Looking inside the uprising https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/17701/all cached version 18/04/2018 06:07:20 en ‘Lost in Lebanon’ explores restless wait for return https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/ola-al-missyati/lost-in-lebanon-explores-restless-wait-for-return <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The film examines various dimensions of loss through a new concept of life in exile, in a country where precarious residency comes without self-awareness.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/nimr-lost-in-lebanon-874x492.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="GroundTruth Productions/Fair Use. All rights reserved to the author. "><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/nimr-lost-in-lebanon-874x492.jpg" alt="GroundTruth Productions/Fair Use. All rights reserved to the author. " title="GroundTruth Productions/Fair Use. All rights reserved to the author. " width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nimr, one of the movie’s protagonists, fled to Lebanon to escape forced military conscription. GroundTruth Productions/Fair Use. All rights reserved to the author. </span></span></span><strong>[This article is the outcome of a partnership between&nbsp;<a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/">SyriaUntold</a>&nbsp;and openDemocracy].</strong></p><p>Having lost their home, they themselves are now lost in Lebanon, living a tale of spiraling loss that devours everything in its wake. Perhaps this is the metaphor conveyed by ‘<a href="http://www.lostinlebanonfilm.com/#thefilm">Lost in Lebanon</a>’ (2017), a film by Georgia and Sophia Scott that sheds light on the lives of Syrian refugees in this small Mediterranean country.</p> <p>The film examines various dimensions of loss — such as deprivation and alienation — through a new concept of life in exile, in a country (Lebanon) where precarious residency comes without self-awareness. This loss then expands, encompassing the terms and conditions of existence on foreign land, which itself turns into some sort of prison.</p> <p>In Lebanon, Syria seems closer to those who have fled, or been forced to leave it behind. The intimate thoughts and aspirations regarding Syria are clearly on display in the eyes and words, and in thoughts and memories unleashed by the characters. These emotions escape through the film and draw a picture, a new portrait of diasporic Syria; a Syria which is comprised of personal details, and of countless lives awaiting any glimpse of hope for a future return.</p> <p>In ‘Lost in Lebanon’, we watch aspects of the lives of four characters. Each has a unique backstory, but they all revolve around the exceptional circumstances of Syrians in Lebanon. In spite of their differences, they are brought together by a desire for a better life; a life for which they struggle, consoling themselves in a prolonged wait. They burn away their days without solutions in sight.</p> <p>Returning to Syria now is not an option. The characters live in places that are, albeit alien to them, corresponding to their crises. Their relationship with their surroundings is characterized by misunderstanding and confusion.</p> <p>A house in Beirut does not resemble a tent in Akkar or an office in <a href="https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/lebanon/shatila-camp">Shatila Camp</a>, nor does it resemble a camp school to which dozens of children go for fear of illiteracy and all-too-accessible violence. In each of these different and disordered spaces, the notion of ‘place’ becomes rather absurd. </p> <p>We come across someone who brought his place all the way from Syria, only to discover it too late and regret the sweetness of its discovery in his homeland. His fellow Syrian describes Lebanon as a calm and comfortable place to start planning and working. Another one is still clueless about it and overwhelmed by its details. Thus, these places weave their threads of identity around the necks of those fleeing the calamity.</p> <h2><strong>In search of the lost Syria</strong></h2> <p>A father awaiting the arrival of his new baby, Sheikh Abdo (39) keeps thinking about the future generation of those who had left their homeland and settled in unofficial camps in northern Lebanon. What the future holds for them is utterly unknown and frightening, to say the least. Perhaps this is what pushes him to build houses, or rather tents, for himself and for others around him in the open land of Akkar. They initiate their new life by building the only school in the camp.</p> <p>Nimr (16) is a volunteer member of the same organization in which Sheikh Abdo works. Together with another group of Syrian volunteers and tent dwellers, they form a loving team that <a href="http://carnegieendowment.org/sada/?fa=63513">teach children</a>. They maintain that, with free weapons and a protracted conflict in Syria, education will help protect them from potential extremism.</p> <p>The young Nimr has great ambitions and dreams that are almost beyond ​​ returning to Syria. But he keeps drawing Syria’s nearby borders with his fingers in the air. “I do not know where it is exactly, but it should be somewhere behind these mountains.”</p> <p>Syria is behind the nearby mountains indeed. Everyone knows that. However, reaching “over there” is almost beyond any dream they may have. In reality, they have a small school and a blue tent.</p> <p>The most dynamic character, Rim (26) is shown singing revolutionary anthem <strong>“</strong><a href="https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLObU7-VkAo4BEY_MM9ofuInavAecoDSq2">Paradise, Paradise!</a>” (<em>Jannah, Jannah!</em>) as she watches a protest she had attended in Syria back in 2011. Rim’s vitality does not wither. It accompanies her in Lebanon, paving her passionate strides as she works in the narrow alleyways of Shatila Camp.</p> <p>In her office in Beirut, she works hard to organize the provision of aid to the Syrian families living in the camp. Constructive ideas are always present, but the black reality of instability weighs heavier. “We have to gather information about each family,” explains Rim, “including all the lacking items.” These plans do not end in the right place. The damage is too severe to be mended by repairing a window, installing a faucet or coating a wall.</p> <p>Shatila Camp, which is almost present as a character, offers a glimpse into the distant future of Syrian camps if they were left to fend for themselves. “This is a special place where no one should be forced to live<strong>,</strong>” says Rim.</p> <p>Perhaps this originally Palestinian reality is going to reproduce itself, repeating the same story of neglect and lack of services. This is what seems to await Syrian refugees. Not only has the war shattered their reality, but also any logical conception of life in a better place.</p> <p>Muwaffaq is a sculptor whose personal freedom seems to be voiced louder than the sounds of war. He fled because he could not bear the idea of ​​killing someone. When he had to join the military, he preferred the loss in Lebanon to that in the midst of war.</p> <p>Unlike the three other dreamers<strong>, </strong>Muwaffaq’s plans are of no concrete substance. He instead grasps at the meagre possibilities in his life. However, his sculpting is a more realistic part of his life than wandering around escapism and its justifications.</p> <p>Muwaffaq sometimes plays with Syrian refugee children in the camps, helping them to enter Syria with their voices. “Who among you is left outside Syria?” he asks them, before whispering to himself: “Only I am.” The group of children stands on a large map of Syria to learn about its cities. “I am from Aleppo,” shouts one of them, perhaps knowing nothing about Aleppo but through horrific news.</p> <p>But his shout resonates deeply within Muwaffaq’s soul, who is tormented by the question of identity. He asks himself: “Who is the Syrian refugee child? Isn’t he just a child? Why these extra words?” The same question will be asked of a new student of Sheikh Abdo’s, a child who knows nothing about Syria except for the tent in which he is growing up.</p> <p>The notion of Syria, which expands day after day, does not generate any further notions. Syria does not lead its children but to an inevitable homelessness. “What matters it to be inside Syria,” continues Muwaffaq, who lets the children enter Syria only on the large map.</p> <h2><strong>Forbidden to return, forbidden to stay</strong></h2> <p>The places that occupy the lives of the characters do not seem easy to comprehend or accept. The issue is too vast to be summed up in the phrase “We left Syria and now we live in Lebanon.” The complexity has reached the state of being a pariah in Lebanon, while remaining deprived of living in Syria.</p> <p>The three young men live in constant fear of deportation to Syria. It is the same old fear of Syrian security checkpoints and arrests, now lurking in Lebanese security checkpoints.</p> <p>The sounds of Beirut are different from those of the camps. Between the open land and the urban settings, the protagonists of an inevitable escape lie in a limbo. Between the desire to return and the fear of being deported, or rather exiled to death, anxieties grow, worlds and aspirations narrow, and pressures take down the remainder of the sense of safety. All of this is taking place in Lebanon, a country that is already too narrow for its citizens.</p> <p>Residency papers, or obtaining official documents in the host country, became a huge burden on their shoulders, to be added to the dream of return, the education of children or the building of a school.</p> <p>We no longer see a trace of any of these concerns in the film after the arrest of Sheikh Abdo by the Lebanese security forces. Following the <a href="http://www.general-security.gov.lb/ar/posts/33">amendment of Syrian entry and residency laws</a> , they cited the expiration of his legal stay in Lebanon.</p> <p>Dreams are dissipated and cards are shuffled, but concerns remain and intertwine. Young Nimr travels to Beirut, and Muwaffaq is registered as a refugee at the <span>UNHCR</span>. “Nothing will change,” he says confidently. He quotes what they said, with their tremendous capacity to make people wait and hope. “You have to wait. We will inform you of any developments.”</p> <p>With perturbed breaths, Rim waits to hear news of her parents’ arrival to Syria. Her parents are the only ones around her who can return, albeit with much anxiety on her side.</p> <p>‘Lost in Lebanon’ captures these transitions in time, which expand the scope of anxiety and instill fear. We notice that something begins to disappear from these faces, which were just expressing their dreams with bright eyes. They have now become outcasts, bewildered by the declaration of their rejection.</p> <p>As they sit, discussing and assessing current events, <a href="https://newspaper.annahar.com/article/220533-%25D8%25AE%25D8%25B1%25D8%25A7%25D8%25A6%25D8%25B7-%25D8%25AA%25D9%2588%25D8%25B2%25D9%258A%25D8%25B9%25D8%25A7%25D8%25AA-%25D8%25A7%25D9%2584%25D9%2584%25D8%25A7%25D8%25AC%25D8%25A6%25D9%258A%25D9%2586-%25D9%2584%25D8%25A8%25D9%2586%25D8%25A7%25D9%2586-%25D9%2585%25D8%25AE%25D9%258A%25D9%2585-%25D9%2583%25D8%25A8%25D9%258A%25D8%25B1">the age of the tent silently grows older</a>, and so does their stay here. Official documents become an even heavier burden to bear. The situation worsens as responsibilities and restrictions increase. By now, it is forbidden to either return or stay.</p> <p>“Why don’t they just put us in a hole and bury us? they’d be fine!” &nbsp;says a participant in one of Reem’s team meetings.</p> <p>The impact of the security stress on their lives remains paramount. After his release from a Lebanese prison, Sheikh Abdo returns to the larger prison, i.e., the Akkar camp, which changed and became even narrower and tougher in the meantime.</p> <h2><strong>Hope</strong></h2> <p>Sheikh Abdo goes to the hospital along with his wife, who will give birth to their new child. He contemplates his newborn, who had just arrived without documents and without hope, inheriting his father’s misery. As such increases the number of Syrians whose mere existence in Lebanon is in violation of the law.</p> <p>“How will we solve the issue of his papers?” is the question that remains open and unresolved<strong>, </strong>while the child lets out his first cries, announcing his arrival in health and safety.</p> <p>Muwaffaq makes a disconcerting, albeit predictable, choice. He will travel to Turkey and then by sea to Europe. “I would like to go by sea,” but the sea sends him a troubling response: Today, another group of Syrians drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean.</p> <p>The sea is not lethal in Lebanon. The film invites us towards its end to imagine closed and narrow spaces. Nothing gets you nowhere in Lebanon, including the sea. Even a moving landscape of the Beirut port, a metaphor for travel and relocation, could not serve to suggest a new relieving transition.</p> <p>Whether between mountains and vast green areas, or cement and slowly built towers, Syrians in Lebanon seem endlessly stranded in an irredeemable state of patience and loss.</p> <p>The film mainly focuses on <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2016/08/syrian-refugees-in-lebanon-talking-facts-beyond-populism/">refugees in Lebanon</a> as one of the long-lived Syrian tragedies. However, the four protagonists on this journey make excuses for the country, noting the possibility of adapting to its hell “with much suffering and humiliation,” as Sheikh Abdo’s wife puts it. She does not know what the future holds for her little kids, nor for her own adrift life. She cries, while everyone else contemplates untenable solutions.</p> <p>The origins of Syrian restlessness in Lebanon seems to be at the crux of the Syrian tragedy. The homeland has continued to haunt those who have left it.</p> <p>In an hour and a half, the film places its characters and locations within fixed frames, presenting a visually restful story. The footage does not serve a dramatic purpose beyond observation and following the characters through the scenes. In the camp, the footage is general, conveying a sense of collective security despite the poor livelihood prospects.</p> <p>This slight contentment is reversed, as a critical situation with greater pressure arises. The following scenes are captured via close-ups on the faces of young people, particularly Rim, Muwaffaq and Nimr, alluding to their overwhelming conditions and increasingly narrowing space. </p><p>‘Lost in Lebanon’ is based around the spiral of safe return present in everyone’s life. The protagonists do not miss an opportunity to pray for return, but they mean a safe return which meets the desired conditions of stability. Nonetheless, these hopes are shrouded in ambiguity and hopelessness.</p> <p>The footage of the film begins and ends with the same despair. We start by walking towards a bright light at the end of a tunnel, only to return to its darkness once again as the film concludes. Such is the path of hope when conditions are hopeless. One is destined to constant search, however, in the hope that pains may illuminate the path.<em><strong></strong></em></p><p><em><strong>This piece was first published on <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2017/06/lost-lebanon-explores-restless-wait-return/">SyriaUntold</a> on 6 June 2017.</strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/karim-zidan/return-of-football-to-aleppo-highlights-regime-s-political-theatrics">Return of football to Aleppo highlights regime’s political theatrics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/syria-untold/regime-wages-war-of-documents-on-syrian-refugees">Regime wages war of documents on Syrians</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Lebanon </div> <div class="field-item even"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Lebanon Syria Conflict film Violent transitions Looking inside the uprising Ola Al-Missyati Thu, 08 Jun 2017 15:25:30 +0000 Ola Al-Missyati 111515 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Tabqa Dam: the key to capturing Raqqa https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/ercan-ayboga-farah-azadi/tabqa-dam-key-to-capturing-raqqa <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An interview with Sinan Deniz, a Kobane-based ANF journalist embedded with the SDF forces in their battle to take the Tabqa dam and liberate Raqqa from Islamic State control.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/SDF_fighters_near_Tabqa_Dam.