Call for Syrian 'day of rage' as planned protests fail to ignite

Sat, Feb 5, 2011, 00:00

SYRIA PROTESTS:ANTICIPATED PROTESTS in cities across Syria failed to materialise yesterday but online groups calling for democratic and other freedoms are urging a “day of rage” today.

Thursday night saw members of the country’s feared security services drive through the capital honking horns and waving Syrian flags in support of the regime in an attempt to pre-empt anti-government protests.

Yesterday, an increased security presence was notable on the streets around the parliament and at other state buildings, as well as at Merjah Square, where protesters had arranged to meet.

Syria’s security apparatus maintains a tight grip over most aspects of life in the country and demonstrations not sponsored by authorities rarely occur. However, protests have been called for today when millions of people return to Damascus for the beginning of the working week.

More than 15,000 people have signed up to a Facebook page titled “Syria Revolution 2011” calling for a new political system.

Some believe the appetite for change in Syria weighs far below that of other countries in the region. Syria’s foreign policy is hugely popular among the general population, with Damascus under sanction from the US and at a continued state of war with Israel, which occupies the Golan Heights.

Syria also remains Iran’s closest ally as Tehran continues to enrich nuclear material, drawing ire from the west but cementing government support among Syrians.

The country’s opposition regularly suffers from infighting and disunity and the leadership of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood has been forced abroad.

Syria’s president, Basher al-Assad said last week that protests were unlikely to occur as there is no gap between the government and the general population. “You have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue,” he said.

On the street, Syrians make it clear the situation in Syria cannot be compared to other countries in the region. “Look what is happening in Egypt now – people don’t want that type of violence here,” said a taxi driver in Damascus yesterday. However inflation, growing unemployment and chronic corruption have frustrated millions of Syrians.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has asked Irish citizens travelling to Syria to “be vigilant and avoid public demonstrations and rallies”.