News / Middle East

Social Media, Emerging Street Opposition Are Forces Behind Syrian Uprising

In this citizen journalism image made on a mobile phone, Syrian men carry bread loaves during a protest against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, in the coastal town of Banias, Syria, May 3, 2011
In this citizen journalism image made on a mobile phone, Syrian men carry bread loaves during a protest against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, in the coastal town of Banias, Syria, May 3, 2011

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Margaret Besheer

For seven weeks a popular uprising against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been raging. Emboldened by successful movements to topple dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, frustrated young Syrians began organizing protests online and then took them to the streets.

Despite periodic cuts in the Internet and mobile network, young Syrian activists have been working their computers and mobile phones for weeks, updating Facebook pages, sending out messages over Twitter, uploading videos onto YouTube and speaking to human rights campaigners, journalists and others outside their country. They try to tell the world what is happening, as most foreign reporters have been banned.

Activists say tools such as Facebook and Twitter were not widely known in Syria until just a few months ago. As the Arab Spring spread across North Africa and the Middle East, Syrian youth began learning about the role of social media in it. Now thousands engage in social media.

Youth movement

Activist Rami Nakhle, who has been living in Lebanon for the last few months to avoid arrest in his native Syria, said the uprising began on the Internet with the youth, but then moved to the streets drawing people of all ages.

"It is a completely, completely spontaneous revolution. That's what I would call it.…. but absolutely, it is led by young people. If young people did not call for protest, the old people would just stay in their homes," said Nakhle. "But old people, when they saw protests in the mosque, they will join; when they saw huge protest pass in front of their houses, they will join. It's like this. But who is organizing it? Who is planning it? They are the young people."

Protesters demanded that an oppressive emergency law banning protests be lifted. They also called for the legalization of political parties and the removal of corrupt officials.

Continuing crackdown

Assad responded with promises of reform and on April 21st said he was lifting the law that allows people to be arrested without warrants. But his security forces have continued their violent crackdown and hundreds of protesters - mostly young men - have been reported arrested or killed across the country.

Syrian activist Khaled el Ekheytar said because of the media ban, it has been up to the protesters to get the word out to the world.

"The guys who are organizing for the demonstration - they are going to the demonstration, they are shooting [videotaping] the demonstration - they might get shot or wounded or killed or whatever," said el Ekheytar. "They need to go back there to upload the video, and then to make sure that they are going to be there everywhere for the guys who need it and prepare for the next day. So it's like they are doing everything."

When asked who is leading the peaceful protests, activists and analysts alike agree that it appears to be a leaderless uprising.

Leaderless uprising

Nadim Houry is the director of Human Rights Watch's Beirut office. He said the protesters have a very informal level of organization, and comprise both secular-liberal and intellectual people, alongside more traditional conservatives, such as sheikhs and imams.

"It is not a top-down organized effort. Like Egypt, like Tunisia, it started out a lot more spontaneously. In the case of Syria, it started out as localized demands in Daraa because of a particularly vicious moukhabarat [secret police] guy," said Houry. "Those protests sort of rippled and echoed via other activists so the information spread."

Houry adds that Syrians in the Diaspora also have played an important role, particularly as relay points for information, but that the movement has been primarily driven from inside the country.

'Old opposition' participates

Some activists say that the "old opposition" - mostly the exiled Muslim Brotherhood and signatories to the 2005 Damascus Declaration, which calls for peaceful democratic regime change - have joined the uprising too late.

A dozen signatories to the Damascus Declaration have served jail time for their involvement in it, while the Muslim Brotherhood operates from Britain.

Nakhle says as a group the old opposition has not been effective, but some individuals from their ranks have been very important to the movement.

"I think those people inside the Damascus Declaration, they would have a great chance to lead this period, to lead this revolution, but they just missed it, because they did not come to a decision all of them together, said Nakhle. "But individuals from them do play a great role."

American University in Beirut political science professor Hilal Khashan said active, organized political opposition inside Syria was crushed under Assad's father, Hafez, and that is why this uprising has no clear leadership.

Conspiracy theory

"There is no opposition in Syria, unless you mean the Muslim Brotherhood. Assad, the late [Hafez] Assad, drove them out of the country after he massacred them in Hama in 1982," said Khashan. "The demonstrators in Syria are largely acting on their own. I am not into the conspiracy theory. It may be that some certain countries are trying to take advantage of the situation as the Syrian regime is claiming, but the fact remains that people who go to the street do so - or did so - spontaneously."

The conspiracy theory he refers to is the Syrian regime's claim that armed gangs and infiltrators supplied with weapons from Lebanon and Iraq incited the protests. The government insists its military crackdown is intended to crush these gangs, not harm innocent citizens.

Khashan said that with time, the pull of the Syrian street will create its own elite. But right now anyone who emerges as a leader of this movement risks jail or death.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid