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Campaign for upheaval in Syria fizzles

DAMASCUS, Syria - Syria's president recently boasted that his country, one of the Arab world's most stifling regimes, is immune to the upheaval roiling other Arab countries. He was proven right - at least for the time being.

A weeklong online campaign failed to galvanize the kinds of mass protests that have rocked Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks. In fact, no one showed up Friday and yesterday for what were to be "days of rage" against the Syrian president's iron-fisted rule.

By yesterday afternoon, the number of plainclothes security agents stationed protectively in key areas of the old city of the capital, Damascus, had begun to dwindle.

"The only rage in Syria yesterday was the rage of nature," wrote Syrian journalist Ziad Haidar, in reference to a cold spell and heavy rain lashing the country.

But it was more than just the weather that kept Syrians at home. A host of factors - including intimidation by security agents and President Bashar Assad's popular anti-Israel policies - kept Syria quiet this weekend.

"Syria has its own set of peculiarities that make it quite different from Egypt and Tunisia," said Mazen Darwish, a journalist who headed the independent Syrian Media Center until it was closed down in 2009.

A major difference is that Assad - unlike leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Jordan - is not allied with the United States, so he is spared the accusation that he caters to American demands.

Assad told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Monday that Syria is insulated from the upheaval in the Arab world because he understands his people's needs and has united them in a common cause against Israel.

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