Posts Tagged With: Alawis

Tripoli (Lebanon) and the repercussions of the Syrian uprising

A long analysis I wrote for IRIN on Tripoli’s clashes between the Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and its Alawi  ‘counterpart’ Jabal Mohsen.

Analysis: Bound by conflict, the Syrian-Lebanon crisis

tabbaneh mohsen

TRIPOLI, LEBANON, 25 June 2012 (IRIN) – For more than a generation, the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli has been a divided city, home to most of Lebanon’s Shia Alawi community, but also a stronghold of Sunni conservatism.
The two sects, in their respective neighbourhoods of Jebel Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, have been at odds since the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, with hundreds dying in the worst bloodshed in 1986. The road separating the two entrenched factions – appropriately called Syria Street – is the only demarcation line that still exists in Lebanon 22 years after the war ended.

In recent months, the outbreak of conflict in Syria and the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees into Lebanon has renewed and increased those tensions between Shia Alawis generally supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Sunni sympathizers of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the opposition.

More than 30 Lebanese from both sides have been killed in fighting between the two communities since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. While a fragile ceasefire in Tripoli – agreed in early June – seems to be generally holding, sporadic clashes happen on a daily basis and it is common to see civilians carrying weapons.

While there are clear risks of Lebanon being caught up in the Syrian conflict, the reverse is also true: Syrian antagonists are equally in danger of being dragged into age-old Lebanese sectarianism.

The Syrian conflict has already killed at least 10,000, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and displaced as many as 500,000 people inside the country, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and another 86,000 are registered refugees in neighbouring countries. Basic services are not running properly, and the economy has been hard hit, not only by the conflict, but by far-reaching economic sanctions, pushing up unemployment and the price of food. Lebanon, which has already suffered decades of war, is rife with poverty and political instability. Both countries have much to lose.

Socio-economic factors and politics

Sectarianism and political antagonism in Tripoli have already had very real consequences for ordinary people on both sides.

Mahmud, a local vendor in the alleyways of Tripoli’s market, points to the Alawi-owned shop next door, recently set on fire.

“The owner of this burnt shop paid the price of feuds between rogues,” he explains.

“If these unbelievers want Bashar al-Assad, they can go to Syria,” bursts out Omar, a long-bearded youngster, when asked about the shop. The risks for civilians here are large, with some Sunnis openly admitting that Alawi civilians could be further targeted.

“Now they don’t dare to leave their mountain, we would beat them again,” boasts Faysal, a talkative shopkeeper in Tripoli’s market, who praises his cousin fighting in Bab al-Tabbaneh. “Those Alawis who are still in the city centre are Syrian workers, not Lebanese,” he continues. “No one would harm them. But in case of a civil war, they will be killed, because wars know no ethical rules.”

If history is anything to go by, those made destitute by the clashes are more likely to be dragged into violence. As the International Crisis Group put it in abriefing in October 2010, for many Sunni youngsters in Bab-Tebbaneh, joining one of the many Islamist groups which have spread relatively freely since Syria’s military withdrawal provides an attractive alternative to idleness and social failure.”

Lebanese politicians have been accused of exploiting the frustration of these poor neighbourhoods, supplying them with weapons.
“External actors transferred their conflicts there [in Tripoli], backing local fighters in a struggle that was less costly, and more easily managed, than would be open warfare in the capital…, just as… local fighters use their struggles… to attract important outside support,” the 2010 Crisis Group briefing said.

Distrust in Lebanese army, intelligence

An enormous banner hanging in one of Tripoli’s main squares, al-Tell, reads: “In defence of the security and stability of Tripoli”. The whole city is plastered with these kinds of slogans. But behind the confident veneer, some residents are skeptical of the army’s ability to maintain the peace.

From behind a small stand on a street corner, a coffee vendor named Khaled says he doesn’t have much faith in the military.

“What do you want them to do? They stand aside!” he says laughing.

Weapons and Koranic commentaries pack the living room in the flat of Sheikh Bilal al-Masri, a Sunni leader fighting on Bab al-Tabbaneh’s front line. He says the army – which usually limits itself to standing between both sides – started doing its job when, on one occasion recently, it responded to gunfire coming from Alawi-majority Jebel Mohsen. But he stresses that the military remains divided by political rivalries.

