Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Hama Under Siege

American media find it less important than Casey Anthony, but Hama has become a critical flashpoint in Syria's uprising:
"The death toll from the siege of Hama had by Wednesday night reached 28, with dozens more wounded, according to residents and activists. One resident told the Guardian he had counted 93 tanks on the outskirts of the city – an indicator of what may lie ahead if Hama's 800,000 people continue to defy the regime's leaders in Damascus.

"After four months of almost daily uprisings across Syria, Hama has become a focal point of a nationwide revolution. Residents claim they are standing up to the might of President Bashar al-Assad's military with rocks, slingshots and some light weapons.

"They suggest that the regime no longer knows what to do with Hama, which it has at times during the past two months saturated with troops and at other times abandoned.

"The central city was the scene of the biggest demonstration yet seen in Syria last Friday – a huge gathering of at least 200,000 people that electrified the protest movement across the country and sparked the latest military action."

To make sure the timeline is clear, at one point the Syrian military withdrew from Hama, which became the scene of even larger protests, including the on Friday that probably triggered the current attacks after the firing the the governor on Saturday. Anthony Shadid reports on the city under rebel control:
"But a government decision last month to withdraw its forces has ceded the streets to protesters, who have tried to create an alternative model to the heavy-handed repression that serves as a trademark of Baathist rule. Residents interviewed by telephone said they had begun working collectively in acts as small as cleaning a downtown square and as large as organizing the defense of some neighborhoods.

"More critically, the scenes of enormous, peaceful rallies there Friday, with their echoes of dissent in Egypt and Tunisia earlier this year, have served as a persuasive critique of the government’s version of events, which had won over large segments of Syrian society. Throughout the nearly four-month uprising, the government has pointed to the deaths of hundreds of its forces, in particular in the still murky events in Jisr al-Shoughour in the north, to argue that the unrest is the product of violent Islamist radicals with support from abroad."

The city of Hama was essentially destroyed in 1982, and over 20,000 were massacred as the regime of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, cracked down on Syria's Muslim Brotherhood. The Guardian, in the article linked first above, suggests memories of that contribute to anti-regime sentiment in the city today. On the note about political Islam, protestors in Hama are chanting "God is Great," but that is generally meant as an indictment of rulers who demand the sort of obedience due only to God, as seen in its use in the 2009 Iranian election protests.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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