YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Syrians take to night protests to outwit security forces

In a cat-and-mouse game with Syrian security forces, young protesters, helped by residents, are staging demonstrations at night that move from neighborhood to neighborhood as troops move in.

May 23, 2011|By Roula Hajjar, Los Angeles Times
  • A Syrian protester in the Jordanian capital, Amman, is silhouetted behind a Syrian flag with the word "Allah" (seen in reverse).
A Syrian protester in the Jordanian capital, Amman, is silhouetted behind… (Nader Daoud, Associated…)

Reporting from Beirut — Protesters challenging the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad are increasingly turning nocturnal, taking their uprising to the streets after dark to wear down security forces and stay one step ahead of the law.

It's a cat-and-mouse game that young protesters carry out with the help of other Syrians who oppose the regime.

"Night demonstrations are mostly organized by young people as well as university students who have learned to manipulate security personnel," said Wissam Tarif, director of the Middle East human rights organization Insan. "Protests begin in one area as residents of another area monitor the movement of security forces, so that by the time security arrives to subdue and arrest the demonstrators, they would have already moved to another location."

This kind of maneuvering began in the city of Latakia and has helped keep the momentum going for the 9-week-old uprising.

Nighttime demonstrations are also cultural events that bring together Syrians from different backgrounds, with artists, university students and businesspeople joining to express their opposition to the four-decade rule of Assad's family.

A video from Sunday night that has been circulating online shows residents of Talbeeseh, a western town, gathered for a vigil with candles that spell out "The regime will be overthrown." The protesters sing, "Take flight, take flight, take flight, bye, bye, bye Bashar, and have a good night."

Security forces have come down harshly on the protest movement, deploying tanks, troops and at times snipers, and activists estimate that 1,000 people have been killed so far in clashes. But the crackdown has merely made some protesters more creative in expressing their demands.

In another online video, said to be from Sunday night, residents march through dark streets in Hama chanting, "Leave us alone, we don't like you or your party," a reference to Assad's Baath Party.

"At night it is difficult for security forces to monitor our movements and makes targeting us with snipers more of a hassle. It also makes them [members of the security apparatus] less efficient the next day," said Shaheen, a protest organizer who requested that his last name not be published.

The activist said demonstrators would seize every opportunity to take to the streets.

"People think that protests on Friday are the largest because of the uprising's religious undertones, but that is just what the regime says to deal a blow to our movement by labeling us as fundamentalist," said Shaheen, reached via Skype. "Friday demonstrations are largest for logistical reasons; it's just easier to gather on that day."

Friday is usually a day off work in the Muslim world.

As protests spread, various segments of Syrian society have joined forces to seek Assad's ouster.

"Syrians from diverse backgrounds are participating in these protests — the secular and the religious," said Ian Taba, another activist.

According to Taba, the arrest of several Assyrians over the weekend after a raid on their headquarters in the northwest city of Qamishli has led even Christians who had been hesitant to support the protests to join the opposition.

Hajjar is a special correspondent.

Los Angeles Times Articles