Politics & Policy

Good Friday Is Syria’s Big Day

Friday is the traditional day of protests in Muslim countries — the beginning of the weekend, and a day during which large numbers are concentrated together in mosques for morning prayers. Tomorrow, the by now long-simmering demonstrations in Syria could come to a head, at least according to those organizing the demonstrations. Tomorrow will be a particularly hard push, and, if the Assads’ past behavior is any indication, a particularly hard push back as well. The Assads are already getting ready. Via the Times

Syria deployed the police, soldiers and military vehicles in two of the country’s three largest cities Thursday ahead of a call for nationwide protests that will test the popular reception of reforms decreed by President Bashar al-Assad and signal the momentum that organizers have sought to bring to a five-week uprising.

 

Residents described a mobilization in the capital, Damascus, and, in more pronounced fashion, the restive city of Homs, where a government crackdown this week dispersed one of the largest gatherings since demonstrations began last month. For days, organizers have looked to Friday as a potential show of strength for a movement that has yet to build the critical mass that protests eventually achieved in Egypt and Tunisia.

“Together toward freedom,” read a Facebook page that has served as a pulpit of the uprising, over symbols of Christianity and Islam. “One heart, one hand, one goal.”

The calculus of both sides ahead of Friday’s protests is the same: to prove they have the upper hand in the biggest challenge yet to the 40-year rule of Mr. Assad’s family. While organizers were reluctant to call Friday a decisive moment, they acknowledged that it would signal their degree of support in a country that remains divided, with the government still claiming bastions of support among minorities, loyalists of the Baath Party and wealthier segments of the population.

“People are still hesitant,” said Wissam Tarif, the executive director of Insan, a human rights group. But he added, “If it’s not this Friday, it will be the coming Friday.”

The demonstrations may serve as a referendum of sorts on President Assad’s commitment to do away with the emergency laws in place since 1963 and institute a series of reforms like allowing civil liberties and abolishing draconian courts, which the president formally signed on Thursday. Some have called his promises a hard-won gain of an uprising that has shaken the Assad family, while others have been dismissive of initiatives that may prove elusive and that seemed aimed at blunting the demonstrations’ momentum.

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