On March 22, 2011, Syrian writer and publisher Louay Hussein was arrested by the Syrian security forces after a raid on his house in the Damascus neighborhood of Sahnaya, apparently because of Facebook postings he had made calling for protests. Hussein, a political prisoner from 1984 to 1991, had issued a call for solidarity with the demonstrators in Deraa. He was released a few days later.
Hussein is still active on Facebook. He is still calling for demonstrations and voicing support for besieged cities and towns. He knows that he is not safe, but that can't be helped, because for him, this is a revolution, not a protest.
According to Hussein and many others, there is no turning back. If they end the protests and go home, the regime will survive, and it will make sure that the people who organized or participated in the demonstrations will be arrested, tortured, or killed. Their only choice is to go on and die with dignity.
"There is a difference between a demonstration and a revolution. The authorities are asking us to obtain permission before demonstrating; but what's happening in Syria is a revolution. This is not about making demands of the authorities, whom we do not trust. This is about changing the regime, because we don't believe it is capable of reform," Hussein wrote on his Facebook page a few days after he was released.
In a phone interview with Hussein, who is still in Damascus, he told me that although the number of protesters is small in comparison with those in Egypt, Yemen, or Tunisia, we should look at the extent of the demonstrations. "Week after week, the scope of protests has widened to cover most Syrian cities and towns. And we mustn't forget how much courage it takes for a Syrian to participate in a demonstration. Quite simply, they are putting their lives at risk."
Hussein confirmed that there have been many trials in Damascus and Aleppo in the last few weeks, but the heavy security presence in these two cities makes it extremely difficult for the protests to take hold.
"The protesters will not go back home," he told me. The reforms promised by the regime do not involve any changes in the current political system. Therefore, as long as the regime refuses to take seriously this new political force—that is, the street—the proposed reforms are useless."
According to many activists in the streets of Syria, on Facebook, and on Twitter, as long as there are political prisoners in Syrian prisons, and as long as protesters continue to be humiliated, arrested, and killed, any talk of reform or dialogue is pointless. But they all know that if the regime survives, it will systematically go after the activists and protesters.
There were large-scale demonstrations all over Syria the last two Fridays in response to the regime's crackdown. The regime's strategy did not work. After realizing that extreme repression had failed, the regime decided to use the Israeli card.
Last Sunday, on the occasion of the Nakba, for the first time, a large number of Syrians and Palestinians residing in Syria marched to the Israeli border in the Syrian town of Majdel Shams. Many saw this as both an attempt by the Syrian regime to divert attention to an anti-Israeli movement and a message to Israel from Bashir Assad, indicating that his regime can choose whether or not it wants to protect Israel.