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Most people interested in Syrian affairs used to believe that the country was extremely stable. The regime’s media fed this belief, constantly reiterating the assertion that Syria was the most secure and stable country in the world. In fact, however, this stability was merely a veneer. In reality, cracks and rifts appeared that damaged the Syrian society, undermined its cohesion, and created numerous social problems, generating frustration and anger that grew to unbearable proportions among broad sections of the population.
The incident that took place in the commercial market in Damascus on 19 February 2011 was the first symptom of this underlying frustration. On that day, a traffic policeman reprimanded the son of one of the traders. The young man rose up to defend his dignity and cursed the policeman, while other traders gathered round to support him. The situation escalated, requiring the Minister of Interior to intervene to persuade the traders to end their protest. While the incident may appear unremarkable, the citizens’ response was unprecedented and came as a surprise to the regime. What was taking place in Tunisia and Egypt undoubtedly played a role in emboldening the market traders to break the barrier of fear that had held Syrians in a stranglehold for forty years.