Thousands took to streets today in a number of Syria cities following Friday Prayers protesting the prevalence of oppression and corruption in the country, and calling for reform. In Damascus, and in an attempted to prevent planned march from the historic Umayyad mosque in Old Damascus, authorities locked protesters inside mosque and began beating them with batons.
In the city of Homs, protesters gathered around the Khalid Bin Al-Waleed Mosque chanting: “Only God, Syria and Freedom [Matter]”
In Deraa, a crowd of 15,000 protesters chanting “Feza’a, Feza’a” meaning “Rebel Rebel” and “Makhlouf you Thief,” clashed with security. Makhlouf is the cousin of President Bashar Al-Assad and a notoriously corrupt businessman, long the object of popular hatred and complaint that has been shielded from prosecution by his cousin, giving credence to reports that he is merely the front man of the Assad family criminal enterprise. Fires reported raging throughout the city, three reported dead, hit by a speeding fire engine. One of the dead is Akram Qteish Jawabrah, now referred to as the first official martyr of the Syrian Revolution. Choppers are seen patrolling city from the air, directing security forces to riots stricken neighborhoods. In some instances, were reported to have parachuted in the South parts of the city, sealing the city off from connection to Damascus. Army units and tanks surrounded city in an attempt to establish curfew.
Deraa lies in district of Horan in south Syria, problems were reported in other main towns there as well, including Nawa and Sheikh Miskeen.
Other Syrian cities that witnesses protest today include Hama, Banyas, Hassakeh and Deir Azzor, though details from these cities are still murky.
Authorities have managed to impose media blockade on matters, benefitting from problems in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. Foreign correspondents so far circulated shy reports on the small demonstrations that took place in Damascus since March 15, which came as a result of young protesters networking and communicating on Facebook. But developments across Syria were ignore and the anti-regime character of the protests were downplayed. But the youth networks that organized these protests have made it quite clear that they are meant to be a revolution against the ruling Assad regime. One of the activists speaking with BBC Arabic from inside Damascus said that they are against regime, not Bashar, in line with the agreement reached by most people on Facebook to give Bashar one final chance to become reformer.
Basic demands include lifting of 40-some year old state of emergency, cancellation of all emergency laws, release of all political prisoners, serious socioeconomic reforms to help the growing class of impoverished people, new constitution, and holding free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections.
Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian opposition figure in exile and founder of the Tharwa Foundation.