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Syria protests must stick to nonviolence

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If any Middle East country needs a peaceful revolution, it is Syria. Its many minorities – the Kurds, Christians, and most of all, the ruling Alawites – fear that any violence used by the majority Sunnis to achieve democracy could quickly be used on them. And a civil war might draw in neighboring nations.

Without a firm commitment to civil disobedience, the largely Sunni protesters may not be able to gain the support of Syria’s minorities, its merchants, or even the Sunni soldiers in the Army.

Bashar al-Assad knows this. His ruthless crackdown on cities like Homs and Hama is designed to force people to take up arms, which in turn allows him to warn Syrian minorities to stick with him and endorse his iron fist. He seeks to turn the protests into a sectarian, violent cause.

The world has so far admired the discipline of Syria’s peaceful protesters who daily risk their lives, standing up to the regime’s bullets. More than 7,000 have been killed, a staggering slaughter on par with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

Less visible has been an underground nonviolent group in Damascus and other cities that uses pranks to win support. The “Freedom Days” movement has led general strikes, but it is best known for public antics, such as asking people to wear white T-shirts on particular days or sending donkeys into the streets with “Bashar al-Assad” written on their sides.

The group also has released helium balloons with “freedom” written on them. When soldiers shoot them down, colorful confetti with “freedom” written on bits of paper floats down. In January, the group organized a protest over shortages in which people banged on their empty fuel tanks.

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