Residents of Jebel Mohsen are also skeptical of the army’s ability to ensure their security.

“To us, [weapons] are more important than food,” Rifa’at ‘Eid, head of the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party (ADP), told the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar. “We have confidence in the army, but it cannot ensure our safety under certain conditions.”

The Lebanese army is generally considered a “spectator” in armed clashes, because party militias such as Hezbollah are much better equipped, and because Lebanese politics are so divided. Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s current government, as well as the Military Intelligence (mukhabarat al-jaysh) and theGeneral Security (al-amn al-‘aam) are believed to be aligned with Damascus, whereas the Internal Security Forces (quwwat al-amn al-dakhili) and its Information Branch (far’ al-ma’lumat) are closer to the opposition Saudi-backed 14 March coalition, analysts say.

Syrian opposition and Lebanese Sunnis: between sympathy and military alliance

In Tripoli’s government hospital, the tension is palpable. A nurse at the hospital showed IRIN bullet holes on the wall of one of the rooms overlooking Jebel Mohsen, suggesting the targets were the Sunni Syrian patients. The latter do not dare poke their heads out the window, for fear of being shot. The 50 Syrians in the hospital claim to be civilians, but the line between the armed opposition and the peace demonstrators is increasingly blurred.

Still, Tripoli remains one of the safest destinations in Lebanon for mostly Sunni Syrian refugees, due to the Sunni support for the uprising; and Lebanon has been a transit route for relief supplies into Syria. But analysts are increasingly questioning whether the ties between Lebanese and Syrian Sunnis go beyond mutual sympathy to military cooperation.
Samir*, a 23-old Syrian from Homs, now a member of a Syrian grouping of humanitarian and civil society organizations in Lebanon called Watan (Homeland), says there are clear boundaries to his involvement in the Bab al-Tabbaneh-Jebel Mohsen clashes: “If a Lebanese civil war breaks out, we will leave. We’re not here to export our revolution. We need Lebanon as a basis for our activities.”

Walid*, 27, who works for another humanitarian group, the Coordination Committees for Syrian Refugees’ Affairs in Lebanon, holds different views on the relations between Syrians and Bab al-Tabbaneh: “I wanted to volunteer as a fighter in Bab al-Tabbaneh, but they rejected me.

“I wanted to do it, because the Alawis from Jebel Mohsen were involved in killing demonstrators in my city, Homs,” explains Walid. “They came to support Alawis in Homs and slaughtered our people.”

Al-Masri, the Sunni leader, confirmed having turned away Syrian volunteers. But he says the links between pro-Syrian government forces on both sides of the border are stronger. He says Lebanese Alawis are supplied with weapons and supported on the ground by Syrian and Hezbollah officers.

Pro-Syria media give a different view of the situation, with an article in pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar accusing Riyadh al-Asaad, commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, of visiting Tripoli to survey the territory, looking for an “ideal buffer zone”.

Al-Masri denies both the existence of a 300-man Lebanese-Sunni unit within the FSA in Syria (as recently reported by Nicholas Blanford, Middle East analyst and author) and the presence of FSA camps in Lebanon. “We sent our men to Syria and they were rejected. They told us: ‘We don’t need you, but give us weapons, if it’s possible’.” He does admit to smuggling weapons and food to the FSA across the Lebanese border, by bribing Syrian officials.

Both the FSA and the pro-Syrian alignment led by Hezbollah have their reasons to deny having trespassed national borders. The first fears being blamed for igniting the existing tensions within Lebanon; the latter wants to prevent a new explosion of Sunni resentment. In a nutshell, no one wants to be blamed for a new Lebanese civil war.

But in the absence of a quick settlement with Jebel Mohsen, tensions in both countries are becoming increasingly intertwined, with analysts predicting that Lebanese Sunnis will eventually make use of their brethren across the border to fight their domestic enemies, namely Hezbollah. Already, tit-for-tat kidnappings have blurred the lines between the two conflicts, with Syrian Sunnis involved in kidnapping Lebanese Shias; Syrian officers involved in kidnapping Lebanese Sunnis; and Lebanese Sunnis involved in kidnapping Lebanese Alawis.

Who benefits from the clashes?

Analysts say both sides in Lebanon have something to gain from the clashes.

