The new week brings with it new reports of death in Syria, now entering its fifth week of protests. Most of the killing has occured in the western Syrian town of Homs. Here, protesters were seen ripping pictures of President Bashar and his late father, Hafez, off the walls and calling for an end to the regime. It was reported that armed men in plain clothes pulled up and shot into the crowd just as they were leaving evening prayer services, killing around 30 civilians.
This has led to tens of thousands attending the funerals of the martyred in Homs Monday. In addition, further calls were made by the umbrella opposition group, The Damascus Declaration, for continued peaceful protests. Meanwhile, SANA ,the official news agency, is reporting that during these funerals, plain clothed insurgents attacked security forces and killed a police man. This remains unverified and for good reason is met with a fair amount of cynicism. Syria is well-known for planting supporters, intelligence agents, and even causing acts of violence if they suit the narrative of the regime. In fact, many eyewitness reports state that security forces have been injuring the mourners and not the other way around.
It seems that Syrians are digging in for the long haul despite a number of concessions by the government. Most recently al Assad pledged to put an end to the almost 50 years of emergency law within the week. This effectively will make it illegal for the government to detain civilians without cause for indefinite periods of time. However, it seems very few Syrians believe these reforms will put an end to human rights abuses in the country.
This critical attitude is especially understandable given the all-out war al Assad has declared on the opposition. On the street you find the shootings and in the night there are sweeping arrests, but it doesn’t end there. Bashar, before becoming president, was the head of Syria’s ministry of computer technology. Unlike Mubarak or ben Ali, he is not out of touch with the mass online media movements and has started employing a number of dirty tricks to suppress them.
To sway political opinion in his favor tweets, with the #Syria hashtag have been bombarded with both pro-government and anti-opposition propaganda. The protesters are being referred to as rebels and terrorists, and numerous ties of support from Israel have been fabricated. Another incredibly frustrating method has been flooding the hashtag with inane facts and irrelevant information. Old soccer scores, cooking tips, and other pointless flotsam and jetsam have made getting to real information that much more difficult.
Mokhabarat (intelligence) agents have also been accused of harassing and virtually stalking many online activists. They have been sending them slurs and threats and tracking all their accounts, trying to link them under the activists’ real names. There have also been reports that these forces have attempted to hack the accounts and lead with false information.
Yet none of these methods have stopped or so much as discouraged the protests from taking place. With rallies scheduled across the nation and discontent heating up in the capitol, the government must soon decide if such tactics are really in their best interest. There is likely still time to keep the country together, if outlets and freedoms are handed over by the government. But this grace period is quickly running out. Meanwhile, Bashar al Assad seems hellbent on pushing his people to the brink.