The streets of Damascus were full recently, but it wasn't with protesters against the government. This time round, the tens of thousands of people in the main square of Syria's capital city were showing their support for President Bashar al-Assad.
In the wake of similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, Syrian people in the tens of thousands have taken to the streets in the past several months to protest against the authoritarian regime of Assad, who has continued in his father's footsteps in what is now a 40-year ruling dynasty. The government's response has been, in many cases, a violent one, with troops and tanks firing on protesters to get them to disperse. The death toll, as reported by human rights groups, is in the thousandds. Protests have taken place in many cities across the country.
The most recent one, however, was a protest against the protests. Despite the international outcry and the formation of an opposition council in neighboring Turkey, Assad still has support from a significant part of the population, including much of the military (despite some recent defections that have resulted in armed fighting between units). This was demonstrated by the sheer number of people involved in the Damascus gathering. People waved Syrian flags and wore T-shirts sporting Assad's picture and the Arabic word for "we love you."
The Damascus gathering was in part a reaction in support of the recent veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria for its actions in response to the protests. China and Russia both vetoed the resolution, despite serious support from other members of the Security Council, including the United States.
The sheer size of the pro-Assad gathering was, some observers say, a sign that despite all of the protests in recent months, the anti-Assad movement in Syria has little formal support. The Syrian National Council is mere days old and has no formal governmental substitute, as does the group of people now ruling Libya. The Syrian opposition also has no base of power, as the Libyan opposition did in Benghazi. A significant difference between the two situations, though, is that the Syrian opposition has not enjoyed any of the NATO support offered to the Libyan opposition, airstrikes of which now number in the tens of thousands.