The anti-Syrian Future Movement (FM), headed by the former Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad al-Hariri, forced out of office in January 2011, has used the clashes as an opportunity to call for the current Prime Minister’s resignation, arguing he has not been able to ensure Tripoli’s security.

But in the eyes of Bab al-Tabbaneh’s fighters, as well as many analysts, the Syrian government has more to gain.

“The first interest of the Syrian regime is distracting the attention of the media from what’s going on in Syria,” al-Masri says. “Secondly, Bashar wants to pressure the international community by saying he’s capable of causing a civil war in Lebanon.”

Both Bab al-Tabbaneh’s fighters and ADP’s spokespersons told the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star that Hezbollah is supplying weapons to both Alawis and Sunnis in Tripoli, suggesting that the goal is to destabilize Lebanon – regardless of the victor – in order to draw attention away from the situation in Syria.

*not real names








Categories: Lebanon, Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alawi dissident voices his concerns about the Syrian uprising

An unpublished piece I wrote about an Alawi friend of mine, who fled to Turkey to avoid serving in the army. Even though he has never been a supporter of the regime, he has been reluctant to join the uprising for several reasons…

Alawi dissident: Intellectuals limited to Facebook in the Syrian uprising

By Andrea Glioti- Mersin (Turkey)

“I left Syria mainly for two reasons: I never wanted to serve in the army and, in the current situation, it would mean being killed whether because I’m an Alawi or because I’m automatically considered a supporter of the regime”, said Hassan ‘Ali, a 24 year-old IT sciences graduate from the countryside of Massyaf, who moved to Mersin one month ago. Hassan was lucky enough to leave the country on a bus without any need to be smuggled across the border, since his name was not blacklisted by that time. “If I was Sunni, I wouldn’t have been able to leave” he admits, while sipping some wine at the port. However, his situation in Turkey is not easy: he arrived without knowing a word of Turkish and started working in a bar to pay his hotel room, while hoping vainly to find a better job. He’s still an alien on the Turkish Mediterranean shores, strolling around in his bohemian outfit and greeting the few acquaintances from the bar.  Hassan is considering moving to Lebanon, his family is not in the position to help him, since the father works as a school employee and the only other source of incomes is a small shop. “Our economic situation got slightly better since my brother has been accepted for an exchange program in a military academy in Russia,” says Hassan, “nevertheless, I don’t have a good relation with my family anymore, since they believe I should be fighting the holy war of ‘Alawis against Sunnis and threatened to hand me over to security forces for my political views, when I was still in Syria”.

Hassan has been at odds with his religious family since long time, being an atheist nostalgic of the ‘50s, when Syrian communists enjoyed major freedoms and a wider appeal to the population. At the same time, he is critical of the religious trends within the Syrian uprising: “Nowadays, the Syrian revolution is led in the streets by Sunni religious leaders, whereas the intellectuals play a role limited to Facebook”.  The fate of secularists in Syria is a grim one, according to Hassan, who puts their chances as high as those of the Salafis in case of fair elections. “Both groups enjoy the support of 10-15% of the population, the difference is that Salafis are more likely to gain the support of Sunni popular classes”. However, in his opinion, the electoral outcome will be decided between nationalists and Muslim Brotherhood, depending on the party most capable of attracting Sunni educated classes. Sunnis account for 75% of the Syrian population.

On the other hand, Hassan understands some of the concerns of his family, due to the forms of sectarian violence he has witnessed in Masyaf. “Among Alawis, there is a sort of ‘consecration’ of a single case of violence, leading everyone to believe the community is targeted”, he points out, “but in the villages surrounding Masyaf at least 50 civilians have been killed by Sunnis and I knew personally three of them”.  In August, his uncle from Salhab was kidnapped by a Sunni armed group, who thought him a loyalist thug (shabih). After being blindfolded and threatened of death, Hassan’s uncle was liberated thanks to the mediation of an Alawi tribal leader. “We had many similar cases, they usually end with a prisoners exchange between Alawi and Sunni villages,” adds Hassan, “even in the case of my uncle, his village was already prepared to retaliate by kidnapping a large number of Sunnis”.

