In 1982 an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Syrian city of Hama was crushed ruthlessly by the regime of Hafiz al-Asad, in one of the bloodiest repressions of an Arab revolt by its own government in modern times. Estimates of the dead range from 10,000 upward. Only Saddam Hussein's Operation Anfal in Kurdistan, or perhaps Qadhafi's current campaign in Libya, may rival it as a mass killing of a people by their own government. But outrage was limited at the time because the details and scale were slow to leak out.
Though the number of dead in Deraa last night is in no way comparable (somewhere between five and a few dozen depending on the account); what is clear is that the Syrian Army entered the ancient Omari Mosque (its foundations dating to the Islamic conquest and the Caliph Omar, and the present mosque dating from the 12th Century, shown at left), which had become a refuge of protesters. [Oops: I'm told that's the mosque in Busra (Bostra). It came from a Syrian tourist site.] The attack was tweeted to the world live, and YouTube videos have been appearing since the beginning of the ferment in Deraa, an ancient city, the Edrei of the Old Testament, and close to the Jordanian border. It isn't 1982 any more, and the world really is watching, though the ruthlessness of 1982 may still linger inside the present Syrian government.
What many will see as the profanation of an ancient Mosque is likely to add to the outrage. Some reports say the government of Deraa has been fired, but once again we have seen an Arab government crack down hard, thus fueling anger and frustration.
If they'd just let Mohammed Bouazizi sell his vegetables in peace, autocrats and crowned heads might sleep more soundly today.