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/SDF_fighters_near_Tabqa_Dam.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces near Tabqa Dam. Picture by Qasioun News Agency [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.</span></span></span>On the 5th of November 2016, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an extensive military operation called ‘Wrath of Euphrates’ to liberate the city of Raqqa and its surroundings from the Islamic State (IS). Raqqa is the de-facto capital of the IS controlled regions in Syria, and its fall would significantly weaken their rule.</p><p>The SDF is a broad military coalition of Arabs, Kurds and other people groups in northern Syria and considers itself as a democratic defence force against reactionary forces within Syria including IS and the Baath regime. One of its principle units is the predominately Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG). Led by the YPG, the SDF launched its offensive to re-take Raqqa, code-named operation ‘Wrath of Euphrates’, from the town of Ain Issa, 50 km north of Raqqa.<br /> <br /> Since the launch of the operation, three campaigns have been successful in capturing big areas around the city of Raqqa and bringing it under SDF control.<br /> <br /> On March 21st, a fourth campaign was launched aimed at the liberation of the Tabqa dam and its reservoir. Just 50 kilometres upstream from Raqqa city, the dam sits at a strategic crossroads, and its capture will prove a death knell for the IS. This campaign has, as of this writing, successfully liberated large parts of the dam and encircled the city of Tabqa, liberating the Safsafha villages that surround it.</p> <p>The following is an interview about the Tabqa operation with ANF reporter Sinan Deniz who is based in Kobanê and is currently embedded with the SDF in the Operation Wrath of Euphrates. </p> <p><strong>Why did you decide to embed with the SDF units on this particular campaign for the Tabqa dam?</strong><br /> <br /> Well, I decided to follow the ongoing campaign to liberate Tabqa because its capture would be a crucial step in the eventual liberation of Raqqa. You see, Raqqa and Mosul are the two most important locations for the IS, and I knew this would be an important battle against a group that has not only threatened people of Syria, but the region and, really, the world. Because Raqqa is the IS’s capital, it relies on Tabqa, and specifically the dam there, for water and electricity as well as revenue. If, and when, the SDF are able to completely capture the dam, they will essentially have their hands at the levers of the whole region.<br /> <br /> I am primarily based in Kobane, a city a few hours to the north of Tabqa. But when I heard the SDF were going to launch their offensive to re-take Raqqa, in November 2016, I travelled to Ain Issa--or Bozanê in Kurdish--a small city just north of Raqqa that had been liberated by the YPG in June 2015. The SDF launched their operation for Raqqa, ‘Wrath of Euphrates’, from that village and I have been embedded with the SDF and reporting on events from that time.<br /> <br /> Then, on the 21st of March, I got wind that the SDF were about to launch a new campaign to re-take Tabqa. Knowing the importance of the dam to the region and what success there could spell in terms of a final defeat of the IS, I made immediate arrangements to travel to cover the story.<br /> <br /> The next day I travelled to the small village of Suweyda, just north of Tabqa city, where the SDF had set up a makeshift press centre. Several days later, on the 27th of March, SDF forces along with a handful of journalists embedded with them and myself, crossed the Assad lake at night by boat to the west side of the dam’s reservoir.<br /> <br /> There was a real sense of nervous excitement by all of us as the operation proceeded at lightning pace. Also, because we knew we were just kilometres away from areas heavily patrolled by the IS, and SDF forces in previous attempts at liberating these areas had come under heavy, heavy attack. After successfully crossing the lake, I stayed on with SDF forces as they worked to liberate areas west and south of the dam under IS control.<br /> <br /> I am now based in a reasonably secure location, and travel daily to the front and to some of the newly liberated areas. Whilst in those areas I try to investigate what happened in the days previous, interview fighters or civilians, and also report on how the operations are faring.<br /> <br /> Many here in Syria, as well as people throughout the world, will know that this offensive is one of the most important since the start of the Syrian war in 2011. This operation has the potential to end IS rule in Syria, and hopefully the region, and will be a significant turning point in a brutal war that has created enormous suffering. It is very important that there are journalists here reporting on the events and keeping the world updated on its developments.<br /> <br /> <strong>What is the importance of the city of Raqqa within the context of Syria today?</strong><br /> <br /> Simply put, it is very important. The southern part of the city is situated directly on the Euphrates river and is a crucial agricultural area for the whole of the Syrian state.<br /> <br /> The city is also important related to its diversity, as though Arabs comprise most the population; Kurds, Assyrian and other ethnic minority groups also live there.<br /> <br /> Raqqa, and its surrounding areas, are also significant geopolitically. The reason for that is because it’s an industrialised region with significant reserves of petrol. With the construction of the dam project beginning in 1968, the reach of these industries increased substantially. You see, Tabqa is a dual-purpose dam, meaning that it also has a hydroelectric power station and provides electricity and well as drinking water and a substantial irrigation supply to the region.<br /> <br /> Though, the importance of the dam is also what made it vulnerable to and an early target of the Syrian opposition. The dam first came under opposition control in February 2013, and later when that opposition solidified into the IS, they utilised the dam’s resources to build up Raqqa as their capital. They even engaged in ‘dirty deals’ with the Syrian regime, their sworn enemy, selling them the largest part of the electricity generated by the dam, which became one of their chief revenue streams.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Raqqa then became the economic centre for the IS as well as the base for their political and military operations. So, as you can see, this battle is all or nothing for them. If, and when, the ‘Wrath of Euphrates’ is successful, if not tangibly, but symbolically IS will be finished.<br /> <br /> <strong>Can you explain in more detail how the SDF crossed over the Euphrates? Photographs generated by the IS on social media showed fighters in parachutes. Were those accounts genuine or faked?</strong>&nbsp;<br /> <br /> On the evening of the 21st of March, the day of the launch of the campaign, SDF forces packed into transport helicopters, carrying military equipment, and crossed the lake just west of the dam. At the same time, and in loose cooperation with the SDF, an international coalition (IC) against the IS, launched an air attack against IS positions in the area, targeting specifically the places where the SDF had planned to land.<br /> <br /> The SDF/IC attack completely overwhelmed the IS, and their resistance was easily quelled without any loss of life. With this initial stage of the campaign realised, SDF ground forces were able to cross the river by boat the very next morning.<br /> <br /> There was no need for any forces to use parachutes, and any accounts of that are false.<br /> <br /> <strong>Can you tell us how the Tabqa campaign evolved from that point?</strong><br /> <br /> Well, after the SDF ground forces were able to cross the lake, they immediately began liberating the towns and villages surrounding Tabqa, whilst at the same time beginning to encircle the city. The SDF attacks had forced the IS to flee and these areas were liberated without much effort. In the days that followed, the areas that came under the protection of the SDF began to stabilise, and the SDF took the decision that they could push on towards the north and west, and finally, just yesterday, they have completely encircled the town.</p> <p>The SDF did encounter some fierce clashes with the IS, especially when trying to capture the dam, but they overcame them and liberated the most parts of the dam and surrounding regions. The contingent of SDF forces, which crossed the dam reservoir, coming from the southwest of the city, took the airport without much difficulty. The airport had previously been used as a strategic air force base for the Syrian army before coming under IS control. Capturing this airport was just another step in destroying their hold on the region.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Despite their rather comprehensive defeat, the IS continue to launch counter attacks against SDF forces, but thus far these have been deflected.<br /> <br /> <strong>What is the composition of the forces fighting the Tabqa campaign? And how involved are the YPG and YPJ?</strong><br /> <br /> The SDF is a coalition force made up of the YPG and YPJ (Women’s Defence Units) as well as different mainly Arab military forces. The YPG/J have been involved in the SDF and this operation from its inception.<br /> <br /> From my perspective, ten days into the campaign, participation of fighters from different forces is fairly balanced between the various ethnic and religious communities of northern Syria and this composition hasn’t really changed during the campaign.<br /> <br /> I meet SDF forces from the YPG/J and other coalition partners almost daily throughout the liberated areas I travel to, and all have been engaged in the different campaigns of the operation.<br /> <br /> <strong>What is your daily interaction with the SDF like?</strong><br /> <br /> Overall, my interaction with the SDF is very positive. Journalists embedded with the SDF remain in very close proximity to the forces—you know, we are with them at the frontlines of battles, stay with them at the military bases, and we are regularly in contact with them about the campaigns’ progress.<br /> <br /> I also find that individual SDF fighters are generally very open to speaking to the press, and their overall approach and demeanour is congenial. To me that exemplifies in many ways the ideology of the larger movement, and their strong commitment to the liberation of their people and their lands. Though the SDF are primarily a military force, what underlines that is a sincere commitment to values that had inspired the early days of the revolutionary resistance in Syria.<br /> <br /> For the YPG/J, who are more directly connected the Kurdish freedom struggle, participation in the military units is merely one feature of a popular struggle that has, for over forty years, attempted to nurture horizontalist social structures that value democracy, gender equality and a cooperative economy.<br /> <br /> And being with the fighters day in and day out, you begin to see and to realise that those values and commitments are not simply trolled out at press conferences and then tucked away at war-time. They are embodied in the culture of the units, and they inform how they interact with one another, but also with the civilians from the areas they liberate.<br /> <br /> So, I would say that their sincerity in tangible, and it creates an affable energy between the fighters and ourselves [the journalists], and really enhances the feeling of solidarity between us.<br /> <br /> It is also important to note that the SDF forces are mainly composed of people from the areas themselves, or from nearby regions. In that way, they can see themselves in the villagers and know, intimately, their struggles. This is in part why the SDF have gone to lengths to minimise any damage done to structures, especially houses in the areas they liberate. The areas around Tabqa are primarily rural farming villages, and housing structures are built using traditional methods of clay earth and wood, and are more vulnerable. But fortunately, very few structures were damaged or destroyed during this campaign.<br /> <br /> I cannot say the same, however, for Tabqa Airport which came under heavy bombardment is almost entirely demolished. Much of the airport was destroyed following its capture by the IS in 2014. But later, whatever remaining sections had endured were then devastated when the Syrian regime forces went up against the IS in the region in 2014. As fighting has basically been ongoing since then, bombed-out buildings and destroyed vehicles, planes, and roads have been left to rot.<br /> <br /> <strong>Can you tell us more about the specific role played by the IC in the Tabqa campaign?</strong><br /> <br /> Sure, well the campaign to liberate Tabqa was executed in close coordination with the IC, made up of many countries’ forces but with the US at the helm. The IC’s contribution has mainly focused on airstrikes and other kinds of air support and with a limited number of armoured vehicles provided recently. There are no IC soldiers fighting on the ground. The air campaign relies heavily on information provided by SDF ground forces, and whenever the SDF comes under heavy bombardment from the IS, the IC is there to provide air support, artillery and personal carriers. The SDF has worked in cooperation with the IC for more than two years, and the partnership has remained militarily valuable with no serious tensions between members of the IC.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> <strong>How does the SDF view the success of operation ‘Wrath of Euphrates’ in terms of the military situation on the ground?&nbsp;</strong><br /> <br /> The SDF see the operation as extremely effective given that they have recently been able to fully encircle Tabqa and liberate almost the whole dam and all the areas surrounding it. Though the operation took months to plan, and had to proceed with near surgical execution, all efforts have paid off and every single campaign has reached its objectives.<br /> <br /> A careful approach has proved successful, especially in light of the fact that there has been very little loss of life amongst the SDF forces and civilians in the areas. Also, as I mentioned early, destruction to property has been extremely limited, and it is clear that people from the areas support in a growing number the SDF and this operation.<br /> <br /> In fact, following the liberation of these areas, many local people have started to join the ranks of the SDF – thousands, since the beginning of the offensive.<br /> <br /> The SDF is really concentrated on liberating all Tabqa which is happening as we speak as fighters have encircled all of the city. Many in the SDF are cautiously optimistic, recognising that as we push towards Raqqa, the IS will continue to fiercely resist and will deploy their best technology to do so.<br /> <br /> <strong>Can you tell us more about the relationship between the local population and the SDF, especially considering the forces entering some of the heartlands of the IS?</strong><br /> <br /> Yes, with the liberation of towns like Minbic, Gire Spi, Tel Abyad, Sarin—all predominately Arab—many of these local people have joined the SDF ranks. The SDF has put the figure of new fighters at somewhere exceeding 20,000. This does not include Arab populations living in and around the liberated areas of Raqqa city itself, who have also joined in thousands in the last months.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> Once civilians commit to join the SDF they are required to undergo a period of combat training and military education. This period is imperative, not simply for the safety of the new recruits, but also in terms of the continued success of the operations themselves, as many join with little or no prior combat experience or skills. The implementation of a period of training is also a result of the SDF’s learning from mistakes made in the past and trying to correct those—where they had seen new recruits, without enough practice in the battlefield prove weak in clashes with the IS.<br /> <br /> The considerable numbers of new recruits, as well as the welcoming attitudes of the newly liberated local populations confirm that a majority of the population supports the SDF, and their political perspective and objectives.