Arab states silent over Syria Ramadan massacre

A makeshift gallows depicting the execution of former Syrian president Hafez al-Assd (top-C), his sons current President Bashar al-Assad (2nd L) and Maher (L), their brother in-law General Assef Shawkat and businessman Rami Makhluf (R), during an anti-regime protest outside the Syrian embassy in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 31, 2011. Syrian forces killed nearly 140 people including 100 when the army stormed the flashpoint protest city of Hama to crush dissent on the eve of Ramadan, activists said. PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images

Anti-Syria protests
A makeshift gallows depicting the execution of Syrian President Bashar Assad and others during an anti-regime protest outside the Syrian embassy in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 31, 2011.
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images

The Muslim religious festival of Ramadan started Monday, and it is supposed to be a month-long period of fasting during the day intended to teach followers of Islam about patience, humility and submissiveness to God.

In Syria, President Bashar Assad's regime has turned the start of the holy month into a lesson about submitting to his rule, as his tanks and troops used explosive and overwhelming force to crush protesters throughout the country for a second day. Although casualty tolls are impossible to confirm, witnesses say hundreds have died in the last two days, mostly in the western city of Hama.

In addition to the cruelty of Assad's tactics, another stand-out fact about this latest crackdown is the deafening silence of Arab governments, who are likely terrified of inspiring uprisings in their own countries, and are also likely to consider using similar tactics - as happened in Bahrain recently - to crush dissent.

"It's a crime! Where is the world? Why doesn't anyone see?" cried one distraught Syrian resident in the midst of the crackdown through the phone to an Associated Press reporter.

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In 1982, the city of Hama was the scene of a planned brutal slaughter of Muslim Brotherhood dissidents by Assad's father, in which thousands were killed. It has remained a hotbed of opposition to the Assad dynasty ever since, and memories of the 30-year-old massacre are fresh there.

The current crackdown appears aimed at preventing the Muslim holy month from inspiring further organized revolt in Hama and elsewhere. Perhaps because it is Ramadan, and because Arab governments and organizations are doing and saying almost nothing in opposition to Assad's crackdown, rage appears to be growing throughout the region.

"The world is watching the slaughterhouse in Syria. Shame on us," Egyptian presidential candidate and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said in a well-received message on social media site Twitter on Sunday, according to Reuters. "The peace of God be upon Syria's martyrs. Shame on every Arab and every human being," he also wrote in Arabic.

The U.S. and European states have imposed sanctions on the Assad regime and condemned the slaughter openly and repeatedly. However, the U.N. Security Council has done nothing, as veto-wielding Russia and China as well as South Africa, Brazil and India, which holds the council presidency this month, have opposed any action on Syria, verbal or otherwise.

The Ramadan massacre may have begun to turn the tide of official opposition a bit. The Russian foreign minister said his country was "concerned" over reports of Assad's troops using tanks against civilians, according the U.A.E.-based Gulf News. Also, regional power broker Turkey, once a crucial ally of Assad, has condemned his actions of recent.

"The footage from Monday's events has horrified us," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, according to Gulf News. "The use of heavy weapons in Hama against civilians has given me a deep shock."

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.

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