Occupy Boston Dismantled

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

ScreenShot001At 5am, Saturday, December 10, 2011, police swept through Occupy Boston’s encampment at Dewey Square. Protesters first erected the encampment on September 30. As the officers moved in, about two dozen demonstrators linked arms and sat down in nonviolent protest and police soon began arresting them, according to the Boston Globe. The protesters were “very accommodating” to the officers, Police Chief Driscoll said. Forty-six people were arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct, but no injuries were reported. Protesters estimate that 100 to 150 activists lived in the Boston encampment. Boston is the latest in a string of cities where officials have moved to oust protesters demonstrating against corporate greed and economic injustice. Demonstrators were also forcibly removed from similar encampments in New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

“A few days back, Boston Mayor Menino told the media/public (and indirectly the court considering an injunction) that he had no immediate plans to evict the Occupy Boston folks from Dewey Park. He just wanted the ability to do so if necessary for health/safety reasons. He was lying, of course, or we’ve just witnessed the fastest landscape planning and permitting exercise in the history of Boston,” comments local blogger Scarecrow.

By 10am, a large crew employed by the City arrived with dump trucks and new soil, a back hoe with grader and air-driven soil aerators to re-do the landscaping at the former protest site.

The main role of this parkway is to separate the dual auto expressways. Dewey Square has never been a park where people normally walk. Once the protesters set up camp in the middle of the Financial District in this island between expressways, many hopeless and homeless people joined them.

Scarecrow explains: “So it was no surprise that the mostly young, idealistic and courageous occupiers were forced from day 1 to recreate government, to develop mechanisms to deal, face to face with drug abuse, violent/uncontrolled behavior, unemployment, homelessness, hunger and poor health. It wasn’t all just marches and demonstrations and rallies and teach-ins; it was also a daily struggle for human and humane survival.”

Even though this public strip of grass is now “cleaned up,” the problem of poverty has not gone away. Reports indicate that the homeless people were crying as the police cleared out the area.
Acacia Brewer from the Occupy Boston movement told Iran’s Press TV, “A few days ago we were at the Dewey Square encampment, and since then we’ve been having general assemblies down at the Boston Common which was where we first started.”

Just hours after a 5 am police raid cleared Dewey’s tent city, Occupiers braved the cold at Boston Common to plan a new strategy: Occupy Everywhere. Occupy Boston even has its own live radio link now.

Meanwhile, onlookers nationwide have been rethinking their positions regarding the use of public space. Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper is Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church in New York City says there is already evidence that chronically homeless people are finding great inspiration in the Occupy Kitchen and work.

“We clergy were all somewhat skeptical of the demand for public space… But the occupiers edged toward the theological as they articulated a need for communal, inspirational, face-to-face contact in which they could “appear” to one another…

“…they spoke of a new monasticism, in which people have given up everything to jump to a future they can only imagine. In the most recent newsletter posted by Occupy Theory, occupiers describe how sad they were about their lives, both present and future, until they found each other. If you were worried about “young people today” before, you will be terrified after you read about the emptiness, the bought-and-soldness, the futility, the lack of any place to be or person to be.”

Will all this community result in a just economy?

Some skepticism is warranted, given the past three decades of American politics. Anyone demonstrating for any cause has typically been marginalized and isolated. It has been the norm for there to be only a handful of protesters, sometimes even only only one lone protester, against any serious issue such as AIPAC lobbying, imprisonment of random Muslims, or escalation of US wars. So why, all of a sudden, is there a nationwide movement of protest? And why is the TV News even mentioning them? It’s unusual.

Michel Chossudovsky states in his article, Occupy Wall Street and “The American Autumn”: Is It a “Colored Revolution”? that “the elites will promote a ‘ritual of dissent’ with a high media profile, with the support of network TV, the corporate news as well as the internet.”

According to Chossudovsky, several key organizations currently involved in The Occupy Wall Street movement played a significant role in “The Arab Spring”.

The involvement of corporate funding of the anti-capitalist movement probably cannot be denied. TV News stations such as FOX have not indulged in such around-the-clock coverage since the Gulf War, even though typically, any meaningful protest would be ignored by the media.

Yet, the atmosphere of the Occupy movement has been described by participants as “electrifying.” Real human concerns are being addressed here. Only time will tell if this protest movement was just orchestrated to let off steam, or if it will result in any improvements in the political system.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer. See karinfriedemann.blogspot.com

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Boston Police Confiscate Sink From Protest Camp

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

After a four day court battle, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Frances McIntyre ruled to extend a restraining order blocking the City of Boston from clearing out the tent city at Dewey Square. She will make a final ruling by Dec. 15. Until then, city officials can’t kick out the Occupy Boston protesters.

Occupy Boston started in Dewey Square on September 30, 2011. It was directly inspired by Occupy Wall Street in New York City. The continued occupation of Dewey Square—located in the heart of Boston’s Financial District—is one of more than 120 Occupy encampments in cities across the nation.

The protesters want elected officials to address the economic needs of the people and want to end the influence of corporate lobbyists. Mayor Thomas Menino states that he essentially agrees with these viewpoints, but feels that the park should be available for everyone, and that these issues would be best brought up with Washington. Fire Marshalls say the protest site is a fire hazard, while the Board of Health has pointed out health hazards related to lack of sanitation.

