The Assad regime in Syria is clamping down even on small demonstrations supporting the people of Libya against Qaddafi. At the same time it is doling out economic concessions. The combination suggests a regime in fear of working-class upheavals.
On 23 February about 100-150 Syrians demonstrated in solidarity with Libya’s struggle against Qaddafi in front of the Libyan embassy in Damascus. They called for Qaddafi’s downfall.
Click here for video clip.
Syria Comment says: The demonstrators were chanting “peacefully, peacefully”. One demonstrator wrote to say that a number of the participants were kept from the protest and abused by police in riot gear. “7 young people were captured and violently questioned for a few hours. A girl was beaten badly by the riot police among dozens of young men and women who were only trying to reach the embassy in solidarity with Libyan people. We were chanting peacefully, peacefully but still the police punished us and prevented us from reaching the embassy".
Reporters Without Borders has published an article condemning the arrest of a number of young Syrians who keep blogs over the last year: “Wave of arrests of Syrian bloggers.” Arab twitterers are heavily circulating a tweet that claims that the Syrian president has sent “3,500 Palestinians to help Qaddafi against his people.” This... does not seem credible, but suggests the volatile mood of the activists.
Syria Comment also carries a report from Phil Sands on the economic concessions:
Thousands of impoverished Syrians began receiving cash payments from a multimillion-dollar aid fund this week, as part of a government effort to tackle persistent high levels of poverty.
The step comes less than a month after heating fuel subsidies for two million public sector employees were unexpectedly raised by 72 per cent. The government had previously been in the process of cutting back subsidies, which it can ill afford to pay because of dwindling oil reserves.
Import duties on various staple foods, including rice, tea, coffee and powdered milk, were also cut this week in a move designed to lessen the impact of rising food prices that have hit ordinary Syrians hard.
Although the social aid fund has been in the pipeline for years, and the cabinet approved an outline of the programme in December, analysts in Syria say its implementation was accelerated after the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, when entrenched rulers were toppled in protests fired, at least in part, by widespread public outrage at growing economic hardship…..
Another economic analyst said that government programmes currently in place would not prevent deepening poverty.
“This year will see the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer,” he said. “We have 10 different socioeconomic classes in this country. One of them is rich, the rest are poor, and the poor are slipping down, down, down.”