| 20.07,11. 11:38 AM |
Syrian police thwart protests with mosque lockdown
How far are Syrian authorities prepared to go to prevent citizens from joining nationwide anti-government protests? In the north-eastern city of Aleppo, police have opted for an unusual “pre-emptive strike”.
Since the start of the popular uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in March, demonstrations in Syria have traditionally taken place on Friday, after midday prayers. Last Friday was no exception, with demonstrators walking out of mosques and onto the streets in towns and cities across the country, in protest against a recent wave of arrests targeting Syrian intellectuals who dared speak out publicly against the regime.
In Aleppo, however, hundreds of people were not able to join the marches. In a brazen attempt to thwart the protest, security forces had locked the doors of the city’s largest mosque during the noon prayer, trapping the crowd of worshippers inside. Video footage (below), shows a few of the younger men attempting to climb mosque walls to exit through the windows.
Authorities appear to be particularly intent on blocking protests in Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city and its economic capital. Since the start of the movement, its residents – mainly merchants and businessmen – have been slow to join the protests, apparently putting their economic interests before their democratic aspirations. Nevertheless, as our Observer explains, Syrian rulers fear that, were Aleppo to follow in the footsteps of more rebellious hubs like Homs or Deraa, this would permanently tip the balance in favour of the revolutionaries.
."If Aleppo responds to the call of the opposition, it will be the end of Bashar al-Assad’s regime"
Deldar is a student and political activist in Aleppo, and a member of the committee organising opposition protests there.
At the end of Friday prayers, the protesters were about to start demonstrating around the Amina Bent Wahab mosque, not far from the centre of Aleppo in the neigbourhood of Sayf Addawla. But as they went to leave, they were surprised to find that the security forces had surrounded the neighbourhood, and more specifically the mosque.
This is common practice in the city of Aleppo, where the authorities do everything they can to nip even the smallest demonstration in the bud. Here, more than anywhere else in the country, the authorities are afraid that the smallest protest could escalate into a much bigger movement. Indeed, the Internet is often cut and the security forces are present in high numbers, and not just on Fridays. I have witnessed cases of violence that were totally unjustified, such as groups of students who were harassed in the street simply because they had gathered together. The location of this mosque is of particular importance: it is situated not far from Aleppo’s university campus, which was the starting point for the few protests that have taken place in the city.
It should also be pointed out that the neighbourhood of Sayf Addawla has a reputation for being a particularly politicised area because, during the 1980s, it was the stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Aleppo has become a strategic city in the dispute between the authorities and the opposition. It is home to more than 1.5 million inhabitants, who represent a significant number of potential demonstrators for the opposition. It’s the country’s second city and its economic capital: if Aleppo responds to the call of the opposition, it will be the end of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”