The sectarian cleavage is one of the reasons why Hassan took part only in two demonstrations in Damascus: the only silent sit-in organized under the approval of the Government, after peaceful demonstrations were formally legalized in April 2011, and the protests occurred in the university city in June. Hassan ascribes the sectarian drift of the revolution mainly to the Government, as a matter of fact, the Alawi identity has been the other factor which kept him partially detached from the uprising, being aware that any punishment would have been double for his alignment with the opposition. He also considers the emergence of Salafi radical groups in provinces like Idlib a result of the marginalization of those who had relatives involved in the Islamist uprising of the ‘80s. “Even the Sunni armed groups responsible of the attacks in Masyaf are not members of the Free Syrian Army,” adds Hassan, “they’re gangs of criminals, who were intentionally granted amnesty by the regime in April 2011”. The aim was to consolidate the binomial regime-security in the minds of Syrian citizens.

Differently from the Sunni refugees living in the Turkish camps, Hassan does not advocate the use of further violence to overthrow the Government, as he is convinced that the balance will remain in favor of the State, unless Bashar al-Asad is assassinated: only in this case, the upper echelons would give birth to a power strife beneficial for the opposition.  Meanwhile, Hassan gets ready to wait for a long time somewhere abroad.

Categories: Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The fearful Syria: collecting accounts in some Alawi villages during the revolution

An analysis I wrote for IRIN (well analyses at IRIN undergo a lot of editing, but there’s still most of my stuff…) back in February 2012. I relied also on a set of accounts collected by a Syrian friend of mine in some Alawi villages I would have hardly had access to.  (Photo by my companero da Syrian pesada  Germano Assad).

Analysis: Inside the anti-uprising movement in Syria

Loyalists 7 (Germano Assad)BEIRUT, 23 February 2012 (IRIN) – In Syria’s commercial capital, Aleppo, posters plastered across the city tell the story of a community which, until recently, has been largely voiceless in the violent events of the past year.

The posters say opposition to the Intifada, or uprising, does not mean support for the regime.

This objection resembles one in the capital Damascus last July, when Christians, who have thus far not joined the protest movement en masse, covered walls in the Bab Tuma neighbourhood with posters denouncing the “Friday celebrations” by regime loyalists, which took place while both security officers and civilians were being killed.

Since March 2011, what began as peaceful protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have increasingly turned into an armed rebellion.

Many Syrians, including dissidents, have opposed the nearly one-year popular uprising not because they support al-Assad, who has been accused by the UN high commissioner for human rights of possible crimes against humanity in the crackdown on protesters, but because they fear for the future of their country without him.

These people, so-called loyalists, describe the uprising as a crisis, or `azmah’ in Arabic: a challenging phase to be overcome by the government eventually.

As the international community increasingly turns against al-Assad, analysts say a consistent proportion of Syrians have maintained a detached, if not hostile, position towards the “opposition”. Their reasons range from a desire for stability, regardless of its authoritarian enforcement, to the perception that elements of the opposition are inherently violent and radical. Ethnic minorities view the uprising through a survivalist lens, fostered by the narrative of the regime and some personal accounts. This has further polarized versions of the events and reduced the possibility of any reconciliation. IRIN hears from these segments of the population whose voices have often been drowned out by the protests and the gunfire.

Another Iraq?

In its violent response to the uprising, the Syrian government has framed the situation for those Syrians abstaining from protests as a choice between stability (`istiqrar’) and chaos (`fawda’), the “unknown” ensuing from its collapse, analysts say.

“Even if the revolution was peaceful, Alawis wouldn’t accept the overthrowing of the regime, as it would bear negative consequences for all Syrians,” said Aref*, a 26-year-old artist from a village on the outskirts of the western port city of Latakia, who belongs to al-Assad’s minority Alawi sect.

Many of Syria’s Christians point to the stories of the more than one million Iraqi refugees – many of them Christians – who fled to Syria after sectarian violence in their country as an example.

“Without dialogue Syria will become a new Iraq,” the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo said this month.

Recent reports about al-Qaeda and various Sunni jihadist groups coming from Iraq to join the armed struggle against al-Assad have further worried Syrian minorities, some of whom have already started fleeing in fear.

A mid-December poll by The Doha Debates found that 55 percent of Syrians wanted al-Assad to stay in power, in large part out of fear for the future of the country. (The poll surveyed 1,000 respondents, 46 percent of whom were from the Levant).


