A final sacrifice in Syria?

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In the popular uprisings throughout the Arab and Islamic world in recent months, the sacrifice and suffering of one individual has proved to be a powerful catalyst and rally point for inspiring or reinvigorating the resistance of the people in the streets to the oppression of the regimes they challenge. The shooting of Neda, a young Iranian woman, during street demonstrations two years ago shocked the whole world and galvanized the opposition, which still bubbles under, to the Tehran leadership.

The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor who killed himself on December 17, 2010 in a final protest of the relentless humiliation and abuse he had been treated to by Tunisian authority, was the sacrifice that ignited an uprising among everyday people throughout Tunisia and quickly throughout the North African and Arab world. Regimes toppled in Tunisia and Egypt, and now teeter on the brink in Libya and Yemen. The status quo has been challenged in Ramallah and Amman and most dramatically and violently in Damascus, Syria where the decades long rule of the Assad family struggles viciously to maintain itself another generation.

Although more than 1,000 street demonstrators, children among them, have already been killed, the Assad regime may have just passed its own Bouazizi threshold with the apparent torture killing of a 13-year-old child. Hamza Ali al-Khateeb disappeared April 29 after being arrested by a notorious unit of Syrian air force intelligence during a demonstration in Saida in Southern Syria. On May 21 his badly mutilated body, showing clear evidence of the most gruesome torture—and a stark depiction of the malevolence of the Assad regime and the lengths it is willing to go to protect its hold on power and control of the nation’s economic order—was returned to his horrified family. Hamza had been shot three times; his body was covered in cigarette burns and bruises; he had been castrated. His father fainted when, despite the pleas of family and friends not to view the body, he pulled away the blanket that had been covering his child.

The abuse and murder of Hamza has further infuriated the Syrian street. Will it be enough to finally bring the Syrian merchant and middle class also into active resistance to Assad? A struggle that had appeared at stalemate may have reached its terminal point.

"I think what [Hamza's murder] symbolizes for many Syrians is the total collapse of any effort by the Syrian government to work with and listen to their own people," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington today. "I can only hope that this child did not die in vain," she said, "but that the Syrian government will end the brutality and begin a transition to real democracy.“


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