By Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding-Smith
Threatening presence: an armoured vehicle of the Syrian military on the outskirts of Homs, one of the cities north of the capital Damascus where protests have taken place
Deir Ezzor, a city in an oil-producing region in the east of Syria, was preparing for a stormy Ramadan. For weeks, the protest movement led by students had been staging mass demonstrations in a locality known for its defiance. The youths were determined to step up their campaign during the holy month, taking advantage of the potential of greater numbers flocking to mosques for evening prayers to swell the crowds.
“Syria is not as rich as Libya. Assad cannot hold on for ever. The regime will be economically suffocated before it falls politically,” predicts Mr Shobokshi. The emerging political opposition remains spontaneous and localised, its ability to form a national front hampered by the repression.
From the first days of Syria’s uprising in March, when tribes took to the streets in the impoverished southern city of Deraa to demand the release of 15 children arrested for scribbling anti-government graffiti, Mr Assad has displayed what to many seems a mixture of arrogance, inconsistency and miscalculation.
As both protests and crackdown spread – from the coastal city of Baniyas to Homs and Hama in the centre, Jisr al-Shughour in the north-west and into the Damascus suburbs – increasing numbers were led to question the government’s narrative that security forces were protecting civilians from terrorists in an otherwise tranquil country.
-This commentary was published in The Financial Times on 10/08/2011
-Additional reporting by a correspondent in Damascus and Abeer Allam in Riyad