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Could Syria Be Next?

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER     Permalink
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Violence and societal discrimination against women continued, as did sexual exploitation, increasingly aimed at Iraqi refugees, including minors. The government discriminated against minorities, particularly Kurds and Ahvazis, and severely restricted workers' rights.

During the year there were numerous reports of deaths in detention, torture, and people being disappeared. Security Services appear to act with total impunity and there are no reports of arrests, trials or even reprimands of law enforcement officials.

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So sayeth our State Department.

There is no freedom of expression in Syria. The most recent outrage in this department is the arrest and jailing of a 20-year-old woman blogger, who has been sentenced after a closed-door trial to five years in jail on state security charges -- "divulging information to a foreign state."

It is widely believed that she was targeted for her online poems and

writings on political and social issues, such as on the fate of Palestinians after the 2008 military operations in Gaza.

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The State Security Court's verdict is final, and there is no possibility of


Before the current president, Basher al-Assad, there was his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled the country for more than thjirty years. His reign was brutal and retrograde. Syria's support for terrorist groups isolated it even from the more moderate Arab governments.

While Assad has from time to time made gestures toward a more open and mild regime, Syria has remained a dictatorship.

Assad's government demonstrated its hold on the country last month, while the Middle East and North Africa was exploding in a wave of protest and civil disobedience. Anti-Assad citizens ran campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, calling for demonstrations in Damascus on Feb. 4 and 5. But, as the New York Times reported, "no one showed up except for police officers and members of the security forces."

The Times wrote: "In stark contrast to several other Arab capitals, where hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated against their governments, planned "Day of Rage' in Damascus on Friday failed to attract any protesters against President Bashar al-Assad, a sign that he opposition here remains too weak to challenge one of the region's most entrenched ruling parties."

Syrian activists warn that Syria is "not ready" to sustain a Tahrir-type protest.

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But authorities are taking no chances. On Friday, security officials arrested Ghassan al-Najjar, an Islamist who heads a small opposition group. He had called on Syrians in his city to demand more freedoms.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement last week that at least 10 people were summoned by the police in the previous 48 hours and pressed to not demonstrate. There were also reports that prominent opposition figures, many of whom spent years in jail for opposing the government, were also summoned. On Thursday, three Syrians were briefly detained and forced to sign pledges not to participate in future protests, after they protested, along with 12 others, against corruption and high cellphone costs.

At least 100 Syrians held a vigil in support of their Egyptian counterparts last Saturday near the Egyptian Embassy in Damascus, and quietly lit candles as police officers kept a watchful eye nearby.

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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