Donkey insult sparked 17 Feb Damascus demo
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.”