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Evolving tactics, like flash mobs and night rallies, keep Syria's uprising non-violent in the face of a brutal crackdown.
“We organize a demonstration of a few dozen protesters, film it and then disappear in half an hour,” said Jameel, a university graduate unhappy with his job waiting tables in a restaurant, who has become a key organizer of protests in Qaboun.
“The secret police informers tell the security forces that a protest is taking place. They then send men who will arrive, but see nothing. With these short, sharp demonstrations we also exhaust the security forces.”
And then, when protesting is done, there’s the all night Takbeer, the cry of “God is great” echoing from rooftops across Qaboun, Kiswa, Qaddam and other protest centers where the mainly Sunni opposition has turned to a religious tradition to infuriate and exhaust the security forces dominated by members of the secular-leaning Allawites, an off-shoot of Shia Islam.
“Between the night prayer around 9 p.m. and the dawn prayer at 4 a.m. we go to the roofs of our homes and shout ‘God is great,’” said Alaa, from Qaddam.
“This is a peaceful, nonviolent form of civil disobedience. No one can say it is against the law. When we do that we really bother the security men who begin to shoot into the sky to try and drown our takbeer by bullets and fireworks.”
In Hajjar al-Aswad, a suburb to the south of Damascus, the repeated cries of the takbeer in early June drove the local security forces to such distraction that their commanding officer pleaded with local leaders to make it stop, according to Iyas al-Maleh, an opposition figure.
The takbeer, a tactic also used during Iran’s Green uprising, which apparently is still ongoing, is likely to become all the more potent through this month of Ramadan, where observant Muslims fast during daylight hours, often staying up until the early hours of the morning socialising and eating, whereas Allawites generally do not fast.
Such communal, nonviolent tactics appear to have galvanized the protest movements in all three neighborhoods in and around Damascus. By July 8, Qaboun’s residents got together to hold the largest protest to date inside the capital city itself. A week later, they did it again.
“We are more organized now,” said Abu Ammar, a 30-year-old protestor at the time.
“There are some people who write the banners, some film and some protect state buildings from vandalism, which could later be blamed on the protesters. Our women are with us and we are not afraid for them. The army and security men fire tear gas and live ammunition at us and we keep walking.”
By that date, a member of the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union (SRCU) in Qaboun, a local activist network, said protests had been going on daily in Qaboun for the past 51 days.
On June 17 Kiswa held its largest protest, with about 15,000 people, carrying a giant Syrian flag in response to one borne earlier in the week by pro-Assad demonstrators in Damascus. The following Friday they did the same thing and came under fire, which led to the death of a 13-year-old boy.
“The security forces abuse and humiliate us so we punish them, but in a nonviolent and peaceful way,” said Yasser from Kiswa.
“For this reason our uprising will succeed because we make their life hard and they cannot continue for another two or three months. But we can continue for years with these tactics.”
For security reasons, the identity of the journalist inside Syria who contributed to this report has been witheld.