Protesters march in the northeastern town of Qamishli, as thousands turned out for protests in cities across Syria. (AFP/Getty Images / April 2, 2011)
Thousands of Syrians flooded the streets of several major cities Friday for a new round of antigovernment protests, defying security forces who used gunfire and tear gas to disperse them.
Four people were shot dead in Duma, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, when police fired on about 2,000 people gathered in a major square chanting “Freedom,” according to a witness who withheld his name out of concern for his safety.
Using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, protesters organized the “Day of Martyrs” on Friday, to remember the more than 70 people killed during the recent unrest.
But President Bashar Assad, who heads one of the region’s most repressive regimes, redoubled efforts to suffocate the dissent, which has persisted since his forces first fired on protesters March 18 in Dara.
Dara, the center of the protest, has been hard-hit by rising food prices and lack of jobs. This is on top of the general poor economy of Syria, where one third of the population exists on less than $2 per day.
The “President” spoke on TV Wednesday, but declined to lift the 48 year old emergency law used to jail protesters without warrants or trials.
Opposition activists, human rights advocates and international bodies such as the United Nations have for years warned that the continued social and political stagnation in the Arab world would create the conditions for a social explosion.
“It’s political challenge to autocratic systems that have degraded and dehumanized people and humiliated them to the point where they just can’t take it anymore and they finally started to erupt,” said Rami Khouri, a commentator and analyst affiliated with the American University of Beirut.
Whatever the outcome of these particular uprisings, the Arab world will never be the same. I don’t think people will return to their former place under the thumb of corrupt, rich, autocratic rulers.