How Syrian Activists Name Their Friday Protests

Facebook voting and video helps push the slogan to the streets

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One of the defining characteristics of the Arab Spring is that the heavy protests typically staged after Friday prayers have names. In March, for example, Yemeni protesters countered President Ali Abdullah Saleh's "Friday of Tolerance and Peace" with their own "Friday of Departure" (Saleh's departure, that is). These names can serve as a good way to take the temperature of an uprising at a given moment in time. During the "Your Silence Is Killing Us" Friday on July 29, Syrian demonstrators tried to summon the support of Syrians and Arab leaders who had stayed silent since unrest broke out in the country in mid-March. By last Friday--the "Friday of International Protection"--protesters had widened their appeal. This Friday, Al Jazeera, citing activists, is reporting that at least 26 people have been killed by Syrian security forces in protests across the country that have been dubbed, "We Will Continue Until We Bring Down the Regime."

While news reports often cite these bellwether Friday names, they hardly ever explain how the titles were chosen and by whom. The process sheds light on how the Syrian opposition, now entering its seventh month of defiance, operates, at a time when anti-government activists are trying to organize themselves better by forming the Syrian National Council with the goal of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad within six months and forming an interim government.

Here's how the naming worked this week. On Tuesday evening, administrators of the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page, a hub for footage and accounts from the uprising, posted a poll with eight possible names for Friday's upcoming protest that fans of the Facebook page could vote on. By our count, 14,861 people voted before the close of the poll on at midnight on Wednesday. As you can see below by the light blue shading, which indicates vote volume, today's slogan about persevering until the regime is overthrown was the clear winner, garnering an emphatic 11,762 votes. It's hard to tell where all the voters are from, but many appear to be Syrian (this writer inadvertently voted for the winning name when trying to highlight it). A Google Translate consult suggests some of the other proposed slogans urge protesters to fight Assad's "terrorism," bring about the "dawn of freedom," emerge victorious with "God's help," and forge a society with "schools, not arrests" (Arabic speakers, step in here if we've translated anything incorrectly).

Once the slogan is adopted, the Syrian Revolution Facebook page slips the name into many of its frenetic updates. Shortly after voting this week, the administrators posted what appears to be a pump-up video for the upcoming protests, with the winning slogan appearing on screen at the very end (0:47) after revolutionary slogans and footage from the uprising are projected on buildings to dramatic music. The spot looks like something you'd see before the NBA Finals gets underway:

The slogan is now also appearing in the red section in the upper left of the Syrian Revolution Facebook page:

What's perhaps most amazing is that the winning Friday name really seems to wend its way from social media to the street. In this video posted today on the Syrian Revolution Facebook page and allegedly from Hama, someone holds up the slogan on a piece of paper four seconds into the clip:

In an interview with PRI's The World back in July, Wael Tamimi, a Syrian journalist with the BBC's Arabic Service, explained that Friday protests names weren't always decided this way:

In the earlier days or month of the uprising, the name was chosen by the admins of the Syrian Revolution page on Facebook, so the people did not used to vote on the name of the Friday. But actually, they complained to the admin. They told him, “We want a democratic Syria, so you have to give us a chance to vote for the name of the Friday.”And actually, the admins of these pages responded positively.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.