Syrian Protesters Aren't Turning Out at Pre-Hama Offensive Levels
But they're still marching in the face of an escalating crackdown
In reporting on Syria's protests today, Al Jazeera provided some information we normally don't get in accounts of the country's now-routine Friday demonstrations: a city-by-city estimate of the number of protesters who took to the streets, courtesy of the Syrian Revolution Coordination Union, which Al Jazeera identifies as a "grassroots activisits' group." The breakdown suggests that, in total, a little over 125,000 Syrians marched today in around ten cities or towns. The numbers, of course, aren't precise; there appear to have been uncounted rallies in locations such as Daraa and Qamishli, and some activists are providing news outlets with different estimates for particular demonstrations. But the numbers still offer us a way to take the temperature of the protest movement in broad strokes after a week that witnessed a brutal Syrian military offensive on the central city of Hama.
One of the more surprising revelations from the numbers is that that the largest protest took place in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, which also experienced a crackdown this week and appears to be bracing for another. An estimated 70,000 people demonstrated, which is arguably a strong turnout for a city with a population in the hundreds of thousands. In Homs, a city of 1.5 million that experienced its own bloody crackdown a couple weeks ago, an estimated 30,000 people--or around two percent of the population--took to the streets. The crowds in the capital, Damascus, and its suburbs were relatively small (though clashes with security forces still proved deadly), and Syria's second-largest city and commercial capital, Aleppo, remained quiet. No city, moreover, came out like Hama did before this week's crackdown, when around half of the city's 700,000 residents were regularly taking to the streets. And, if the Syrian Revolution Coordination Union's breakdown is directionally accurate, the overall number of demonstrators today was significantly lower than the million-plus protesters that activists estimated on successive Fridays in July.
While one might look at these numbers and conclude that intimidation or the toll of an over four-month-long uprising is thinning the ranks of protesters, there are a couple important caveats to consider. The massive protests recorded on Friday, July 15 and Friday, July 22 were buoyed by huge rallies in Hama and Deir al-Zor, both of which have since become targets of major military operations. And as Al Jazeera's Rula Amin notes in a report this afternoon, Syrians are still pouring out into the streets despite these large-scale assaults. "This Friday had a special message to the government," she explains. "Despite the intensified government crackdown against protesters, especially in Hama, the demonstrations will continue and protesters say they won't be deterred." Here's the report: