Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Anti-Assad protests 'accelerating' say Syrian activists


Phil Sands
The National, via Uruknet
May 31, 2011

"Anti-government protests, once isolated and largely spontaneous, are now evolving into a more coherent, organised movement, activists in Syria say. Galvanised by a violent crackdown and street-tested in more than two months of confrontation, protesters believe they have proven their resilience and steadily grown in both numbers and influence.

Activists describe new leaders emerging from their ranks, co-ordinated political strategies developing and increasing co-operation among demonstrators in different parts of the country. All indications, they say, that protests are maturing and will become capable of effecting genuine political change in Syria.

"This is something real now," said one influential activist. "It is becoming stronger and more organised. We've entered the third month and it has expanded geographically and is developing its own identity. We're not following an Egyptian model or a Tunisian model any more. A Syrian model has emerged."

That model involves the increasing prevalence of local co-ordination committees to organise protests, he said, usually with a wide base of support in their immediate area that extends beyond those who take part in demonstrations. "That is not a small thing. Political life has been strangled in Syria for decades, but now the people are forming real organisations, grassroots organisations, with no money, no sponsor, no foreign interference," he said.

"It has started slowly but is accelerating. This is very important."

The activist described increased support that crossed divides of religion, sect and economic status. "The most influential leaders of protests in Damascus are from minority groups. They have not declared themselves publicly yet, but they are emerging."

He also said a "strategy" would be released by Syrian-based activists "soon" that sketches out their vision for a peaceful transition from an autocratic to democratic system of governance. He gave no further details other than it would include a reference to "no revenge" as part of the shift......

Exiled opposition figures are to hold a three-day conference in Turkey beginning today but it remains unclear to what extent any of the groups taking part can claim to represent protesters inside Syria, who will not be attending the meeting.....

Nonetheless, activists and their supporters said demonstrators were creating on-the-ground networks, branching out of their home neighbourhoods and helping establish protests in other areas. That came partly in response to an increasing security presence in hotspots, but it has had the effect of spreading protest experience and expertise, and allowing anti-government dissent to coalesce.

"We've seen it more and more in Damascus," said one protest supporter with close connections to various districts in the capital. "If one place gets shut down by the security, the people go from there and demonstrate somewhere else." [Guerrilla tactic in protests!]

In so doing, he said, they helped propagate the uprising and unify protesters, giving areas with a cautious but restive population the know-how and confidence to take to the streets.....

Protesters, however, point to a significant spread of anti-government demonstrations. In March, rallies were held in Deraa, Banis and a few areas on the outskirts of Damascus. By comparison, on Friday there were anti-government demonstrations in 91 places throughout the country, according to activists, despite thousands being jailed and the threat of violence by the security forces......

The influential activist who spoke of "emerging leaders" accepted that the protest movement was not yet strong enough to end Syria's autocracy and usher in a democratic era. He was optimistic, however, about its potential to do so, suggesting it might reach a "critical mass" in six months' time.

"We are evolving while the authorities are fossilised and paralysed," he said. "They are already running at full capacity in terms of money, ideas and manpower to try and deal with this, and they are failing, while the opposition is getting stronger all the time.""

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