Syrian Gov’t Besieges Homs Ahead of Friday Demonstrations

AP reports that most people were trapped in their homes as gunfire crackled in the background in Homs, Syria, the country’s third-largest city on Thursday. Government troops have the dissident city under siege.

Aljazeera English reports on the crackdown on Homs.

Elsewhere in the country on Thursday, people in towns and cities held a general strike, in preparation for demonstrations on Friday.

A report done in Beirut for the Carnegie Middle East Center by its director, Paul Salem, is bearish on al-Asad’s likely ability to hold on. Salem points to capital flight and economic downturn and suggests that the middle and business classes are likely to turn on al-Asad if the protests continue. Me, I’m not sure the middle and business classes are so decisive in a place like Syria. I remember that in 1975, people in Beirut used to say that there wouldn’t be a civil war because it would be bad for business. But the civil war came, and the middle and business classes fled to Paris.

It is the officer corps and the Damascus and Aleppo urban masses who will be decisive here.

Protesters are aiming to make Friday a day of protest for national unity after some sectarian violence last weekend in Homs between Shiite Allawis and Sunnis and Christians, which the opposition maintains was deliberately provoked by government agents seeking to divide and rule. Allawis are about 10 percent of the population, and follow an esoteric folk religion. I.e. they are not like the Shiites of Iran and Iraq. The upper echelons of the ruling Baath Party, including the family of president Bashar al-Asad, is Allawi, causing some Sunni resentment. Christians are also about 10 percent of the Syrian population. Minority regions have been generally less supportive of the protest movement because Allawis and Christians are afraid the fundamentalist Sunni Muslim Brotherhood might take over if al-Asad falls. The Baath Party, a repressive one-party apparatus, is secular and does not discriminate against the religious minorities.

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