2011 Syrian uprising


2011 Syrian uprising
2011 Syrian uprising
Part of the Arab Spring
Hama Al-Assy Square 2011-07-22.jpg
Protest in Hama, a city in northwestern Syria (22 July 2011).
Date 15 March 2011 (2011-03-15) – ongoing (251 days)
Location  Syria

Damascus, Aleppo,[1][2][3] Homs, Hama, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, Latakia and others

Status Ongoing
Causes
Goals
  • Resignation of Bashar al-Assad[5][6]
  • Democratic reforms[7]
  • Regime change[8]
  • Expanded civil rights[9]
  • Recognition of Kurdish rights
  • Abolition of the Supreme State Security Court
  • Lifting of the emergency law[10]
Characteristics
Lead figures
Syria Syria Syrian opposition: Syria Syrian Government:

Armed Forces:

Intelligence Agency:

  • Mukhabarat
  • Amin Forces and Riot Police
  • Shabeeha (Government sponsored Gangsters and Thugs)
Casualties
Death(s) (U.N. claim): 3,500 civilians and security forces killed (including defectors) (by 8 November)[26] Total: 3,500


(S.O.H.R. claim): 2,723 civilians and 916 security forces killed (including defectors) (by 14 November)[27] Total: 3,639


(N.O.H.R.S. claim): 4,500 civilians killed (by 18 November)[28]


(Syrian government claim): 1,150 security forces,[29] 700 insurgents[30] and 700 civilians[31] killed (by 26 October) Total: 2,550


Injuries Thousands of protesters[23]
1,300[24]-1,857[25] security forces
Arrested over 30,000 kept in detention (as of October 2011)[32]

The 2011 Syrian uprising is an ongoing internal conflict occurring in Syria. Protests started on 26 January 2011, and escalated into an uprising by 15 March 2011. The uprising is influenced by concurrent protests in the region, and has been described as "unprecedented."[33][34] The demands of protesters include for President Bashar al-Assad to step down; for the ruling Baath Party to allow other political parties; for equal rights for Kurdish people; and for broad political freedoms, such as freedom of press, speech and assembly.

Like the revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt, it has taken the form of protests of various types, including marches and hunger strikes, as well as rioting, vandalism of government property, and vandalism of private property, in a sustained campaign of civil resistance. Some Islamic groups in the North of Syria have taken advantage of protests to launch attacks against the government.[35]

As protests continued, the Syrian government used tanks and snipers to force people off the streets. Water and electricity were shut off and security forces began confiscating flour and food in particularly restive areas, including Daraa, Douma and Homs.[36][37] During the course of the uprising, the Syrian Army has stormed the cities of Daraa, Douma, Baniyas, Hama, Homs, Talkalakh, Rastan, Jisr ash-Shughur, Deir ez-Zor and Latakia, among other towns,[38] and occupied parts of Damascus.[39][40][41] The violence escalated as the crisis wore on, with the killing reaching its highest level in early August.[42] Activists, fleeing civilians, and soldiers who defected claimed that soldiers who refuse to fire on civilians are executed by the Syrian Army.[43][44][45] The Syrian government has denied the reports of defections and blames "armed gangs" for causing trouble.[46]

More than 3,500 people have been killed, many more injured, and thousands of protesters have been detained. Dozens of detainees have reportedly been tortured and killed.[47] Syrian officials say a captured terrorist has confessed to receiving foreign aid and instructions from contacts in Saudi Arabia and Jordan to deface Damascus.[48]

Since the beginning of the uprising, the Syrian government has made several concessions, though widely considered trivial by protesters demanding more meaningful reform. On 21 April, the government repealed an emergency law that had been in place since 1963, which allowed the government sweeping authority to suspend constitutional rights. Yet crackdowns on protesters have continued to heighten since the beginning of the uprising. On 24 July, a draft law was created, to be debated by parliament, to allow more political parties, under the conditions that they were not based on religious, tribal or ethnic beliefs and does not discriminate against gender or race. Protesters have dismissed the law as superficial, as Article 8 of the Syrian Constitution, which grants the Baath party the role of leader of the state and society, would need to be repealed.[49]

There have been several international reactions to the uprising. The Arab League,[50] the European Union,[51] the Secretary-General of the United Nations,[52] the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation,[53] the Gulf Cooperation Council,[54] Saudi Arabia,[55] Turkey[56] and the United States[57] have among others condemned the use of violence against the protesters. The government of Iran, Al-Assad's government's regional and political ally, initially suggested the demonstrations were a foreign plot,[58] but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has since called for reforms and an end to violence.[59] However, military intervention has been generally ruled out by foreign powers.[60][61] On 12 November the Arab League issued an ultimatum to end violence by 16 November or Syria's membership in the organization would be suspended.[50]

Contents

Background

History

Former President Hafez al-Assad (right), and his brother Rifaat al-Assad (left), who personally supervised the Hama massacre.
Current president Bashar al-Assad, second son of Hafez al-Assad

The ruling Ba'ath Party first came to power in a 1963 military coup d'état,[62] although the country remained politically unstable until 1970 when Defence Minister Hafez al-Assad seized power and declared himself President, a position he would hold until his death in 2000. Syria was under Emergency Law from 1963 to 2011, which effectively suspended most constitutional protections for its citizens.[63] Syrian governments justified this state of emergency by pointing to the fact that Syria was in a state of war with Israel. Since then, Syrian citizens may only approve the President by referendum and do not hold multi-party elections for the legislature.[64] Despite internal power changes, such as the 1966 coup and the 1970 Syrian Corrective Revolution, the Ba'ath Party has remained the sole authority in Syria.[65][66][67]

After the 1970 Revolution, President Hafez al-Assad led Syria for nearly 30 years, banning any opposing political party and any opposition candidate in any election. In 1982, at the climax of a six-year Islamic insurgency throughout the country, Hafez al-Assad conducted a scorched earth policy against the town of Hama to quell an uprising by the Sunni Muslim community, including the Muslim Brotherhood and others.[68] Tens of thousands of people, including 10–80,000 civilians, were killed in the Hama massacre.[69][70][71][72]

The issue of Hafez al-Assad's succession prompted the 1999 Latakia incident,[73] when violent protests and armed clashes erupted following 1998 People's Assembly's Elections. The violent events were an explosion of a long-running feud between Hafez al-Assad and his younger brother Rifaat.[73] Two people were killed in fire exchanges between Syrian police and Rifaat's supporters during a police crack-down on Rifaat's port compound in Latakia. According to opposition sources, denied by the government, the protests resulted in hundreds of dead and injured.[74] Hafez al-Assad died one year later, from pulmonary fibrosis. He was succeeded by his son Bashar al-Assad, who was appointed after a constitutional amendment lowered the age requirement for President from 40 to his age of 34.[65][66][67]

Bashar, who speaks English and some French and has a British-born Syrian wife, was said to have "inspired hopes" for reform, and a "Damascus Spring" of intense political and social debate took place from July 2000 to August 2001.[75] The period was characterized by the emergence of numerous political forums or salons where groups of like minded people met in private houses to debate political and social issues. The phenomenon of salons spread rapidly in Damascus and to a lesser extent in other cities. Political activists, such as, Riad Seif, Haitham al-Maleh, Kamal al-Labwani, Riyad al-Turk and Aref Dalila were important in mobilizing the movement.[76] The most famous of the forums were the Riad Seif Forum and the Jamal al-Atassi Forum. The Damascus Spring ended in August 2001 with the arrest and imprisonment of ten leading activists who had called for democratic elections and a campaign of civil disobedience.[77] Renewed opposition activity occurred in October 2005 when activist Michel Kilo launched with leading opposition figures the Damascus Declaration, which criticized the Syrian government as "authoritarian, totalitarian and cliquish" and called for democratic reform.[78]

Kurdish-Arab riots have prompted increased tension in Syria's Kurdish areas since 2004. That year the Al-Qamishli riots against the government began in the northeastern city of Al-Qamishli. During a chaotic soccer match, some people raised Kurdish flags, and the match turned into a political conflict. In a brutal reaction by Syrian police and clashes between Kurdish and Arab groups, at least 30 people were killed,[79] with some claims indicating a casualty count of about 100 people.[80] Smaller clashes with Kurdish protesters and government measures have continued since.

The al-Assad family is a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that numbers an estimated 6–12 percent of the Syrian population,[81][82][83] and has maintained "a tight grip" on Syria's security services, generating "deep resentment" among the Sunni Muslims[83] that make up about three quarters of Syria's population.[84] Minority Kurds have also protested and complained.[85] Al-Assad declared that his state was immune from the kinds of mass protests that took place in Egypt.[86] Bouthaina Shaaban, a presidential adviser, blamed Sunni clerics and preachers for inciting Sunnis to revolt, such as Qatar-based Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi in a sermon in Doha on 25 March.[87] According to The New York Times, the Syrian government has relied "almost exclusively" on Alawite-dominated units of the security services to fight the uprising. His younger brother Maher al-Assad commands the army's Fourth Armored Division, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, is deputy chief of staff of the army. His family is said to fear that failure to take a hard line on protesters could embolden them, bringing much larger crowds into the streets.[83]

Socio-economics and civil rights

Socio-economic

As with much of the Middle East, high youth unemployment and economic disenfranchisement of young adults has been a significant factor in Syria. A 2007 study by the Dubai School of Government’s Wolfensohn Center for Development, “Youth Exclusion in Syria: Social, Economic, and Institutional Dimensions," examined the aspects of high unemployment rates among young adults ages 15–24 in the country using available jobs data and survey responses. The study found that certain dynamics are particularly acute in Syria, even relative to countries in the region. Though its overall overall unemployment rate has traditionally been about average for the Middle East (about 25%), what distinguishes Syria is that the youth jobless rate has been more than six times higher than the rate among older adults (only 4%); that constitutes “the highest ratio [youth-adult imbalance] among the region’s countries outside the Gulf States.” The average ratio in the Middle East is 3.3, whereas the world average is 3.5. Additionally, the participation rate of Syrian youth in the labor market relative to adults is “substantially lower than the worldwide average (0.66 compared to 0.79 percent)". Demographic trends have exacerbated the problem; according to the study, "the share of youth in the Syrian population peaked at 25.4 percent in 2005, presenting challenges in terms of job creation for young people; and in 2002, unemployed youth made up 77 percent of the working-age unemployed population in Syria." This is in spite of the burgeoning youth population; the study notes that “labor supply growth rates of around 5 percent per year between 1983 and 2003." Survey responses indicated that most youth were actively seeking employment, but more than “75 percent of unemployed youth had been searching for work for over a year.”[88]

Socio-economic complaints have been reported, such as a deterioration in the country's standard of living, a reduction of state support for the poor resulting from the gradual transition towards a free market economy[dubious ], the erosion of subsidies for basic goods and agriculture, free trade without suitable support to the local industry, and high youth unemployment rates.[89]

Human rights

The state of human rights in Syria has long been the subject of harsh criticism from global organizations.[90] The country was under emergency rule from 1963 until 2011, effectively granting security forces sweeping powers of arrest and detention.[91] After taking power in 1970, Hafez al-Assad quickly purged the government of any political adversaries and asserted his control over all aspects of Syrian society, consolidating his position as the despotic statesman of the country. He developed an elaborate cult of personality and violently repressed any opposition, most notoriously in the 1982 Hama Massacre when thousands were killed in order to suppress an Islamic uprising. After his death in 2000 and the succession of his son Bashar al-Assad to the Presidency, it was hoped that the Syrian government would make concessions toward the development of a more liberal society; this period became known as the Damascus Spring. However, al-Assad is widely regarded to have been unsuccessful in implementing democratic change, with a 2010 report from Human Rights Watch stating that he has failed to improve the state of human rights since taking power ten years prior.[92] All other political parties have remained banned, thereby making Syria a one-party state without free elections.[91]

Rights of expression, association and assembly are strictly controlled in Syria.[93] The authorities harass and imprison human rights activists and other critics of the government, who are oftentimes indefinitely detained and tortured in poor prison conditions.[93] While al-Assad permitted radio stations to play Western pop music, websites such as Amazon.com, Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube were blocked until 1 January 2011, when all citizens were permitted to sign up for high speed internet, and those sites were allowed.[94] However, a 2007 law requires Internet cafes to record all comments that users post on online chat forums.[95]

In an interview published 31 January 2011, al-Assad declared it was time to reform, that the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen indicated a "new era" was coming to the Middle East, and that Arab rulers needed to do more to accommodate their peoples' rising political and economic aspirations.[96][97]

Women and ethnic minorities have faced discrimination in the public sector.[93] Thousands of Syrian Kurds were denied citizenship in 1962, and their descendants continued to be labeled as "foreigners" until 2011, when 120,000 out of roughly 200,000 stateless Kurds were granted citizenship on 6 April.[98] Because the government is dominated by the Shia Alawite sect, it has had to make some gestures toward the majority Sunni sects and other minority populations in order to retain power.

Protests and uprising

Timeline

The former flag of Syria, used before the Ba'athist coup until 1963, has been used by many protestors (including the Free Syrian Army) as an opposition flag, along with the current flag.[99][100][101][102]
"Down with Bashar al-Assad". Regime-critical graffiti was an early sign of the uprising

The protest movement in Syria was at first modest, and took a while to gain momentum. The events began on 26 January 2011,[103] when Hasan Ali Akleh from Al-Hasakah poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire, in the same way Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi had in Tunis on 17 December 2010. According to eyewitnesses, the action was "a protest against the Syrian government".[104][105] Two days later, on 28 January 2011, an evening demonstration was held in Ar-Raqqah, to protest the killing of two soldiers of Kurdish descent.[106] On 3 February, a "Day of Rage" was called for in Syria from 4 to 5 February on social media websites Facebook and Twitter. Protesters demanded governmental reform, but most protests took place outside of Syria, and were small.[107][108] Hundreds marched in Al-Hasakah, but Syrian security forces dispersed the protest and arrested dozens of demonstrators.[109] Al Jazeera labeled Syria a "kingdom of silence", concluding that protests would not succeed due to the popularity of President Bashar al-Assad and concerns over the prospects of insurgency like that seen in neighboring Iraq.[110] A protest in late February at the Libyan Embassy in Damascus to demonstrate against the government of Muammar Gaddafi, facing his own major protests in Libya, was met with brutal beatings from Syrian police moving to disperse the demonstration against a friendly regime.[111]

Thousands of demonstrators gathered for Maghrib (Dusk) prayer in New Clock Square in central Homs.

On 6 March, TIME magazine's suggestion that all protests needed to explode into a full-fledged rebellion was a flashpoint.[112] Ribal al-Assad said that it was almost time for Syria to be the next domino in the burgeoning Arab Spring.[113] Indeed, on 15 March, the protest movement began to escalate, as simultaneous demonstrations took place in major cities across Syria.[114] Increasingly, the city of Daraa became the focal point for the growing uprising. Over 100,000 people reportedly marched in Daraa on 25 March, but at least 20 protesters were reportedly killed. Protests also spread to other Syrian cities, including Homs, Hama, Baniyas, Jassem, Damascus and Latakia. Over 70 protesters in total were reported dead.[115][116][117] Late in the month, the first signs were seen that the government was willing to make concessions to the protestors, when al-Assad announced the release of as many as 200 political prisoners.[118] An Assad adviser said the emergency law would be lifted,[119] and Assad accepted the official resignation of the government led by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari.[120] Assad denied the emergency law would be lifted at the end of March, however.[121]

On 8 April 2011, protesters in Douma, a Damascus suburb, display signs saying "No for destroying" and "Peaceful"
Armed security forces in Daraa, 9 April

In April, the uprising became more extensive, and more violent. Protesters were shot at on 1 April, leading to at least 10 deaths.[122][123] Well over 30 people were killed in a crackdown on protests on 8 April, activists and human rights groups claimed.[124][125] Tens of thousands of protesters were prevented from entering Damascus from Douma on 15 April, though this restriction did not prevent widespread protests in many Syrian cities.[126][127] Other cities where protesting was particularly strong were in Daraa, Baniyas, Al-Qamishli and Homs.[128][129] There were also protests in Douma and Harasta, suburbs of Damascus. Firing throughout the country resulted 88 deaths among security forces and protesters, making it the bloodiest day so far.[128][130] tanks and soldiers entered Daraa and Douma.[131][132] The border with Jordan was also closed.[131][132] According to an activist, 18 people were killed in Daraa.[132] Al Jazeera reported that some soldiers appeared to have been shot by their own comrades-in-arms after refusing orders to fire on protesters.[133] On 29 April, more than 60 protesters were killed in demonstrations across Syria. The United States responded with harsh sanctions against the Syrian government.[134][135]

As protests continued, the Syrian government used tanks and snipers to force people off the streets. Water and electricity were shut off in the city of Daraa and security forces began confiscating flour and food.[37] A similar situation was reported in Homs.[36] In May, the Syrian army entered the cities of Baniyas, Hama, Homs, Talkalakh, Latakia, the Al-Midan and Duma districts of Damascus, and several other towns.[39][40]

Baniyas was besieged in early May, and divided into zones of de facto control, with protesters largely controlling the south and security forces enforcing the laws of the government in the north. Major demonstrations saw nearly 20 deaths on 6 May, and the government claimed 11 soldiers were shot by "armed groups" on the same day.[136][137][138] The violent suppression of protests in Homs, Daraa, and other rebellious cities continued throughout the month.[139][140] A 17 May report of claims by refugees coming from Telkalakh on the Lebanese border indicated that sectarian attacks may have been occurring. Sunni refugees claimed that uniformed “Shabiha” Alawite militiamen were killing Sunnis in the town of Telkalakh. The reporter also stated that according to arms dealers, "sales of black market weapons in Lebanon have skyrocketed in recent weeks driven almost entirely by demand in Syria."[141] Toward the end of the month, 13-year-old Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb's body was delivered to his family with three gunshot wounds and signs of torture, including severed genitals and massive bruising. The dead boy had lived with his parents in the village of Al Giza in the Daraa governorate. He joined his family in a rally to break the siege of the city of Daraa. He was detained among hundreds of Syrian during the massacre of Siada, where citizens of Daraa were shot at by Syrian security forces. Opposition activists claimed he was tortured and then shot to death. The chief of Syria's medical examiners association Dr. Akram El-Shaar denied that Hamza was tortured and claimed that he supervised the autopsy in Damascus and that the boy did not have any sign of torture and all signs of disfigurement were due to necrotic decay.[142]

A rally in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Latakia on 20 June.
Shoes hanging on portraits of Bashar, Hafez, Maher al-Assad and Assef Shawkat.

