A year ago, when the Arab Spring began — or, as the events were then called, the revolutionary movements in the Middle East (which had already toppled two western-backed dictators in Tunisia and Egypt) — I remember being surprised, and also worried, when Syrian activists held a “Day of Rage” in Damascus on March 15, and, the day after, other protestors in Damascus — mostly well-established human rights activists — called for the release from prison of other human rights activists, many of whom had been held for many years.
I was surprised, because Syria had a reputation for almost unparalleled brutality, torture and disappearances, and worried because I feared the authorities’ response, and sure enough, many of the human rights activists were imprisoned after their protest, although most — though not all — were soon released. However, almost immediately it became apparent that there was another front to Syria’s revolutionary impulses, which was not focused on the capital, but on the town of Daraa, with a population of nearly 100,000, which is in the south east of Syria, near the border with Jordan.
There, a group of schoolchildren had scrawled graffiti on the walls of their school, which stated, “The people want the overthrow of the regime.” The boys, aged between 10 and 15, were taken away by President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces, and tortured and abused, but instead of quelling revolt, the torture of the children, and the subsequent killing of civilians at protests after visits to the mosque on Fridays, and then at funerals for those killed, spread to other towns and cities as the weeks rolled by. Read the rest of this entry »
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