<br /> <br /> I think it is also a testimony to just how much people have endured under the IS—both how much they suffered, but how resilient they are as well. The strength of people’s hope despite what they’ve endured remains, perhaps, the bravest aspect of this revolution. And it is the fuel that allows the political imagination to burn brightly in the hearts and minds of civilians and soldiers alike—to reach for this collective vision of a new, just and peaceful society that gets closer with each passing day.<br /> <br /> <strong>Can you tell us about the current condition of the Tabqa dam? How badly it has been damaged in the recent fighting?</strong><br /> <br /> Yes. As I talked about before, the dam has been crucial to life in this region. In addition to supply an important amount to the electricity of North Syria, it is also responsible for supplying clean drinking water for the entire city of Aleppo! And it also irrigates many ten thousands of hectares of land, you know, it’s a real backbone for agriculture here. So, the dam is really an economic imperative, in addition to some of its other benefits, like serving as a military barrier due to the body of water that surrounds it.<br /> <br /> Due to the dam’s size and strength, whomever controls it is also able to rule the people and lands surrounding it, which was the case when it was under the control of the Baath regime and IS. However, in resistance to that, sort of, negative history, the SDF and the Democratic Federation of North Syria (which is composed for an important part of Rojava, the mainly Kurdish populated area) decided to declare the dam a resource that was to be used for the benefit of all people in Syria, and mutually and equitably managed – not, as it had been, as a weapon to dominate others.<br /> <br /> In terms of where the campaign is at now, the SDF has thus far taken control of more than half the dam, at its northern and central parts.</p> <p>Intense clashes over the last several days have led to a bit of a stalemate concerning the dam itself. Given the strategic importance of the dam, SDF forces have proceeded very cautiously, with meticulous efforts to limit loss of life or damage to the dam itself.<br /> <br /> Some days ago, the IS alleged on its Twitter page, that the dam was damaged after IC airstrikes, during a period of dangerously high water levels—which would have created deadly flooding in the area. However, these claims appear to be largely unfounded. In fact, the SDF commissioned an assemblage of engineers to release pressure on the dam by opening its floodgates, which it had done under heavy shelling from the IS.<br /> <br /> The SDF maintain that it is actually the IS whose attacks, especially against the engineers, have caused the most potential damage to the dam.<br /> <br /> Nonetheless, as you can see, the dam is, in a symbolic sense, a barometer for conflict. The liberation of the remaining sections of the dam will spell the liberation of the town of Tabqa, and will be a definitive turning point in this war.<br /> <br /> A few days ago, the IS again used social media to allege that they were able to use an armoured drone to attack SDF boats crossing the dam’s reservoir. Is this also IS propaganda or is it real?<br /> <br /> Yes, the photographs are genuine, and I know because I was at the boat which was the first target of this attack. Thankfully, though there was some damage to the boat, nobody was killed. The IS continued to attack SDF boats by drone, but they were not able to do any lasting damage. The SDF has since taken measures so that this sort of attack cannot be repeated.<br /> <br /> <strong>Can you describe the current situation for civilians living in the newly liberated areas?</strong><br /> <br /> Yes, well the IS often attempt to impede the local population from leaving their homes as war approaches because they know many will side with the SDF, and even possibly join their ranks.<br /> <br /> For the last few years the IS has been feeding the local people on a steady diet of propaganda against the SDF. But people are easily able to see through the ‘alternative facts’ presented by the IS, and often approach the SDF fighters with a joy and relief that appears genuine. Many weep – they know the liberation of their village or town means an end to the fascist rule of the IS over their lives. In areas with larger populations, people walk away from the IS and towards the SDF in waves, and it’s quite a sight. The literal walk towards freedom of these people is the emblematic march towards freedom for the country. And they carry that feeling not simply in their minds or hearts, but across their faces—even their eyes smile.<br /> <br /> Meeting people whose experience concretises ideals I myself hold, and I know the larger movement here—well, it’s been some of the most moving experiences of my life.<br /> <br /> <strong>What are your plans over the next days and weeks?</strong><br /> <br /> I plan to remain embedded with the SDF and continue to document this operation. I feel I it is my duty to be here and to document this moment in history, and continue to transmit to my people and to the world. I very much hope to be reporting soon from a liberated Tabqa town—and then Raqqa! I will remain here until I am there to witness the very moment of the liberation of Raqqa, and hopefully the closing chapter of a terrible blip in human history. We will answer its brutality and terror with the strength of our solidarity and love.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/rahila-gupta/women-on-front-at-raqqa">Women on the front at Raqqa: an interview with Kimmie Taylor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/paul-rogers/after-mosul-what">After Mosul, what?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ercan-ayboga/solution-for-syria-en-route-democratic-federation-of-north-syria">Solution for Syria en route: ‘Democratic Federation of North Syria’ </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Conflict ISIS war Looking inside the uprising Farah Azadi Ercan Ayboga Wed, 19 Apr 2017 12:22:58 +0000 Ercan Ayboga and Farah Azadi 110227 at https://www.opendemocracy.net عقدة الإسلام السياسي السوري وعقدة مستقبله https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/hammoud-hammoud/political-islam-syria-war-islamist <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="direction-rtl">عقدة الإسلام السياسي السوري تستمد خيوط تعقيدها من خيوط عقد الأزمة السورية ذاتها، من جهة، ومن عقدة خيوط البنية الفكرية <a href="http://www.maghress.com/alittihad/209475">الأصولية</a> ذاتها، من جهة أخرى، سواء أخذت هذه البنية شكلاً سنياً أم شيعياً</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="direction-rtl"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/DSC_0068-874x492.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/DSC_0068-874x492.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>مدرسة ابتدائية بمدينة منبج حولها تنظيم داعش لمقر أمني له. تاريخ التقاط الصورة: 19/08/2016. حقوق النشر: تصوير كمال شيخو خاص حكاية ما انحكت)</span></span></span></p><p class="direction-rtl"><strong>هذا المقال ينشر بالتعاون والشراكة مع <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/ar/2017/04/%d8%b9%d9%82%d8%af%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a5%d8%b3%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%85-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a7%d8%b3%d9%8a-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b3%d9%88%d8%b1%d9%8a-%d9%88%d8%b9%d9%82%d8%af%d8%a9-%d9%85%d8%b3%d8%aa/">حكاية ما انحكت</a></strong></p><p class="direction-rtl">لنتفق بداية على نقطة: من الخطأ التاريخي الكبير النظر اليوم إلى شكل ومسار <a href="http://nlka.net/index.php/2016-12-28-23-07-58/128-2014-10-01-14-14-33">الإسلام السياسي</a> في سورية، بعد دخول أزمتها العام السابع، بنفس العين كما ننظر بها إلى مستقبل <a href="http://www.maaber.org/issue_may13/lookout3.htm">الإخوان المسلمين</a> عموماً أو أية حركة دينية لديها مشروعها السياسي، أو أنْ نقايسه وفق الأطر التي انتهت إليها <a href="https://www.alarabiya.net/ar/politics/2015/06/17/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AF%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%83%D9%87%D9%86%D9%88%D8%AA%D9%8A%D8%A9-.html">الدولة الكهنوتية</a> الإيرانية. لقد تجاوز الشرط السوري التاريخي كل هذه الأشكال الكلاسيكية من الإسلام السياسي، وإنْ كانت الكثير من حركاته قد انبثقت من داخل بنيته العدمية. لقد وعدنا خامنئي مرّة مع بداية الربيع العربي أنّ هذا الربيع هو استكمال للثورة الإسلامية، بحيث ستمخض حكماً إسلامياً. إننا نفهم كيف يفهم <a href="http://studies.aljazeera.net/ar/reports/2016/11/161108101658375.html">خامنئي الربيع العربي</a> ونفهم كذلك عن أي حكم إسلامي يحلم به. لكن حتى هذا الحلم الإيراني، الذي من المفترض أنْ تكون سورية نبضه المستقبلي، قد اصطدم بجدران تاريخية قد أفرزتها عقدة الإسلام السياسي السوري. وبالفعل، لم تكن المسألة بهذه البساطة <a href="http://www.alhayat.com/m/opinion/20796035">الأصولية</a> كما كان، وما زال، يحلم بها <a href="http://www.alrumi.com/2015/03/blog-post_1.html#.WO091vnyvIU">أصوليو طهران</a>. </p><p class="direction-rtl">والحال، أنّ عقدة الإسلام السياسي السوري تستمد خيوط تعقيدها من خيوط عقد الأزمة السورية ذاتها، من جهة، ومن عقدة خيوط البنية الفكرية <a href="http://www.maghress.com/alittihad/209475">الأصولية</a> ذاتها، من جهة أخرى، سواء أخذت هذه البنية شكلاً سنياً أم شيعياً، كما سيأتي معنا. إنّ هذه العقدة هي التي أفرزت لنا اليوم لا إسلاماً سياسياً واحداً، مشروعاً إسلامياً دولتياً متجانساً، بل “إسلامات سياسية” تتصارع في المقدّس وعلى المقدّس، إسلامات جديدة كلّ الجدة على ساحة الإسلام السياسي الكلاسيكي. إنّها أشكال لا تبدأ بإعادة هيكلة الإسلام السياسي السني المعولم في سورية والعالم عموماً، وفق أطر وشروط معولمة جديدة، ولا تنتهي بولادة أشكال تأسلمت سياسياً حديثاً، أقصد المشروع السياسي الشيعي، عاصمته طهران. إنّ كلٍّ من هذه المشاريع الأصولية له مشروعه العدمي الخاص في سورية المناقض لأي مشروع آخر، وبخاصة إذا ما نظر بعين النقد ارتباط كلّ منها بعقد سياسية إقليمية ودولية، لكن أيضاً بعقد تستمد هيجانها من منظومة الله والتراث. لقد أصبحت سورية، والحال هذا، “أرض صراع العدميات”.</p><p><span class="direction-rtl"> </span></p><p class="direction-rtl">لا مناص أمام هذه العقد العدمية من طرح أسئلة بسيطة من قبيل: عن أي مستقبل نتحدث؟ عن أيّة سورية نتحدث (إذا ما أزيل شكلها السايكس-بيوكي الحالي من على الخارطة)؟ عن أي إسلام سياسي نتحدث؟ إذا ما قاربنا منهجياً، مثلاً، سؤال مشروع الإخوان المسلمين في سورية في إقامة دولتهم الإسلامية المتخيّلة، فبالتأكيد لن تكون لهم اليد الطولى إذا ما سقط بعث الأسد وزمرته (وهو الرأي الذي شدّدت عليه منذ بداية الأزمة السورية في حوار مع جريدة تونسية، <a href="http://www.all4syria.info/Archive/31486">كان قد نشر في مواقع أخرى</a>). الأمر نفسه ينطبق على أهداف السياسات الثيو-بوليتكية الإيرانية في سورية. لكن حتى مع هذا الطرح، فإنّه من المغالطات المنهجية اليوم أنْ نقصر حديثنا عن الإسلام السياسي السوري على أيّ واحد من هذه الأشكال فيما يخص مستقبل الإسلام السياسي عموماً في سورية. لا ينبغي أبدأً إهمال التفكر أنّ شرط نجاح أيّ من هذه الإسلامات مرتبط بمستقبل أي خيط من خيوط هذه العقدة السورية ومصالح الدول فيها. قيام وزن إسلامي سياسي متجانس في سورية له الكلمة الفصل في القرار السياسي سيهدّد حتماً رؤوس دول المنطقة (بالطبع هو ممتنع ذاتياً عن التطبيق لأسباب بسيطة تصدم <a href="http://www.maaber.org/issue_july12/spotlights1.htm">بالفسيفساء السورية الاجتماعية</a>). مثل هذه الدول لن تسمح حتماً بمثل هكذا تجانس ديني-سياسي موحد في حكم الدولة. نقول هذا الكلام ونحن ندرك في وعينا الخلفي أنّ الصورة لن تكون على هذه الدرجة من النفي إذا ما قامت <a href="http://www.almodon.com/opinion/2016/12/22/%D8%A5%D8%AE%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%87%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9">هويات</a> طائفية، سيقام بتسييسها، تحمل في جعبتها إنشاء كيانات سيا-دينية. ما يدعم هذا هو اتجاه سياسات الدولة التي تزداد تديناً، أو بالأحرى تزداد انحطاطاً في “تديين الأزمة السورية”، من جانب، ومن جانب آخر ما يتعلق بهوية الدولة العبرية في المنطقة وما تريده من سورية. في هذا السياق يمكن التشديد على أنّ أيّ مسار منظومة إسلام سياسي في سورية سيتماشى حتماً مع الهيكليات الطائفية إذا ما كتب لها النجاح في سورية. من الصعب فصل المسارين في سورية، من الناحية السياسية أو الجيو-بوليتيكية، أقصد فصل المشروع الأصولي عن هويته الطائفية. بكلمات أخرى: من الاستحالة بمكان فصل أي مشروع أصولي بحامله الأنثروبولوجي البنيوي الذي يستند إليه: الطائفة. فكما أنّ مشروع الأصولية هو مشروع طائفة، فكذلك الأمر فإنّ مشروع الطائفة هو حكماً مشروع أصولية.</p><p><span class="direction-rtl"> </span></p><p class="direction-rtl">نقول هذا الكلام لكي نشدّد بشكل غير مباشر على استحالة وضع رؤية مستقبلية للإسلامات السورية السياسية في هذه اللحظات من عمر أزمتها. ربّما من المهم التركيز مستقبلاً على مقاربة هذه الإسلامات، وذلك بالأخذ بعين الاعتبار المنهاجي الآنية الشرطية والتاريخية لها، وإلا ستكون المقاربات قفزاً على العقد السورية المتشابكة بنيوياً بعقد العالم، أو على الأقل ستكون شعوذة تضرب برمال الصحراء. ربما من الأهم معالجة كل شكل من أشكال الإسلام السياسي ضمن شروطه نفسها وعلائقه الجهادية والطهورية مع أشقائه المنافسين له وما مدى ارتباط هؤلاء بمصالح الدول.</p><p><span class="direction-rtl"> </span></p><p class="direction-rtl">مشكلة منهاجية أخرى تصعب على الباحث قراءة المسارات الأصولية المستقبلية في سورية هي ما يتعلّق بضبط أصولية الأصولي نفسها معرفياً. وهذا الإشكال في الواقع يعود إلى أنّ أحد المعاني المستبطنة للأصولية أنها “بـلا معنى”، غير قابلة لأنْ تركن في أرض أيديولوجية محدّدة، لا بل حتى أنّ “المعنى الأصوليّ” &nbsp;في مرجعيتها يتبدّل، وذلك وفقاً للشرط اللحظيّ الذي تعيش به الأصولية. هذا هو السبب مثلاً في التخبّط الغربي في قراءة مسار حزب العدالة والتنمية في تركيا، وذلك فيما يتعلّق بالاختلافات الحادة في إدراجه ضمن منطمة الإخوان المسلمين أو ضمن يافطة ما يطلق عليه حديثاً بـ “ما بعد الإسلام السياسي” (وهي المقولة التي يكرّرها الباحث الإيراني آصف بيات، انظر مثلاً الكتاب الذي حرره: Asef Bayat, <em>Post-Islamism: The Many Faces of Political Islam</em>&nbsp; (2013)) التي تسترشد العمل ضمن حدود الدولة الوطنية والقومية. وهذا أيضاً سيكون السبب في التخبّط في قراءة الأصوليات التي تقاتل في سورية، والذي يمكن قراءة بعض من ملامحه اليوم، مثلاً: التخبّط في قراءة الميليشيات الأصولية الطائفية التي تقاتل مع النظام السوري، أو في تخبّط المعارضة السورية عموماً في قراءة نفسها أولاً وفي قراءة الأصوليات السنية القوية على الأرض ثانياً، وعدم تجرأ الكثير منها إلى الآن الوقوف ضدها على أنها أصوليات إرهابية خرجت لتحطم المشروع الوطني السوري.</p><p><span class="direction-rtl"> </span></p><p class="direction-rtl">لقد شهد المشهد السوري في الواقع وعاين كل الأشكال الأصولية والطائفية التي خبرها العالم، لا بل أنتج مسارات جديدة من الإسلام السياسي وأعاد إحياء أخرى بأثواب جديدة، الأمر الذي يؤكد على ما نذهب إليه من استحالة ركن الأصولية الدينية بزاوية منهاجية منضبطة يمكن من خلالها درسها. ما أثبتته أزمة الأصوليات السورية أنّ انشقاق أو ولادة، أو قل إعادة ولادة، حركات أصولية جديدة دائماً ما يتوّلد معها، أو يجب أنْ يتوّلد معها صراع مع الأشقاء الأصوليين الآخرين، الأمر الذي كان ينتج لسورية حروب على العدم وفي العدم. الصراع السني- الشيعي، في كل أشكاله الطائفية الأصولية، مثال مهم على هذا، لا بل أصبح العنوان العريض للأزمات البنيوية في المشرق.</p><p><span class="direction-rtl"> </span></p><p class="direction-rtl"><strong>هل يمكن التجرؤ، والحال هذا، على التأكيد أنّ ما سيسفر عنه هذا الصراع الأصولي الطائفي، هو الذي سيحدد شكل “الخرائط السورية” المستقبلية؟</strong></p><p><span class="direction-rtl"> </span></p><p class="direction-rtl">&nbsp;بعض الباحثين الغربيين قال هذا الكلام وشدّد عليه منذ 2006 على خلفية الصراعات الجهادية والطائفية في العرق (كما هو الحال مثلاً في مقالة الباحث الإيراني-الأميركي ولي نصر: Vali Nasr, <em>The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future</em>, W. W. Norton &amp; Company (2007)). لكنّ المضي في هذا التأكيد في الحال السورية (التي لا يمكن فصلها عن فصول المسرح الأصولي العراقي) أمر لا شك سيُترك للشروط التاريخية في كيفية حلّ (وربما إعادة هيكلة) الأوتاد المتشابكة بالتربة السورية، دولياً وإقليمياً، من جهة، ومن جهة أخرى مرتبط بالأشكال المستقبلية لعقدة الإسلامات السورية السياسية السنية والأشكال الأصولية الطائفية الشيعية التي تستمر إيران في زرعها ضمن بيئة خصبة جداً، بيئة تبدي استعدادها الدائم في تشرب أسطورة “غضب الإله”، الغضب الذي تترجمه قيامة أصولييه على الأرض: تطهيراً لمقدسه، لكن أيضاً انتصاراً لغضبه.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/andres-barkil-oteo/Syria-war-mental-health-local-councils">الفاعلية النفسية والأمل: مساعدة المجتمعات على معالجة نفسها</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/danny-makki/why-sectarianism-fails-at-explaining-conflict-in-syria">Why sectarianism fails at explaining the conflict in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/syria-untold/regime-wages-war-of-documents-on-syrian-refugees">Regime wages war of documents on Syrians</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Conflict Democracy and government Ideas Political Islam You tell us Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Arabic language حمّود حمّود Wed, 19 Apr 2017 10:11:53 +0000 حمّود حمّود 110223 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Regime wages war of documents on Syrians https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/syria-untold/regime-wages-war-of-documents-on-syrian-refugees <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>One of the oldest manifestations of the Syrian government’s corruption has always been the blockage and manipulation of official documents.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/800px-Syrian_embassy_Prague_8302-874x492.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/800px-Syrian_embassy_Prague_8302-874x492.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Embassy of Syria in Prague – Bubeneč, Czechia, Street Českomalínská – 12-4-2008 (Krokodyl/Wikipedia via CC BY 3.0)</span></span></span>Political dissidents have been too often stripped of their civic rights, professional licenses, and <a href="http://www.syriansnews.com/2015/04/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%8A%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%83-%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%88%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A4%D9%88%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%88/">personal properties</a>. Until today, citizens are obliged to pay bribes to civil servants or risk his or her paperwork being delayed endlessly. </p><p>Rula[i] used to work in the marketing department of one of the largest retail clothing companies in Syria when Bashar Al-Asad first came to office in 2000. “My post exposed me to the scale of corruption and fraud that controlled the country. For example, if a company paid, let’s say 500,000 SYP [around $10.000 at that time] a year in taxes, it would be paying 5 million in bribes that end up in the pockets of state employees. This is the ratio. And you can do anything you want. Anything, as long as you pay,” Rula told SyriaUntold from Dubai, where she currently lives.</p> <p>In recent years, just as political oppression has reached new heights, including <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/syria/report-syria/">war crimes</a> and the proliferation of <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nearly-1500-killed-in-syrian-chemical-weapons-attack-us-says/2013/08/30/b2864662-1196-11e3-85b6-d27422650fd5_story.html?utm_term=.ec5055787ecb">prohibited weapons</a>, corruption has also increased &nbsp;and is used as a tool of war against the opposition, and a massive source of war-generated income at the expense of the population in general.</p> <h3><strong>Life and death</strong></h3> <p>After the uprising began in 2011, the regime began using grimier tactics&nbsp; to blackmail people. First, for political reasons, then for financial extortion as well. As the regime opened fire on demonstrations, killed detainees under torture, or shelled civilian neighborhoods, the bereaved families faced a double tragedy: In addition to mourning their loved ones, the regime would withhold information about the fate of those arrested, possibly killed in its custody or its hospitals. It would effectively prevent these families from having any certainty of their death.</p> <p>But even when security forces did decide to inform the families of the death, they often withheld the corpses and the official documents belonging to the victims, until the families <a href="http://www.alittihad.ae/details.php?id=81712&amp;y=2011&amp;article=full">signed statements</a> accusing “armed terrorist gangs” of killing their relatives. This occurred as early as 2011, two years before the Islamic State (IS) was formed. As the scale of killing increased, bribes became a routine procedure in return for such documented proof, creating a flourishing parallel industry for the security officials who oversee the systematic killings.</p> <p>However, since this was occurring extra-judicially, in security dungeons with civilian mediators that handle the bribe payments and orally agree on everything, there were also many cases where the documents provided were manipulated.</p> <p>The most famous of these cases was that of <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/10/05/joint-amnesty-international-and-human-rights-watch-statement-zaynab-al-hosni">Zainab al-Hosni</a>, a young woman from Homs. In late July 2011, Zainab went missing and her family believed she had been arrested by security forces. Two months later, the family received a maimed corpse from a state morgue and were told it was their daughter’s, but they were only allowed to take her after signing the usual “armed gangs” accusation. The family was enraged. Opposition and international media quickly <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/05/syria-attack-media-beheaded-girl">spread the news</a> as more proof of regime crimes.</p> <p>A few days later, a <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/05/world/meast/syria-woman-alive/">video</a> was aired on Syrian state TV broadcasting an interview with the young woman, stating that she was alive and in good condition, to discredit opposition media despite the evidence given to her family. The identity of the maimed body remains <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2011/10/syria-reports-regarding-zainab-al-hosni/">unknown</a> until today.</p> <p>The manipulation of documents also has many legal implications that prevent families from moving on with their lives. ‘Widows’, for example, don’t know if they are still married or not several years after the arrest of their husbands. They cannot <a href="http://www.syrianbar.org/index.php?news=167">legally divorce</a> or remarry until the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=394532634049953&amp;id=385931454910071">courts acknowledge</a> that their husbands went <a href="https://www.arab-ency.com/_/details.law.php?full=1&amp;nid=164628">missing</a>, and this process could take&nbsp; up to four years. Receiving this official acknowledgement is often dependent on the women’s ability to fulfill the requests of corrupt judges.</p> <p>Also, according to <a href="http://www.mofa.gov.sy/ar/pages84/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AB%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%AA%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B7%D9%84%D9%88%D8%A8%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%85%D9%86%D8%AD-%D9%88%D8%AA%D8%AC%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D8%AC%D9%88%D8%A7%25">Syrian laws</a> a mother cannot issue official documents, such as passports, for her children, even if she holds legal custody of them, or is still married to their father. In the absence of their father, a male member of the father’s family may be able to issue such documents if sufficient reason is provided for the absence of the father. The reason is deemed sufficient by government employees, whose flexibility is also subject to bribery.</p> <p>Ghada (57) lost her son to regime shelling during the siege of Homs (2012-14). He was already wanted by the regime for his activism. As a result, his family was unable to bury his body in the family cemetery.</p> <p>But that was not the only problem. “I only have another son, who was due to be drafted to military service if we couldn’t issue a death certificate for his deceased brother,” she explained. According to Syrian draft law, only sons are <a href="http://parliament.gov.sy/arabic/index.php?node=201&amp;nid=4921&amp;">exempted</a> from obligatory service.</p> <p>“It took months and months of work until we finally managed to issue a death certificate for him,” a move that cost her several hundreds of dollars back in 2013. Today, the cost often reaches the thousands, depending on the necessity of the document and the financial ability of the blackmailed citizen.</p> <h3><strong>Education</strong></h3><h3> </h3><p>Even school students were not spared from being used as bargaining chips in this war for official documents.</p> <p>Although the regime <a href="http://carnegieendowment.org/files/syrian_state1.pdf">continued</a> to pay teacher salaries in public schools in opposition-held territory, it has at times refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of national examinations. This was particularly damaging to 9th and12th grade [lower and upper secondary levels] students that sit nationwide qualifying exams in order to be issued an official graduation certificate that permits them to continue their studies.</p> <p>The regime peddled the narrative that they were unable to verify the proper procedures were indeed followed to prevent cheating and fraud in opposition-controlled areas. Ironically, such practices are on the rise even in regime-held areas, along with an unprecedented demand for <a href="https://www.newsdeeply.com/syria/articles/2015/10/14/illegal-degrees-for-legal-emigration">forged academic certificates</a>, which has pushed many countries to reject academic qualifications issued in Syria after 2011.</p> <p>In some cases, as the result of successful negotiations with the parties in control of each area, the tests were accepted or students were allowed to leave their besieged neighborhoods to sit tests. In <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/16/world/middleeast/syria-allows-students-to-leave-rebel-held-areas-to-take-exams.html?_r=0">other cases</a>, however, the students and their teachers had to endure threats and extra costs to reach the regime-held territories.</p> <p>Mohammad (32), a 9th grade teacher in besieged Eastern Ghoutah, spoke of the painful trip on which he took his students in the early summer of 2015. “It took us 27 hours to cross the endless checkpoints through the siege into Damascus. This road used to take me 20 minutes before.”</p> <p>The trip was even more risky for Mohammad himself, who had lost two brothers in the past four years, and has become an ‘unofficial’ only child for his elderly parents. The possibility of being taken away to be drafted is always present.</p> <p>Where Mohammad has been lucky, Umm Ghyath (50) has not. As a public high school administrative employee from opposition-controlled rural Aleppo, she had escorted 9th grade girls to Aleppo city to sit their exams, but she was searched at a checkpoint on the way back. A large amount of cash was found on her.</p> <p>“I explained that these were the retirement salaries of fellow teachers who could not embark on a risky trip to Aleppo to collect them. I showed them the legal authorizations I had from them to use their debit cards, but they said that these retired employees were wanted for being Free Syrian Army [FSA] members, and they confiscated the money and arrested me.”</p> <p>“I told them: How can I know if they are wanted or not? Why do they still get paid their salaries if they are FSA members? These are all retired old people.” She remained incommunicado in a security branch for three weeks, only to be subsequently released without charges. She never got the money back.</p> <p>In universities, the situation is not better. Ramia Shami had to leave Syria after passing her final exams, but before the graduation attestation was ready to be issued. She gave her mother legal authorisation to follow up the process on her behalf and left the country for good. After nine months of attempts, they finally gave up on obtaining the certificate.</p> <p>“I couldn’t ask her to keep playing this pointless, tiresome game with them anymore.” Ramia explained that her mother was asked to present her high school diploma in order for her Bachelor’s diploma to be issued, even though she had previously presented it to enroll at university four years ago.</p> <p>When the mother explained that the original diploma was missing as it had been left in Ramia’s house, now inaccessible in a rebel-controlled area, the Damascus University employees insisted on refusing to issue her graduation attestation without it. Bribes could have solved the situation, but they did not want to pay. “Four years of study wasted just like that!” she lamented.</p> <h3><strong>Legal Authorizations</strong></h3> <p>After almost a third of Syrians have left the country, <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2016/11/real-estate-market-surveillance/">legal authorizations</a> by citizens living abroad that allow their legal mandates to operate on their behalf have become an essential way to process all their documents and affairs in the country.</p> <p>As a result, regime corruption seized on this opportunity. A new <a href="http://www.alhayat.com/Articles/10693667/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A-%D9%8A%D8%B4%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%B7-%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%258">security clearance</a> was introduced as a prerequisite to issuing many &nbsp;official documents, including <a href="http://www.egov.sy/service/ar/4148/0/%D8%A5%D8%B9%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AF+%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%88%D9%83%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AA+%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%A9.html">legal authorizations</a> promulgated by Syrian embassies, thus blocking Syrians’ rights as citizens living abroad if they are deemed politically unwelcome or they cannot afford (or do not want) to pay bribes.</p> <p>Nada (36), who has been in Europe studying for her PhD for the past three years, told us about her mother’s struggle to save her house in Homs. Nada had signed up for a public housing project over a decade ago, and had been paying monthly installments for it since then. After several years of delay, in 2016 the house was finally ready.</p> <p>However, Nada had also been actively involved in speaking publicly about the regime’s atrocities. “My mother is a regime supporter, and she has not spoken to me for almost two years over this.” Still, the irony came when her mother had to confront regime corruption and embezzlement, blocked&nbsp; from acting on behalf of Nada to receive her house because of her daughter’s rejected security clearance.</p> <p>“We just wanted to make good use of it,” explained the PhD candidate, “there are many homeless people in Homs now that need it. Now I cannot rent it out, nor sell it, nor do anything with it.” She fears the lack of security will lead to regime affiliates seizing her house and using it themselves.</p> <h3><strong>Citizenship and Mobility</strong></h3> <p>To the rest of the world, the most worrying aspect of this ‘bureaucratic despotism’ is related to <a href="http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/5/syrias-paperwork-crisis.html">passports</a>. Passports have always been used by the regime as a tool of control over global mobility. Controlling passports meant controlling who can leave the country and how, who can travel around abroad and who cannot, who is forced to request asylum, and who is effectively stripped off of their citizenship and left stateless.</p> <p>A large proportion of Syrians that moved to neighboring countries, like Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon, did so without their passports, or any form of ID, after they fled their shelled homes where their documents had most likely been destroyed.</p> <p>This also meant that these Syrians were stuck in whatever country accepted them, unable to legally leave it. A situation that proved very profitable to smugglers, who became these people’s only option for leaving their host countries.</p> <p>Attempting to issue new passports at Syrian embassies in refugee host countries was not possible for several years. Starting in 2011 and throughout 2012, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/24/syria-us-withdraw-ambassadors-assad">regime embassies</a> in Jordan, Turkey and <a href="http://www.mofa.gov.sy/ar/pages753/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%8A-%D9%84%D8%A7-%D9%8A%D9%88%D8%AC%D8%AF-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%AB%D9%8A%D9%84-%D8%AF%D8%A8%D9%84%D9%88%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%8A">many other countries</a> were not regularly functioning. Additionally, since 2013, the regime strengthened the security conditions for issuing passports, implementing checks to verify that applicants &nbsp;are not “accused” of dissidence or requesting they hand in their old, often lost, passports.</p> <p>During this period, many Syrians were forced to seek asylum in their countries of residence, not for financial reasons or residency permits, but because the lack of valid identification documents rendered their, otherwise legal, residency in those countries impossible.