Occupy Boston attempted to address some of these concerns by bringing in a donated sink that was equipped for both hand-washing and dish-washing using bottled water. They also tried to bring in fireproof, winterized tents as well as wooden pallets to make the walkways safer. All these items have been confiscated by the police, who labeled them “contraband.”
On December 1, a struggle took place between protesters and police hauling away the donated sink from the food tent, which resulted in three arrests as people blocked the streets to prevent removal of the sink. The Occupy Boston website reads:

“Since the restraining order from Judge McIntyre prevents the Boston Police from dismantling our camp except in the case of a fire, violence, or other emergency, we are puzzled by this police action.”
Authorities have banned protesters from bringing material that could be used to convert the encampment into a permanent dwelling. Mayor Menino stated: “We’re not going to have them build a new town there.”

The City of Boston finds itself in a contradictory position. On one hand, the Mayor has frequently supported the right of protesters to voice their opinions while expressing concerns about safety, but on the other hand, the City is removing items essential for improving the health and safety of the protesters.

Protesters insist: “You cannot evict an idea. Occupy Boston will continue to improve our community in Dewey Square. We ask that the BPD uphold their stated commitment to protecting public safety by allowing Occupy Boston to properly maintain and equip our encampment for the cold weather.”

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer. karinfriedemann.blogspot.com

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Muslims at “Occupy Wall Street” Protest

October 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Hazare-Team: Dictatorial & Undemocratic?

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Whom do social activist Anna Hazare and members of his team really represent? The seating capacity at Ramlila Maidan, the public ground selected by his team to display their protest against corruption and demand for a legislation, that is Lokpal bill, is approximately 50,000. Though there have been reports of people displaying their support in different parts of country, numerically except in Delhi and Mumbai, they have not crossed or even touched the number 1,00,000. In context of India being home to 1.21 billion, Hazare’s supporters do not represent a significant percentage of the country’s population, statistically. Nevertheless, the fact that Hazare’s protest dominates the media-news, including the headlines cannot be ignored. Statistics suggest that there is a major gap between what is being projected by the media and the actual story. Even if the number of Hazare’s supporters across the country adds up to several millions, they do not constitute even five percent of the nation’s population. In other words, it is as yet too early to accord Hazare the stature of a national leader even though media-hype gives this impression. The same is suggested by reports of numerous people donning caps and T-shirts with the slogan, “I am Anna.” Statistically, they don’t represent the entire country.

Understandably, the country’s citizens -including Hazare- have the freedom and right to raise their voice and also protest against what they feel disturbed by. In fact, it is the democratic duty of each and every citizen to display his/her stand against problems or evils they feel concerned about. There is no denying that corruption is one of the many problems, the Indian citizens are aggrieved about. At the same time, democratically speaking, while Hazare and his team have the right and duty to make suggestions regarding corrective measures and legislation, they cannot “dictate” their demands to an elected government. The course that Hazare-team gives the impression of taking, going on hunger-strike, organizing marches, planning “sit-in” demonstrations outside legislators’ residences and other such activities, is not in keeping with the democratic and socialist spirit of the Indian Constitution. Rather, considering that an elected government is in power and the country has measures available to enact new laws and amend old ones to ensure effective anti-corruption legislation, the Hazare-team is expected to be duty -bound to respect the country’s Constitution.

Politically, socially, constitutionally and even statistically, the Hazare-team is not representative of any segment or institution of the country to have the authority to dictate its terms to an elected government. In fact, if an elected government yields to this group, it would not only be abuse of the country’s constitutional system but also be bad precedence, which must not be permitted to take roots. It cannot be ignored that India is home to many religions, with most marked by a pronounced caste-system. The ethnic division in the Indian society is also responsible for emergence of numerous political parties. Can Hazare-team be held as representative of all the Indian socio-political groups? No. And therein lies the fear. Howsoever strongly Hazare-team may raise voice against corruption and even threaten the elected government with more demonstrations, their “strength” rests more on hype raised about them than actual issues. Corruption is not the only issue bothering Indian society. Have they talked of assuring action against female infanticide, dowry-deaths, the sufferings faced by Indian minorities- including Muslims, Christians and Hindus belonging to lower castes? Hardly.

Please note Hazare’s words: “If you (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) cannot get the bill, I ask you to leave the chair.” Legally and ethically, it is not appropriate for any authority to dictate such terms to an elected leader. Even the country’s President is not legally authorized to dismiss the Prime Minister till he and his party lose support in the Parliament. Against this backdrop, one is prompted to raise the question as to what has led the Hazare-team to assume their role as greater than that of the country’s elected government and the Constitution? Legally and ethically, it is more like a blot on country’s political image than suggestive of Hazare-team heading for a second freedom struggle. The latter may have carried some relevance if India was not a free country.

Not surprisingly, Muslims in general seem fairly critical of Hazare-team’s course of action. Questioning its “democratic legitimacy,” they fear that it may lead to communal polarization and encourage extremist Hindu leaders to gather crowds to pursue their anti-Muslim agenda. “The Anna Hazare phenomenon is leading us to the rejection of representative democracy itself. The movement is an upper-caste uprising against India’s political democracy. That apart, vesting so much power in the Lokpal, a non-elected person, could lead to a dangerous situation,” according to Dalit columnist Chandrabhan Prasad. In the opinion of Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalit-Bahujan thinker, “The Anna movement is an anti-social justice, manuvadi movement. The Dalits, tribals, OBCs (Other Backward Classes) and minorities have nothing to do with it. We oppose it.”

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Syrian Oppression: Taxonomy of a Revolution

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Omar Dahi

2011-08-03T134144Z_1051720454_GM1E7831OEQ01_RTRMADP_3_TURKEY

Demonstrators shout slogans as they protest against the government of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian consulate in Istanbul, August 3, 2011. 

