Friday’s demonstrations in Syria have been dubbed “Day of Departure” protests. Turns out pro-democracy activists in Syria use a Facebook page to vote on a name for each Friday protest. Lisa Mullins speaks to the BBC Arabic Service’s Wael Tamimi about this novel use of social networking.
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Lisa Mullins: There were huge anti-government protests in Syria, today. In fact, they were said to be some of the biggest demonstrations yet, against the Syrian regime. Activists say that hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets around the country to demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down. The government responded with violence; Several people were reportedly killed. Some of the protests in Syria are being coordinated by activists using Facebook, and the protestors are also using social media to come up with names for their demonstrations. Today, in fact, the protests were dubbed “Depart Friday.”Wael Tamimi is a Syrian broadcast journalist with the BBC’s Arabic Service. What does “Depart Friday”mean?
Wael Tamimi: Actually, it means a command for Bashar al-Assad- President Assad- that you have to leave, now. The protestors across Syria, as you have just said- hundreds of thousands- They are saying the words -Depart. Leave. Bashar Assad, you have to go. Now.-
Mullins: Can you give us some of the names of previous Friday protests, and whether or not they all carry a message like that?
Tamimi: Most of them were carrying messages. Last Friday, it was “The Friday of the fall of Legitimacy.”It holds very big meaning that the regime has no legitimacy, whatsoever, and the regime has got to go- got to fall. So they name it “The fall of Legitimacy,”and as what happened to day, also, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Syrian cities. The Friday before, the named it “Prominence Alawite,”a rebellion against the French occupation in Syria. You know that President Assad is from the Alawite minority, a sect of Shia. They want to give the message to the rest of the Syrian people that it’s not a Sunni Muslim uprising against minorities, so they wanted to name it by the name of this guy in a clear show of solidarity and national unity. So they are always choosing symbolic names, if you like.
Mullins: So the names are supposed to be symbolic, and they are voted on by anyone who goes to this particular Facebook site, and we’re going to make a link, in fact, on our website, theworld.org. Who’s doing the voting, and how does it work?
Tamimi: 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, and they started to put names on their pages maybe on Monday and Tuesday of each week, and then let the people vote on it. “Everyone, you can vote for the name. Everyone can vote for it.”Then, the results would be announced on Wednesday evening, and then the name would be adopted on Friday.
Mullins: What does this represent in terms of the larger picture of how social media is still making an impact? To what extent is it?
Tamimi: Actually, I can easily say, without social media networks, there would be no uprising in Syria. The Facebook, Youtube- more than Twitter, actually, because Twitter is not very popular in Syria- Facebook and Youtube are the major factors of the uprising in Syria. Yesterday, there were many protests in Allepo, Syria’s second largest city. It was totally organized and coordinated by the Syrian Revolution page on Facebook. The Syrian regime is preventing any independent media from going inside Syria, and the only way to see the pictures of the protests and the protestors is through Youtub Facebook.
Mullins: Alright. We’re going to make a link, once again, to the activists’ Facebook. It’s in Arabic. We’re going to make a link, anyway at theworld.org. This is where Syrians are voting on the Friday protest names. Wael Tamimi, of the BBC’s Arabic Service in London. Very nice to talk to you.
Tamimi: Thank you.
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