</p> <p><a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/11/fake-syrian-passports/416445/">Black markets</a> for fake or stolen passports emerged as a result, often involving corrupt regime officials. To further complicate things, these markets expanded beyond the needs of Syrians denied their rightful passports by the regime, to include asylum seekers from various countries who wanted to benefit from the humanitarian asylum offered to Syrian citizens.</p> <p>In Germany, for example, Nader (42) told us of his experience as a volunteer interpreter at a refugee centre in the summer of 2015: “Since many arrived without documents, or with fake ones, some of our German colleagues would ask us to use dialect clues to assess if the person was indeed Syrian or not.” Nader was not happy with this task. “The accent of Syrians from Dayr az-Zawr is very similar to Iraqis,” he explained. Not only was this difficult, but it also felt ethically challenging for Nader, since people on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border could have been fleeing the same IS oppression or the air raids of the US-led coalition.</p> <p>Finally, under international pressure and <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2016/12/liberalization-conflict-syrian-economy/">financial need for foreign currency</a>, the regime caved in in 2015 and resumed <a href="http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/4/27/syria-relaxes-passport-rules-lets-refugees-apply.html">issuing passports</a> for Syrian citizens, including those wanted for activism or conscription.&nbsp;The cost of obtaining an official travel document doubled, and was priced in USD for those applying abroad. This week it <a href="http://arabi21.com/story/994842/%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%B1%D8%B3%D9%88%D9%85-%D8%AC%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%81%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A-%D8%B1%D9%81%D8%B9-%D9%81%D9%84%D9%83%D9%8A">doubled</a> once again, to reach $800 for fast track processing, as opposed to less than $100 before 2011</p> <p>However, this did not mean the end of blackmail against activists, as security checks continue to randomly complicate the process on an individual basis, sometimes causing delays for several months. Applicants are often required to submit their old passports before receiving the new ones, leaving them at the regime’s mercy and forcing them to pay whatever bribes may be demanded in addition to the official costs.</p> <h3><strong>International Compliance</strong></h3> <p>Most recently, a new method is used by the regime, related to international compliance: discrediting passports as either stolen or simply cancelled. This was the case of award-winning journalist and activist <a href="https://rsf.org/en/news/zaina-erhaim-syria-named-2015-winner-peter-mackler-award-courageous-and-ethical-journalism">Zaina Erhaim</a>, who had her <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/26/europe/britain-syria-erhaim-passport-row/">passport confiscated</a> by British authorities at the airport upon arrival in London in September 2016.</p> <p>After she demanded an explanation, stranded at the airport with her newborn baby girl, the Home Office staff vaguely referred to her passport as “being reported stolen”, with little explanation on the nature of these “reports”.</p> <p>This response came as a surprise to the journalist, since she was not questioned on whether or not she was actually Zaina Erhaim. The British authorities had accepted the accusation of her stealing her own passport. Commenting on this episode, a Home Office spokesperson <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/24/syrian-journalist-zaina-erhaim-passport-held-assad-request">told</a> The Guardian: “If a passport is reported as lost or stolen by a foreign government we have no choice but to confiscate it.”</p> <p>The United States authorities also appear to comply with the regime’s control over official documents, as in the case of Khaled al-Khatib, the cinematographer of the Oscar-winning documentary short, ‘<a href="https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80101827">The White Helmets</a>‘. Al-Khatib was granted a visitor visa to the US to attend the Awards ceremony. However, he was denied boarding the airplane in Turkey, last February, and told by Turkish authorities that his visa had been “cancelled”.</p> <p>The US authorities had the option of waiving the passport requirements to allow him to board the flight, but chose not to do so, despite being well aware of the regime’s record in persecuting dissidents.</p> <p>The Department of Homeland Security’s official explanation for blocking al-Khatib is that they received “<a href="http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-entertainment-news-updates-syrian-who-worked-on-oscar-nominated-1487998888-htmlstory.html">derogatory information</a>” about him, a broad term that could include passport irregularities as well as security concerns. Asked for clarifications, a Syria Desk officer from the Department of State told SyriaUntold that “in order to travel to the United States, travelers from Syria must have a valid visa and passport.” This <a href="http://www.vox.com/culture/2017/2/26/14742386/khaled-khateeb-white-helmets-oscars-denied-entry-syria">‘copy-paste’ response</a> has been the only one given to the media by US authorities.</p><p><em>[i] Pseudonyms were used for security reasons with the exception Zaina Erhaim and Khalid al-Khatib.</em></p><p><strong><em>This article was first published on <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2017/03/regime-wages-war-documents-syrians/">Syria Untold</a> on March 31, 2017. </em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/andres-barkil-oteo/agency-and-hope-helping-communities-healing-themselves">Agency and hope: helping communities healing themselves</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/chris-doucouliagos/assad-s-rational-brutality">Assad’s rational brutality</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Conflict Democracy and government bureaucracy Syrian refugees Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Syria Untold Sat, 01 Apr 2017 08:41:34 +0000 Syria Untold 109828 at https://www.opendemocracy.net الفاعلية النفسية والأمل: مساعدة المجتمعات على معالجة نفسها https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/andres-barkil-oteo/Syria-war-mental-health-local-councils <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="direction-rtl">يتناول هذا المقال نموذجًا يرتكز على مجالس مستقلة التنظيم تابعة للمعارضة كشريكٍ رئيسي محتمل في تعزيز القدرة على معالجة الصحة العقلية في المجتمعات المتأثرة بالصراع. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/andres-barkil-oteo/agency-and-hope-helping-communities-healing-themselves"><strong>English</strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="direction-rtl"><span class="direction-rtl">&nbsp;</span><strong class="direction-rtl"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/24.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/24.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>نموذج عن برج الساعة في حمص الذي أصبح أشهر نقطة تجمّع في المدينة خلال المظاهرات ضد النظام في العام 2011. وقد بنى هذا النموذج سكان سوريون من مخيم كاتسيكاس للاجئين في منطقة إيبيروس في اليونان. وتشير الساعة إلى الوقت الذي دخلوا فيها إلى المخيم وكُتب تحت الساعة: “توقف الوقت لمّا أتينا هنا.”/ أيلول / سبتمبر 2016 (أندريس باركيل-أوتيو/حكاية ما انحكت)</span></span></span>(هذا المقال منجز بالتعاون مع <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/ar/">حكاية ما انحكت</a> )</strong></p> <p class="direction-rtl">بعد دخول الحرب السورية عامها الخامس، و<a href="http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php">لجوء</a> حوالي خمسة ملايين من سكان سوريا خارج البلاد، ونزوح 6.5 ملايين في الداخل، و<a href="http://www.iamsyria.org/death-tolls.html">موت</a> 450 ألفًا، أصبحت هذه الحرب كارثة إنسانية بمقاييس غير اعتيادية، فما أهمية النظر في خدمات الصحة العقلية في ظلّ هذا الواقع المروّع؟ وهل يُفضَّل أن تعالَج حالات المرض الشديد أوّلًا (أي اعتماد المقاربة السريرية)، أو يُستحسن اعتبار تعزيز الروابط المجتمعية هو الأولوية (أي اعتماد مقاربة مبنية على صحة السكان)؟</p> <p class="direction-rtl">&nbsp;لذلك، سيتناول هذا المقال نموذجًا يرتكز على مجالس مستقلة التنظيم تابعة للمعارضة كشريكٍ رئيسي محتمل في تعزيز القدرة على معالجة الصحة العقلية في المجتمعات المتأثرة بالصراع.</p><h3 class="direction-rtl">المقاربة الشمولية</h3><p><span class="direction-rtl"> </span></p><p class="direction-rtl">إنّ أوّل ما يخطر في بال المرء عند التخطيط لتقديم خدمات الصحة العقلية معالجةُ اضطرابات ما بعد الصدمة، أي معالجة المشاكل السريرية بمقاربات سريرية. إلا أنّ هذا المنظور محصورٌ ومحدودٌ، ويؤدي في حالات كثيرة إلى اعتبار المعاناة الاجتماعية مرضًا أكثر ممّا يجب.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">وبهدف مواجهة هذه المشاكل واعتماد مقاربة أكثر شمولية لمعالجة الاضطرابات العقلية التي تعاني منها المجتمعات، رعت منظمة الصحة العالمية <a href="https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/mental-health-and-psychosocial-support-emergency-settings-0/content/iasc-guidelines-mental-health">الضوابط الإرشادية للجنة الدائمة المشتركة بين الوكالات للصحة العقلية والدعم النفس</a><a href="https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/mental-health-and-psychosocial-support-emergency-settings-0/content/iasc-guidelines-mental-health">/ اجتماعي في حالات الطوارئ</a>. فطوّرت هذه الضوابطُ نظرتنا إلى خدمات الصحة العقلية، ووسّعتها لتشمل المشاكل النفس اجتماعية مثل تأمين ملاجئ آمنة، وتقديم الطعام، وتوطيد الروابط بين أفراد العائلة الواحدة، فضلًا عن تزويد المجتمع بدعم واسع.</p> <p class="mag-quote-left">من المعروف أنّ الحرب تزعزع العلاقات العائلية والشبكات المجتمعية</p><p class="direction-rtl">ويشمل الأمن والخدمات الأساسية عدّة عناصر، منها تحقيق الأمن والحوكمة المناسبة، وتقديم خدمات تلّبي الاحتياجات الجسدية الأساسية. ويعني دعمُ الصحة العقلية في هذا الإطار التشديدَ على أن يتم تنظيم هذه الخدمات وتقديمها بما يضمن كرامة الإنسان ويعزّز الصحة والسلامة العقليتين.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">أمّا مسألة دعم العائلة والمجتمع فتأت في المرتبة الثانية أهميةً، مباشرةً بعد الاستجابة للاحتياجات الأساسية. فمن المعروف أنّ الحرب تزعزع العلاقات العائلية والشبكات المجتمعية، لذلك من المفيد إعادة بناء هذه الروابط من خلال مبادرات كالسعي إلى تحسين التواصل، وتتبّع أفراد العائلة وتوحيدهم، وتقديم المساعدة في مراسيم الحداد والرسميات المجتمعية الأخرى.</p><h3 class="direction-rtl">دور المجالس المحلية</h3><p class="direction-rtl">من سيتولى تقديم هذه الخدمات؟ عادةً ما يقع تنفيذ إطار العمل هذا على عاتق المنظمات غير الحكومية المحلية والدولية في فترات ما بعد الكوارث، إلّا أنّ ذلك قد يكون أمرًا صعبًا في السياق السوري الحالي. أضِف إلى ذلك أنّه من الأفضل البحث عن حلول مستدامة نظرًا لأنّنا نواجه صراعًا مطوّلًا قد يستمر لسنوات وسنوات.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">وأخيرًا، مهما اقتُرح من حلول، من المهم طرح نماذجَ سبق وتمّ تنفيذها، نماذجَ تتلاءم مع السياق المجتمعي الحالي.</p> <p class="mag-quote-right">ولم تأتِ هذه النظم الاجتماعية استجابةً لتعليمات فرضتها الحكومة، بل كانت نتيجة تعاون طوعي وابتكار مبدع</p><p class="direction-rtl">خلال السنوات الأخيرة، ظهرت عدّة أمثلة عن <a href="https://qunfuz.com/2016/10/31/anarchism/">“مجالس” ذاتية الحكم</a> بشكل تلقائي في عدد من المدن الخاضعة لسيطرة المعارضة في سوريا، وبرزت هذه المجالس بالتحديد عندما تحرّرت المجتمعات من الدولة وخدماتها ومن متطلباتها القاهرة.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">ولم تأتِ هذه النظم الاجتماعية استجابةً لتعليمات فرضتها الحكومة، بل كانت نتيجة تعاون طوعي وابتكار مبدع. فتشكلت بشكل أساسي كحل عملي وغير إيديولوجي للمشاكل التي واجهتها المجتمعات وقتذاك، مثل العيش تحت القذائف والبراميل المتفجرة، وعدم توافر مياه الشرب والوقود والكهرباء بشكل مستمر أو غيابها تمامًا.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">واعتمد تطور هذه <a href="http://www.arab-reform.net/en/file/1658/download?token=0dy1dOVG">المجالس</a> (سواء عبر خوض انتخابات ديمقراطية، أو التوافق مع القوات المسلحة، أو التمثيل المبني على العائلات أو أوساط القوى المحلية) على الموقع الذي تواجدت فيه وعلى الجهات الفاعلة المحلية.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">وكان المفكر والناشط السياسي الدمشقي الراحل <a href="https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/omar-aziz-a-discussion-paper-on-local-councils-in-syria">عمر عزيز</a> من أوّل من كتبوا عن المجالس المحلية التي تسعى إلى مساعدة الأفراد على “إدارة حياتهم بشكل مستقل عن مؤسسات الدولة وأجهزتها، وتأمين فضاء للتعبير الجماعي يدعم تعاون الأفراد في ما بينهم.” و<a href="http://novaramedia.com/2015/02/23/radical-lives-omar-aziz/">نادى</a> عزيز بالانقطاع التام عن الدولة القائمة، وتحقيق التحرّر الجماعي من دون انتظار أن يتغيّر النظام أو أن تَستبدل إحدى القوى الحاكمة الأخرى، إذ كان يؤمن بقدرة المجتمعات على تأمين حرّيتها بصرف النظر عن التقلّبات السياسية.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">ومن <a href="https://leilashami.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/the-legacy-of-omar-aziz-building-autonomous-self-governing-communes-in-syria/">أبرز أدوار</a> هذه المجالس مساعدة الأفراد على تأمين الملجأ والطعام والأمان، ومساعدة العائلات على التواصل مع أحبائها، وتقديم الدعم المعنوي والقانوني للمعتقلين وعائلاتهم وأيضًا الإبلاغ عن أوضاعهم، وتنسيق الخدمات الطبية والتغطية الإعلامية والمبادرات التعليمية.</p><p class="direction-rtl"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/8-874x492.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/8-874x492.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>عمل فني من مخيم كاتسيكاس للاجئين في منطقة إيبيروس في اليونان – أيلول / سبتمبر 2016 (أندريس باركيل-أوتيو/حكاية ما انحكت)</span></span></span></p> <h3 class="direction-rtl">تعزيز الفاعلية النفسية للقضاء على العجز المكتسب</h3><p class="direction-rtl">ما العلاقة بين المجالس المحلية ومستقبل صحة الشعب العقلية؟ لقد اعتادت البشرية منذ سنوات كثيرة على ما يُعرف في علم النفس بـ”<a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/10/20121018830974405.html">العجز المكتسب</a>“، ويعني ذلك تقبّل الفرد حالة معينة بشكل كامل. فعندما يتعرّض الفرد للصدمات بشكل متكرّر، من دون أن يستطيع مواجهتها أو تجنّبها، ينصاع إليها ويتقبّلها. وعندما يُفتح أمامه مجال للإفلات من الصدمات في وقت لاحق، لا يغتنم فرصة النجاة هذه.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">والفاعلية النفسية (أي وعي الفرد بأنّه قادر على المبادرة بأفعاله وتنفيذها والتحكّم فيها) هي في الواقع أمر خطير، حتى أنّ الأنظمة الاستبدادية تعتمد على <a href="https://htmpwtbf.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/learned-helplessness/">اندثار الفاعلية النفسية</a> وترسيخ العجز المكتسب لكي تبسط سلطتها ويستمر حكمها. فعندما لا يعود هناك من مهرب، يصبح الحل الوحيد <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/S15327949PAC0602_1">التأقلم</a>َ مع النظام القائم.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">وتُفقِد هذه النفسية الفردَ رغبته في النمو والازدهار، ف<a href="https://meanwhileinbudapest.com/2016/01/23/how-oppressive-regimes-rob-their-victims-of-their-sense-of-agency-1-terror-bonding/">يركّز</a> عوضًا عن ذلك على الحؤول دون أن تزداد الأمور سوءًا (خصوصًا إن اقتنع بأنّه ليس في وسعه تحسين أحواله). ويشكّل الخوف من النظام والاعتماد عليه مزيجًا سامًّا من شأنه القضاء على الفاعلية النفسية تدريجيًّا.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">ومن العلاجات القادرة على شفاء العجز المكتسب تعزيزُ “الفاعلية النفسية”. فهذه الأخيرة تشير إلى إمكانية أو حالة أو وضع ما يسمح للمرء بممارسة السلطة أو فرضها، والعملُ الناجم عن الفاعلية النفسية هو كل عمل يؤدي إلى نتيجة توقّعها الفرد مسبقًا، سواء جزئيًّا أو كليًّا.</p> <p class="mag-quote-left">الشعور بالقدرة على التحكم بالأمور من أهم ما يُشعر المرء بالأمان</p><p class="direction-rtl">واستنادًا إلى مراجع خاصة بعلم النفس، تتألف الفاعلية النفسية من ثلاث خطوات هي <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Self-Organizing-Complexity-Psychological-Systems-Issues/dp/0765705265">التبصّر والاختيار والمبادرة الذاتية</a>. ويُقصد بـ”التبصر” مرحلة التخطيط للانخراط في نشاط جديد، وذلك قبل المباشرة بهذا النشاط فعليًّا. والاختيار هو انتقاء الفرد تصرّفًا معيّنًا، إذ تختلف الآليات التي يعمل بها الدماغ عندما يُرغَم المرء على القيام بأمر ما عن تلك التي يتم تفعيلها عندما يختار هذا التصرّف نفسه. بذلك، يُلغي العجز المكتسب عاملَ الاختيار.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">أمّا المبادرة الذاتية فهي عملٌ يقوم به الفرد بمجهوده الخاص. ففي حالة العجز المكتسب التي تمّ تناولها أعلاه، لا تختبر ضحية الصدمات الفاعليةَ النفسية إن تمّ وضع حدّ للصدمات من دون أيّ تدخل من الضحية نفسها، إذ لم تؤدّ هذه الأخيرة أي دور في عملية الوقف. ومع أنّ ذلك يريح الضحية من معاناتها، إلا أنّه لا يُلغي العجزَ المكتسب. من هنا، إنّ مساعدة الآخرين ليست بالضرورة الطريقة الأمثل لتحسين وظائفهم، فلا يكتسب المرء الفاعلية النفسية ولا يصبح متمكنًا من دون أن يبذل هو نفسه جهدًا في سبيل ذلك.