REUTERS/Osman Orsal

The Syrian regime is in big trouble. Absent an economic collapse, its downfall may not be imminent, but Most indicators lead to the conclusion that the regime is effectively done, and the only remaining questions are how bloody the transition will be and what type of Syria will emerge. On the domestic front, the social base of the regime is stagnant or shrinking. The regime immediately mobilized its entire social support structure to ‘million-man’ marches. Though many attending are government workers made to go (pro-regime marches are always on workdays), many of those attending do so willingly. However that mobilization has reached its limit: the regime has no new social base to draw on and mobilize. Most of those who willingly attend the “mnhibak” (literally: we love you) pro-regime rallies know very well that there will not be any violence otherwise they would stay home. On the other hand, the anti-regime demonstrations are steadily increasing, both in numbers and in geographic size. Three weeks ago roughly 1.2 million or 5.5% of the population demonstrated all over the country.

Economically, the country is in dire straits. The tourist industry has been decimated. The increased deficit spending, from raised salaries, support for fuels, lower import tariffs are large enough, without taking into account the spending on Army mobilization, and military and security personnel. Externally, the regime is getting more, not less isolated. Just yesterday, the Russian President warned his Syrian counterpart of a ‘sad fate’, unless reforms are implemented. It was given a long leash by the West to deal with the protests, but its main asset as a guarantor of ‘stability’ is now turning into a liability.

I traveled to Syria in July to observe first-hand what is taking place inside the country. Most of my time was spent in Damascus and its suburbs, with brief trips elsewhere, in particular a two day stint in Hama just days before the government’s massacre. What follows is a series of vignettes, hastily put together, of life inside Syria this past month. These stories represent my own understanding and readers should take all stories emerging from the country as a partial truth, but will hopefully help give a clearer picture of Syria in the midst of the revolution. I have left out the names and identifying details of many wonderful people who have helped me shape my views for obvious reasons. I am solely responsible for this article’s content.

Everyday life in Damascus

The first thing that strikes a traveler when entering Syria straight into Damascus in the past month is that life appears to be normal. This false sense of normalcy has allowed certain sectors of Damascenes to live in a fairy tale of ‘everything’s fine, it’ll be over soon’, something I heard repeatedly during my stay. There are signs of course that things are not quiet as they seem: there is increased security presence everywhere, especially the now infamous security buses which are used to herd arrested protestors to unknown destinations. From time to time cars or trucks full of pro-regime supporters tour the city carrying flags and shouting pro-Bashar slogans. The tourist industry has declined as mentioned earlier which means that many hotels, restaurants, and cafes which had become an important source of income and employment are almost empty. If Damascus had been relatively subdued in terms of protests, politics is on everyone’s minds and all taboo subjects, including what five months ago seemed unspeakable topics such as the regime’s downfall and direct criticism of the President are now commonplace. When entering an ongoing conversation one is immediately asked if s/he is pro- (muwalat) or anti-regime (mu’arada) (or in the derogatory terms booq (trumpet) or mundass (infiltrator).

When discussing the ongoing events with someone against the demonstrations (incidentally, very few people I spoke with identified as ‘pro-regime’, they preferred to say they are ‘with reform’ I will identify them in this article as against the revolts, the most neutral term I could find to describe their position). Conversations with those against the revolts can quickly descend into farce. Many I spoke with maintained that everyone who supports the revolution from outside the country is either a coward, a traitor, or does not genuinely care about Syria’s fate (this third category is where some people placed me, thankfully). As for those opposing the regime on the inside: Dar’a are a bunch of no-good smugglers, Hama is vindictive and full of hate, Homs are all extremist Salafis, the Northwest are separatist Kurds, and the Northeast are drug dealers, etc. The discussion then turns into a description of the atrocities committed by the protestors.

One typical story: “a women went to her neighbor’s house and asked them to stop protesting. When she turned around to leave, they shot her in the back. Somehow she didn’t die and was taken to the hospital. The neighbors then followed her to the hospital, kidnapped her, and cut her to pieces.” Depending on the source this story took place in ‘Arbin, Qatana, Dar’a, or Hama. The punch line was “and this is her own neighbors who did this. You see, these people are monsters, they don’t know what freedom means.” Regime violence is either denied or taken as a given (‘what do you expect, to insult them and be rewarded with flowers?’ or ‘this regime hasn’t done anything yet, if they really wanted to kill, they can do a lot more’). One reason that’s given for not opposing the regime is that this regime is lunatic and capable of mass murder and therefore it should not be pressured.

The more I talked with people who hold these views the more I realized that they genuinely believe them, with one slight caveat: many of these did not decide on their stand against the revolt based on the stories of criminal gangs, and Muslim extremists, and so forth. Just the opposite: most of those I spoke with who held this view clearly had made up their minds from day one of the revolts and then decided to believe the government’s stories. On the other hand, there were many who changed their beliefs when they clearly saw the government had chosen the violent approach, and many who were literally traumatized by the President’s first speech.

Contrary to what many have claimed, demonstrations have been taking place well within the center of a month before Ramadan. Demonstrations have taken place in Qaboon, Rukn al-Deen, Barzeh, Duma, Harasta, Daraya, ‘Arbeen, Zamalka, Hajar al Aswad, (Zabadani), Qatana, Kiswe, , Qadam, Jdeida, as well as the Midan district: all well inside Damascus.

If these were lights on a map they would form a circle around the city.

Since the government’s main concern now is Damascus and Aleppo, it is concentrating a huge security presence in those two cities. Hot spots such as Rukn al-Din, al-Qaboon, Harasta, and Duma are cordoned off entirely starting Thursday night. I walked through those areas on several occasions on a Friday and traffic was completely blocked with checkpoints on each major street entrance.

