Syria and Bahrain Analysis: Evaluating The Protests and the Crackdowns --- Will New History Be Made?
For the last two weeks in Syria, the big story has been the presence of the Arab League observers --- and the citizen journalists who have been observing the observers. Attention in the rest of the world has been split between the prospect of international intervention and the complicated maneoeuvres of a Syrian opposition trying to find some unity.
These stories are obviously important, but they risk missing the development before us. Protests last Friday were larger, and wider spread, than they have been in some time. Damascus and Aleppo are no longer immune to marches, and certain neighbourhoods --- Midan and the University area in Damascus, Marjeh and the University in Aleppo --- are becoming hotbeds of dissent.
There is also new evidence, in two reports released yesterday, that the crackdown, specifically in and around Damascus, has been much larger in scale than previously thought. The opposition Local Coordinating Committees reported yesterday that more than 16,000 people have been detained. Within that number are 4859 detainees from the suburbs of Damascus and 6708 prisoners from the capital itself. If the numbers are close to accurate, they suggest that more than 11,000 people have been so volatile, so dangerous, in Damascus and nearby that the regime decided to imprison them. Thesnumbers also suggest that many more would be willing to protest, but are deterred because of the high rate of arrests.
A Syrian prison is not a safe place to be, according to the report by em>Avaaz. The human rights groups has even higher numbers than the LCCS: "Of the 69,000 detained since March, over 37,000 people remain in detention and some 32,000 people have been released, many of them bearing scars from torture and violence." The study reiterates that Damascus, and some of its most important suburbs, are a centre for this torture, followed by Homs:
In Damascus, there is a street known locally as “Branches Street” due to the number of state security branches situated there, some of them underground, where torture and overcrowding are known to be commonplace. Some of the regime’s most notorious torture chambers can be found behind al-Jamerek Building in the Kafr Souseh area of the capital, including the Military Raids Branch, Military Investigations Branch (or Branch 228), Damascus Intelligence Branch (or Branch 227) and two detention facilities – one on the 4th floor, and one on the ground floor.
In Bahrain, the sun seems to rise with opposition rallies and to set with tear gas. For days on end, and for almost every night, the Bahraini police have chased anti-regime protesters into the late hours, firing tear gas indiscriminately, sometimes causing death-by-suffocation. Contrary to the assessment of some media organisations --- for example, a wayward, under-informed report on US National Public Radio --- the protests show no signs of stopping and, indeed, are growing steadily. And while the regime has hired new police officials from the "West" in its promise of reform of security services, there is credible evidence that the reckless brutality of the security forces continues.
In a little over a week, we will arrive at the first anniversaries of momentous developments, beginning with the fall of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. But if the Syrian and Bahraini activists have anything to say about it, new history will be made. 2011 was the year of the protester, and 2012 is already starting out with a bang.