Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 18, 2011

Those Huge Demonstrations In Syria

We know for a while that the protests in Syria are far smaller than reported:

That same night on July 15, I received news feeds from the AFP announcing a million protestors all over Syria, of which 500,000 in Hama alone.

In Hama however, they could not have been more than 10,000.

This ‘information’ was even more absurd due to the fact that the city of Hama counts only 370,000 inhabitants.
So what sources does AgenceFrancePresse (AFP) cite?

The same which crops up systematically throughout the media and has now become a monopoly in its own right, regarding the Syrian protests: the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Behind this superficial veneer of respectability and professionalism, hides a political organisation based in London, its president none other than Rami Abdel Raman, a man who has consistently sided against the Baath regime, who is loosely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Therefore, for many months now, the Western media have diffused an edited reality, corrected by a single source which nobody has deemed it necessary, it seems, to question.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, often cited, is one that feeds the "western" image of the protests. Another source are videos uploaded to Youtube.

Today we learn of a big demonstration in Homs arranged for the sole purpose of video making:

On a recent Sunday, 200 protesters marched in front of the Safir Hotel, the city’s most famous, carrying signs calling for the fall of the government and showing solidarity with Hama, a city to the north that was stormed on July 31.

The demonstrators walked slowly, led in the chants by a man whose face was concealed with a scarf. “Hama, we are with you until death,” they cried, with a few of the protesters in back filming the crowd with their cellphones.
“We’re not worried about the security,” said one of the protesters. “We will be done anyway in half an hour.” Since it was a small protest, he said, they would disperse by the time the buses carrying members of the security forces arrived. The protesters had lookouts near security stations, and they sent signals when the buses left. The main purpose of this protest was symbolic, he explained: they wanted to upload new videos on YouTube.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and AlJazeerah will very likely point to that video and claim it shows a big demonstration of 20,000+ with 20+ killed by the marauding forces of the Syrian army.

But video from huge demonstrations do not make them true. Homs seems to be rather quiet now and the few Syrian cities where armed troublemakers are still roaming around will likely be cleared in a short while.

Some people hope for the Turks to get involved in Syria. Forget about it. Syria, Iraq and Iran have, like Turkey, partly Kurdish population. If they want to pressure Turkey to stay away from an intervention in Syria they only need to unleash some of the Kurdish rebels into east Turkey. Indeed they may have already done so. Erdogan understands that and will stay out of Syria.

Posted by b on August 18, 2011 at 5:29 UTC | Permalink


Well, the news I'm reading point to the situation in Syria worsening or at least the western and their Arab dictator allies governments backing a worsening. Different countries are issuing now, not through all the time with multiple 'indiscriminate attacks' on cities, to avoid traveling to Syria. And there is noise that the US and EU will ask in a few days Asad to leave. After all this is a step on the road to Iran so I doubt they will lose the opportunity to get a friendly regime in place or another destroyed country.

Syria has a lot of frontiers through which weapons can be smuggled and it's pretty clear that there is a violent minority inside the Sunni population that will want to play the foreign backed militia/warlord game like in Afghanistan and Libya for their masters.

I have no clue about what is really happening as reports make no sense (reports of the army just 'shelling' and 'firing' randomly on cities are a joke, 'massacres' of less than a dozen civilian with such shelling and gun fire without any way to confirm them) and I can't make propaganda from reality from either side (not like the Syrian government side is reported anywhere). But everything isn't fine or secure for the Syrian regime either as a part of the Syrian population has been mobilized against the regime or the regime wouldn't have to move the army so much around, for months already, to keep the situation controlled.

Posted by: ThePaper | Aug 18 2011 7:01 utc | 1

The French version of the counterpunch article by Piccinin is illustrated, and you can compare photos.

You are quite right, b. The situation is being way over-blown by the opposition. And their version is swallowed whole by western media. The media only say that such-and-such a report is not confirmed, but then act as though it is. The discourse in the West is being blown off-course into imagined fictions.

Posted by: alexno | Aug 18 2011 12:15 utc | 2

The cynic in me thinks that Erdogan's bellicosity was a front to give the Syrian authorities time to recover control. While Erdogan was talking about intervention, he had control of the clock, not the US, UK or France and intervention in Syria might only have worked if Turkey was included.

Posted by: blowback | Aug 18 2011 14:04 utc | 3

This article, The revolt in Syria: Its roots and prospects by Hassan Khaled Chatila, from May 2011, was a good read.

Two mini excerpts for flavor:

-> Two years ago Bashar liberalized the banking sector and allowed foreign banks to invest in Syria , and foreign companies to invest through the intermediary of banks.

-> The situation in Syria is far from generalized civil disobedience, principally because of the almost complete absence of slogans putting forward social and economic demands, notably the struggle against hunger, poverty and unemployment. Such slogans could come to the forefront alongside calls for democracy only in a broad democratic united front in which the left played an important role. But in Syria there is neither such a front nor a left.

Posted by: Noirette | Aug 18 2011 15:17 utc | 4

Yesterday : Assad says military, police operations have stopped

Syrian President Bashar Assad has told UN chief Ban Ki-moon in a phone call that the military and police operations had stopped in Syria, said an UN statement released on Wednesday.

"The Secretary-General emphasized that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately. President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped," said the statement.

Despite (or because of) this today: Obama calls on Assad to step down

So what will he do when Assad doesn't step down?

Posted by: b | Aug 18 2011 15:26 utc | 5

You have to love the delicious hypocrisy, don't ya, b. Let's assume that this

really does turn into a Tahrir-like show of solidarity and the U.S. cracks down on it. Using Obama's logic, it would then be appropriate for the headline to read Assad calls on Obama to step down, wouldn't it? Of course, Obama could step down and nothing would change. They'd just shove another eggplant in the chair and instruct him/her/it on what to say and do.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | Aug 18 2011 16:03 utc | 6

Get ready for 'Assad thumbs nose at Obama'.

Posted by: dh | Aug 18 2011 16:07 utc | 7

So what will he do when Assad doesn't step down?

I agree no-one's going to intervene, not even the Turks. And Asad can thumb his nose.

However there is a possibility that this call may be intended to justify arming the opposition. That would lead to an even worse civil war.

I don't think that either Obama or the European leaders have thought their policy out properly.

From their point of view, of course. Israel would probably be happy with complete confusion, though I don't think it's really in their interest either.

Posted by: alexno | Aug 18 2011 17:18 utc | 8

the media is useless, you get up to date information via the red cross now

Posted by: somebody | Aug 18 2011 17:40 utc | 9

The media can say with "absolute precision" how many deaths or numbers of people participating in demonstrations in Syria. But they feign total ignorance of how many civilians are killed by NATO bombs in Libya, as was the case in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Posted by: JohnH | Aug 18 2011 22:41 utc | 10

Western and GCC hypocrisy/cynicism are not, in and of themselves meaningful, except that they define the West and the GCC. They do not make the leaden Baath regime in Syria any less awful. Viewing the Syrian situation in terms of an anti-Zionist chessboard and, as a result, implicitly or explicitly, rooting for the current regime, is in fact just as hypocritical and cynical. It is also self-defeating. Just as self-defeating as it was for the European left in the 1970s and 1980s to act as de-facto apologists for the old East-Block. Back then this happened out fear that capitalism would "win" if the USSR and its satellites failed. This then indeed happened precisely because the European Left had completely compromised itself by thinking this way, displaying an utter disregard for the aspirations of the populations in the East-Block countries. The fear became self-fulfilling. Not the way to go... again.

Posted by: Guthman Bey | Aug 18 2011 23:39 utc | 11

" They'd just shove another eggplant in the chair and instruct him/her/it on what to say and do."

U.S. politics in a nutshell.

Posted by: ben | Aug 19 2011 3:54 utc | 12

Everybody's aware of Iran's stance on Syria, no one will dare to make a move against Assad's secular regime. Time for terrorists and hypocrites in Syria is over, they should go back to Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or wherever they came from, majority of Syrian people have been always behind their government and they will keep supporting it. Syrians do not want their country to turn into another Libya by NATO, they still want Assad in power, Assad is the only reason why Syria is not a US puppet, and fights against Israel's aggression which threatens Syrian national security.

Posted by: Shervin | Aug 19 2011 9:30 utc | 13

Shervin, the only reason why Syria is not a happy US puppet in the Mubarak-Sadat-Egypt vein is because it was never offered the equivalent of Egypt's Camp David accord: restitution of a de-militarized Golan with water rights on Lake Tiberias plus imperial imprimatur for its hegemony in Lebanon. Syria's "fights against Israel's aggression" have consisted of what precisely?
Of passing on weapons to Hizbollah that the Iranians paid for AND getting paid by Iran for doing that. The Syrians were happy US foot-soldiers in the Gulf War of 1990. They would be happy foot-soldiers today in return for their chance to sell out. That chance is not on offer however.

Posted by: Guthman Bey | Aug 19 2011 13:32 utc | 14

Ok, I pushed the post button too quickly. Let me rephrase the following: it wasn't "the Syrians" of course, who were happy US foot-soldiers in 1990 and who would be happy foots soldiers today, it was the minions of the Baathist regime.

Posted by: Guthman Bey | Aug 19 2011 13:38 utc | 15

muslim brotherhood? i think it is more likely 'Syrian Observatory for Human Rights' is one of these 'democracy building' efforts funded by 'Foundation for Defense of Democracies'. oh look, clifford may is linking to an article citing them here. here's another concerned journalist from the guardian linking to the weekly standard.

Posted by: annie | Aug 19 2011 18:17 utc | 16


another concerned journalist from the guardian

You shouldn't presume "Comment is Free" columns on the Guardian site represent the paper. They invite everybody to press their interest. Frequently the Israeli ambassador, frequently a Kurd. sometimes Shi'a Iraqis. Once even a representative of Hamas. I am not sure they get paid.

This one was just a Syrian expatriate/exile, and we know what expatriates/exiles tend to think about their own country. And sure enough, she does.

Posted by: alexno | Aug 20 2011 9:14 utc | 17

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