Syrian Protesters Square Off, Settle In
SUSAN STAMBERG, Host:
Good morning, Deb.
DEBORAH AMOS: Good morning, Susan.
STAMBERG: You've been there for a little over a week. What is the mood like there in Damascus?
AMOS: On Friday, we were taken by the government to see protests in a Damascus suburb. And the security forces were not present. We were allowed to interview protesters. Also on Friday, there were mass rallies across the country in support of the regime. In Damascus, Syrians are going out again to dinner, to bars. They're now settling into uncertainty in this country that's been stable for years.
STAMBERG: And what about the opposition mood there, the people who are organizing the street protests?
AMOS: Well, they claimed that Friday was the largest protest yet. And this is after weeks of deaths and arrests. The videos uploaded on YouTube show that the largest rally was in the city of Hama. That's about three hours drive from Damascus. There, people demanded the downfall of the regime. It was also a party atmosphere, as was the pro-rally. The protesters carried a 10,000 foot flag through town.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
AMOS: This was a direct challenge to the pro-regime demonstrations, 'cause they also carried a big, long flag. And in Hama, residents were celebrating the departure of security forces and the army. They withdrew three weeks ago. It's not altogether clear why. But on June 3rd, there were violent clashes in Hama and more than 60 people died. By the next week, the security forces were gone.
STAMBERG: Wow. And Hama, it's a very sensitive symbol there. I understand there was an uprising there in 1982. The government crushed it, in what still is seen as the most brutal crackdown in the Arab world. So does that history explain the dynamics there now?
AMOS: In talking to people in Hama, they are also following the Cairo script. Here's what they were doing: There is this discipline on the street with these young committees cleaning up after the protests. They say they've scrubbed the anti-government graffiti from the walls, they make banners in protests and posters instead - some with a great deal of humor. So after the nationwide crackdown on protests and dwindling numbers, Hama residents say they hope to re-energize the movement with this mass of people that turned out for hours.
STAMBERG: Uh-huh. Well, after that rally, the provincial governor was dismissed. So the government, they didn't give any reasons for why he was fired. Is that related to the protest?
AMOS: So Syrians spent hours denouncing the government there, calling for the end of the regime, peacefully. And they were uploading their videos. But in talking to residents this morning, they say it's an ominous sign that the governor was sacked. And they worry that the security forces will come back.
STAMBERG: Thanks very much, NPR's Deborah Amos in Damascus. Thank you.
AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.