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">ومن المبادئ المتعارف عليها في علم النفس أنّ الشعور بالقدرة على التحكم بالأمور من أهم ما يُشعر المرء بالأمان. وفي المقابل، من أبرز أعراض الصدمات التي تظهر لدى من يعانون من اضطرابات ما بعد الصدمة الشعور بالعجز وفقدان أسس الثقة والتوقعية والأمان.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">ويمكن لمس مفهوم <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/05/201356165057256788.html">الفعالية الذاتية</a> أو الفاعلية النفسية الشخصية عندما يؤمن الفرد بأنّ أفعاله ستؤدي على الأرجح إلى نتائج إيجابية. ويمكن توسيع هذا المفهوم ليشمل الفعالية الجماعية التي تدل على إيمان جماعة بقدرتها على إحداث نتائج إيجابية.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">وقد أظهرت الأدلة أنّ الأشخاص الذين اختبروا صدمات في حياتهم معرّضون لفقدان حس الكفاءة والمهارات اللازمة لحل المشاكل التي قد يواجهونها. لهذا السبب تسعى التدخلات الناجحة إلى تمكين المجموعات الاجتماعية لتصبح قادرة على تخطي الصعوبات. وبما أنّه من غير الواقعي بعض الشيء اعتبار أنّ الفرد قادر على تنمية هذا الشعور بالكفاءة بنفسه في ظروف كظروف الحرب، يتعيّن على المجتمعات أن تتعاون لحلّ المشاكل التي تعاني منها.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">وتعترف منظمة الصحة العالمية بأهمية الفعالية الذاتية في التعافي، وتشدّد لذلك على تعزيز الاكتفاء والحكم الذاتيين لدى الشعوب المتأثرة بالحروب.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">وقد تساهم النشاطات التي يبتكرها المجتمع وينفذها بنفسه في تكوين حس بالفعالية الجماعية. فعلى سبيل المثال، من أبرز التدخلات على صعيد الصحة العقلية التي تلت التسونامي في آسيا <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/dec/23/2004-tsunami-five-years-on">جهود بذلها المجتمع لدعم إعادة بناء قوارب صيد السمك</a>، ما سمح للصيادين باستعادة سبل عيشهم.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">كذلك، في ما يتعلّق بالأطفال والمراهقين، تعترف منظمة الصحة العالمية ومنظمة الأمم المتحدة للطفولة (اليونيسف) بأهمية إعادة تأهيل المجتمعات المدرسية في سبيل استعادة الأطفال لحس الفعالية الذاتية.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">وفي ظلّ غياب أنظمة الصحة العامة المحلية، قد يشكّل دعم شكلٍ ما من المجالس الذاتية الحكم حجرَ الأساس للعمل وفقًا للمقاربة المبنية على صحة السكان العقلية. وتبرز أهمية ذلك بشكل خاص في حالة النازحين أو اللاجئين الذين سُلخوا عن مدنهم بعيدًا عن أنظمة الحكم الرسمية وغير الرسمية التي يألفونها.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">وقد أظهرت الدراسات أنّ تعافي الأفراد من الآثار النفسية للعنف السياسي يعتمد بشكل كبير على نظرة الأفراد إلى قدرة المجمتع على التعافي، إذ <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23793902">تعزّز</a> الروابط بين الأفراد والمجتمعات فاعليتهم وقدرتهم على التعافي، وذلك عبر تكوين الصداقات وتَشارُك معنى المعاناة وتشكيل رؤية مستقبلية جماعية.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">وباختصار، قدّمت دراسات أجريت في بلدان أخرى معرّضة بشكل واسع للصدمات والصراعات المطوّلة أدلةً قويةً تظهر أنّ البرامج المجتمعية فعلًا تؤثّر بشكل إيجابي على تعزيز قدرة الأفراد على التعافي ونشر استراتيجيات التأقلم المرن. كما <a href="https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1752-4458-7-3">يزيد</a> تمكين حس الفاعلية النفسية والتحكم لدى المجتمعات من فعاليتها الجماعية ورأسمالها الاجتماعي. ويشكّل ذلك الركيزة الأساسية لتعافي المجتمع من الصدمات الجماعية التي تظهر في الصراعات المطوّلة.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">إلّا أنّه يتم تجاهل هذه المقاربة في معظم الأحيان والتركيز عوضًا عن ذلك على الحالات السريرية الفردية. لكن في الواقع، لمعالجة الفرد الواحد، يجب أولًا مساعدة المجتمع ليعالج نفسه ويتخلص من العجز المكتسب، وأيضًا تعزيز الفاعلية النفسية والعمل. وسيشكّل ذلك بالتالي ركيزة تُبنى عليها برامج سريرية تتناول المشاكل السريرية الفردية لا العكس.</p><p class="direction-rtl"><strong>ترجمه‫/‬ته إلى العربية <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/ar/post_translator/%D9%86%D8%B2%D9%8A%D9%87%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%B5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D9%8A/">نزيهة بصيري</a>. </strong></p><p class="direction-rtl"><strong>يمكن قراءة المقال على موقع حكاية ما انحكت <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/ar/2017/03/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D9%81%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%84-%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AC%D8%AA/">هنا</a><br /></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/maria-al-abdeh/lessons-from-syria-on-womens-empowerment-during-conflict">Lessons from Syria on women&#039;s empowerment during conflict</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Civil society Conflict war Trauma Mental health Arabic language Looking inside the uprising Through Syrian eyes أندريس باركيل-أوتيو Thu, 23 Mar 2017 09:39:31 +0000 أندريس باركيل-أوتيو 109627 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Agency and hope: helping communities healing themselves https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/andres-barkil-oteo/agency-and-hope-helping-communities-healing-themselves <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>When planning mental health services, treating PTSD is what usually comes to mind. What role do local communities play in building resiliency in Syria? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/andres-barkil-oteo/Syria-war-mental-health-local-councils"><strong>عربي</strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/24_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/24_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A replica of the Clock Tower in Homs, which became the city’s most famous gathering point during anti-regime demonstrations in 2011. It was built by the Syrian residents of the Katsikas refugee camp, in Greece’s Epirus region. The clock is set to the time they entered the camp and a caption underneath it reads: “Time stopped when we came here” – September 2016 (Andres Barkil-Oteo/SyriaUntold)</span></span></span>[This article is the outcome of a partnership between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy].</strong></p> <p>Five years in, with almost 5 million <a href="http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php">refugees</a> outside Syria, 6.5 million internally displaced, and 450,000 <a href="http://www.iamsyria.org/death-tolls.html">deaths</a>, the Syrian war is a humanitarian disaster of extraordinary proportions. In this current grim reality, why think about mental health services? Is it advisable to treat the severely ill first (the clinical approach), or to prioritize the strengthening of community ties (the population health approach)? In this essay a model based on opposition-linked self-organizing councils will be discussed as potential primary partner in fortifying mental health resiliency in the affected communities.</p> <h3><strong>Holistic Approach</strong></h3> <p>When planning mental health services, treating PTSD is what usually comes to mind; i.e., clinical approaches to clinical problems. However, this is a very narrow and limited vision, that many times leads to the over-pathologizing of social suffering.</p> <p>To counter these problems and to embrace a more holistic approach to the mental health issues of societies, the World Health Organization (WHO) sponsored the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) <a href="https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/mental-health-and-psychosocial-support-emergency-settings-0/content/iasc-guidelines-mental-health">Guidelines for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings</a>. These guidelines revolutionize the way we look at mental health services, expanding them to include psychosocial issues like providing safe shelter, food, and connections with family members, and broad community support.</p> <p class="mag-quote-left">It is widely recognized that, in a situation of war, family and community networks are disrupted</p><p>Examples of what constitutes basic services and security include the establishment of security, adequate governance, and the provision of services addressing basic physical needs. A mental health position on these issues is to advocate that these services be put in place and delivered in a way that maintains dignity and promotes mental health wellbeing.</p> <p>The issue of family and community support are second in importance, immediately following the attainment of basic needs. It is widely recognized that, in a situation of war, family and community networks are disrupted, so it is beneficial to restore them through initiatives like communication improvement efforts, family tracing and reunification, and assistance in mourning and communal ceremonies.</p> <h3><strong>The Role of Local Councils</strong></h3> <p>Who is going to deliver these services? Usually this framework is implemented by local and international NGOs in post-disaster settings. However, in the current Syrian context, this can be very challenging. In addition, given that we are looking at a protracted conflict that could last for years, it is preferable to look for sustainable solutions.</p> <p>Finally, whatever solutions are proposed, it is important to suggest models that have been implemented previously, and which are not something foreign to the societal context.</p> <p>In the last few years, many examples of <a href="https://qunfuz.com/2016/10/31/anarchism/">self-governance “councils”</a> spontaneously emerged in many opposition-held cities in Syria. These emerged when communities became free of the state and its services, as well as its overbearing impositions.</p> <p>These social orders were created not by a top-down government mandate but through voluntary cooperation, and creative innovation. These came into existence mainly as a practical and non-ideological solution to immediate problems they were encountering, including living under missiles and barrel bombs, and unreliable or non-existing sources of potable water, fuel and electricity.</p> <p>The way these <a href="http://www.arab-reform.net/en/file/1658/download?token=0dy1dOVG">councils</a> developed — through democratic elections, finding consensus with armed forces, or with representation based on families or local power circles — depended on the location and local actors.</p> <p class="mag-quote-right">These social orders were created not by a top-down government mandate but through voluntary cooperation, and creative innovation.</p><p>The late <a href="https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/omar-aziz-a-discussion-paper-on-local-councils-in-syria">Omar Aziz</a>, a Damascene intellectual and political activist, was one of the first people to write about local council models that aim to help people to “manage their own lives independent of institutions and state agencies, and to create a space for collective expression that supports the collaboration of individuals”. Aziz <a href="http://novaramedia.com/2015/02/23/radical-lives-omar-aziz/">stood</a> for a complete break with the existing state, the achievement of collective liberation without waiting for regime change, or for one ruling power to replace another. He believed that communities are capable of producing their own freedoms regardless of political vicissitudes.</p> <p>Some of the <a href="https://leilashami.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/the-legacy-of-omar-aziz-building-autonomous-self-governing-communes-in-syria/">essential roles</a> of the councils include helping people secure shelter, food and safe space; assisting families to connect with their loved ones; providing emotional and legal support for detainees and their families, along with information about their situation; and coordinating medical services, media coverage, and educational initiatives.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/8-874x492_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/8-874x492_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Syrian artwork from the Katsikas refugee camp in Greece’s Epirus region – September 2016 (Andres Barkil-Oteo/SyriaUntold)</span></span></span></p><h3><strong>Fostering Agency to Counter Learned Helplessness</strong></h3> <p>What is the relation between the local councils and the future of the population’s mental health? For years, generations have become habituated to what in psychology is known as <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/10/20121018830974405.html">“learned helplessness”</a>. &nbsp;Learned helplessness is the total acceptance of a given condition: when someone is repeatedly exposed to shocks, with no ability to resist or escape, they become docile and accepting. Should an exit from the shocks subsequently be provided, the opportunity to escape will not be taken.</p> <p>Agency is a dangerous thing, and authoritarian regimes, to rule and survive, depend on the <a href="https://htmpwtbf.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/learned-helplessness/">erosion of agency</a>, and the inculcation of learned helplessness.&nbsp; If there is no way out, then the best response is to <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/S15327949PAC0602_1">adapt</a> to the system.</p> <p>People in this mentality lose the desire to grow and prosper, and they <a href="https://meanwhileinbudapest.com/2016/01/23/how-oppressive-regimes-rob-their-victims-of-their-sense-of-agency-1-terror-bonding/">concentrate</a> on preventing things from becoming worse (especially when they don’t believe they can improve their situation). Fear of the system, and dependence on the system, creates a toxic mixture that slowly erodes agency.</p> <p>One cure for learned helplessness is to foster “agency.” Agency is the capacity, condition, or state of acting or exerting power. An act of agency is one that has an outcome that the individual has, in whole or part, foreseen.</p> <p>In the psychological literature, agency is comprised of three steps: <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Self-Organizing-Complexity-Psychological-Systems-Issues/dp/0765705265">foresight, choice and self-initiated action</a>. “Foresight” refers to the planning phase of engaging in a novel activity, before the initiation of the act itself. The experience of choice is the selection of a specific behavior by an individual. When one is coerced to do something, the set of brain mechanisms engaged is entirely different from those activated when someone choses the same behavior. Thus, learned helplessness eliminates the experience of choice.</p> <p>Self-initiated action is an action carried out through one’s own effort. In the case of learned helplessness described above, if the shocks were stopped without any input on the part of the victims, the latter would not experience agency, because they had not played any part in the cessation. While the victim experiences relief, the learned helplessness remains. Thus, even doing good things for people may not be the best way to improve their functioning; agency and empowerment only come because of effort by individuals.</p> <p class="mag-quote-left">Evidence shows that people who have experienced trauma are at risk of losing their sense of competency</p><p>A widely-held maxim in psychology is that having a sense of control over events is one of the main sources of feeling safe. One of the primary traumatic symptoms in those suffering with PTSD is a sense of helplessness, a lack of the basic senses of trust, predictability and safety.</p> <p>The concept of <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/05/201356165057256788.html">self-efficacy</a>, or personal agency, is found whenever individuals believe that their actions will likely lead to positive outcomes. This concept can be expanded to collective efficacy, which denotes the condition of groups that believe that they are likely to produce good outcomes.</p> <p>Evidence shows that people who have experienced trauma are at risk of losing their sense of competency, and the skills required to deal with problems they encounter, so successful interventions seek to empower social groups to overcome hardships. Since it is somewhat unrealistic in war-like environments to expect individuals to create this sense of competency on their own, communities need to come together to solve collectively the problems that affect them.</p> <p>The WHO recognizes the capacity of self-efficacy as essential for recovery, so it emphasizes the promotion of self-sufficiency and self-government among war-affected populations.</p> <p>Activities that are conceptualized and implemented by the community itself may contribute to a sense of communal efficacy. Among the major mental health interventions following the tsunami in Asia, for example, were <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/dec/23/2004-tsunami-five-years-on">community efforts to support the rebuilding of fishing boats</a>, allowing fishermen to resume their livelihoods.