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Notes from Damascus – Lone Syrians remain defiant

April 28, 2011

A photo released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on April 27, 2011, shows the funeral of Syrian policeman Sameer Slamah in Tartus, 220 km northwest of Damascus, killed in clashes following days of unrest across Syria. AFP Photo

DAMASCUS: Walking around town last Thursday, what struck me was the 'false' show of normalcy. Markets and restaurants were packed with people but then there was a heavy deployment of police and security agents.

The situation changed dramatically as Bashar al Assad’s troops surrounded protestors in Duma suburbs of Damascus in a bid to prevent them from reaching the Abasin Square in the capital. The defiant crowd refused to budge and 12 lost their lives after the forces opened fire.

Damascus, the historic city where I grew up seeing the worst traffic discipline possible, today has deserted roads. Even daredevils close their shops ahead of the market routine. Most of us did not expect to see such a sight anytime soon.

Mukhabrat (intelligence sleuths) kidnap youth roaming about in the street, suspecting them to be protestors. Screams of a mother in neighborhood echoes in our street as police picked her two sons, leaving no record on paper. They were Sunnis and spotted in the street.

The government offices do open in Damascus and my brothers and sisters go to their jobs despite the risk of being stranded in the wake of a protest. No one can afford to fall sick as absence from work can arouse suspicion.

After bloody encounters of last Friday, fear has broken. Protesters are no more patient. No matter the Bashar troops shot at funerals, arrest mourners and teargas mourning women and children, the numbers are increasing.

Everyone knows that intelligence sleuths wear police uniform to hide themselves and they are everywhere, almost everywhere!

Food shortage may ensue soon as bakeries and shops are running low on bread and other staple food of the Syrian people like cheese, milk and olives. If someone buys in bulk, the intelligence agents take note of household.

Living in a state of fear, people stay glued to foreign television channels like Al-Jazeera, which only show death and destruction. Those in the government cannot express themselves on the street find TV news helpful to vent their anger at Bashar.

“Let's take a breather and switch off the television,” said my mom, who lived all her life hoping for a better life.

Just 10 minutes later, she was the one sitting in front of the TV set and watching all favorite Al-Jazeera. She told her arguing son, "I cannot live in darkness anymore so let’s face it."

Even the television channels cannot cover live. Al-Jazeera showed live protests in the southern most town, Daraa, on Friday and Saturday somehow but not anymore.

Daraa is a city predominantly comprising of Sunni population that makes 70 per cent of Syrians. The Assad's, ruling for about half a century, belong to Alawi sect of Shia, forming merely eight per cent of total demography. Bashar's cousins and chorines control top military, police appointments and even bureaucracy.

With minimal telephonic contacts available, whenever we hear from our friends, they complain of absence of medicine and shortage of food. With Bashar's Alawi army ready to make an example out of Daraa, no food and medicine supplies would be possible.

The city remains seized. Though media is putting the death toll after military’s attack on people to 100, it surely would be much worse inside.

My friend's brother told us on the other day, "It feels like Gaza, our homes are prisons, and Israeli military is looking for us."

Whatever may the suffering be, the state TV has been indoctrinating these innocent citizens that foreign agents hate to see peace in Syria.

In its fifth week, the uprising has spread all across the country from its birthplace Daraa where a statue of Hafiz al-Assad was destroyed, sending tremors in the regime. Besides Daraa and some parts of Damascus, Latakia, Baniyas and Homs echo with taunts and shouts against the ruling family. Except the historic and multicultural Aleppo city, the uprising has spread to smaller towns.

Still the official media has not lost its bad sense of humor. A state TV host confidently claimed that the demonstrations are in support of the Bashar authority and foreign agents are killing the Syrians. Another complained that there are no such protests in the country, whatever you see is fabricated by foreign channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.

A few 'good' Syrians believe their 'clean' government. I came across a Facebook Like page, 'We are all with Assad's Syria' aimed to rebut another one 'Revolution until freedom' covering demonstrations in Syria to feed international media sources.

We-are-all-with-Assad's-Syria page warns of an internal and external conspiracy. The outside conspirators are Israel and United States while the internal are pro-Muslim Brotherhood and Palestinians living in refugee camps.

To appease the protestors, Bashar undid his father's era emergency law to impose another one allowing demonstrations after permission. Little changed in reality as not only permission was denied but also dozens lost their lives protesting peacefully for their rights.

Despite countless dead amid apathy of the West and Muslim world, continuation of protests manifests promise. Turkey's Erdogan has harshly warned Bashar against harsh treatment of the protestors but the Europeans and Muslim world remain mere spectators.

Following the massacre in Daraa and bloodshed across the country, US President Obama has finally stated considering imposition of sanctions on Syria. If situation in Libya can be any guide, no Syrian would hope for an active American role in our country. I heard many saying that Bashar has exercised his last option of using force. They believe that tribesman won't let the history of 1982 Hama massacre repeat. "With the Arab spring all around in the region, the military action is only hardening our resolves," a Facebook activist quotes his grandfather in Latakia.

The writer is a young social media activist whose family struggled against Hafiz Al-Assad's tyrannical rule and policies. She has traveled to the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East for her work.