A large banner proclaimed the demonstrators’ allegiance to the Syrian National Council: ‘No! To imaginary opposition, fabrications of Assad’s gangs. The SNC unites us, factions divide us.’ All around, mountains of rubbish cluttered the streets; ever the since the revolt started, refuse has no longer been collected from opposition neighbourhoods. Songs and dances, which take the form of zikr, the mystic dances of the Sufis, roused the crowd, while the leaders chanted slogans: ‘Idlib, we are with you! Teblisi, we are with you! Rastan, we are with you until death!’ This yearning for a union of communities, faced with the regime, was explicit: ‘We are not rebelling against Alaouites or Christians! The people are one!’ ‘Wahad, wahad, al-shaab al-suri wahad!’ shouts the crowd, ‘The Syrian people are one!’ Standing on a man’s shoulders, a red-headed boy of about 12 called Mahmoud led the crowd, chanting the cult poem by the murdered Ibrahim Qashoush, ‘Get out, Bashar!’
What is striking in these exuberant demonstrations is the power they produce. They serve not only as an outlet, a collective release for accumulated tension; they also give energy back to the participants, fill them with a little more vigour to endure. The group generates energy and then each individual reabsorbs it; that is also the point of the music and dancing. They’re not just provocations or slogans, they are also, like the Sufi zikr, ways to generate and receive strength. The Syrian revolution – a rare thing – survives not just because of the weapons of the FSA, or even the courage of the rebels; it keeps going because of joy, dance and song.