Syria: political vultures circle in
Deadly repression is unabated in Syria, where security forces killed at least 70 demonstrators during Friday protests on June 3, according to activists' accounts. This was one of the highest single-day death tolls in the course of the uprising, and some activists said the day's final toll could be 100. Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least 60 people were killed in Hama, where President Bashir al-Assad's father Hafez crushed an armed revolt 29 years ago by killing up to 30,000 people and razing parts of the city. (Reuters, June 4)
Washington's neocons are clearly heartened by this bloodshed, and see it as an opportunity to augment it with US bombardment, as in Libya. When the uprising began three months ago, Elliott Abrams immediately started calling for the US to embrace a program of regime change. (WP, March 25) More recently, so-called "moderate" Fareed Zakaria has done the same, while wimp-baiting Obama for his supposed inaction. (CNN, June 3)
Assad meanwhile is attempting to play a divide-and-conquer card to ride out the storm, exploiting Syria's ethnic divisions. We've already noted his attempts to exploit the Kurds, promising redress of their long-standing grievances in exchange for their loyalty. To their credit, they seem not to have taken the bait. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same of the Druze of the Israel-occupied Golan Heights, who last month staged a "solidarity rally" for Assad at the village of Buq'ata. Clerics, women and children waved Syrian flags and portraits of Assad, and chanted Syrian songs. "We came out to support the leader of our homeland, whose leadership is being undermined," stated local protest leader Yussef Safdi—who explicitly dissed the anti-Assad protesters, adding, "Instead of solving domestic problems, they riot and harm Syria." (YNet, April 2)
On June 4, the Golan Druze again mobilized for a Naksa Day rally, commemorating Israel's seizure of the Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War. But this time, Israeli authorities sealed off the village where the Druze sought to gather for the rally, and they were forced to hold their protest at a road checkpoint. (YNet, June 4)
In short: The Syrian protesters and the Golan Druze alike have very good reason to be angry and to protest. But they had both better beware of their casues being exploited by those who mean them no good.