Syrian pro­test­ers dis­cover the new ‘power of their voice’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY NURHAN KOCAOGLU AND RUBY RUS­SELL

GU­VECCI, TUR­KEY | It’s a fa­mil­iar night­mare for Syr­i­ans.

In 1982, Syria’s mil­i­tary em­ployed a “scorched-earth” pol­icy to quell protests in the north­ern town of Hama, killing 25,000 peo­ple.

But Syrian refugees now flee­ing into Tur­key say that al­though his­tory ap­pears to be re­peat­ing it­self, the out­come will be dif­fer­ent this time.

“We’ve lived through 40 years of dic­ta­tor­ship,” said Mo­ham­mad, a young Syrian who fled to Tur­key over the week­end. “We have no other choice but to con­tinue [to fight]. We have to do this for the next gen­er­a­tion.”

The wide­spread par­tic­i­pa­tion of dis­con­tented Syr­i­ans in the up­ris­ing, which has lasted more than 100 days, is what makes it dif­fer­ent.

“Syria has never had this kind of mass move­ment,” said Rad­wan Zi­adeh, a prom­i­nent Syrian ex­ile and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Syrian Cen­ter for Po­lit­i­cal and Strate­gic Stud­ies in Wash­ing­ton. “Syr­i­ans are now dis­cov­er­ing the power of their voice and the power of num­bers.”

As with the re­cent rev­o­lu­tions in Tu­nisia and Egypt, so­cial net­work­ing via Twit­ter, Face­book, YouTube and Skype is play­ing a key role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing the daily protests.

Mo­ham­mad, who made his way with three other Syr­i­ans across the Be­len­goz Moun­tains into Gu­vecci, ar­rived with a USB flash drive that holds dozens of short videos he recorded of protests in his home­town of Lazkiye.

In one video, he keeps record­ing while run­ning from a hail of bul­lets and ad­vanc­ing Syrian troops. In an­other, the lens fo­cuses on a young Syrian, Mo­ham­mad’s friend, who is ly­ing in a pool of blood.

Mo­ham­mad has shared the videos with friends and rel­a­tives and said he is ded­i­cated to con­tin­u­ing the fight for free­dom from across the bor­der.

“We weren’t ready ear­lier. This couldn’t haven’t hap­pened ear­lier,” he said. “Now we have cell­phones and can ring each other, and we know what has hap­pened in other towns.”

Sym­pa­thetic Turks have sneaked Turk­ish cell­phone cards across the bor­der to Syr­i­ans hid­ing in the woods. The Syr­i­ans then can use Turk­ish cell­phone providers to send mes­sages with­out be­ing traced by the regime they are flee­ing.

Through so­cial me­dia, “We have seen how mod­ern Mus­lims live now,” Mo­ham­mad said in ref­er­ence to Tur­key. “And that’s how we want to live, too.”

Ac­tivists say the use of these net­works in­side Syria has helped the pro­test­ers share in­for­ma­tion and co­or­di­nate on a na­tional level.

“So­cial me­dia doesn’t just in­form peo­ple; it gives them the op­por­tu­nity to or­ga­nize and to think to­gether,” said Malath Aum­ran, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Lo­cal Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee (LCC) of Syria, speak­ing from Beirut.

The LCC ad­min­is­ters a Face­book page that is up­dated with re­ports of lo­cal demon­stra­tions and ca­su­al­ties from across the coun­try. It rep­re­sents 15 lo­cal chap­ters within Syria, each of which co­or­di­nates lo­cal neigh­bor­hood com­mit­tees formed by net­works of friends, of­ten young peo­ple.

Many of the LCC’s Face­book up­dates are in the form of YouTube videos, shot by or­di­nary peo­ple on the streets us­ing mo­bile phones and pocket dig­i­tal cam­eras.

Al­though the au­then­tic­ity of these clips is hard to ver­ify, ac­tivists say they are vi­tal in a coun­try that has no free press and has banned for­eign me­dia. They in­spire Syr­i­ans to join protests in other parts of the coun­try as well as en­rage them when they wit­ness the force used against pro­test­ers.

“If you say that the Egyp­tian revo­lu­tion is the ‘Face­book revo­lu­tion,’ then the Syrian one is the ‘YouTube revo­lu­tion,’ “ said Mr. Zi­adeh. “YouTube has played an im­por­tant role in pass­ing in­for­ma­tion within Syria and spread­ing it across the globe.”

While the lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion of protests ini­tially might have cen­tered on the young, it is hap­pen­ing in re­sponse to griev­ances

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