In early June, the Syrian government said more than 20 Syrian demonstrators were shot dead at the Golan Heights by Israeli forces, when trying to cross the cease-fire line during Naksa Day demonstrations. This was perceived by Israelis as a way for the Syrian government to divert attention from the Syrian unrest by allowing demonstrators to reach all the way to the Heights.[143][144] The army also besieged the northern cities of Jisr ash-Shugur[46][145] and Maarat al-Numaan near the Turkish border.[146] The Syrian Army claimed the towns were the site of mass graves of Syrian security personnel killed during the uprising and justified the attacks as operations to rid the region of "armed gangs",[147][148] though local residents claimed the dead Syrian troops and officers were executed for refusing to fire on protesters.[149][150] The siege of Daraa continued in the meantime, with a French journalist reporting famine-like conditions in the town.[151] On 20 June, in a speech lasting nearly an hour, in response to the demands of protesters and foreign pressure, Assad promised a "national dialogue" involving movement toward reform, new parliamentary elections, and greater freedoms. He also urged refugees to return home from Turkey, while assuring them amnesty and blaming all unrest on a small number of "saboteurs". The speech received mixed reactions domestically and abroad and was largely dismissed by protesters.[152]

In mid-July, pro-government protesters attacked the US and French embassies in Damascus, responding to those countries' support for the opposition.[153] US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned both the attacks and the incumbent regime, stating that al-Assad had "lost legitimacy," and that "President Assad is not indispensable and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power."[154] Attacks on protests continued throughout July, with government forces repeatedly firing at protester and employing tanks against demonstrations, as well as conducting arrests. On 31 July, a siege of Hama escalated during a so-called "Ramadan Massacre", in which at least 136 people were killed and hundreds wounded when Syrian forces attacked demonstrators across the country, employing tanks, artillery and snipers. Most of the deaths occurred in Hama.[155]

Syrian forces continued to bombard Hama in early August, along with attacks in other cities and towns.[156][157] On the first full weekend of Ramadan, the Arab League and several Gulf Cooperation Council member states led by Saudi Arabia broke their silence on the events in Syria to condemn the government's response.[158] Throughout August, Syrian forces stormed major urban centers and outlying regions, and continued to attack protests.

On 14 August, the Syrian Navy became involved in the military crackdown. Gunboats fired heavy machine guns at waterfront districts in Latakia as ground troops and security agents backed by armor stormed several neighborhoods. Up to 28 people were killed.[159][160] Eight more civilians were killed elsewhere in the country.

Throughout the next few days, the Siege of Latakia dragged on, with government forces and shabiha militia continuing to fire on civilians in the city, as well as throughout the country over the following days. On 30 August, during the first day of Eid ul-Fitr, thousands of people demonstrated in Homs, Daraa, and suburbs of Damascus. Nine people were killed when security forces fired on these demonstrations. Eid celebrations in the country were reportedly muted, with people trying to visit the graves of their loved ones being killed.[161] Protests continued into the following months, with security forces and militia continuing to fire at demonstrators and raid towns and neighborhoods across the country.

On 7 October, prominent Kurdish rights activist Mishaal al-Tammo was assassinated when masked gunmen burst into his flat, with the Syrian government blamed for his death. At least 20 other civilians were also killed during crackdowns on demonstrations across the country. The next day, more than 50,000 mourners marched in Al-Qamishli to mark Tammo's funeral, and at least 14 were killed when security forces fired on them.[162]

In August,The Jerusalem Post reported that protesters enraged at Hezbollah's support for Assad's government burned Hezbollah flags and images of its leader Hassan Nasrallah in several places in Syria.[163] Pro-government protestors have carried posters of Hassan Nasrallah.[164] Hezbollah states they support a process of reforms in Syria and that they also are against what they term US plots to destabilize and interfere in Syria.[165]

Six months into the uprising, the inhabitants of Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, remain largely uninvolved in the anti-government protests.[166] The two cities central squares have seen rallies in the tens of thousands in support of President Assad and his government.[167] Analysts and even opposition activists themselves acknowledge that without mass participation in the protest movement from these two cities, the government will survive and avoid the fate of its counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia.[166][167]

Throughout August and September, Syrian forces continued to suppress protests, with hundreds of killings and arrests taking place. The crackdown continued into the first three days of November. On 3 November, the government accepted an Arab League peace plan to halt its crackdown. The ceasefire quickly broke down, as government forces continued their suppression of protests. Throughout the month, there were numerous reports of civilians taken from their homes turning up dead and mutilated, clashes between loyalist troops and defectors, and electric shocks and hot iron rods being used to torture detainees. From 2 to 12 November, more than 250 people were killed.[168]

On 14 November, more than 70 people were killed across Syria as the army clashed with defectors and shot at civilians. Some 34 soldiers and 12 defectors were killed, along with 27 civilians.[169]

Shabbiha

Shabbiha (Arabic: الشبيحة‎) (from the root شبح "ghost") have been described as "a notorious Alawite paramilitary, who are accused of acting as unofficial enforcers for Assad’s regime";[170] "gunmen loyal to Assad";[171] "semi-criminal gangs comprised of thugs close to the regime.”[172]

According to a Syrian citizen, shabbiha is a term that was used to refer to gangs involved in smuggling during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon: "They used to travel in ghost cars without plates; that’s how they got the name Shabbiha. They would smuggle cars from Lebanon to Syria. The police turned a blind eye, and in return Shabbiha would act as a shadow militia in case of need".[173] Witnesses and refugees from the northwestern region say that the shabbiha have reemerged during the uprising and in June were being used by the Syrian government to carry out "a scorched earthed campaign [...] burning crops, ransacking houses and shooting randomly".[173][174] In April, Wissam Tarif, director of the human rights group Insan, said the Shabbiha was operating in Homs, and an anonymous witness said they were to blame for some of the 21 deaths there over the course of two days.[175]

Local coordination committees

The networks of anti-government protest organizers formed decentralized "Local Coordination Committees" which drew together the young, unorganized protesters. The Committees are used to document protests and spread anti-government messages throughout Syria. Though they have only a few hundred members, the Local Coordination Committees rose to prominence as the core of the protest movement on the ground, separate from the organized political opposition. The Committees are also noted for trying to reach out to minority groups and diversify the demonstrations.[176]

Armed elements

Some elements among the anti-government protesters are armed, and the Syrian government claims these represent Salafists.[177][178][179] More than 1200 members of the Syrian security forces have been killed, which the Syrian government states is due to "armed gangs" being among the protesters, yet the opposition blames the deaths on the regime.[180][181] Syrians have been crossing the border to Lebanon to buy weapons on the black market since the beginning of the protests.[182] Clan leaders in Syria claim that the armed uprising is of a tribal, revenge-based nature, not Islamist.[183] On 6 June, the government said more than 120 security personnel were killed by "armed gangs"; 20 in an ambush and 82 in an attack on a security post.[184] The main centers of unrest – Daraa near Jordan, where the uprising began, Talkalakh, Homs, Talbiseh and Al-Rastan near Lebanon, and Jisr ash-Shugur near Turkey – have been described as being predominately Sunni Muslim towns and cities close to the country's borders where smuggling has been common for generations, and thus have more access to smuggled weapons.[185]

During the Hama fighting, it was reported that armed gunmen were driving around on motorcycles shooting at people, and dumping bodies in a river.[186][187]

An official from the Obama administration stated "We see the elements of an armed opposition across Syria, in the northwest, we see it as having taken over. There are a lot of them. We don’t really know who these armed groups are," but added they were "religiously based, absolutely."[35]

In September, the Syrian government claimed to have killed a total of 700 insurgents.[188]

Kurdish participation in the uprising

Kurds have participated in the uprising in much smaller numbers than their Syrian Arab counterparts. "The regime tried to neutralize Kurds," said Hassan Saleh, leader of the Kurdish Yekiti Party. "In the Kurdish areas, people are not being repressed like the Arab areas. But activists are being arrested." [189] According to Ariel Zirulnick of the Christian Science Monitor, the Assad "regime has successfully convinced many of Syria’s Kurds and Christians that without the iron grip of a leader sympathetic to the threats posed to minorities, they might meet the same fate" as minorities in Lebanon and Iraq.[190]

Kurds make up about eight percent of Syria’s 22.5 million people. The government considers the Kurdish northeast strategically important because it contains most of the country’s limited oil supplies.[191]

The National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria, which consists of Syria's 12 Kurdish parties, boycotted Syrian opposition summit in Antalya, Turkey on 31 May, stating that "any such meeting held in Turkey can only be a detriment to the Kurds in Syria, because Turkey is against the aspirations of the Kurds, not just with regards to northern Kurdistan, but in all four parts of Kurdistan, including the Kurdish region of Syria." Kurdish Leftist Party representative Saleh Kado stated that "we, the Kurds in Syria, do not trust Turkey or its policies, and that is why we have decided to boycott the summit."[192]

During the August summit in Instanbul, which led to the creation of the Syrian National Council, only two of the parties in the National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria, the Kurdish Union Party and the Kurdish Freedom Party, attended the summit. Kurdish leader Shelal Gado stated the reason they did not participate was that "Turkey is against the Kurds…in all parts of the world," and that "If Turkey doesn’t give rights to its 25 million Kurds, how can it defend the rights of the Syrian people and the Kurds there?" Abdulbaqi Yusuf, representing the Kurdish Freedom Party, however, stated that his party felt no Turkish pressure during the meeting and participated to represent Kurdish demands.[193]

Democratic Union Party (PYD) chairman Salih Muslim Muhammad said that the lack of participation is due a tactical decission, explaining that: "There is a de facto truce between the Kurds and the government. The security forces are overstretched over Syria's Arab provinces to face demonstrators, and cannot afford the opening of a second front in Syrian Kurdistan. On our side, we need the army to stay away. Our party is busy establishing organizations, committees, able to take over from the Baath administration the moment the regime collapses."[194]

Senior Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Cemil Bayik stated that if Turkey were to intervene against al-Assad, the PKK would fight on the Syrian side. The PKK's Syrian branch is alleged to be involved in the targeting of Kurds participating in the uprising.[195]

Sectarianism

Sectarian chants by anti-regime protesters have spread fear among Syria's minorities.[196] During the beginning of the uprising, protesters chanted “Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the coffin”.[197][198] Christians and other minorities have been protected under Assad rule, which guaranteed religious freedom, and fear that they will suffer the same consequences as the Christians of Iraq if the government is overthrown.[199] Most of the protests have taken place after Muslim Friday prayer, and the Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo has told the Daily Star (Lebanon) that "To be honest, everybody’s worried, we don’t want what happened in Iraq to happen in Syria. We don’t want the country to be divided. And we don’t want Christians to leave Syria."[200]

According to International Christian Concern, Christian Syrians have been attacked by anti-government protesters in recent weeks, for not joining the protests.[201]

Members of the Alawite sect are afraid of Sunni hegemony, as they have traditionally been oppressed by them.[202]

In an interview with AP, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the primarily Sunni protesters “have a lot of work to do internally” toward becoming a truly national opposition movement that also represents the aspirations of Syria’s minorities” and “It is not yet accepted by many groups within Syria that their life will be better without Assad than with Assad. There are a lot of minority groups that are very concerned.”[203]

Free Syrian Army

In late July 2011, a web video featuring a group of uniformed men claiming to be defected Syrian Army officers proclaimed the formation of a Free Syrian Army (FSA). In the video, the men called upon Syrian soldiers and officers to defect to their ranks and said the purpose of the Free Syrian Army was to defend protesters from violence by the state.[204] Many Syrian soldiers subsequently deserted to join the FSA.

As deserting soldiers had to abandon their armored vehicles and bring only light weaponry and munitions, FSA adopted guerilla-style tactics against security forces inside cities. Its primary target has been the shabiha militias. Most of their attacks focused on buses bringing in security reinforcements, which were often attacked either with bombs or through hit-and-run attacks. To encourage defection, the FSA began attacking army patrols, shooting the commanders and trying to convice the soldiers to switch sides. FSA units have also acted as defense forces by guarding neighborhoods rife with opposition, guarding streets while protests take place, and attacking shabiha members. However, the FSA engaged in street battles with security forces in Deir ez-Zor, Al-Rastan and Al-Bukamal. Fighting in these cities raged for days, with no clear victor. In Hama, Homs, Al-Rastan, Deir ez-Zor and Daraa, the Syrian military used airstrikes against them, leading to calls from the FSA for the imposition of a no-fly zone.[205] The Free Syrian Army numbers to about 15,000 men according to a statement its leader Riyad al-Asad made on Al Jazeera, and he added that these were almost exclusively reserve troops that defected from the Syrian army, and thus were no match against the government's highly trained active-duty troops.

On 15 November, the FSA attacked an air force intelligence complex in the Damascus suburb of of Harasta with shoulder-fired missiles and heavy machine guns. A gunfight ensued, and helicopters were deployed to the area.[206][207]

Foreign involvement

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has spoken out in favor of the Syrian government in regards to the uprising—“Wherever a movement is Islamic, populist and anti-American, we support it”[208]—and news media sources such as The Guardian, Telegraph and Reuters have reported that the Iranian government is assisting the Syrian government with riot control equipment, intelligence monitoring techniques, oil supply and snipers.[209][210]

Khamenei and other Iranian leaders have accused the US and Israel of creating the uprising.[211] In mid-April, WikiLeaks revealed that the US has secretly been funding as much as $6 million to a London-based opposition group Movement for Justice and Development since 2006 to operate the Barada TV satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria.[212][213] In May, the Syrian government claimed it arrested some and killed other members of terrorist cells with foreign ties it cited as having killed military and police personnel.[214][215] According to US journalist Geneive Abdo, the Iranian government has provided the Syrian regime

with technology to monitor e-mail, cell phones and social media. Iran developed these capabilities in the wake of the 2009 protests and spent millions of dollars establishing a “cyber army” to track down dissidents online. Iran’s monitoring technology is believed to be among the most sophisticated in the world – second, perhaps, only to China.[208]

U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice have also accused Iran of secretly aiding President Assad in his efforts to quell the protests.[216]According to Israeli Army Radio, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official stated that local protesters claimed to have heard security forces members speaking Persian.[217] Iran denied any involvement in suppressing the protests.[218]

Turkey has provided refuge for Syrian dissidents. Syrian opposition activists convened in Istanbul in May to discuss regime change,[219] and Turkey hosts the head of the Free Syria Army, Colonel Riad al-Asaad.[220][221]

On 1 November, NATO says it has no intention of taking military action in Syria, after closing its seven-month campaign to protect civilians in Libya.[222]

Syrian refugees

By April 2011, a refugee problem has begun unfolding across Syrian borders, beginning with the siege of Talkalakh and unrest near the Turkish border. By 3 May, the number of Syrian citizens, crossing the Turkish border was estimated at 300.[223] President of Turkey, Abdullah Gül, said that Turkey is preparing for “a worst case scenario,” in an apparent reference to a possible influx of large numbers of refugees from Syria.[223] He was referring to the fact that Turkey had already set up a small camp in southern Hatay province for 263 Syrians who fled their country on Friday, 29 April.[223]

By early July 2011, some 15,000 Syrian citizens had taken shelter in tent cities, set up in the Yayladağı, Reyhanlı and Altınözü districts of Hatay near Turkey’s border with Syria,[224] with 5,000 of them returning back to Syria by that time of their own volition.[224] The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon had reached some 10,000 by late June. On 12 July, Al-Jazeera reported that some Syrian refugees had found a sanctuary in Jordan,[225] though didn't give numbers. The reports came from the Jordanian town of Ramtha, along the border with Syria.[225]

To block the flow of refugees, the Syrian military deployed troops and tanks along the border and set up checkpoints, arresting anyone caught trying to cross. Militiamen reportedly attacked people trying to deliver relief and food to refugees trying to flee. On 19 June, Syrian forces attacked the border town of Bdama, burning homes and a bakery supplying bread to refugees, and arresting people for assisting refugees.[226][227] On 4 October, Syrian forces reportedly made an incursion into Lebanon to search for refugees and army defectors. Lebanese media claimed that two tanks were among the forces deployed, with one source claiming that they shelled a battery factory, and another claiming that they had targeted a deserted farm.[228] The following day, Syrian forces launched again crossed into Lebanon, firing at several farmhouses and killing one person before fleeing across the border. On 11 October, Syrian forces shot and killed a fleeing dissident during an incursion into Lebanon.[229] Syrian forces also been began planting land mines along parts of the border with Lebanon. As of 1 November, the first known victim was a refugee who lost his foot.[230]

Deaths

The number of casualties in the protests, according to sources in the Syrian opposition, is 4,495, updated to 18 November 2011:[231][verification needed]

List of casualities by governorate

Governorate Number of deaths Notes
Latakia 188
Rif Dimashq 346
Homs 1,586
Hama 492
Al-Hasakah 13
Daraa 780
Aleppo 39
Deir ez-Zour 237
Damascus 152
Tartous 52
Idlib 569
Quneitra 29
As-Suwayda 4
Ar-Raqqah 5
(Lebanon) 3[232]

Other estimates range from 2,550 to 4,500. Except for the N.O.H.R.S. claim, which only counts civilians, all tolls include both civilians, defectors and security forces:

Source Casualties Time period
Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights 3,482 killed[233] 15 March – 24 October 2011
Syrian government 2,550 killed[234] 15 March – 26 October 2011
United Nations 3,500 killed[26] 15 March – 8 November 2011
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 3,639 killed[235] 15 March – 14 November 2011
National Organization for Human Rights in Syria 4,500 killed[28] 15 March – 18 November 2011

Reactions

Domestic

Arrests and convictions

Days before protests planned for 5 February, Syrian authorities arrested several political activists, such as businessman Ghassan al-Najar, leader of the Islamic Democratic movement,[236][237] the writer Ali al-Abdallah,[238] Abbas Abbas, from the Syrian Communist Party[239] and several other political personalities of Kurdish background, such as Adnan Mustafa.[240]

On 14 February, blogger and student Tal al-Mallohi was convicted of spying for the United States and sentenced to five years in prison. Washington denied these allegations and asked for al-Mallohi's immediate release. On 15 February under pressure from human rights organizations, the Syrian government released Ghassan al-Najar after he went on a hunger strike following his arrest for calling for mass protests.[241]

On 22 March Syrian authorities arrested Loay Hussein, a human rights campaigner.[242] On 25 March there were reports of mass arrests and detentions of protesters taking place.[243]

On 29 April Dorothy Parvaz of Al Jazeera arrived in Damascus and was not heard of for several days[244] The Syrian government later confirmed that she had been detained, she had attempted to enter the country illegally with an expired Iranian passport.[245] She was released on 18 May after detention in Syria and Iran.

