Eventually, the protests would be dispersed after the undercover security forces would bring in buses of Baath party members, some convicts, Assad youth gangs, even garbage men and college students, armed with batons and knives, and unleash them on the protestors.
Then they would take to the streets chanting anti-government slogans and pro-Dera, Banyas, and Latakia ones – as those cities suffered the most.
If you aren’t an adept at recognizing who belongs to which group, you can simply look at the wrists and arms of the security lackeys as they usually have colored bands to set them apart from the protestors.
We once used the bands to lead and lure the mindless thugs into an alley in Duma, a suburb of Damascus, to be surrounded and beaten by protestors.
They all used to wear blue wrist bands, but after the protestors (and us) started doing that as well, the security forces figured it would be better to give each group (students, Baath party members, convicts, garbologists) bands with a combination of different colors worn around their arms (biceps) to tell them apart.
Why would they need to recognize them? In order not to shoot them of course.
Their tactics have evolved, and so have ours.
It all started around two months ago.
The ‘Arab Spring’ reigned in 2011 with revolutions all over the Middle East, except for Syria initially.
Syrians were not as dismayed with their government as other Arab nations are. Syrians believed that Bashar al-Assad was a true reformer who is slowly weeding out the mythological ‘Old Guards’. Further, Syrians liked their government’s foreign policies.
Nonetheless, human rights activists, as well as Kurds – who are extremely oppressed in Syria – started asking for reforms. Not more than forty or fifty at a time would gather in vigils asking for reforms (not change, just reforms). The government would, however, disperse these peaceful demonstrations with brute force.
At the initial vigils in Damascus – specifically in Bab Tuma, and in front of (and in solidarity with) the Libyan and Egyptian embassies – the security forces outnumbered the peaceful protestors and brutally dispersed them. They even killed a few in some cases, from Kurdish populations.
Yet, Syrians still did not mind the government; 40 years of brainwashing was to blame probably. Syrians, since childhood, are force-fed the lies of how this government is the only honest government, standing in the face of Zionism (represented by Israel and the U.S.), and imperialism (Europe), and false democracy that leads to instability (Lebanon and Iraq after the U.S. invasion).
The government’s brutality was stomached throughout February and early March, all until the events of Dera unfolded.
Around fourteen kids under the age of 14 were incarcerated and tortured for two weeks for anti-government slogans they got from the Egyptian revolution and painted with graffiti in downtown Dera.
The families pleaded to their clan leaders, who in turn made representations by visiting the security head and the mayor, who in turn kicked them out after insulting them. At that point, peaceful protestors took to the streets, and for a full week, Dera alone was protesting in vast numbers.
Dera is a city on the borders with Jordan, the roots of its population is nomadic with a clans-like system. A clan leader would actually have direct control over a few thousand of his clan. (Clan or family tree as some would prefer).
Further, most of these clans are well-armed. (You can find Kalashnikov rifles in many households). This means that if the people of Dera wanted to ‘hurt’ the security forces in their city, they could, but they have not, as they kept on protesting peacefully while the security forces were opening fire on them.
Then came the first Friday protests all over the country.
The security was only tight in the major cities Damascus and Aleppo, as the government thought the protests would erupt there. Moreover, the government forced all government administrators, and the industrialists of Aleppo – which is predominantly an industrial city — to force their labor to work on Fridays.
Protests erupted in Dera and Latakia, to which the government reacted brutally. In fact, they dispatched Iranian Republican guard and Hizbullah members to quell the protests in Dera, while in Latakia, they assigned that task to the Assad youth gangs, al-shabbiha.
Al-Shabbiha, by the way, are gangs of smugglers and drug dealers led by relatives of the president. With time, the Assad family managed to create their own militia, 5,000-10,000 strong.
The main task of al-Shabbiha was inciting sectarianism, at which they failed miserably. They were supposed to have Sunnis and Alawites attack each other by randomly killing Sunnis in college dorms, random checkpoints and protests, but they only managed to get them to unite more.
In one incident, and in expression of unity in Latakia, the Alawite Imam led the Sunni mosque prayers while the Sunni Imam led the Alawite mosque prayers.
Soon after, people of Latakia formed civil groups to start protecting their neighborhoods, and managed to capture some of al-shabbiha. Therefore, the government dispatched the army ‘for protection’.
Unfortunately, there were no decent media coverage at that time as the security forces would call news channels and feed them lies and exaggerations, and that has led many to distrust any ‘live witness’ or ‘activist’ from Syria, which in turn had them ignore the Syrian protests.
Things have changed now, yet the media are still extremely cautious: they try to be objective.
Objectivity is a joke. As long as human beings are involved there could never be such a thing as objective journalism. Everybody forms an opinion and writes based on that. You don’t find journalists covering Middle East protests taking into account the side of Gadhafi, the Iranian government, or Ali Abdullah Saleh. Journalists should seek truth, not objectivity.
One political science professor bought by the regime should not be favored over 100,000 protestors who do not hold high positions in a country that requires you to forego you dignity and principles to rise.
