For nearly three months now, Friday prayers have become an ominous prologue to bloody deaths across Syria as security forces reportedly met anti-government protests with gunfire.
There was Great Friday, April 22, when at least 75 people were killed. It was said to be the deadliest day since the uprising started. A week later, about 50 people died in another round of rallies dubbed the day of rage. On May 6, the day of defiance, activists said that up to 30 people have been killed. Based on reports of human rights groups and activists, more than 500 people have died since mid-March. News agencies, however, cannot verify this; the Syrian government has banned foreign journalists from entering the country.
For Muslims, Friday is the day of assembly and communal worship, a time for earnest remembrance of Allah. And when the prayer is ended, then disperse in the land and seek of Allah’s bounty, and remember Allah much, that ye may be successful, says a translation of the Quran. In Syria’s tragic case, deadly violence rather than divine bounty has followed Friday prayers.
It started with graffiti: The people want the regime to fall. Fifteen kids, all under 17 years old, wrote these words on a wall in the town of Deraa in southern Syria and they were promptly thrown in jail. Their arrest and imprisonment set off the first in a series of major protests in the country.
Al Jazeera’s timeline of the Syrian unrest tells of protests, clashes and deaths on a daily basis. It also reports moves by President Bashar al-Assad to try to placate the growing opposition: sacking the governor of Deraa, releasing several protesters from detention, lifting the 48-year-old state of emergency. These efforts, however, hardly made a dent in quelling the uprising. It turns out that people tend not to believe you when you say the government “wants to keep up with the aspirations of the people” and then your security forces go and open fire on civilians.
The government has blamed foreign conspirators, armed gangs and criminals, and terrorist elements for the violence. It insists that the advancement of the military into anti-government protest hubs was done in pursuit of extremist groups in the area. It also maintains that troops do not confront protesters. With the government in control of the local media and no foreign journalists to report independently on events on the ground, the Syrian leadership apparently wants the rest of the world to just take their word for it. Meanwhile, news inside Syria is pieced together from reports of activists and raw videos of street protests, gunshots, dead bodies and funerals.
As the government continues to meet the people’s fight for political freedoms with bullets and tanks, it is highly unlikely that violence and death in the streets of Syria will stop anytime soon. How many more days of defiance and rage will result in a tally of casualties? How many more Friday prayers will end in bloodbath?
Photo: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (Photo Creative Commons)