Last week, before the Facebook polling closed for the name of the April 13 protests -- the day after the U.N. ceasefire deadline, the day in which solidarity was key -- one name was in the lead: the Friday of the Armies of Islam. Yet another divisive (and completely off message) choice. This time, however, peaceful activists were ready to take action and fight back in a battle for the Friday name.
On Wednesday, April 11, media activists on Facebook and Twitter began a campaign to "rock the vote" for Friday's name. They advocated the secular, inclusive choice, "A Revolution for all Syrians." It was an intense campaign. Usually around 8,000 votes are cast each week, but last week there were more than 30,000. It was as much a battle between Islamic sentiment and secular inclusiveness as it was a struggle between those dedicated to solely an armed resistance, and those who still valued the power of nonviolent activism.
The gap between the two names slowly narrowed, and eventually the message of unity won by almost 2,000 votes. This small but significant victory unleashed palpable excitement among Syria's online activists: There was a sense that they had been heard and gained control of the revolution's message, at least for the moment. It was a needed boost of energy to a group of worn-out activists and, more importantly, it proved that a revolution within the revolution was not only possible but necessary.
practice of naming the Fridays of the revolution was inspired by their Yemeni
counterparts, who did the same thing during their revolution. The first Fridays
were named by the Revolution page's administrators, and reflected the popular
aspects and crucial demands of the revolution: Friday of Dignity, Friday of the
Martyrs, Friday of Freedom for Detainees, etc. The names grew to have such
influence on the street that the various opposition groups decided everyone
should have a say in naming each Friday. In an exercise of online democracy, a
voting system was established on Facebook with a weekly suggestion of seven
potential names -- two nominated from the Revolution page, two from the Local
Coordination Committees within the country, two from the Revolutionary Councils
inside Syria, and one from the what is called the "red rose" group representing
pacifists and secular individuals.
Some weeks, the names referred to current events, while others seemed to be random and at odds with the principles of the revolution. Fridays that request some sort of intervention have become common: There has been a No-Fly Zone Friday, for example, and Buffer-Zone Friday, a reference to the idea of setting up a safe zone for anti-regime Syrians along the Turkish border. Some Fridays seek to legitimize certain opposition factions -- for example, "The Syrian National Council represents me Friday" and "The Free Syrian Army protects me Friday." In fact, the Free Syrian Army was dedicated three separate Fridays of support.
The Friday names both stem from the street and in turn influence it. Especially for the politically charged names, the process seems to work in a cycle of forced legitimization: the Revolution page suggests the names, people on Facebook vote, the name is raised on banners held up by the people, who in turn give legitimacy to the name that was given to them. The name becomes a part of the revolution's timeline -- each week, it appears in media reports and video clips as the guiding principle behind the protests.
In the last two weeks, the need for active voices of nonviolent resistance was apparent in efforts both inside and outside Syria. One instance of Syrians being inspired by the world outside their borders was a flash-mob protest in the Sham City Center Mall in Damascus, which emulated flash-mob protests that have been popular for months with university students across American and Canadian cities, though of course without the same level of danger.
Another example of youth activism occurred in the early morning hours of April 12, the first day of the Annan ceasefire, when a large group of University of Aleppo students created a human SOS formation on campus grounds. Armed regime thugs soon arrived, locking the gates to trap the students. Some were beaten and arrested in the aftermath.