In Egypt, former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison and the former Minister of Tourism Zuheir Garana to five years, the New York Times reports. Ousted President Hosni Mubarak is under interrogation in a hospital in the resort town of Sharm el Sheik; his sons, Alaa and Gamal, share a cell in Torah prison in Cairo. The Egyptian army remains in charge of the country, with the promise of presidential elections to be held in November.
The January revolution in Egypt has inspired protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa. But the chances for a similar uprising in Syria seem, tragically, to be waning as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad extends its authoritarian crackdown of demonstrators. Three cities — Dara’a, Banias and Homs — have been besieged by tanks and troops; residents are afraid to leave their homes as snipers are stationed on rooftops.
Noting that foreign journalists have been barred from reporting from Syria, the New York Times Lede blog has posted some videos in which “peaceful protests” are “disrupted with force.” Reporter Anthony Shadid was allowed to visit the Syrian capital of Damascus on Monday to interview Rami Makhlouf, a powerful businessman (he has extensive holdings in telecommunications, real estate, transport, banking, insurance, construction and tourism) and childhood friend and cousin of President Bashar al-Assad. In this interview, Makhlouf says that Syria will fight the protesters “to the end”:
“If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel,” he said in an interview Monday that lasted more than three hours. “No way, and nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid, anything happens to this regime.”
Asked if it was a warning or a threat, Mr. Makhlouf demurred. “I didn’t say war,” he said. “What I’m saying is don’t let us suffer, don’t put a lot of pressure on the president, don’t push Syria to do anything it is not happy to do.”
His words cast into the starkest terms a sentiment the government has sought to cultivate — us or chaos — and it underlined the tactics of a ruling elite that has manipulated the ups and downs of a tumultuous region to sustain an overriding goal: its own survival.
Nonetheless, says the New York Times, the fact that the uprising has occurred — is occurring — “has demonstrated the weakness of a dictatorial government that once sought to draw legitimacy from a notion of Arab nationalism, a sprawling public sector that created the semblance of a middle class and services that delivered electricity to the smallest towns.” But now Syria is no longer able to “deliver essential services or basic livelihood” and its government has resorted to force to put down a “degree of dissent that its officials admit caught them by surprise.”
According to the Guardian, Syrians — including women, children and some so wounded they had to be dragged wrapped in “cheap synthetic blankets” by others — have been fleeing their own country via the southern border into Lebanon. Refugees have sought to flee to the north Lebanese city of Tripoli. Some fear that the uprising in Syria and the government’s clampdown, suggest that the struggle “appears to be taking on more of a sectarian insurrection than the other revolutions that have roiled the region this year.”
The Guardian describes the religious differences in the region:
Tripoli — Lebanon’s second largest city — is predominately Sunni, like many of the Syrian protesters, but has a significant population of Alawites, who ethnically and religiously identify with their co-religionists at the top of the Syrian regime. Violence between the two communities has regularly flared over the past 30 years, including street battles during the summer of 2008 that killed at least 100 people. Security officials and residents fear a return to violence as the situation in Syria escalates.
Before the crackdown by the Lebanese army, hundreds of Syrians from Tell Kalakh had been able to flee into Lebanon. The Guardian describes the dismal circumstances of the refugees:
Abu Mahmoud, and other Syrians from the town, described a terrifying environment in which tank and heavy machine gunfire regularly strike into the centre of the city, hitting unarmed protesters.
“There are dead bodies in the streets and snipers will shoot anyone who tries to move them,” he said. “If you’re wounded, sometimes no one can reach you and you die slowly on the street. And anyone who tries to get to a hospital is arrested immediately. Even if you’re not a protestor and your home is struck by bullets, there’s no medical care, unless you can cross the river into Lebanon.”
Abu Salim, another Syrian from the town hiding in Lebanon, said: “It started out as non-violent protests for more freedom, but as they shot unarmed people and arrested and mistreated our women, we knew we had to fight or we would die. We are a religious people and to mistreat our women is a grave offence.”
Among those who made it across the border were several men suffering head injuries, including a small group who were dragging five wounded men wrapped in blankets with them.
Some of those wounded were brought to a hospital in Tripoli where they were placed under arrest as they lay in their hospital rooms by Lebanese military intelligence agents, who claimed the Syrians had failed to get proper entry stamps on their passports when they entered Lebanon.
But over the weekend, refugees have been arrested within hours by Lebanese intelligence agents following orders to prevent residents of the Syrian border town of Tell Kalakh from escaping the violent crackdown by Assad’s Ba’athist regime. The Lebanese army has refused to comment on claims that it is colluding with Syria.
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