Protests Spread to New Areas of Syria

by Patrick Brennan

Substantial unrest has now spread to Syria’s commercial capital and largest city, Aleppo, marking a new shift in the conflict between Assad and the opposition forces. The Washington Post reports:

More than 10,000 protesters poured onto the streets of Syria’s commercial hub, Aleppo, on Friday, a sign that a city that had remained relatively quiet as an uprising swept the country has been galvanized into activity.

The northern city’s large university was the focus of a similar demonstration Thursday, when crowds of students greeted a team of U.N. observers, dancing on the tops of the visitors’ cars and waving the flag of the protest movement from the rooftops.

On Friday, three major mosques were the center of protest, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with people streaming out of them after Friday prayers calling for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad. . . .

 “The opposition had been waiting for a long time for such protests to unfold in Aleppo,” said Randa Slim, a researcher at the New America Foundation, “and it came at a moment when the momentum had shifted toward the government.”

Aleppo is a center for Syria’s business community and middle classes, who some analysts say have been a core support base for Assad because they benefited from economic reforms undertaken in recent years. That makes the apparent shift in attitude there highly symbolic, said Slim, who added that opposition groups had been coordinating plans for large protests for some time and that the U.N. monitors’ visit provided the right moment.

“The opposition and business community believed that as long as Aleppo was holding out, there was still hope for Assad to salvage his regime,” she said. “But now that there have been protests in Damascus and Aleppo, this will convince people that this is a one-way road away from Assad.” Slim cautioned, however, that such a road could take years to travel.

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