With each news update, the dramatic series of events in the Middle East fueled a demonstration in downtown Chicago today that attracted about 300 demonstrators, many of them cheering on what they see as a democratic revolution sweeping across the Arab world.
First came the news that government soldiers in Syrian security forces had killed 11 more people Saturday after firing their weapons into crowds of mourners who were attending the funerals of the more than 100 protesters killed the day before.
Waving signs in Grant Park, the Chicago protesters began chanting “Bashar the butcher,” in protest of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s reaction to the bloody uprising that began there last month.
“That people are in a funeral, and their own government shoots them –- (this regime) has no respect for anything, they have no morals to stop them,” said Abdul Akhras, 64, of Burr Ridge, who moved from Syria in the 1980s and is now among the nearly 4,000 Syrians currently in Illinois.
“I’m really afraid that they’re going to crush everybody, no matter what the cost,” Akhras said. “If they have to kill a million people, they will kill a million people if that’s what it takes to stay in power.”
As the peaceful crowd’s energy increased, also voicing frustration at the violence against rebels in Libya, word filtered through that Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, agreed to step down Saturday in response to ongoing protests in that country.
That triggered cries of joy that echoed through the park as curious passersby looked on.
Yaser Tabbara, a Syrian-American human rights lawyer, called on Syrians in the United States to join what he described as a “neo-pan Arabism” spreading across the world in the wake of the Middle East uprisings that include the overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
“One of the most amazing things about the pro-democracy movement that’s swept the Arab world entirely is that it has been non-ideological, non-Islamist, leaderless,” Tabbara said. “People are springing to action just in reaction to what’s happening in that part of the world. Enough is enough and the time is up for these decades-old fossilized dictators.”
Many in the crowd remained optimistic that new leadership and democracy would prevail in the region, despite the news that killings in Syria continued Saturday.
“These (dictators) try to be very brutal, and later on people will really wake up. It’s a natural cycle, no question. Otherwise there would be no justice,” said Abdul Tabara, 72, a Syrian living in Chicago. “We have these examples now –- Tunisia, Egypt –- so why not us?”
Source: Chicago Tribune