As time passed, the government’s media campaign changed. Instead of blaming foreign elements for the unrest they started blaming Muslim Salafis.
Note that, some sit-in and protests in the cities of Dera and Hasakeh were dispersed just because the organizers suspected the presence of Muslim brotherhood members amongst them.
Unfortunately though, ignorance is bliss, and many believed that the Sunnis are having a revolution led by Salafis. The corrupt religious leaders of the all the different sects in Syria were brought by the government and were the ones inciting sectarianism, particularly the religious leaders.
The most recent attempt was when the regime called upon the Druze leaders in Lebanon to influence those in Syria. In consequence, Wahhab and Junblat visited the Druze areas of as-Sweida and Jaramana for influence in April.
Protestors were taking to the streets in thousands in all the cities, except for Damascus and Aleppo, until we figured out the remedy: it is best to protest in residential areas, as you can gather more protestors as you march.
At first, we were focusing on the major mosques in the city, which all happened to be in affluent areas or in commercial ones. We succeeded at first, but soon after, every time someone shouted the word ‘freedom’ the reaction would not be an echo, it would lead to a lot of beating from many differ sources.
Nowadays you can only find security forces in mosques, they all wear plastic bags around their shoes to be able to chase protestors outside immediately, as the mosques requires visitors to either take off their shoes or cover them with clean material.
Of the benefits of protests in residential areas, we also found security. Since more than half the population of Syria live in informal housing, it is easier for protestors to escape in the unplanned alleys of these informal residential areas.
Informal housing is a major problem in Syria. It is makeshift housing that does not conform to the laws, regulations and planning of residential areas. It is unhealthy, unsafe and not serviced with decent sewage and water networks in most cases. Half of the Syrian population lives in informal housing because Syria, with its low GDP and with its US $230 average monthly salary, is one of the 10 most expensive cities to buy property in. It competes with Dubai, New York, Hong Kong and London, in the price of office space. This is another problem to thank the government for.
The latest major protest we went to was in Midan, downtown Damascus – also a residential area.
As usual, security forces were everywhere, and buses were filled with garbage men, and students, Baath party members, thugs and government employees were brought in with batons and knives to attack us, the Syrian people.
I was thinking that this is the only good use for government employees, as according to IMF efficiency calculations they work no more than an hour and a half a day, meaning that less than 20 percent of the public sector employees are required to get the job done. Another beautiful fact of Syria is the waste of public money on incompetent employees, who sometimes, only have their names registered and do not show up to work. Syria resembles a family business.
This time, however, we attacked some of the buses, and managed to have them escape, all until it started raining hail the size of acorns. We were forced to stand under the bridge.
According to local Syrian media, the hail was ‘fury from God on the sinners’, or something biblical like that, and we thought there might be some truth to it.
But thinking about it further, we find that because of the heavy rains and the hail, a pro-government protest organized by the security forces that was meant to clash with ours did not go out this Friday because of the hail. The clashes that would have been extremely violent and further divisions have been averted as a result. Further, water has been cut off in Dera for a week, and this was the skies’ answer to their plea as some might interpret it.
Also, some of the teargas canisters fired at us were put out by rain, but I suspect that is because they have passed their expiration dates.
According to Syrian TV channels infomercials, water supplies were cut off Dera to prevent the people from drinking water to swallow Aljazeera ‘hallucination’ pills that are supposed to get them high and inspire them protest. The infomercial shows a man near a water tank on the Jordanian borders swallowing a pill from a packet with Aljazeera logo on. Then text appears saying: “Is this the freedom you wanted?”
This is way more ridiculous than Gadhafi’s hallucination pills. In fact, it angers me how stupid they think the Syrian people are.
Another Friday comes and we do not know what it will hold for us, but what is sure is that Damascus is finally rising, and even though we do not have a clear structure, we all do agree that the regime needs to be uprooted and we will not stop until that is done.
We might be suppressed for a while, but we will rise again, it is the course of social evolution. The 75 percent population under the age of 30 like us who are influenced by Internet and communication technologies no longer believe the lies of the government.
In thirty years the government has not fired a single bullet at Israel, the occupier of the Syrian Golan heights, despite assassinations and airstrikes committed by Israeli forces on Syrian soil in the past decade, yet in one month they try to empty their arsenal on us.
I don’t want to be treated like an idiot, I do not accept being lied to. Aljazeera pills? This adds a new dimension to the word idiot. This angers me more than the torture of the kids in Dera. Further, what angers me more is the ‘carrots’ the Syrian governments are dangling in front of us, void promises of reforms and insignificant short-term benefits, such as a bonus for government employees who actually do not work.
Further, Bashar Assad in his latest speeches fell out of grace. He is hated and despised by everyone now. People hate his laugh especially, as he kept on laughing at his own jokes in the parliament – even Gadhafi did not do that. I am ashamed of having such an undignified juvenile person represent me.
The revolution is about dignity now, nothing else.