Syrians are organising campaigns on Facebook and Twitter which call for a “day of rage” in the capital Damascus this week, taking inspiration from Egypt and Tunisia in using social networking sites to rally their followers for sweeping political reforms.
Like Egypt and Tunisia, Syria suffers from corruption, poverty and unemployment, and all three nations have seen subsidy cuts on staples such as bread and oil.
Syria’s authoritarian president has resisted calls for political freedoms and jailed critics of his regime.
The main Syrian protest page on Facebook is urging people to protest in Damascus on February 4 and 5 in “a day of rage”, with the goal to “end the state of emergency in Syria and end corruption”.
The number of people who have joined Facebook and Twitter pages calling for protests on Friday and Saturday is still relatively small, and some are believed to live outside the country.
Social networking sites were integral to rallying protesters in Tunisia and Egypt, but Facebook is banned in Syria, which makes organising more difficult – even though many Syrians manage to access the social networking site anyway.
More than 2,500 people have joined the page calling for the protests, with another 850 joining a page in favour of President Bashar Assad.
Mr Assad, a 45-year-old British-trained eye doctor, inherited power from his father Hafez in 2000 after three decades of authoritarian rule.
He has since moved slowly to lift Soviet-style economic restrictions, letting in foreign banks, throwing the doors open to imports and empowering the private sector.
But Mr Assad has not matched liberal economics with political reforms and critics of the regime are routinely locked up, drawing an outcry from international human rights groups.