government has said… I am asking you to clarify the truth before you write anything!!


    You and me and all of us have huge responsibilities. Do you want us to go back to the eighties? These people are driving Syria toward a civil war… Is that what you want?

    The streets in Latakia are not full of educated Sunni against the regime (I will be the first to support them)… I repeat to you, this is an organised crime against the Syrians…

    A. A-K

    March 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    • Ya Hamada First – my piece was in response to the murder of unarmed protestors in Dera’a, Maadumiyeh (where I was married) and elsewhere. The Lattakia situation developed after I wrote the piece. I admit I have no idea what’s happening there. On Jazeera Arabic I’m watching reports of fights between pro and anti regime demonstrators and of random fire on anti regime people. While I’m in egypt it isnt easy for me to talk to people in Lattakkia – but i will try. I’m desperate to talkto you too. i’ll call as soon as i get back if not before. allah yastoor.

      i stand by what i said about the reforms coming far too late, and about the stupidty of using live ammunition on protestors.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      March 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm

  3. I admit that reform is coming late, I never said otherwise…

    I am afraid that what is happening is not seeking reform or change in regime…. I am really worried that this not the case…….I pray that I am wrong, but I heard things from Latakia to make me believe that what is happening is not the peaceful demonstrations that we hoped for….Thugs are in the streets to encourage a civil war…. There must be another way!!!

    A. A-K

    March 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm

  4. someone wrote this on facebook

    لكل إخوتي في اللاذقية وخارجها: الرجاء الرجاء الرجاء التهدئة وعدم تصديق الأنباء الكاذية

    ما يحصل الآن في اللاذقية هو التالي:

    – مشاغبين موجودين في ساحة الشيخضاهر أحرقوا مركز سيرياتيل وباص للجيش،

    – قوات الأمن تتمركز على مدخل شارع انطاكية وتتلقى الرشق بالحجارة ولا يوجد رد من قبل الأمن

    – بعض المشاغبين ينتشرون في الحواري ويطلقون المفرقعات والنار بأعداد قليلة لإخافة المواطنين

    – المخربون في سيارة فورد حمراء وسوزوكي لا يمثلون أي طائفة يجوبون الشوارع محاولين الإيحاء لكل طائفة بأنهم من الطائفة الأخرى لنشر الذعر بين أفراد المنطقة أو يطلقون النار بشكل ترهيبي لإخافة المواطنين

    – الرجاء ضبط النفس والتنبه من أي دعوة مسيئة

    – بعض أهالي الأحياء في مختلف مناطق اللاذقية يغلقون شوارعهم في وجه هذه الظواهر المسيئة

    – الرجاء نشر الأخبار السابقة على صفحاتكم الشخصي

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    March 26, 2011 at 6:33 pm

  5. this doesnt mean that all the protestors are mushaghibeen or sectarian. in fact, it could be that the regime has brought these people in to tarnish the protests and to show that the alternative to the regime’s iron fist is fitna and fowda..

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    March 26, 2011 at 6:38 pm

  6. what is really needed is for sunnis, alawis and christians of lattakiya to go together to stop these people.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    March 26, 2011 at 6:54 pm

  7. Robin, you could be correct… I have no ways of knowing the facts from my stupid UK residence…. I wish I was back home….

    I just hope people rise above sectarian and religion differences…

    What is happening is sad, disgusting and stupid….

    A. A-K

    March 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm

  8. A Facebook commentator: Robin, the Saudi regime is evil and responsible for a lot of damage in our region. However, they do not have a foothold in Lattakia and region. All the news I am hearing from family and friends (by the way, people who are not opposed to th…e regime) are unanimous: we all know who these people are, the ones shouting those horrific things and promising to do things to entire families, riding fast with screeching tires and firing their weapons in the air. Not only do we know who they support in general, we even know what exact families they work for or work with. No doubt about it. And even someone as outspoken as I am cannot write it more clearly than that.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    March 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm

  9. May I ask, where does this person live? How can she be so confident?

    A. A-K

    March 26, 2011 at 10:28 pm

  10. she lives in the uk, but has family in lattakiya. there are so many contradictory bits of information i am thoroughly confused. people are blaming the regime itself, rifaat al-asad’s people, palestinians… the good news is that in jebleh people are chanting “wahid, wahid, wahid, Sunni wa Alawi wahid.” see http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=8789

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    March 26, 2011 at 10:37 pm

  11. “wahid, wahid, wahid, Sunni wa Alawi wahid.”

    A. A-K

    March 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm

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