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Middle East

Facebook used to rally Syrians to ‘revolution’

Video by Shirli SITBON


Latest update : 2011-02-04

Protesters have called for "a day of anger" in Syria, demanding an end to “corruption and tyranny”. The action is scheduled to take place after Friday prayers, with the message being spread using social networking sites.

AFP - The wave of pro-democracy protests engulfing the Arab world could spread to Syria, where the Baath party has been in power for almost half a century, according to analysts.

"No Arab country is immune. These unprecedented opposition movements have demands. They feel aggrieved by absolute power and lack of democracy," said Riad Qahwaji of the Institute for the Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

"This popular force is gaining ground by using new media like the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, iPad, inspiring neighbouring countries," he told AFP.

Syrian activists this week turned to Facebook, which is officially banned but can be accessed easily through proxies, to call for "a day of anger" on Friday after the Muslim weekly prayers.

One Facebook group has called for a peaceful "2011 Syrian revolution" to end Syria's "monocracy, corruption and tyranny," gathering more than 8,000 supporters on the social networking site.

Burhan Ghalioun, director of the Centre for Contemporary Oriental Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, said the Tunisia and Egypt revolts heralded a "violent upheaval that will shake up everything, and Syria is not immune to it."

"The Arab world will (soon) be emptied of its dictators," he said.

The Baath party has been in power in Syria since it passed a 1963 emergency law banning all opposition groups. President Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez.

"The situation remains unpredictable. It is about a general malaise in the region. It is about people who are taking charge of their destinies and it is about time to learn the lessons," said Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Monday, Assad said his country was not susceptible to the social problems of Tunisia and Egypt.

"Syria is stable although it has more difficult conditions than Egypt, which enjoys financial support from the United States while Syria is under embargo by most countries of the world," he said.

Assad, who said his vision for reform includes passing new laws on local government and civil society in 2011, said leaders across the region had to "upgrade" to keep in touch with the demands of their peoples.

"If you didn't see the need of reform before what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, it's too late to do any reform," he said.

Syria, which has so far given priority to economic reforms, is faced with "considerable challenges" linked to poverty that affects 14 percent of its 22-million population and an estimated 20-percent unemployment rate.

The government has said earlier it will $14 billion dollars in human development between 2011 and 2015, and announced in January the creation of a $250-million fund to help about 420,000 impoverished families.

In tandem, Damascus increased by 72% the heating allowance of public servants and pensioners, benefiting two million people.

On the political front, the key demands are the holding of "regular, free and honest elections" and the "repeal of regimes based on the Mukhabarat (intelligence services) who repress" the people, according to Ghalioun.

Activists and opposition figures, including Michel Kilo and filmmaker Omar Amiralay, are also speaking up. Tunisia's revolution and the uprising in Egypt were an example to all Arabs, they said on Sunday.

The Syrian people "also aspire to justice and freedom," they said in a collective statement.

"The Arab people have found their route to freedom, namely peaceful, non-violent social resistance uniting the population against those who repress it and steal its wealth," it read.

Among the 39 signatories were political opposition figures who have served long prison terms, including economist Aref Dalila, poet Faraj Beirakdar, and authors Yassin Haj Saleh, Michel Kilo and Fayez Sara.

Filmmakers, researchers and lawyers are also on the list.

Date created : 2011-02-03


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