About 11 percent of the Syrian population, including the ruling family, follows Alawism, an offshoot of Shia Islam. The minority Alawis have ruled the majority Sunni country since 1970, when Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, took power in a coup.

Worried about its future in a post-Assad Syria, the majority of this sect has either brushed aside protests or stood against them.

“Alawis generally remember positively the days of Hafez al-Assad, as someone who brought stability to a chaotic country,” points out Fadwa*, a 27-year-old Alawi maths graduate from Salhab, near the central resistance town of Hama. Her words point to a willingness to put stability before human rights: Syrians enjoyed wider freedoms in the “unstable” 1950s, before merging with Egypt in the United Arab Republic in 1958.

Stability is also crucial to the interdenominational beneficiaries (`mustafidin’) tied to the regime, as is clear from the loyalty of the Sunni-Christian bourgeoisie in Aleppo and Damascus. Ensuring the support of urban traders has been a persistent feature of Baathist rule even under Hafez al-Assad, who managed to prevent the Damascene mercantile classes from joining the Islamist uprising in the 1980s by co-opting the head of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, Badr al-Din al-Shallah.

But there are signs of waning support among the middle-upper classes, with the first mass demonstrations in the wealthy Damascene neighbourhood of Mezzeh on 18 February. As shortages of bread and fuel increase, private bank assets decline, tourism drops and the inflation rate doubles, Sunni and Christian urban traders are increasingly being affected.

Perception of violence

But a widespread perception of the opposition as radical and violent still has many worried.

The opposition is composed of several divergent groups with the same goal but different approaches. The so-called Local Coordination Committees of Syria are groupings of loosely affiliated activists who organize protests on the ground; the Syrian National Council is the main political opposition group outside Syria; and the Free Syrian Army is a group of defectors and other civilians who have taken up arms. While this may sound cohesive and hierarchal, analysts say much of the opposition is not. And they do not discount the possibility that outside terrorists are taking advantage of the unrest, as the government claims.

Aref, for one, believes the FSA to be a cloak for other armed groups, a concern highlighted by the International Crisis Group (ICG) in its latest report on Syria.

“Even if they shared the just demands of the revolution, Alawis got scared and confused by the bloody events,” said Anisa*, a 26-year-old Alawi from a village near Hama, who holds a master’s degree in economics.

Fadwa, the maths graduate, said she has friends who began as dissidents, but switched sides out of fear of an Islamist uprising.

While the regime has tried to demonize its peaceful opponents since the protests began, analysts say the opposition movement’s initial attempt to portray itself as wholly peaceful – despite a clear resort to violence among some elements – has also tarnished its credibility.

Even the most liberal Alawis say they are increasingly alarmed by the recent escalation of attacks against government forces, and fear a descent into sectarian conflict.

“The FSA should limit its operations to protect protesters and refrain from attacking the army, as this could lead to a split in the army along sectarian lines,” said Fadwa.

Sectarian split

The majority of conscripts in the Syrian Army are Sunnis who do not necessarily trust the ruling elite, who make up much of the security apparatus.

Ibrahim al-Hajj ‘Ali, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood from Aleppo, and an officer who defected from the army to coordinate armed insurgents, said he was more likely to encourage defections among trusted Sunni soldiers than “members of the Syrian ruling sect”.

The ICG says the FSA has captured Syrian security officers and forced them to confess to using violence against protesters or to being ordered to shoot anything that moves.

“The Free Army’s posting of forced confessions by captured security officers, who, in at least one instance, show evident signs of torture – stands as a first cautionary tale”, it said.

The FSA insists that soldiers who refuse to fire on unarmed protesters defect of their own volition.

But Bushra*, a 28-year-old bank employee from Mahrusah, a village near Hama, said she knew of a case in which insurgents killed a security officer after forcing him to announce his defection from the army on video. While her story is difficult to verify, it mirrors many others told amid loyalist circles.

Existential threat

These stories and others have led to a perception of the opposition as deeply sectarian.

“If there’s a civil war, they’re not going to differentiate between loyalist and dissident Alawis,” Bushra said. “The word of the regime is the only one able to protect us.”

According to Aref, the opposition has demonized the Alawi community, portraying it as an entity indivisible from the regime, a unique gang of `shabiha’ (loyalist thugs): “They have forgotten our contribution to Syrian history, the numerous progressive Alawi thinkers.”

