An amazing scene today in Daraa, the heart of the fledgling protest movement this week. Not only did they deface Bashar’s poster, but for good measure they went and toppled the statue of Hafez in the middle of the city. Even so, I still can’t believe that this uprising might go national; Assad’s father left an infamous example for junior on how to deal with demonstrators, so if things get hairy, the tanks are coming out — and there’ll be no western intervention, needless to say. And yet Syrians press on, with protests breaking out in multiple cities today after Friday prayers. Another amazing scene from the heart of Damascus itself:
The accounts of Syria’s “Friday of Dignity” are startling — with episodes full of surprising dissent and immediate repression. In Damascus’ famed Umayyad mosque, a confrontation reportedly broke out during the imam’s sermon just as the cleric blamed Facebook and foreign meddling for the country’s week of unrest. As he cautioned that reforms would take time, the imam was interrupted by a worshipper who started chanting “Freedom! Freedom!” and was soon joined by others. “People began flooding outside, running from thugs,” a man who was near the mosque told TIME on condition of anonymity. “People [were] running for their life out of the mosque.” Video purportedly shot inside the mosque shows a large crowd of men chanting “Freedom!” and punching their right fists into the air before switching to “With our souls and with our blood, we will sacrifice for you, Dara’a!”
Troops are already firing on demonstrators haphazardly, with an estimated 30 killed today alone. Watch the third clip below to see what I mean; the second is of protesters daring to deface a portrait of Hafez al-Assad in yet another Syrian city. Boy Assad’s plan right now seems to have two prongs — one, of course, is to have the army kill a few protesters here and there to show fencesitters that he means business, and the other is to send regime loyalists out into the streets to cheer for the dictatorship. (Iran frequently does that too.) That’s his concession, I take it, to the influence Arab news outlets like Al Jazeera now have in galvanizing popular opposition. If he can make it look like the protesters are a fringe minority — while also signaling that there are plenty of pro-Assad Syrians ready to rumble in the streets — maybe he can prevent the sort of critical mass that bedeviled Mubarak in Tahrir Square from forming. In fact, there’s a recent update at Al Jazeera’s liveblog of regime stooges surrounding the network’s bureau in Damascus and threatening to burn it or storm it. So yes, this is apt to get much uglier next week, but between Qaddafi and now this degenerate, it’s nice to see terrorist sugar daddies finally under the gun. Exit quotation from an eyewitness in Daraa: “We broke the barrier of fear today and the security forces could not touch us.”
Update: Witnesses tell Al Jazeera that the real number of dead is a lot closer to 150, not 37, as the regime claims. We’re well on the way to Hama II.