I’ve come out of blogging semi-retirement to plug this story. Not that it needs much plugging mind. The Times is big as far as big newspapers go, and according to Wikipedia, one of the oldest.
In keeping with the paper’s proud tradition of fearless journalism, reporter Laura Pitel has exposed the Syrian embassy’s Vice-Consul as a “representative of the Syrian intelligence service.” Mohammad Samouri is said to have risen through the mukhabarat ranks before being posted to London with the aim of spying on and intimidating members of the Syrian opposition under the guise of ‘diplomacy.’
Click below to read the full report:
The well-heeled residents of Belgrave Square will, I am sure, be aghast. And so they should be. Using diplomatic privilege to conduct a vicious campaign against dissidents is illegal and the Met Police and the Foreign Office should be having quiet words with Mr Samouri that unless he ceases his thuggish behaviour, he will be summarily kicked out of the UK.
Over the years Damascus has seen its fair share of pro-regime demonstrations and rallies of the kind that Kim Jong-il will find familiar. But not since 1980 has it witnessed unsanctioned demonstrations, let alone three in a space of one month! This is exactly what has happened.
It began on 30 January when a group of 100, led by youth leader and known oppositionist Suheir Al-Attasi, held a candlelight vigil in Bab Tuma in Damascus in support of the Tahrir Square protesters. The vigil was broken up by force by plain-clothed security men. When attempting to file a complaint at a nearby police station, Ms. Al-Attasi was physically and verbally abused by a senior security official.
Then on 17 February came the 4,000-strong spontaneous demonstration in the Harika district of Damascus. That was sparked by a policemen assaulting a local man. Read more about what happened here.
Then today on 22 February another vigil was held – this time outside the Libyan embassy in support of the popular uprising in that country. The protesters shouted anti-Gaddafi slogans and sang the Syrian national anthem, emphasising the peaceful nature of their protest. See video above.
What was encouraging was the turnout, which exceeded 200. An improvement on last time. Less encouraging was the response of the security men who broke up the vigil. Young women as well as men were verbally and physically attacked by leather-jacketed thugs. Protesters responded by shouting “those who attack their own people are traitors!” Several of the protesters were arrested.
Not an unsurprising response by the authorities who felt it safe to use force against the 200 or so attending the vigil. They were less keen to use force against the Harika demonstration which numbered 4,000 participants. Size then does matter.
Whether large or small, and despite being banned under the Emergency Law, protests in Damascus are becoming more common. A positive development in the “republic of fear.”
London-based Pan-Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi published this piece on Friday 18th Feb explaining the background to the remarkable demonstration that took place in the heart of Damascus’ Harika business district the previous day.
According to eyewitnesses interviewed by the paper’s reporter Yusif Sarhan, the story began on Thursday 17 February when a policeman, trying to stop a young man entering the busy Hamidiya market in his car, shouted “move, you donkey!”
The young man was understandably offended. He got out of his car and returned the insult to the policeman, who in turn, set about beating him with a truncheon. Two more policemen joined in the beating until the man’s screams caused citizens to rally to his defence.
The police managed to withdraw, pulling the victim to the entrance of a nearby building where they carried on beating him. By this stage however, the crowd has swelled to an estimated 4,000 and they furiously began demanding the man’s release.
In order to quell the tide of anger, the local police chief turned up at the scene and tried to disperse the crowd but to no avail. To stop the influx of people into the area, all entrances to the Harika district had been cut off by security forces.
In an attempt to change the nature of the demonstration, a number of undercover mukhabarat agents infiltrated the crowd and chanted “with our spirits and our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you O’ Bashar.” The crowd however did not respond. Instead, they shouted “thieves! thieves!” and “Syrians will never be humiliated.”
The situation escalated dangerously which prompted Minister of the Interior Major General Sa’id Samur and six brigadier generals and the prosecutor general to show up. The minister met with the victim and promised the crowd that the perpetrators will be punished. The victim then urged the crowd to disperse, which they duly did. The whole incident lasted about four hours.
The paper’s reporter later met with the residents and businessmen of the local area. According to the paper:
It was clear that a state of anger still hangs over the place. One young man said: “The situation is no longer bearable. Had they used violence and humiliation against us [to disperse the crowd] who knows what would have happened.” Another added: “They want to continue treating us like oxen or sheep, but for how long?” A third man said: “This is not just the behavior of a traffic policeman. It is the conduct of an entire regime that views the citizen as a slave who does not have the right to raise his voice in defense of his dignity.”