The Alawis top the list of religious minorities who have come to link their survival with the permanence of the regime, regardless of their historical presence in Syria centuries before the Assads came to power.

As early as April 2011, checkpoints had sprung up in the Sitta wa Thamaneen neighbourhood of Damascus, an Alawi stronghold, home to many lower class members of the security services, and by summer, Alawi families in some urban centres started migrating to their original rural areas, fearing for their safety.

“Some Alawis are convinced that they will eventually be besieged by fundamentalist Sunnis,” said Aref, “and they’re getting ready to face this threat by arming themselves”.

This, despite the fact that the status quo they are willing to fight for granted privileges only to a “restricted circle”, noted Anisa, the economics graduate. “Those in the security forces and the army are at the bottom of society, as those who benefited from the regime can afford to send their sons to work or study abroad.”

In the event of a successful revolution, Alawis who were involved in the repression of Sunnis may flee en masse to their mountainous homeland, the ICG said. This could lead to retaliatory attacks by Sunnis, not only on them, but also on communities that had no role in the repression, deepening the risk of sectarian conflict, it added.

Different languages

By demonizing each other, analysts say the opposition and loyalists have started speaking two diametrically opposed languages.

Perhaps to escape what they see as a frightening reality, many Alawis have become overtly confident that the regime will prevail.

“The government will survive; Alawis have no doubt about it… and it will overcome the crisis stronger than before,” said Bushra.

“Most Alawis believe that Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyya satellite channels are making the revolution bigger than it is,” Fadwa added. But observers say many loyalists, particularly Alawis, lack an objective view of the opposition and are overly swayed by the regime’s propaganda.

Nevertheless, the increasingly polarized narratives have deepened cleavages in the way the various communities reconstruct history.

Aref remembered the Hama massacre of 1982 – in which the government is said to have killed at least 10,000 people at once to crush an Islamist revolt – as the result of a political confrontation with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, resolved in favour of the government, thanks to the support of both Alawis and Sunnis. Al-Hajj, the Muslim Brotherhood defector, recalled the events of Hama as the beginning of an ongoing struggle against the regime, with the only difference that in those times there were no cameras to record the crimes of the regime.

Still, the loyalists interviewed for this report have played no role in the current repression and have taken steps to distance themselves from the regime. Some of them accept democratic elections in the near future as a way of out the conflict.

“Fundamentalists need to be marginalized in fair elections,” Aref said.

But while they are ready to conceive of a Syria without al-Assad, loyalists remain worried about an abrupt overthrow of the government, insisting on more guarantees of stability from the opposition and greater transparency of its armed operations.

Raja’a*, a 26-year-old Christian from Damascus who half-heartedly sympathizes with the opposition, complained the Syrian National Council was focused on overthrowing the regime without giving any sort of guarantees about the future of minorities.

“There are many doubts (about the SNC)… Their declarations are limited to the departure of the regime, whereas after… no one knows what will happen.”

Asked what it would take to get the so-called loyalists to come around, she answered: “Unfortunately, it is difficult to change their position… because it is war of existence.”

*Not a real nam

Categories: Syria | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1. Blogging and reporting on five months of revolution from Syria: A witness account from the siege of Dara’a

A piece I originally wrote for the New Internationalist after visiting  a lawyer in Dummar (Rif Dimashq), who was married to a woman from Dara’a.

People vs the regime



The regime bans foreign journalists from reporting the people’s uprising in Syria, but the people report it themselves. A witness account from the Syrian city of Dara’a.

Ahmad is a student at the University of Damascus. We met last Friday during the demonstrations in the neighbourhood of Midan. Although worried about the fate of the revolution, he is still confident that ‘in 70 days the regime will fall’. He wants me to meet someone whose family has witnessed the hell of Dara’a, the epicentre of the protests, which has been under military siege since 25 April.

Omar is a lawyer who lives in the suburbs of Damascus. When he was a judge (before being downgraded because of his refusal to set free some criminals with high-placed acquaintances), he used to work really close to Dara’a’s security chief Atef Najib.

Omar’s wife and two of his kids are still in Dara’a. According to the Syrian authorities, the army withdrew from Dara’a on 5 May, but Omar assures me that the tanks are still surrounding the city – they just changed their strategy, occupying some of the surrounding villages.

