Opposition eyes Syria polls as regime resists revolt

Filed on May 7, 2011
Opposition eyes Syria polls as regime resists revolt

DAMASCUS - A call by regime opponents for free elections in Syria as a way out of more than seven weeks of bloody unrest came after protests failed to reach the level of a revolution, analysts said Saturday.

Addressing President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian Revolution 2011 said in a statement posted on its Facebook page: “You will be the pride of contemporary Syria if you can transform Syria from a dictatorship into a democracy.

“Syrians would be grateful for that, and it is possible to do,” said the Internet-based group, a motor of the unprecedented anti-regime protests that erupted in mid-March.

“The solution is simple: Stop shooting at demonstrators, allow peaceful demonstrations, remove all your photos and those of your father, release all political prisoners, allow political pluralism and free elections in six months.”

The proposal was the first issued by detractors of the regime to spell out demands in seven weeks of protests in which 708 people have been killed, according to the Committee of the Martyrs of the 15 March Revolution.

“This statement shows that the flame is flickering,” the head of a Syrian human rights organisation, who declined to be named for security reasons, told AFP.

“We have not reached the level of a (real) popular revolution and there is no agreement so far on the means necessary to change things,” he said.

Protest organisers have only succeeded in mobilising tens of thousands of people across the country since the first protest of March 15 in Damascus when dozens of people demonstrated for liberty and political reforms.

In a country of around 22 million people, tens of thousands of protesters can seem for some a drop in the bucket.

“The number of protesters is not very impressive, but calm has not returned to any of the regions where demonstrations took place,” said Thomas Pierret, a researcher at the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin.

“The revolution will be successful only if it can mobilise a critical masse in strategic areas across the country, but so far we are still far from that (goal),” he added.

A Western diplomat based in Damascus told AFP that the protest movement has “popular support” but the element of fear prevents people from taking to the streets.

“Many people are afraid of taking that step (and joining the protests) when they hear of the bad treatment which those who have been arrested were subjected to,” said the diplomat.

Syria has faced a chorus of international condemnation over its bloody response to protesters calling for democratic reform.

Human rights groups say that 8,000 people have been jailed or have gone missing in the crackdown.

Authorities blame “criminals” and “terrorists” of fueling the unrest and have pointed an accusing finger at armed Salafists — who espouse an austere form of Sunni Islam — of being the real instigators.

The regime has counter-attacked at these “armed gangs” by sending in the army into protest hubs such as the southern town of Daraa, which soldiers backed by tanks locked down for 10 days until Thursday.

On Saturday the flashpoint port of Banias on the Mediterranean coast was overrun by tanks and some activists believe that the industrial, central city of Homs, another protest hub, will be next in line.

Analysts also noted the profile of demonstrators changed since the first protest of March 15, taking a toll on efforts to build a significant revolution.

“Educated people who took part in the early demonstrations felt sidelined when they saw the demonstrations overtaken by people, marginalised by the regime, who only wanted to rebel and let off steam,” said the head of the human rights organisation.

“Those who wanted only changes in the regime, not regime change, pulled out when demonstrators began chanting the slogan ‘the people want the fall of the regime’,” he added.

Nevertheless he said he expected the dissent to continue because “a half revolution is like digging your own grave.”

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