In the last few days before Ramadan there was a particularly heavy security presence in Damascus. In Khalid bin Walid street two days before Ramadan three flatbed military vehicles passed by pedestrian traffic, each with about 30 soldiers carrying machine guns and chanting pro-Maher (President’s brother) slogans. This seemed to be a warning to Damascenes not to dare protest during Ramadan. Like most regime actions you could see in the faces of passers by that this only increased people’s hostility. As I left the scene an old lady whispered to me ‘dear, do you think they are going to the Golan?’. A few days later in the exact same spot, a silent funeral march for a protestor who had been shot the day before was attacked by police, only for the police themselves to be beaten up by the people in the neighborhood.

Who Are the Protestors? What are their tactics?

Syria’s internal opposition movement is not unified and one should not speak about it in the singular. One can identify five distinct opposition groups. Burhan Ghaliun has stated they are unified by the three “No’s”: no to violence, no to sectarianism, and no to outside intervention (although I would exclude from this what I identify as the fifth group).

The first group consists of traditional oppositional parties: the socialist, Nasserist, and communist parties.

Second are the dissident intellectuals (such as Michel Kilo, Tayeb Tizini, Fayez Sara, Aref Dalila, and Burhan Ghalioun (on the outside).

In my view the writings and words of these dissident intellectuals carry much greater weight among the revolutionary youth than the traditional oppositional parties, although, neither of the first two categories has a large ‘social base.

Third is the youth movement itself (youth here is used liberally, including teenagers to people in their 40s) which is the moving force of the revolution. The leaders of the Local Coordination Committees are in this group. While the uprising started off with demonstrations of marginalized and lower class youth, it has expanded to include youth from all sectors of society.

The fourth category is the social base of the youth movement that is an unorganized civil society composed of socially conservative Muslims but which is mistakenly referred to as Islamist. These are the people who bore the brunt of regime repression for decades. These are the primary carriers of the social revolt — that is the Syrian society itself and the reason in my view why the regime cannot survive.

The fifth category, which the regime claims is the main obstacle, but which is in fact a very small fraction, is the armed Salafi groups.

Some may have traveled to Iraq to fight the US invasion. (They do not fit into Ghalioun’s three “no’s”, because they espouse violent revolution, are overtly sectarian, and welcome intervention by fellow Salafists, whether Syrian or not.) These groups do not neatly fit into either class or regional categories. Most of those who have taken to the streets are from lower economic classes and rural or middle sized-cities. However, there is still a much larger group which has not taken to the streets and does not fall into the categories I have outlined above, but which is just as resentful of the regime: this is the upper-class and middle-class youth of Syria’s two major cities.

It has been conventional wisdom to assume that well-to-do Syrians are pro-regime. This is not accurate. Many who have brushed up against the regime and have experienced its humiliations and observed its brutality first hand. They may not take to the streets, but may contribute in other ways that are not obvious to the casual observer. Given the forbidding security environment, the protestors are organizing at the neighborhood level. Paranoia and fear of secret police make establishing ties between local organizations difficult, although organization is improving at all levels slowly but surely.

Since the start of the revolt, the government’s actions have been arbitrary and improvised. The government was caught flat footed by the protests and has had to change tactics over time. Its response has been to employ two main tracks: the first a campaign of psychological and physical terror against the demonstrators, the second, a series of political liberalization measures meant to both absorb or appease a section of the protestors as well as present to the outside world a semblance of change. Both of these tracks have one main common denominator: they are meant to preserve as much of the political status quo as possible. They are also designed to insist on complete governmental control over events and government reforms. Five months into the uprising, the government still acts as if it holds all the cards; all ‘reform’ measures are issued as decrees by the government.

In other words, it has recognized –in its own words- legitimate grievances, but has yet to recognize a legitimate opposition to be negotiated with.

Thus, the “democratic transition,” such as the crafting of new political reform legislation, such as new ‘parties’ and ‘media’ laws, has been handed down by government fiat. Even the call for ‘dialogue’ which manifested itself in a two day summit in early July ended with a pre-fabricated statement which ignored the discussion that had taken place. Since then, the government’s response to opposition demands has been largely one of violence.

The protests themselves have not been uniform. Given the terror and live ammunition used by the regime, the protest movement’s tactics have been varied and creative. Resistance by the opposition ranges from political satire, rumors and gossip, guerrilla demonstrations, mass demonstrations, in-house demonstrations later broadcast on the internet, sit-ins, as well as acts of sabotage and violence.      

Since some quarters of Damascus and other areas are under Army siege or lock-down, demonstrators come out in rapid demonstrations and withdraw before the security forces can gather. When I visited Hama, days before the massacre (more on this below) each day over 100,000 people gathered in the main square (Sahet al-‘Asi) to discuss the day’s events and exchange information about events taking place elsewhere in Syria. One of the more creative tactics has been the ‘white demonstrations’ on Hamra street. A group ranging from 500 to 2000 all wearing white shirts or hats in groups of no more than three, but usually one or two walk back and forth on Hamra street without saying a word or even acknowledging each other. The security forces see them and know something is up but simply don’t know on what pretext to arrest them.

As to the question of violence, it undoubtedly exists among the protest movement, though to a very small degree, as opposed to the regime’s actions which have been overwhelmingly violent, and increasingly so. It is quite amazing that the protest movement has not been as violent as one would expect given the brutality and sectarianism of the regime.

I attended several pro-regime rallies (masira) because I was curious to see who attends and what exactly takes place there. During my stay there were two large demonstrations, one in Omayyad (capped by the wildly popular singer George Wassouf) and the other in Hijaz Square. I attended the latter, but went twice to a rally in Bab Touma, the traditionally Christian part of town. As I approached the main square, which had several hundred people in white shirts all carrying or wearing Syrian flags, with loud pro-Bashar music blaring from loudspeakers, I finally realized what fascism really looks like.

The belief or claim by some opposition members outside the country that pro-regime demonstrations are entirely forced is not accurate. Many state (and private sector) employees are made to go, but many show up on their own and do not fit neatly into categories such as ‘regime beneficiary’ which some members of the opposition like to throw around.

These were people, on their own will, coming to support a regime’s brutal crackdown by security forces that they themselves have long dreaded and despised. I saw and spoke with several people in attendance, all of whom insisted the events were necessary to ‘confront the conspiracy,’ to ‘preserve national unity’, and to ‘oppose extremists.’ The event was emceed skillfully by a man who alternated between leading chants and reading gut-wrenching accounts of the last moments and words of brave soldiers and military officers. In one such case, the commanding officer of a security post that had been ambushed called his superior and said: “the ammunition is done, I ask you to continue the fight. The homeland is a trust under your hands. Defend it and defend the leader.” The last words of all dying soldiers always involved: a) happiness in their sacrifice, b) devotion to the homeland and the president, c) request that those left behind take up the cause/fight.

Of course, no one has been hurt in a pro-regime rally and the ‘roving criminal gangs’ and ‘terrorist groups’ are absent. The rallies are guarded and streets are blocked. My own impression is that a large number of those attending would not take to the streets if there were any chance of violence.

Homage to Hama

I will describe my trip to Hama in a bit more detail because what I experienced there and what took place in the days after I left sums up what is beautiful about the revolution, just as it underscores the dark side of the regime. We left Damascus around 7.30am heading on a Pullman towards Hama. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to get into the city. I had heard horrendous stories about violence in and around the city. There were only 12 passengers on the bus and some were to continue to Aleppo. From the capital until Homs there were very few signs of any disturbances or security presence, however after passing Homs in the environs of Talbeesa and Rastan there were about 20 tanks or so. Upon reaching Hama we were stopped by a new security unit I had not seen or heard of before. They wore black and dark green uniforms and had “counter terrorism unit” (C.T.U.) written on their back. They boarded the bus and to my surprise asked if there were any soldiers on board. They did not ask for our IDs. We had heard of soldier defections taking place and I can only speculate that they were looking for them.

I should note that there have not been any high ranking defections in the Syrian Army that I know of, though there are numerous conscripts that have been fleeing military service. (The Army has not released any soldier from service, including those whose normal service term has expired). That checkpoint was the last symbol of government control and  from then on we were in a liberated city, with no army or security presence whatsoever and no traffic police either.

After the mass demonstrations the security had withdrawn and left the town to its own affairs although everyone was anticipating an attack at any moment (which would later come the day before Ramadan). To try and slow down an attack the Hamwis had set up makeshift barriers throughout the city made of trash cans, cinder blocks, metal bars, even overturned buses and a huge caterpillar truck meant to deter or slow down an attack by security services. These were manned by boys and men ranging  from teenagers to men in their forties, two or three at a time directing traffic. They were not armed, very friendly and allowed me to freely take pictures (on a slightly depressing note, some thought I was a foreigner and greeted me with “hello mr. welcome to hama.”). The teenagers and young men in particular were taking their traffic policing job quite seriously (‘better than the actual traffic cops’ I heard time and again), despite spending the day under a blistering sun.

At night during the daily demonstrations, and when there was a strike, all the checkpoints would be closed. The barriers could not really deter any attack, and the Hamwis knew this of course. At best they were hoping to slow it down so that the city would not be caught unprepared.

I was told that some villagers bringing down milk and yogurt were turned back due to the strike and did not return since their products had spoiled and were afraid this would occur again.

I was also informed that some Alawi civil servants and employees had not come to work from the villages out of fear, although I was assured their fear was unfounded and that no sectarian attack had taken place (Incidentally, I did not hear any sectarian chants during my stay and there was only one anti-Shiite sectarian slogan painted way outside on the periphery of the city. All other slogans around it had been painted over except this one perhaps left to show evidence of sectarianism).

The city itself was full of life and the markets were busy, after several days of a general strike; the markets and shops stayed open until well past 1am. We walked through the city passing by the world famous Norias, the Old souq and the many markets. Life did not stop in Hama, there were no armed gangs or armed presence within the city. We passed by several liquor stores that were open for business. I made sure to take a picture and show my Christian friends back in Damascus who thought that Hama was under some sort of Salafi rule.! Passing through a park near the center of the city, we heard a few men murmur ‘the people want to topple the regime’ as we passed people in a park.

Anti-regime graffiti could be seen on some walls, although some of it was painted over. There was no sign of vandalism and damage of public property, and many pro-regime banners set up at the start of the uprisings in Syria had been left intact. I heard many stories throughout the day of the corruption and theft of the regime, particularly illegal land acquisition by people in the upper circles of power, including partners of the presidents infamous cousin. There is a ‘takbeer’ (chant of God is Great) when a checkpoint is attacked or neighborhood is attacked and the entire block or passersby rush to help. Things of course were a bit more complex than they appeared on the surface.

A source told us of an ambush of demonstrators which took place in front of his house. A masked informant led the demonstrators into the security officers waiting around a street corner who opened fire and immediately killed at least 10 people. Our host told us that the informant was later killed and his body dumped into the Orontes. This has been done a few times with people identified as informants, their names have been posted on the Mosque’s door, although inevitably were some mistakes and one person had to plead with his friends to come out in his defense and clear his name.
The nightly demonstrations were the fullest expression of the city’s freedom. They also acted as a social space for different sectors of Hamwis to gather. It became the location in which the day’s events were planned, grievances are aired, and news of events taking place in Syria discussed. I headed to the demonstration from the neighborhood of the Hama Castle, passing by the café of Apamea hotel. The café is located on a beautiful view, right on the Orontes river overlooking the Sohoniya, Qadriyya, and Sultaniyya Norias (water-wheels). However it has a tragic history. It was built on the ruins of the former Kaylaniyya district, which was beautiful. This entire historic district was razed to the ground during the 1982 massacres after being one of the most architecturally beautiful sites in Syria. The insurgents had taken refuge there believing — mistakenly as it turned out — that the government would not shell the district because of its historic value.

