Unlike 1982, Syria's Crackdown in Hama Will Be Documented

Cell phones and the internet are ensuring that the regime's actions are broadcast

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On Friday we highlighted footage of hundreds of thousands of people gathering in Hama, Syria's fourth-largest city, for the largest anti-government protest in Syria to date. The rally, which came shortly after security forces withdrew from the area, prompted analysts to compare the central city to the opposition strongholds of Tahrir Square in Egypt and Benghazi in Libya. But the dynamic has shifted in recent days as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fired the governor of Hama province and Syrian troops and tanks reportedly returned to Hama--surrounding the city, cutting off water and electricity, breaking through roadblocks erected by locals, arresting activists, and killing 11 people in street clashes on Tuesday, according to Al Jazeera. Syria's foreign minister, meanwhile, has denied that a military offensive is underway in an interview with CNN.

As Hama becomes a focal point of the Syrian uprising, many news reports are drawing parallels between the current showdown and the bloody crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez, on a revolt by the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama back in 1982, which killed 10,000 to 30,000 people, depending on the estimate. But in an interview with the BBC today, NPR's Deborah Amos, one of the few foreign journalists who's been permitted to enter Syria, highlighted a critical difference between Hama in 1982 and Hama today: cell phones and the Internet. She noted that there is "not one picture" from the 1982 crackdown, which helps explain why the casualty estimates vary so greatly. Now, she added, YouTube videos "are coming out in the hundreds, so there's no way to hide a brutal crackdown as it was in 1982. And that, I think, is what the activists are counting on. These are very smart people who understand the political implications of that kind of crackdown."

The interview comes on the same day that U.S.-based Syrian activist Radwan Ziadeh tells The Independent that Syrian security forces are trying to prevent protesters shooting videos on their mobile phones before conducting operations. "First they send people in plain clothes to target people on the balconies," she said. "They tell them to get inside their homes and sometimes fire into the air or threaten them. Then they send the security men in uniforms." Whether the report is true or not, footage from Hama is still streaming in. This video, highlighted by Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell, allegedly shows security forces entering the city today:

This footage, via Al Jazeera, appears to show a teenager wounded by gunfire in the city:
So, if the military operation in Hama is indeed underway, will technology compel the Assad regime to show restraint? NPR's Amos says the critical question is whether the Syrian military and government decides it can afford to "be seen by the world carrying out a huge and brutal crackdown, which is what it will take to subdue this town." Some activists think it could be Hama's symbolism, rather than technology per se, that could prevent the government from launching a full-scale military operation. Assad "knows that using military aggression against peaceful demonstrations in a symbolic place like Hama would lose him support even from Russia and China," a U.S.-based Syrian activist tells Reuters. But another activist tells the news agency that he thinks the regime, fed up with the mass protests in the city "has decided to subdue Hama one way or the other."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.