Many news outlets reported that a prominent LGBT anti-government blogger called Amina Arraf was allegedly arrested by Syrian authorities, but questions arose of whether she was a real person in the first place.[246] She later tuned out to be an American man blogging under a false name, who had used a photo of a random British woman as that of "Amina".[247][248]

Zainab al-Hosni, who was claimed to have been detained and beheaded by Syrian authorities, later turned out to be alive.[249][250]

A Syrian American man, Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, was charged by U.S. federal prosecutors on 5 October with tracking Syrian Americans supporting the uprising in the United States and passing information to Syrian authorities, who then arrested family members of the dissidents living in Syria. The U.S. government alleges that Soueid met with Assad during a two-week trip to Syria in summer 2011.[251]

In October, Amnesty International published a report showing that at least 30 Syrian dissidents living in Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, faced intimidation by Syrian embassy officials, and that in some cases, their relatives in Syria were harassed, detained and tortured. Syrian embassy officials in London and Washington, D.C. were alleged to have taken photographs and videos of local Syrian dissidents and sent them to Syrian authorities, who then retaliated against their families.[252][253]

Censorship

On 5 February, Internet services were said to have been curbed, although Facebook and YouTube were reported to have been restored three days later.[254] Suggestions were made that easing the ban could be a way to track activists.[255]
As of 29 July 2011, social media censorship took these forms:
– Facebook: Homepage is normally accessible. HTTPS connection is blocked so users aren't able to login.
– YouTube: Homepage and all other pages are normally accessible but the streaming domain, however, is blocked. Users can surf the website but can't watch videos.
– Twitter: No direct blocking, but it's undergoing heavy throttling (limiting the number of connections) rendering the service inaccessible.

In August 2011, Syrian security forces attacked the country's best-known political cartoonist, Ali Farzat, a noted critic of Syria's government and its five-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and dissent. Relatives of the severely beaten humorist told Western media the attackers threatened to break Farzat's bones as a warning for him to stop drawing cartoons of government officials, particularly Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Ferzat, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, was hospitalized with fractures in both hands and blunt force trauma to the head.[256][257]

Allegations of rape

Defected soldiers reported rapes in restive towns and districts.[258][259]

Syrian activists say regime forces have abducted and raped women in rebellious parts of the country, possibly using sexual violence as a means of quelling dissent. An opposition campaigner has supplied The Globe and Mail with details about six previously unknown cases of violence against women in recent months, saying that more such incidents remain hidden as Damascus struggles to contain the uprising.[260][261]

Syrian refugees fleeing to Turkey report of mass rape by Syrian soldiers.[262][263][264]

Concessions

On 19 March by legislative decree 35, al-Assad shortened the length of mandatory army conscription from 21 months to 18 months.[265][266]

On 20 March, the Syrian government announced that it would release 15 children who had been arrested on 6 March for writing pro-democracy graffiti.[267]

On 23 March, by regional decree 120, Faisal Ahmad Kolthoum was removed as Governor of Daraa.[34][268]

On 24 March, al-Assad's media adviser, Buthaina Shaaban, said that the government will be "studying the possibility of lifting the emergency law and licensing political parties". The Syrian government also announced a cut in personal taxation rates, an increase in public sector salaries of 1,500 Syrian pounds ($32.60 US) a month and pledges to increase press freedom, create more employment opportunities, and reduce corruption.[269][270][271]

On 26 March, Syrian authorities freed more than 200 political prisoners – 70 according to other sources – mostly Islamists, held in Saidnaya prison.[272]

On 27 March, Bouthaina Shaaban confirmed that the emergency law would be lifted, but did not say when.[119]

On 29 March, the Syrian cabinet submitted its official resignation to al-Assad.[120]

On 31 March, al-Assad set up a committee of legal experts to study legislation that would pave the way to replacing decades-old emergency laws. The committee was to complete its study by 25 April. Al-Assad also set up a judicial committee tasked with investigating the circumstances that led to the death of Syrian civilians and security forces in the cities of Daraa and Latakia.[273]

The government, dominated by the Shia Alawite sect, also made some concessions to the majority Sunni and some minority populations in April. On 6 April, it was reported that teachers would once again be allowed to wear the niqab, and that the government has closed the country's only casino.[274] Of the 200,000 descendants of Syrian Kurds denied citizenship in 1962, 120,000 who were labeled "foreigners" were granted citizenship.[98]

On 7 April, al-Assad relieved the Governor of Homs province from his duties and issued a decree granting nationality to thousands of Kurds living in the eastern al Hasakah province[275] while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the 48 Kurds were released, more than a year after they were arrested in the eastern city of Raqqa.[276] This came a day after al-Assad met with Kurdish tribal leaders to discuss citizenship issues concerning the Kurds of Syria’s north-eastern provinces, as hundreds of thousands of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship rights as a result of the 1962 national census.[277]

On 16 April, al-Assad spoke to the People's Assembly in a televised speech, stating that he expected his government to lift the emergency law the following week. He acknowledged there is a gap between citizens and the state, and that government has to "keep up with the aspirations of the people".[278] Later in the day he welcomed the new ministers in the Cabinet of Syria with a speech containing more specifics (full text). He spoke of the importance of reaching "a state of unity, unity between the government, state institutions and the people"; stressed the need for dialogue and consultation in multiple channels, popular support, trust and transparency; explained the interrelatedness of reform and the needs of citizens for services, security and dignity. He stated the first priorities were citizenship for Kurds, lifting the state of emergency in the coming week or at the latest the week after, regulating demonstrations without chaos and sabotage, political party law, local administration law in both structure and elections, and new and modern media law, all with public timeframes. The next topics were unemployment, the economy, rural services, attracting investment, the public and private sectors, justice, corruption, petty bribery, tax reform and reducing government waste, followed by tackling government itself with more participation, e-government, decentralization, effectiveness and efficiency, as well as closer cooperation with civil society, mass organizations and trade unions.

On 19 April, a bill was approved by the Syrian government to lift the emergency law.[279] Two days later, al-Assad signed legislative decree 50 into law.[280][281]

On 30 April, Prime Minister Adel Safar announced a comprehensive plan for reforms in the coming weeks in three areas: political reform, security and judicial reform; economic reform and social policies; and the development of administration and governmental work.[282][283]

On 24 July, a draft law was created, to be debated by parliament, to allow more political parties, under the conditions that they were not based on religious, tribal or ethnic beliefs and does not discriminate against gender or race. Protesters have dismissed the law as superficial, as Article 8 of the Syrian Constitution, which grants the Baath party the role of leader of the state and society, would need to be repealed.[49]

Counter-demonstrations

The Guardian reported on 22 March that one of responses of the Syrian authorities to the unrest was to organise pro-Assad rallies.[284] Pro-Assad rallies were held in the capital city of Damascus on 25 March.[243] In mid-June, rallies in support of Assad and his government increased; protests held in front of the French and Turkish embassies over their condemnations of the Syrian government's response to the unrest, and on 15 June, people at a pro-government demonstration in Damascus carried a 2.3 kilometres (1.4 mi) long Syrian flag down the Mezzeh boulevard.[285][286][287] State television said "two million" people attended to express "Syrian national unity and Syria's rejection of foreign interference in its internal affairs."[285]

