Cries of “Down, down Assad! Free, free Syria!” reverberated through the crowd as members of the Syrian and Egyptian communities in Austin led approximately 60 people in a rally at the Texas Capitol to raise awareness and show support for protesters in the two nations Tuesday night.
The rally was held in response to a crackdown on demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Egypt and ongoing abuses by the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, public affairs graduate student Nahed Abdelrah said.
“During the last week, about 25 people in Egypt were killed and 2,500 were injured,” Abdelrah said. “Many of them lost eyes because the police used guns and intentionally directed it at their faces. To ruin the life of an activist for speaking their opinion is horrific.”
Abdelrah said she hoped the rally would send a message that oppression is not acceptable.
“The message we want to convey is that everyone has the right to live in a free country where you don’t live in fear of persecution because you speak out or offer a different point of view,” Abdelrah said.
Abdelrah befriended Mouna Hashem Akil, a member of the small Austin Syrian community earlier this year at a rally to support movement toward democracy in the Middle East during the Arab Spring, Akil said. Akil said in 41 years of the Assad family’s regime, the dictatorship has prevented adequate coverage of brutality to reach foreign shores.
“Every once in a while we get five minutes on the news, but a lot of people simply don’t know how horrific and how brutal Assad is,” Akil said. “We have one of the most oppressive governments on the planet.”
Akil said she hopes people will contact their congressional representatives, ambassadors and other leaders to let it be known that the Assad regime must go.
Egyptian native Dina Guirguis, 30, was at the rally and told the story of a young protester in Tahrir Square who had written down his telephone number on his hand during the protest, so his mother could identify his body in case he died while protesting.
“That’s the spirit of the Egyptian people,” Guirguis said.
“They know they are going to die, and they still are willing to go anyway.”
As protesters chanted “from Austin to Cairo, oppressive regimes have got to go,” Guirguis said the voices gathered in Texas had already reverberated around the globe.
“I started tweeting your chants and they started to retweet in Egypt already,” Guirguis said.
Some protesters who have participated in Occupy Austin attended the event, assistant English professor Sneval Shingavi among them. Shingavi said it is important to see the link between the Occupy movements and the Arab spring.
“We should be very savvy about this one percent that has told us that they do what’s in the best interest of our economic benefit,” Shingavi said. “It’s the same one percent that tells Afghanis, and Iraqis, and Libiyans, and Syrians and Egyptians that the United States is working in their best interests.”
Shingavi said bringing democracy to Middle Eastern countries currently under oppressive regimes would be a dynamic issue, but that the U.S. should not intervene.
“If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from 10 years of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, it’s that where U.S. troops go, democracy does not follow,” he said.