I approached the main square right around the end of the evening prayers. Along the way I passed on the left the only two buildings left in town which prominently displayed the pictures of the President, the first was the police HQ and the second was the Ba’ath party HQ. The Ba’ath Party HQ had been burned down after the massacre which took place on 6/6. A group of people took flowers and headed in that direction. When they approached, gunmen on top of the building had opened fire. The protestors tried to escape through another street only to find that it had been blocked the night before by the security. My informant said that several dozen people were killed that day. The next day Hama started demonstrating en masse and had not stopped since.

As we approached Sahet al-‘Asi (Orontes square) we saw several dozen people finishing the evening prayers in the square itself. The young men at the checkpoints had increased and were rerouting traffic. I first decided to hang out at the edge of the square, in front of the park through which Orontes river ran. The number of people arriving began to pick up. Whether by foot, taxi, or micro-bus, loads of men and women, young and old started arriving. It seemed like the whole town was arriving to take part. Even as the square was getting full I saw a huge crowd marching down from the South of the city. Groups of kids were clapping and chanting anti-regime slogans. Cafes and markets which opened the day before were still open and there was a hustle and bustle in the streets all night long. By the time about 100,000 gathered in the square all checkpoints leading to the square were closed to all but pedestrians, and the demonstration started in full force.

With chants blaring from loudspeakers, the event was more than just an anti-regime demonstration, it was an event were people gathered to talk about the day’s news, exchange information and make requests. One such request was that the checkpoints were becoming a burden on the population, especially the kids wanting to take the dreaded baccalaureate exam. Others asked that the villagers be allowed to bring down their food. A lawyer was recently released from custody and said he was one of the last remaining detainees. Solidarity with other cities as well as individuals who had spoken out against the regime’s violence (such as actress May Skaff) was a particular theme that night.

Most chants mentioned unity among Christians, Alawis, Sunnis, Kurds, (more on the tricky sectarian issue below)and many Christians were in attendance and were saluted by the crowd. Outside the square, markets were still open and people were going about their business as if this was the most normal thing in the world.

Hama has always been a conservative city. All but a few women on the streets were wearing headscarves (there were almost no niqabs -which is mostly a phenomenon in other cities such as Damascus). But I saw absolutely no signs of fundamentalism inside the city. It is a mistake to think Hama’s intifada can simply be reduced to the 1982 massacre.

They have shared grievances with every other city in Syria. In my opinion it’s more accurate to say that this is a city with a history of collective mobilization against injustice and defiance since before the Ba’ath regime came to power, and because of their defiance they have repeatedly paid a heavy price. And they were willing to do so again.

This was not a vindictive or hateful city as I kept hearing from people in Damascus. The genuine happiness of achieving freedom far outweighed the supposed desire for revenge against the regime. The chant I heard most frequently throughout the day and night was ya mahlaha al hurriya (freedom is beautiful).

A few days after I left, the government attacked the city. It killed over 100 people in the first two days of its assault. Syrian television reports on the days of the attack repeated stories of armed criminals terrorizing the population and destroying daily life in the city. They claimed that the Hamwis had called for government intervention. I saw first-hand that all those stories were a blatant lie. Hamwis knew what the regime was capable of and what it was planning. They nevertheless showed unbending courage and defiance in the face of terrible odds. The regime will not emerge triumphant from this bloodbath as it did in the past. Rather than turning their backs on Hama, as they did in the past, Syria’s other cities are championing it. Hama’s cause with neither sectarian nor violent. This time around, Hama expressed the sentiments of the Syrian people in a peaceful way.

The Issue of Minorities

Most of my time in Syria was spent in the Christian quarters of Damascus. Despite personal familiarity with the inhabitants of these quarters, nothing in my upbringing prepared me for the level of vitriol and hatred I heard there toward the protestors. The most depressing aspect of my trip to Syria was to see many (and I fear most) of its Christians rallying in support of the regime.

I heard the same language used to describe my fellow Syrians and the brave protestors as I have so often heard used by Israelis to describe the struggles of Palestinian people:  They are monsters, if they get their rights they will kill us’, ‘why are they sending their children to die?’, ‘they don’t want democracy, they are Islamic extremists who will kill us or oppress all us’, ‘no country can tolerate armed groups seeking to overthrow it’ etc. I was infuriated to consistently hear my heroes slandered and despised in their own country. And this by people who know only too well how brutal the regime is.

However if one is patient and overlooks the provocative slurs, one can detect a common theme among those who criticize the uprising: a genuine fear of the unknown. I believe that many who claim that the regime ‘protects minorities’ in fact fear retribution. Minorities which believe that they have benefited from the regime’s brutality and corruption over the past forty years believe that they are implicated in the eyes of the Sunni majority in its crimes. This is true not only of the Christians but even more so of the Isma’ilis and Alawis. I fear that the longer the regime clings to power and the more brutal it gets, the more sectarian feelings will intensify. Many feel the cross-sectarian chants (such as “Christians and Muslims are brothers” etc.) are disingenuous. This may be true, but I believe the criticism is a too harsh. At the start of the protests the demonstrators were viciously attacked by some as hiding a radical Islamist agenda. they responded in the best way they could: we have no such intentions, in fact we are all one, we love our Christian, Kurdish, and Alawi brothers etc. They were then attacked for saying this as well. In other words, it’s a no-win situation for these demonstrators who, apparently, like their Palestinian brethren, must prove the purity of their intentions. 