The day after President Assad addressed the nation on 20 June, state television reported that "more than 1 million" people gathered in Umayyad Square in Damascus, and there were demonstrations in Homs, Aleppo, Sweida, Lattakia, Deraa, Hasaka, Tartous and elsewhere to express support for the reforms the president said he would carry out.[288]

Other

On 8 March, SANA, the official Syrian news agency, published an article on its website titled "President al-Assad issued a decree provides for a legislative grant amnesty for political crimes committed before the date of 2011-03-08". Three hours later, the publication was removed.[289] Hours later, Syrian authorities released Haitham al-Maleh, an 80-year-old former judge, one of al-Assad's most outspoken critics, under an amnesty marking the anniversary of the 1963 coup which brought the Ba'ath Party to power.[290][291] Twelve Syrian human rights organisations called on the government to scrap the state of emergency which had been in effect for almost 50 years.[292]

On 12 March, newly released Haitham al-Maleh announced in a YouTube video his support and assistance to the Syrian youth who are behind the new wave of protests and hoped that he will soon see democracy in Syria.[293]

On 16 February, regime critic and director of the Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria (ODFS) Ribal al-Assad, son of Rifaat al-Assad and cousin to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, held a press conference in London, in which he made it clear that he "does not want to see a Syrian revolution, but a peaceful change of power".[294] In a 5 April interview, Ribal al-Assad warned of Syria's risk for a civil war, saying[295]

"Everyone in Syria has seen what is happening in Arab countries but in Syria there are many minorities. Everyone has arms and everyone will want to defend their own people. It is like what happened in Iraq."

International

A demonstrator in Cairo holding a collage of some of those allegedly killed in the Syrian uprising.
Rally in 2011 in support of Syrian President al-Assad in Sydney
Demonstration in Montreal on 27 March, in solidarity with the anti-regime protestors

The Arab League,[296] the European Union,[51] the Secretary-General of the United Nations,[52] and many Western governments condemned the violence, the Syrian government's response to the protests, and many expressed support for the protesters' right to exercise their free speech.[297][298][299]

On 7 June, the Syrian Ambassador to France Lamia Shakkour was impersonated in announcing her resignation on France 24 over the protests through a caller. The elaborate hoax was later exposed, resulting in the network filing legal charges.[300][301]

Amnesty International, a human rights advocacy group based in London, announced on 6 July that it had proof that the Syrian government committed crimes against humanity in Tel Kalakh, a town in Syria's restive north.[302]

On 9 July, Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that Syrian Army soldiers were ordered to shoot protesters during demonstrations, as well as take part in arbitrary detentions. The group cites defectors as saying that if they did not obey orders, they would have been shot.[303]

As of mid-September, the United States and Turkey (both of whom had condemned regime violence against peaceful protesters in Syria) were reportedly working together to prepare for a post-Assad Syria, and to prevent a possible sectarian civil war. A “senior Obama administration official” told the New York Times newspaper, “there’s a real consensus” that Bashir al-Assad is “beyond the pale and over the edge. Intelligence services say he’s not coming back.”[304]

On 12 November, the Arab League voted to suspend Syria from the organization if Al-Assad's government would not stop violence against protestors by 16 November, and invited Syria's opposition parties to join talks in the League's headquarters in Cairo. Syria, Lebanon and Yemen voted against the action, while Iraq abstained from the vote. The League also warned of possible sanctions against Syria.[305][306][50]

Media

A protester in Daraa holds a placard thanking the BBC News while another makes fun of a local television channel. The former Syrian flag, which was used before the Ba'athist coup until 1963 can also be seen.

Under criticism from Internet activists for failing to acknowledge the Syrian uprising, Al Jazeera provided analysis of the largest opposition parties in Syria that might have great political influence in any change of power: Syrian People's Democratic Party, Muslim Brotherhood, National Salvation Front, Movement for Justice and Development, Reform Party, Arab Socialist Movement, Arab Socialist Union, Workers Revolutionary Party, Communist Party of Labour, and others.[307] On 9 March, Al Jazeera continued its reporting with an analysis of political detainees in Syria,[308] and two days later another special report reported that many activists indicated displeasure that the general decree of amnesty did not include political prisoners.[309] Al Jazeera launched an internet page for the Syrian revolt as part of their "Arab Revolution Spring" portal.[310]

On 23 March, a column was published in The Daily Telegraph by Con Coughlin, the newspaper's executive foreign editor, calling for the creation of a no-fly zone over Syria to protect innocent protesters.[311]

Internet activists

Facebook

As in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the internet is playing a major role in the organization and covering of the protests. The largest Facebook site in support of the Syrian uprising called "The Syrian Revolution 2011" alone has more than 310,000 supporters. The site which was co-founded by Fida al-Sayed reports on news related to the uprising and provides general guidelines for the protests. For every Friday, the site suggests a new name that has so far been adopted by the demonstrators in Syria. As Facebook only was recently unblocked, many governmental institutions are now on Facebook, such as Syrian TV etc.[citation needed]

Mobiles

Since international news media was banned in Syria, the main source of information has been private videos usually taken by mobile phone cameras and uploaded to YouTube. Such videos are difficult to verify independently, and several TV stations have shown older footage from Iraq and Lebanon, which was claimed to have been filmed in Syria.[312][313]

Websites

To add credibility to the videos, protestors often explicitly mention the date and location of the scene. Sometimes current newspaper issues are also shown. The largest collection of these videos is found on Onsyria, which currently has more than 60,000 videos.[314]

Opposition publications

Hurriyat Magazine

In August 2011, Hurriyat magazine, which claims to be the first Syrian magazine opposing the Assad regime, published its first issue. The weekly magazine, was initially published in Arabic and distributed underground in Damascus and Homs, due to government regulation that in practice does not allow opposition newspapers. The magazine is run, written, published, and distributed by Syrian activists and target all segments of Syrian society, even those who are still supportive of the regime and those who have been labeled the "silent majority." Soft copies of the magazine articles can be found on the Hurriyat Facebook page.

Syrian opposition

The Syrian opposition met several times in conferences held mostly in Turkey and formed a National Council.

The Federation of Tenseekiet Syrian Revolution helped in the formation of a Transitional National Assembly on 23 August in Istanbul "to serve as a the political stage of the Revolution of the Syrian people".

See also

References

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