Syria Puts on Mass Rally in Support of Assad
It was a struggle to reach Ummayad Square in Damascus, where many thousands of Syrians had gathered to cheer President Bashar al-Assad. The city had come to a near standstill Thursday for what the government billed as a “Global March for Syria” — a celebration, went the official narrative, of steadfastness in the face of a foreign-inspired conspiracy that has fueled a year of senseless violence.
In the square, men jumped up and down, flashing victory signs. Flags whipped in the wind: the black, white and red Syrian tricolor alongside the banners of Russia, China and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, some of Mr. Assad’s most stalwart supporters against the uprising that began one year ago.
In the crowd, a 25-year-old man, the son of an army officer, explained why he had come: “To show to the world that President Assad is our leader forever.”
Carrying a portrait of Mr. Assad, he declared, “The best solution is to give the army and security bodies a free hand to finish all these armed gangs and groups, who cover themselves with democracy and freedom slogans.”
But not everyone in the Syrian capital, or perhaps even in the crowd, was buying the government’s narrative. One man who avoided the protest said the government was acting “like a teenager,” anxious to prove its popularity; another called the rally “fabricated.” And an official with Mr. Assad’s Ba’ath Party said that not everyone had come as willingly as the soldier’s son had.
The government, the official said, had canceled a day off — a national holiday called Teachers’ Day — and “forced all teachers and schools to go,” to prevent antigovernment protesters from gathering to mark the anniversary of the start of the country’s turmoil.
“We will not keep squares empty to let anti-Assad protesters fill them with their demonstrations,” he said.