All they are doing, after all, is insist that they they be granted their elemental civil rights.

The regime has in fact been the biggest enemy of minorities, including most Alawis. Alawis must navigate a treacherous and difficult political path. The opposition needs to pay special attention to the sectarian issue and the social wounds after the fall of the regime. National reconciliation will be so important if Syria is to find unity and social peace. It is not enough to make the claim that most Alawis (or other minorities) are not with the regime, and that being a Alawi or Christian or Isma’ili has nothing to do with this regime. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, what seems to be on the table in Syria is a genuine revolutionary change and radical societal transformation that inevitably leaves many people fearful of the unknown. The gradualism, peacefulness, and decentralization of the Syrian revolution have been a major asset, although many I spoke with see the lack of an organized opposition they trust (and the Muslim Brotherhood definitely does not fall into this category for the people I am referring to) as potentially disastrous for the country.

Leaving Damascus

I left Damascus three days into Ramadan with the general feeling that it was on the verge of a major escalation. The pro- and anti- regime demonstrations are headed in opposite directions numbers wise. After starting off as a militant movement to demand basic civil rights, the protests seem to have reached a zero-sum game, but this has still emboldened even more people to take to the streets.
The high death toll of the attack on Hama carried out on the day before Ramadan demonstrates that the regime has more or less given up the call for dialogue. Syria’s rulers believe that they can still crush the protest movement. At the same time, they have issued several political reform measures meant to placate foreign countries, who hope that Syria might emerge as a ‘liberal autocracy’ on the model of Egypt in the 1980s and 1990s. The opposition will not accept such thin gruel now that it has sacrificed so much and mobilized so many. Neither side is likely to back down.

Syria might very well descend into fighting and repression that becomes quite bloody. But even if it does, the revolution must be driven completely from the inside for moral as well as practical reasons. So far, despite government claims, it has been overwhelmingly non-violent, internally driven, and de-centralized, which explains its success.

However this can only continue for so long. I fear that increased regime terror will lead to an increasingly armed response. After priding itself on maintaining stability, the regime will have to accept the responsibility for the destruction of Syria for the sake of maintaining power.

* Omar S. Dahi is Assistant Professor of Economics at Hampshire College. His email address is odahi at hampshire dot edu. His cell phone number is 413-313-2492.

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Saudi- Indonesia Attempts to Save 28 on Death Row

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

MENAFN – Arab News

(MENAFN – Arab News) Indonesia has called home its ambassador to Saudi Arabia for consultation following the execution of an Indonesian maid in Makkah on Saturday.

“The Foreign Affairs Ministry in Jakarta has recalled Ambassador Gatot Abdullah Mansyur for consultations and to discuss measures to solve other serious cases,” said Wishnu Krishnamurthi, spokesman of the Indonesian Embassy in Riyadh, on Monday. “A note of protest over the beheading of Indonesian maid Ruyati binti Sapubi has been sent to the Saudi side.”

Krishnamurthi added that the Kingdom carried out the execution by sword without giving Indonesia prior notice.

Sapubi’s family has sought the government help to get the body to Indonesia. The maid from Bekasi district, Western Java, was executed for murdering her 70-year-old Saudi woman employer in January 2010.

Didi Wahjudi, a representative from the Indonesian Consulate in Jeddah, said neither the consulate nor the embassy was informed of the execution. The protest has been lodged because Indonesia was still trying to settle her case and seek clemency, he added.

Krishnamurthi said his government has stepped up efforts to save 28 Indonesians on death row.

“A plan is under way to reach a settlement in all cases either in the courts or through exerting more efforts in cooperation with Saudi officials for out-of-court settlements,” added Krishnamurthi.

He pointed out that the Indonesian diplomatic missions were seeking pardons from families of the victims in several such cases.

“We are quite hopeful that the embassy and the consulate will manage to secure pardons either by talking or by giving blood money to the victims’ families, which will pave the way for their release,” said the spokesman.

He said Indonesia had succeeded in solving three out of the 31 cases.

“These three Indonesians have been repatriated after they were pardoned by the families of the victims,” said the spokesman.

The move comes after human rights and labor activists called on the Indonesian government to take immediate action to assist Indonesian workers in Saudi Arabia.

Asked about the serious cases, Krishnamurthi said as many as 22 migrant workers out of the 28 are facing the same fate as Sapubi.

According to a report, a total of 316 Indonesians are currently involved in legal cases in Saudi Arabia, including those who have been sentenced to death.

The spokesman said Jakarta would strive to ensure they did not meet the same fate as Sapubi.

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At Least 23 Golan Protesters Killed, 350 Wounded as Israeli Troops Opens Fire

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jason Ditz

Israeli soldiers attacked protesters along the Syrian border with the occupied Golan Heights today, killing at least 23 protesters and wounding some 350 others. The protesters were marching to commemorate the 44th anniversary of the 1967 invasion of Golan.

The US State Department claimed to be “deeply troubled” by the protest march, and said that Israel had a right “like any sovereign nation” to defend itself by shooting protesters. Israeli opposition figures slammed “trigger-happy” soldiers for the large number of casualties.

Israel conquered the Golan Heights in 1967, along with the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Though Israel eventually returned the Sinai (with caveats) to Egypt, and simply walled in Gaza, they have ruled out leaving either Golan or the West Bank.

It is the second time in less than a month that Israeli troops have attacked and killed large numbers of protesters along their northern border. In mid-May troops killed some 20 protesters commemorating Nakba, the expulsion of Palestinians from Israeli territory. The commemoration is illegal in Israel.

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Saudi Arabia Detains Bloggers over Protest: Activists

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

JEDDAH (Reuters) – Authorities in Saudi Arabia have detained two Shi’ite bloggers this week for taking part in demonstrations in the country’s oil-producing Eastern Province, a Shi’ite website and activists said on Wednesday.

The Sunni Muslim monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and major U.S. ally, does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has not seen the kind of mass uprisings other countries in the region have over the past few months.

But minority Shi’ite Muslims in the Eastern Province, who have long complained of discrimination — a charge the government denies — have staged small demonstrations, which have led to some protesters being detained.

Shi’ite website, www.rasid.com, said on Wednesday police had stormed the houses of Mustafa al-Mubarak, 26, and Hussein al-Hashem, 25, arrested them and confiscated their computers,
The website also said a 58-year-old man named Samir Aldahim was also detained for taking part in the demonstrations.

A spokesperson for the Eastern Province police could not be reached for comment.

“The series of arrests are still continuing today,” said one activist who declined to be named for fear of being detained.

“Even ordinary people have been detained for taking part in demonstrations. They are summoned while at work or taken from their homes,” he said.

A Human Rights Watch report issued this month said Saudi Arabia had arrested over 160 activists since February.

“In this last week there were no less then 10 detentions, and they were all transferred to jail. Their families believe it is because they have participated in demonstrations,” the activist said.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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Protest Against Renaming NWFP

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

Most cities of NWFP are under fire because of the protest against renaming the province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Protests and rallies took place in cities such as Abbottabad, Haripur, Mansehra, Oghi, Balakot, and Garihabibullah.

Protestors set fire to tires on the streets in different areas of Abbottabad and Mansehra. People gathered around official buildings and the PML-N secretariat. The police fired teargas and shells in order to disperse the crowds.

Situation got completely out of hand in Abbotabad and Hazarawhere protestors came out in thousands and disrupted the normalcy of life in the city. The crowd was setting fire to vehicles and tires and was very restless. The protestors threw stones at the police and set fire to police cars along with one Edhi Foundation ambulance and smashed billboards.

The Karrakuram Highway and most main roads and streets had to be completely closed off. Children who were in school could not leave school and had to go through a lot of trouble to get home.

According to the police things were completely out of control, so in order to control the situation the police fired shots and killed seven people while 200 others were injured. The police say that they did not have a choice and the act was purely self defense.

District police chief Iqbal Khan told journalists that police opened fire in self-defense after a number of people who were a part of the protest rally took over the Mirpur police station. Even though there was a ban put on protests rallies people still came out and protested under section 144. Section 144 prohibits assembly of five or more persons, holding of public meetings, and carrying of firearms and can be in effect for up to two months. It also gives the courts the power to issue orders regarding apprehending or arresting any person or persons related to the violation of the ban.

However, according to the protestors the police opened fired at them and did not discriminate as to who gets hurt in the process of them trying to discourage the crowds from gathering.

A unanimous resolution in the legal community demanded the government to declare Hazara a separate province and arrest DIG and Commissioner Hazara who ordered the firing, which left seven protestors dead on Monday.

On the request of high court bar association Hazara Division, the lawyers boycotted the court proceedings. The lawyers also took out a protest rally, and marched through various roads gathering at the Zafar Ground.

Information Minister Mian Iftikhar said that judiciary inquiry would be held to look into this matter. He also added that there were “hidden hands” and “unseen elements” behind the violent protests and rallies. He also commented that it is acceptable for people to view their opinions and show their dislike of a decision. It is the right of the public to come out and demonstrate peacefully he added. However he also said that acts of violence and criminal activity will not be tolerated. Mr. Iftikhar also said that burning of vehicle and vandalizing property and material will not be over looked. He emphasized that the culprits who committed these crimes will be found and will be given due punishment.

The Minister claimed, “We contacted prominent leaders of different parties in Hazara division and assured them that the provincial government would address their concerns over the renaming of the NWFP as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but not a single leader came forward for talks.” He appealed to political parties, their leaders and the public to stay calm and try to resolve this matter by identify the culprits who committed these terrible crimes so that they could be brought to justice.

The President of The National Awami Party, Afrasiab Khattak said that Asfandyar Wali, Nawaz Sharif are meeting soon and will sort out the reservations on renaming the province. He urged political parties to resolve this important issue through negotiation and the decision should be made by a consensus. He also noted that there is no deadlock of political parties over the renaming of the province.

Tension in Abbottabad is still at a high and all government and private institutions remained closed on Tuesday April 13, 2010 due the uncertain situation in the city. It meshed with the complete shutter down protest in Hazara. People blocked streets and made sure the rules of the protest was being implemented.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) local chapter had announced that it would hold a convention at the Fawara Chowk on Monday apparently to counter the anti-Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa campaign launched by the Action Committee for Hazara province. The latter is headed by a former district Nazim of Abbottabad, Sardar Haider Zaman Khan, and includes political leaders mostly from the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q).

The bill was drafted by an all-party parliamentary committee headed by Pakistan Peoples Party’s Senator Raza Rabbani. This bill was passed unanimously on Thursday April 8th 2010 by all the 292 members of the 342-seat National Assembly who were present and must also be approved by the required two-thirds majority of the 100-seat Senate before President Asif Ali Zardari signs it to put it into effect.

Even after all the problems and opposition surrounding it the bill was tabled in senate regardless of all this. The aims of bill include a return to a genuine parliamentary form of government with the transfer of some key presidential powers to the prime minister, enhance provincial autonomy and provide for a parliamentary oversight of the appointment of superior court judges.

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