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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 75/No. 18      May 9, 2011


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(lead article)
Syria rebellion spreads
despite gov’t repression
AP Photo
Demonstrators march demanding political rights in Homs, Syria, April 22, one of many in country that day. Government forces killed more than 100 protesters nationwide.

Demonstrations in Syria for political freedoms and relief from the effects of the world capitalist economic crisis continue to spread despite unrelenting government repression.

More than 100 people were killed by the government’s forces on April 22 alone, according to some reports. The next day thousands joined funeral marches for those killed, and were attacked again.

“The people want the overthrow of the regime,” chanted mourners in Douma, a suburb of Damascus.

“We haven’t been able to reach the graveyard yet because snipers and security forces in uniform are shooting at the funeral procession from rooftops and the streets,” a participant told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview.

A video clip from Daraa, a town of 75,000 where the protests against the regime began in mid-March, shows unarmed demonstrators throwing rocks at tanks sent to crush the rebellion along with 3,000 soldiers.

According to Al Jazeera, the regime’s forces are going door-to-door in Daraa and Douma, searching homes and arresting residents.

On April 19 President Bashar al-Assad lifted the country’s state of emergency laws to give the impression that he was making democratic concessions to the protest movement. But the repression continues unabated and other repressive laws remain in effect.

Members of some 15 different military and police forces are immune from prosecution. Opposing the ruling Baath party is essentially illegal. Membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, is punishable by death.

Assad and the Baath party drape themselves in the mantle of anti-imperialism and resistance to the Israeli government’s oppression of the Palestinian people. The reality is quite different, however. Syrian troops participated in the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991, and Assad has clamped down on Palestinian groups in Syria.

The Syrian ruler and his supporters charge that the demonstrators are “dupes” of a “great conspiracy” that includes both al-Qaeda and the Israeli government.

Assad’s regime is based on a narrow layer of capitalist families, mostly from the Alawite minority, a branch of Shiite Islam, that makes up about 11 percent of the population. Most Syrians are Sunni Muslims. Assad also has supporters among the Christian minority and a layer of Sunni merchants.

While many of the antigovernment protests have taken place in predominantly Sunni areas like Daraa, others have spread to cities with large Alawite populations, including the port cities of Latakia, Tartus, and Baniyas.

“We’re not from the Muslim Brotherhood and we’re not salafists,” chanted protesters in Homs, referring to an Islamist sect with ties to Osama bin Laden. “We want freedom.” There have also been demonstrations in the mostly Kurdish city of Qamishli in northern Syria.

When the protests first began, U.S. president Barack Obama called on both the Syrian government and protesters to “avoid violence.” He said that Assad should “advance a meaningful reform agenda.” As the protests continued, Obama hardened his stance. On April 22 Obama charged that the Syrian regime was seeking “Iranian assistance” and he threatened to impose economic sanctions.
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