BEIRUT/ DAMASCUS: Activists and opposition groups are calling on the “silent majority” to stand up and be counted in the last Friday mass rallies across Syria before Ramadan.
Opposition groups have given Friday rallies the label “Your silence is killing us” in attempts to mobilize prominent community leaders, intellectuals, the business elite, religious leaders and other Arab countries to join the opposition cause.
While mass protests have been marked in regional centers around the country, Syria’s two largest capital cities, Damascus and Aleppo, have so far failed to attract the large numbers of protesters like the regional centers of Hama, Homs and elsewhere. Many believe the protest movement must take hold of the business and political capitals to progress from the deadly ritual stalemate that has claimed the lives of up to 1,500 civilians.
With mass arrests of, by some estimates, 11,000 people across the country since the uprising began in March, many say Syria’s middle and intellectual classes are still too afraid to openly join the opposition movement.
But a number of small but important developments in the two cities this week have encouraged opposition groups that these segments of society may be slowly coming around.
In the country’s economic hub, Aleppo, Wednesday, a group of medics in two hospitals protested in order to release detainees.
Elsewhere Wednesday hundreds of lawyers protested at the Aleppo Justice Palace chanting “freedom, freedom.”
A legal activist from Aleppo told Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaperthat “the lawyers protested demanding the independence of the bar association, and stressing that Syrian blood is sacred, shouting: the bar association free, free … pro-regime militants out!”
Activists posting on the Syrian Revolution Facebook page Thursday called for protesters to raise photos of silent academics, Syrian notables and silent Arab leaders in the protests and write on them, “Your silence is killing us!”
“The silence of the international community is killing us, the silence of the Arab countries is killing us, the silence of people inside Syria is killing us, the silence of Tartous, Aleppo, Al-Raqqa, Al-Hasaka and other towns and cities that have not taken part [in the revolution] is killing us,” wrote one person on the page.
“Above all, the silence from the heart, Damascus, is killing us.”
From Damascus, Syrian civil rights campaigners described a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the state.
“There is not one person here who doesn’t know someone who has been arrested, beaten, tortured or killed at this stage,” said a campaigner. “And each time one of their friends or family is injured or arrested, another person joins the opposition.”
Elsewhere, opposition groups called for people to carry pairs of boots in response to Sunni cleric MP Mohammad Said Ramadhan al-Bhuti, who’s comments against the uprising angered those who believed he would take a different position following his opposition to secular government policies on the Damascus Casino and a controversial niqab ban.
Bhuti this week denied rumors of a cancellation or shortening of tarawih prayers during the month of Ramadan designed to prevent large gatherings for protests, typically staged after prayers.
Elsewhere Thursday, Syrian opposition activists responded quickly to denounce attempts by the new Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri to brand the movement as an Islamic uprising.
In his first video message since assuming the role following the death of Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri praised anti-regime protesters in Syria claiming the U.S. is seeking regime change in Damascus and hailing pro-democracy activists as “mujahedeen,” or holy warriors.
Syrian forces pressed their clampdown on the pro-democracy movement Thursday, killing a protester and arresting two leading activists, rights groups said.
“Security forces in Damascus on July 27 arrested two known Syrian opposition figures Adnan Wehbe and Nizar al-Samadi,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement Thursday, adding their fate “remains unknown.”
In the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, where security forces were carrying out operations in nearly all neighborhoods, a civilian was shot dead Thursday night, said Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the Syria Observatory for Human Rights.
Afterward, some 3,000 people gathered in front of the house of the new governor, Samir Othman al-Sheikh, to “demand an end to the killing,” he said.
Earlier, residents were out in the streets trying to prevent security forces carrying out arrests, he said.
In Qatana, 25 kilometers south of Damascus, security forces armed with machine guns and other weapons arrived in the town in pickup trucks overnight and carried out the arrests before searching for more protesters.