Damascus: When Funerals Turn Into Protests

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Syrian anti-regime protesters take part in a demonstration in Qusayr, 15 kms (nine miles) from Homs, on 27 February 2012. (Photo: AFP - Gianluigi Guercia)

By: Tarek Abd al-Hayy

Published Tuesday, February 28, 2012

While Damascus was busy preparing for the constitutional referendum to be held on Sunday, the neighborhood of Kafar Sousseh, in the heart of the capital, held a nighttime demonstration against the referendum in solidarity with Homs.

The protest, however, turned into a tragedy when five people were shot dead. Their funerals, which were bound to turn into anti-regime demonstrations, were held on Monday night.

Funerals in Damascus have become a main force for mass demonstrations as is the case in the flashpoint neighborhoods of Mezze, al-Midan, and al-Qadam, among others.

Getting to Kafar Sousseh is a nearly impossible mission with the heavy security presence. The area is home to tens of security centers and offices of various sorts ready to deal with any protest.

As soon as you approach the neighborhood’s al-Rifai mosque, you are advised by your cab driver to be cautious, especially by fellow cab drivers “who might add to their work another job and that is oppressing people.”

If you keep going inside the neighborhood, you notice a general strike is being observed. The stores are shut down to mourn the martyrs, according to the residents.

On the way, security cars drive by. They block the entrances of some neighborhoods while standing guard at others. You realize later on that they are blocking the area to prevent new people from joining the funeral protests.

Men and women gather next to the mosque. Some cover their faces, suspicious of anyone who approaches them.

Their answers to any questions are often ambiguous, as most of them know that they should be wary of the press.

The number of mourners increases steadily as do the security forces present.

Then the coffin of one of the dead, Khaled Abdel Aziz, arrives, while it appears that the family of another dead man decided to bury him quietly because his relatives did not want a fuss.

Prayers for Abdel Aziz end and the chants begin: “Father of the martyr...lift your head up high,” “We don’t forget the blood of martyrs,” and “The people want divine protection.”

Of course, Homs and its now famous neighborhood of Bab Amr were not absent from the chants of the protesters.

It was surprising that there were no banners expressing support for any of the cities under attack or praising the Syrian National Council (SNC) or the Free Syrian Army (FSA). And no one raised the green independence flag popular with the opposition.

Apparently, this was in response to a request from the neighborhood’s coordination committee, which decided not to raise any banners in order to avoid direct confrontation with security forces, said one demonstrator.

As the mourners approach to the cemetery, the security forces close in, but they don’t fire. The numbers at this point are a few thousand protesters.

As the funeral ends and the crowd gets smaller, some call out: “The FSA...may God protect you.” Others however quickly ask them to stop chanting for fear that shooting would ensue.

The protest continues for a short distance after the cemetery before dispersing gradually. Many demonstrators appear surprised that the security forces did not interfere.

Finally, the people disperse, each going in a different direction. But a few hours later, the scene is repeated for the funeral of another martyr, Alaa Harboush.

This time however the sound of gunfire dominates and scores are arrested, some involved in the funeral-come-protest and others that have nothing to do with it.

Conflicting accounts emerged afterwards. Some told us that security forces fired on protesters after they attacked a man said to be a security informant. Others insisted that the reason for firing was the pro-FSA chants.

At the same time that Kafar Sousseh was having a funeral for one of its martyrs, only meters away, life was going on normally at two shopping malls.

The greatest shock however is when people going about their business were asked about the events nearby. They denied anything was going on, saying “spring is here and life is good.”

The answers of those who actually acknowledged that there are protests and funerals were stranger still, saying dismissively: “They can suit themselves, it’s none of our business.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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