Dara’a was already suffering from a series of political and economic grievances, but the last straw unleashing popular rage was the arrest of a group of kids for writing anti-government graffiti back in March. Omar remembers that episode very well. As the kids were detained, their fingernails were removed; their fathers, demanding their release, were told by the head of security forces in Dara’a, Atef Najib, to forget about it. Najib offered himself to impregnate their wives to have new children.

During Omar’s interview with Imam Shaykh Ahmad Sayasna of the Omari mosque in Dara’a, the religious leader clearly complained about the way Dara’a’s needs have been totally ignored by the regime. During the siege, the situation has deteriorated to pure sectarian violence.

Omar recalls the brutal killing of his brother-in-law. ‘It was 6am. He went down to the computer repair shop, where he used to work. He wanted to lock up the shop to avoid thefts. You see, in those days the army and the mukhabarat were looting people’s houses, stealing everything in gold they could find. The army entered the shop. They asked him his name. Hamza, he said. Hamza is a typical Sunni name, so they shot him in the head, cut his limbs and burned the body.’

The owner of the shop was hiding in the upper floor; he witnessed the whole scene. Because of the curfew imposed on the city, the shreds of Hamza’s body were handed over to his family only 10 days later. While pointing at the corpse, a general told the family: ‘You want freedom? Here’s your freedom.’

Omar might go to Dara’a in the coming days but, like all of the city’s inhabitants, he will be forced to stay at home for fear of being hit by snipers who don’t even spare children. ‘A child went into the streets and got shot in the leg by a sniper. The child’s father rushed to protect him with his body and the sniper immediately killed him. Then the sniper descended from the rooftop, removed the father’s body and killed the child.’

The families of the murdered are denied a proper funeral. In order to prevent further demonstrations, the army limited the number of people allowed to attend the procession to six. Moreover, not all families are allowed to receive the bodies of their dead relatives: Omar explains me how they are firstly obliged to sign a declaration which acquits the army from any responsibility for the massacres committed by ‘armed terrorist groups’.

Omar says that in the period of the ‘official’ siege, from 25 April to 5 May, most of the men and boys of Dara’a have been killed. However, the death toll shown on the national TV channels was reduced – the army had removed most of the corpses from the streets. Around 10 bodies were left to be seen by the cameras; many others had been eaten by dogs. For the same purpose of showing a sanitized version of the truth, the troops have been ordered to rebuild the most damaged areas. Afterwards, Alawi families have been gathered in Dara’a, dressed up in traditional Hourani clothes so that the national media could broadcast their women and kids throwing flowers on the tanks, thereby backing the official version of a military intervention requested by the civilians.

But who killed members of the security forces? The so-called Salafis, who are blamed by the government for scattering chaos across the country, according to Omar, are usually Alawis who grew their beards and dressed up like Sunni fundamentalists. ‘It is enough that they raise their hands to spot their tattoos portraying Bashar al-Assad and [the cousin of the prophet] Ali,’ Omar points out. On the other hand, he admits that some of the demonstrators opened fire on the army, but says they were only reacting to the ongoing massacre.

A rally of some 4,000 people departed from one of the surrounding villages to bring food supplies to Dara’a. At the second checkpoint, the soldiers shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is the greatest), so people expected them to be merciful. On the contrary, the outcome was another massacre. Omar confirms that after this episode, the protesters seized some weapons to raise them against the army.

The choice of armed resistance is a difficult one, considering the military imbalance between the protesters and the regime. But people are frustrated.

This piece was written in Damascus on 12 May 2011. Nates Recoias is a pseudonym.

Categories: Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at

Düzce Umut Atölyesi

Birlikte Mücadele, Birlikte Tasarım

Diario di Siria

Blog di Asmae Dachan "Scrivere per riscoprire il valore della vita umana"


Update on Syria revolution -The other side of the coin ignored by the main stream news


Sguardi Globali da una Finestra di Cucina al Ticinese


Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East


A blog about understanding humanity- by G. Marranci, PhD


Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East


"... chi parte per Beirut e ha in tasca un miliardo..."

Anna Vanzan

Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East

letturearabe di Jolanda Guardi

Ho sempre immaginato che il Paradiso fosse una sorta di biblioteca (J. L. Borges)