</p> <p>Similarly, for children and adolescents, the restoration of the school community is recognized by the WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as an essential step in reestablishing a sense of self-efficacy among children.</p> <p>In the absence of local public health systems, supporting a form of self-governing councils could be the building block for providing a population mental health approach. This could be especially important in the case of internally displaced or refugees who were uprooted from their cities, and away from their local formal and informal systems of governance.</p> <p>Research showed that people’s recovery from the psychological effect of political violence is highly dependent on individuals’ perceptions of community resilience. The bond between individuals and their communities <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23793902">promote</a> agency and resilience through friendships, shared meaning of their suffering and collective vision for their future.</p> <p>In summary, there is strong evidence from studies done in other countries with mass exposure to trauma and protracted conflict, that community based programs do have positive impact on increasing people’s resilience and promoting adaptive coping strategies. Empowering communities’ sense of agency and control <a href="https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1752-4458-7-3">increases</a> their collective efficacy and their social capital. These are the building blocks for community recovery after mass trauma events in protracted conflict settings.</p> <p>This approach tends to be largely ignored in favor of a focus on individual clinical cases; but to heal the individual, we need to help the community to heal itself, escape from learned helplessness, and foster agency and action. This will then serve as a foundation to build clinical programs that deals with individual clinical problems, and not the other way around.</p><p><em><strong>You can read this article on SyriaUntold <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2017/03/local-councils-treat-mental-conditions/">here</a></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/maria-al-abdeh/lessons-from-syria-on-womens-empowerment-during-conflict">Lessons from Syria on women&#039;s empowerment during conflict</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/qusay-loubani/from-damascus-to-hague-refugees-journey">From Damascus to The Hague: a refugee&#039;s journey</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/jameela-freitas/exiled-syrian-actress-helping-young-refugees-deal-with-trauma-with-th">The exiled Syrian actress helping young refugees deal with trauma using theater</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Civil society Conflict Mental health Trauma war Looking inside the uprising Through Syrian eyes Andres Barkil-Oteo Thu, 23 Mar 2017 09:23:44 +0000 Andres Barkil-Oteo 109624 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Syria: grassroots democracy, future prospects (Part II) https://www.opendemocracy.net/joseph-daher/syria-grassroots-democracy-future-prospects-part-ii <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Part two of this interview with Joseph Daher explores some of the experiments in grassroots democracy and the possible futures in Syria. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/8647279887_0398506f07_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/8647279887_0398506f07_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Picture by Beshr Abdulhadi. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>What do you make of events in the Kurdish areas of Syria, particularly what David Graeber has called “the remarkable democratic experiment” in Rojava? What is the relationship between Kurdish groups and revolutionaries in the rest of Syria?</strong></p> <p>The self-governance of Rojava in Northern Syria by the PYD is a direct result of the mass movement by the people of Syria (Arabs, Kurds, and Assyrians together) against the Assad regime. The popular uprising pushed the regime to conclude a deal with the PYD in July 2012, in which it withdrew from several Kurdish-majority regions in the North to redeploy its armed forces to repress the uprising elsewhere, while maintaining a small presence in some areas such as Qamichli and Hassaka.</p> <p>Institutions in these areas are dominated by PYD-affiliated organizations, with an assortment of Kurdish, Syriac, and Assyrian personalities who had little to lose from entering the agreement. For a far majority of Kurdish political parties and activists, Rojava is only a new form of authoritarianism rather than democratic confederalism in action. As evidence of this, many of them point to the exclusion of opposition parties and activists from youth groups within Rojava.&nbsp;</p> <p>Members and leaders of the people’s councils, which were established by the authorities of Rojava, are theoretically responsible for local governance. Representatives of all Kurdish political parties as well as non-Kurdish population in mixed areas are appointed by the PYD. Likewise, the movement maintains overall decision-making authority, consigning the councils except for distribution of gas and humanitarian aid (which has taken a largely symbolic role). The commune’s institution, one of the key elements in the new Rojava system, which serves to provide humanitarian assistance to the inhabitants in their neighborhoods, has been criticized because it enforces the rule of PYD-linked organizations.</p> <p>At the same time, these new institutions lack legitimacy among large sections of Syrian Arabs, although an Arab president had to be elected to the male/female joint presidency of the town’s local council.</p> <p>The authoritarianism of the PYD became clear in its repression and imprisonment of Kurdish activists and political opponents, including the closure of certain organizations and institutions. As a result, the PYD has faced growing opposition within the Kurdish population in Syria and within pro-revolutionary Kurdish activists.</p> <p>At the same time, in areas controlled by the PYD, there are some positive aspects that must be acknowledged, such as promotion of women’s rights and gender equality, the promotion of inclusive laws and institutions, provision of services, and to a certain extent some forms of coexistence between the various ethnicities and religious sects, despite existing tensions.</p> <p>So regarding David Graeber’s comment, I would be much more nuanced.</p> <p>Unfortunately, relations between Kurdish groups and opposition groups are poor. This is partly due to a degree of chauvinism that exists among many groups and personalities within the Syrian Arab opposition––particularly the Syrian National Coalition.</p> <p>The majority of the Syrian Arab opposition believes that Kurds are normal Syrian citizens who have been deprived of some of their rights. There were between 250,000 and 300,000 stateless Kurds at the beginning of the revolution in March 2011, or roughly 15 percent of the estimated two million Kurdish population in Syria. The majority of opposition political parties has not been ready in any way to recognize the Kurds as a separate “people” or “nation” and is not ready and willing to listen to demands for federalism and administrative decentralization.</p> <p>We have to understand that the demand for a federal system by the Syrian Kurdish political parties is rooted in decades of state oppression. This was done through policies of quasi-systematic discrimination against Kurds, policies of colonization in the framework of the “Arab Belt,” and cultural repressions at all levels. It also has socio-economic consequences: the most impoverished areas of the country were the areas mostly populated by Kurds such as in the north-eastern Jazirah.</p> <p>In this perspective, the majority of the Syrian Arab opposition did not address or even acknowledge this reality, mirroring the regime’s position. In addition, the alliance of the Syrian National Coalition with the Turkish government and its support for the Turkish military intervention against PYD armed forces and Kurdish civilians in Syria also increased tensions.</p> <p>At the same time, PYD policies have also been problematic, such as its non-conflict orientation towards the Assad regime, or support for Russian intervention in Syria, from which it benefitted. There are also some accusations of human rights violations against Arab populations.</p> <p>In general, no solution for the Kurdish issue and an inclusive Syria can be found without recognizing the Kurds as a proper “people” or “nation” in Syria and providing unconditional support to the self-determination of the Kurdish people in Syria and elsewhere. This does not, however, justify being uncritical of any negative PYD policies (or any other Kurdish political party).</p> <p>We need to reaffirm that the defeat of the Syrian revolution and of the popular movement would probably mark the end of the Rojava experience and the return to an era of oppression for the Kurds of Syria. The Assad regime and the reactionary forces which now dominate much of the scene in Syria would not allow any possible development of a political experience that is at odds with their authoritarianism.</p> <p>This is why we should not isolate the struggle for self-determination of the Kurdish people from the dynamics of the Syrian revolution.</p> <p><strong>Unlike Rojava, the local councils that have been established in the rest of Syria have not received the same attention. What roles have these councils played in the revolution?</strong></p> <p>By the end of 2011 and toward the beginning of 2012, regime forces started to withdraw, or were expelled, by opposition armed groups from an increasing number of regions across Syria. In the void they left behind, grassroots organizations began to evolve, essentially forming ad-hoc local governments. On many occasions, popular and local coordination committee activists were the main nuclei of the local councils. In some regions liberated from the regime, civil administrations were also established to make up for the absence of the state and take charge of its duties in various fields, like schools, hospitals, water systems, electricity, communications, welcoming internally displaced persons, cleaning the streets, taking the garbage away from the city center, agricultural projects, and many other initiatives.</p> <p>Local councils were either elected or established on consensus. In addition, some local councils encouraged campaigns of activists around democratic, artistic, educational, and health-related issues. It is important to note that many popular youth organizations were established throughout the country, as well free media outlets such as newspapers and radios.</p> <p>These local councils represent democratic alternatives in Syria, free from the regime and reactionary movements, which is precisely why the areas in which they operate are often the most targeted by the regime and its allies. At the same time, this does not mean that problems and contradictions did not exist in some Local Councils, such a lack of women’s participation or a lack of representatives from minority communities.</p> <p>However, all the cities and neighborhoods in which there was a popular, democratic, and inclusive alternative were targeted, such as Eastern Aleppo or the city of Daraya in the province of Damascus. They are in fact still being targeted along with the civilian infrastructures on which these experiences are based. These examples of popular and democratic self-organizations are the elements most feared by the regime since 2011. Not the official opposition which is in exile, corrupt, and linked to regional authoritarian regimes and neither Islamic fundamentalist forces, which constitute an objective ally of the regime.</p> <p><strong>Assad’s departure remains one of the main demands of the opposition but his position seems to have become fairly secure in recent months. In light of this is there any hope for an end to the war?</strong></p> <p>I am personally not very hopeful or optimistic for the near future because it is difficult to hope for the end of the war while not addressing the political roots of the problem in Syria. Any political transition to put an end to the war and move towards a democratic system must include the departure of Assad and his clique from power. Otherwise, the war will continue and provoke more catastrophes. In this transition, all war criminals must be held accountable for their crimes, from Assad forces and its allies to reactionary groups like ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.</p> <p>From both a political and humanitarian perspective, the end of the war in Syria is an absolute necessity. We must work to resettle the millions of people inside and outside Syria and give them the opportunity to return to their homes. We must also work to liberate political prisoners and ends the current sieges across the country. This is the only way for democratic and progressive forces to re-organize and again play a leading role in the struggle for a new, democratic Syria. We notice that every time there are partial ceasefires and respite from airstrikes, massive demonstrations occur throughout liberated areas of Syria with democratic and non-sectarian slogans.</p> <p><strong>How do you expect US policy toward Syria to change under a Donald Trump presidency?&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Because of Trump’s varied and contradictory statements on Middle East policy, including Syria, it’s hard to say with great certainty what will occur. There are some clear negative trends that will follow Trump’s presidency, and I believe the Syrian people will suffer greatly (contrary to the Syrian National Coalition’s (SNC) belief that the election of a new U.S. president could provide fresh momentum for Syria.</p> <p>Trump will be far more ready than Clinton to conclude an agreement with Russia over Syria, seeing Putin as a man who can fight terrorism. He expressed several times during the campaign that he wanted to seek a more cooperative relationship with Russia. Under Trump’s presidency, it seems that Russia and the United States are more likely to collaborate and work together against groups such as the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaeda related groups in Syria (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), while empowering Assad in the process. The recent appointment of Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive officer of oil giant ExxonMobil, as Secretary of State, is also troubling. He is known for his pro-Russian positions, actually having received the highest Russian distinction for a civilian (the Order of Friendship) from Putin’s hand in 2013.</p> <p>At the same time, Trump stated in a debate that he believed in building a bomb-free zone in Syria paid for by the Gulf states. This will probably not happen. So, a Trump administration might pressure U.S. allies in the region to, for example, stop backing the Syrian opposition in any way. More generally, Trump will be less critical and more supportive of authoritarian regimes in the region and elsewhere in the framework of the “War on Terror.”</p><p><em><strong>This article was first published in <a href="http://www.tmimag.com/Continue-Reading.aspx?id=9&amp;Title=Syria:-Grassroots-Democracy,-Future-Prospects">The Muslim Internationalist</a> on January 9, 2017. </strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/joseph-daher/revolution-and-counter-revolution-in-syria-part-i">Revolution and counter-revolution in Syria (Part I)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/loubna-mrie/aleppos-forgotten-revolutionaries">Aleppo&#039;s forgotten revolutionaries</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/rahila-gupta/rojava-revolution-how-deep-is-change">Rojava revolution: how deep is the change?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria middle east Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Joseph Daher Fri, 20 Jan 2017 10:17:06 +0000 Joseph Daher 108158 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Revolution and counter-revolution in Syria (Part I) https://www.opendemocracy.net/joseph-daher/revolution-and-counter-revolution-in-syria-part-i <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This first part of an interview with Joseph Daher offers an in-depth look at the forces involved in the Syrian revolution, and those fighting against it. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/5736128537_7ff6993399_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/5736128537_7ff6993399_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anti-Assad demonstrations in Banyas, Syria, in May 2011. Picture by Syrian Freedom. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>Coverage of the conflict in Syria frequently refers to the opposition being dominated by Islamist groups. What was the initial composition of the opposition against the Assad regime and how has it evolved?</strong></p><p>Well, it is important to understand that the Syrian revolution is part and parcel of a broader movement that has fundamentally shaken the Middle East and North Africa regions. It is clearly situated in the context of other uprisings which resulted from the confluence and mutual reinforcement of different sites of dissatisfaction, struggle, and popular mobilization. Most observers have analyzed the Syrian uprising solely in geopolitical terms, ignoring the popular political and socio-economic dynamics. However, Syrians have been fighting for freedom and dignity against authoritarianism and fundamentalism, just like Egyptians, Tunisians and Bahrainis did in 2011. </p><p>There are several components of this popular movement in Syria. First, there were activists involved in various struggles against the regime before the 2011 uprising, particularly since the Damascus Spring of 2001, and from secret student and youth associations that had started to erupt in the early 2000s. Some of these activists would go on to form the nucleus of the revolutionary movement that began in March 2011. Their activities were shaped mainly by an interest in democratic rights and social justice. Some of them had, for example, already mobilized against the war in Iraq, and in support of the Palestinian cause. They were in their great majority secular democrats who belonged to various communities and ethnicities, including minorities such as the Kurds, Assyrians, Palestinians, Alawis, Christians, Ismailis, and Druze, to name a few. Many of these activists played an important role within the grassroots committees and in the development of peaceful actions against the regime.</p> <p>The Syrian grassroots civilian opposition was the primary engine of the popular uprising against the Assad regime (and later on the fundamentalist forces). They sustained the popular uprising for numerous years by organizing and documenting protests and acts of civil disobedience, and by motivating people to join protests. The earliest manifestations of the “coordinating committees” (or tansiqiyyat) were neighborhood gatherings throughout Syria.</p> <p>Committees would typically begin with about 15 to 20 people and then often expand to include hundreds. The two most famous coordination committee networks were the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), headed notably by Suhair Atassi, and the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), which was led by the lawyer and activist Razan Zaitoune. Other groups and coalitions were also formed at the beginning of the uprising, particularly youth networks such as the Ghad Democratic Coalition, the Nabd Coalition for Syrian Civil Youth, Youth of Daraya, the Syrian Revolutionary Youth, Syrian Non-Violent Movement, Kurdish Arab Fraternity Coordination Committee, the Syrian People Know their Way, and Syria Free Students Union (SFSU), etc.</p> <p>The regime specifically targeted these networks of activists, who had initiated demonstrations, acts of civil disobedience, and campaigns in favor of countrywide strikes. Their qualities as organizers and their democratic and secular positions undermined the propaganda of the regime, which proclaimed that “armed Islamic extremists” constituted the entire opposition. Large numbers of dissidents were imprisoned, killed, or forced into exile on the back of this lie. Despite this, Syrians continued to play an important role in the ongoing revolution and led various forms of popular resistance against the regime. By early 2012, there were approximately 400 different tansiqiyyat in Syria, for example, despite intense repression from regime security forces. On top of this, Syrian revolutionaries would later endure the authoritarianism of various fundamentalist forces (like ISIS), which enjoyed wide expansion across the country and attempted to co-opt the revolution or crush its democratic and inclusive message.</p> <p>The second, and undoubtedly the most important component of the Syrian uprising, is that of economically marginalized rural workers, urban employees, and self-employed workers. They have borne the brunt of the Assad dynasty’s neoliberal policies, particularly since Bashar al-Assad’s coming to power in 2000. This working-class group of Syrians produced many of those who joined the armed groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which emerged to defend against Assad’s attacks on peaceful demonstrations, and later adopted more offensive strategies.</p> <p>Similarly, certain neighborhoods in Syria witnessed the ascension of clergy into the revolutionary scene. Salafi and Sufi sheikhs alike became quite involved. Finally, elements of the more “traditional” opposition were also involved, although on a limited scale, in the popular movement, among them some Kurdish parties, left-wing groups, nationalists, liberals, and Islamic fundamentalists.</p> <p><strong>The Assad regime has managed to hold on to power and has benefited from Russian and Iranian involvement along with assistance from Shi’ite militias like Hezbollah. Do you think the Assad regime has any popular support within Syria or can its longevity simply be explained by outside intervention?</strong></p> <p>The single most important reason behind the Assad regime’s survival into the present is the political, economic, and military assistance it receives from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. As far as the regime is concerned, this has been absolutely indispensable, for its forces could not possibly have subsisted autonomously. The regime’s current military domination in Aleppo, for example, would not be possible without the assistance of Russian airplanes, Iranian-sponsored ground forces, and Hezbollah militias.</p> <p>The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has been weakened considerably since the beginning of the uprising, with various estimations indicating that its numbers fell from 300,000 to as few as between 80,000 and 120,000. This should give an idea of how important Assad’s foreign backers are to the survival of the counterrevolution.</p> <p>The weakness of the regime’s army has also led to the creation of loyalist militias throughout the country. These paramilitary forces can be broadly divided into two groups: militias strongly connected to the regime’s security apparatus and the Republican Guard––such as the National Defense Forces (NDF)––and those personally linked to the Assad family and private businesses. But perhaps the most important militias have been the foreign ones, such as Hezbollah, and the mostly Iranian-sponsored sectarian Shi’a forces originating from Iraq and Afghanistan.</p> <p>Additionally, the security and intelligence services of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) have been advising and assisting the Syrian regime since the beginning of the uprising. The IRI has provided essential military supplies to Assad and has also assisted many &nbsp;(if not most) pro-regime militias. On top of its military assistance, the IRI has also provided 3 important loans to the Assad regime, of $1 billion in January 2013, of $3.6 billion in August 2013, and of $1 billion in June 2015, respectively. Trade between the two countries also grew from approximately about $300 million in 2010 to $1 billion in 2014.</p> <p>For its part, Russia has long supplied Assad’s armed forces with the vast majority of their weaponry. The Russian state has continued to ship substantial volumes of small arms, ammunition, spare parts, and refurbished material to pro-regime forces. In January 2014, Russia stepped up supplies of military gear to the Syrian regime, including armored vehicles, drones, and guided missiles. Near the end of the summer in 2015, Russia greatly expanded its military involvement on the side of the Assad regime, and provided serious training and logistical support to the SAA. And beginning on September 30, 2015, Russian jets conducted their first raids in Syria. Since then, the regime has been able to stop military advances from various oppositional armed forces and recover territories.</p> <p>This said, the Assad’s regime resilience is also inextricably tied to its harsh repression against the protesters from day one, and also to the state’s ability to have remained the irreplaceable provider of essential public services, even for Syrians living in the many areas that are outside the regime’s control. The regime is the country’s main employer – civil servants were estimated at more than 50 percent of the total working population, and a higher percentage of wage earners. Whatever the case, and despite desires to the contrary, large sections of the country are de facto dependent on the regime for survival.</p> <p>Assad’s regime is however not popular, quite the opposite, even among a majority who oppose the revolution because of corruption, insecurity, bad economic situation and high inflation, instrumentalization of sectarianism, etc.&nbsp; The problem is that it is seen as the lesser evil by some sectors of the population, especially large sections of minorities and Sunni middle and high class strata in cities, including due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalist movements.</p> <p>The international political context, which favors the “liquidation” of the uprising and the preservation of the Assad’s regime, the mistakes and corruption of the “official” opposition in exile (Syrian National Coalition), the failure to present a democratic and inclusive alternative, and the harsh economic situation have all played in the hands of the Assad’s regime.</p> <p><strong>Many on the left believe the US is trying to pursue regime change in Syria. What has been the role of the United States and its NATO and Gulf allies?&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>The US has never tried to pursue regime change in Syria. The objectives of the US and Western governments have been to try to reach an agreement between the Assad regime (or a section of it) and the opposition linked to Western states, Turkey, and Gulf monarchies.</p> <p>At the beginning of the uprising in March 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized Assad as a “reformer” and added that many members of Congress who have gone to Syria in recent months also believed that he’s a reformer.</p> <p>The absence of any kind of organized and decisive military assistance from the US or Western states to the democratic components of the Free Syrian Army are further proof of this lack of will for any radical change in Syria. In addition, the United States has also opposed the supply of anti-aircraft missiles to various FSA forces.</p> <p>In 2014, Barack Obama’s $500 million plan (which was approved by Congress) to arm and equip 5,000-10,000 Syrian rebels, was never implemented and not aimed at overthrowing the Assad regime. The&nbsp;<a href="http://defenseassistance.org/programs/law.php?name=Assistance_to_the_Vetted_Syrian_Opposition">text</a>&nbsp;of the resolution makes that clear.</p> <p>In October 2015, even Senator Lindsey Graham challenged Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Joseph Dunford on the US strategy in Syria. He asked about the possibility of overthrowing Assad, saying, “this is a half-assed strategy at best”. On December 15, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin: “The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change.”</p> <p>Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the states that most want to see the fall of the Assad family, but not of the regime and its institutions. The monarchies of the Gulf have wanted to transform this popular revolution into a sectarian civil war because they fear a democratic Syria and the spread of the revolution’s ideals in the region, which would threaten their power and interests. It is important to remember that Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar all enjoyed good relations with the Syrian state before the uprising in 2011. Saudi Arabia, however, saw the Syrian uprising as a way to weaken its main rival in the region, the Islamic Republic of Iran, by toppling its most important ally the Assad’s regime.</p> <p>On its side, Turkey’s latest military intervention in Syria is a prolongation of its previous policies to prevent the influence of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) to extend along its borders. This is why it supported various fundamentalist movements while shelling Kurdish civilians as well. This intervention did indeed target ISIS bases, but its priority has always been the Kurdish PYD forces. Notably, this has been occurring lately with the tacit green light of the Assad regime. Moreover, since the failed military coup d’état in Turkey, the AKP government has tightened its relationship with the Russian government, while diminishing its opposition to the Assad regime (e.g. by saying it would accept Assad in a transitional phase). The AKP government was also largely silent about the conquest of eastern Aleppo. Erdogan, had in fact concluded an agreement with the Russian and Iranian leaders that handed Aleppo over to them while keeping other border regions for itself.</p> <p>It is important to say that although conflicting interests and even opposition exists between international and regional powers intervening in Syria, none of them have intervened in the interests of the uprising. The effects of these interventions has often been to strengthen sectarian and ethnic tensions in the country.</p> <p>Between all these powers, there is near consensus today around certain points: to liquidate the revolutionary popular movement initiated in March 2011, stabilize the regime in Damascus, keep Assad in power for at least the immediate future, oppose Kurdish autonomy, and try to militarily defeat jihadist groups such as ISIS.</p> <p>The latest meetings in December between the Foreign and Defense Ministers of Iran, Turkey and Russia to discuss the future of Syria actually confirmed this path. The three powers adopted a joint declaration aimed at ending the conflict in Syria and working towards the establishment of a ceasefire in the entire country. The priority, they concluded, must be to fight terrorism and not regime change in Damascus.</p><p><em><strong>This article was first published in <a href="http://www.tmimag.com/Continue-Reading.aspx?id=8&amp;Title=Revolution-and-Counter-Revolution-in-Syria">The Muslim Internationalist</a> on January 9, 2017.&nbsp; </strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/loubna-mrie/aleppos-forgotten-revolutionaries">Aleppo&#039;s forgotten revolutionaries</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/doha-hassan/our-testimony-to-death">Our testimony to death</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/vicken-cheterian/syrias-activists-politics-of-anger">Syria&#039;s activists: politics of anger</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/joseph-daher/revolution-and-counter-revolution-in-syria-part-i">Revolution and counter-revolution in Syria (Part I)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria middle east Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Joseph Daher Thu, 19 Jan 2017 16:10:20 +0000 Joseph Daher 108157 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Aleppo's forgotten revolutionaries https://www.opendemocracy.net/loubna-mrie/aleppos-forgotten-revolutionaries <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Countless icons of the Syrian revolution who struggled for freedom between 2012-2014 have been ignored and erased from history by the western media.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/PA-15097818.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/PA-15097818.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Garbage is plied up in the Bustan al-Qasr area of Aleppo, Syria on Nov. 10, 2012. The Arabic writing on the kiosk reads, "the money of the revolution is for the people." Picture by Mónica G. Prieto AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>In journalism&nbsp;and on social media, I often come across a narrative -&nbsp;from the Syrian regime's most ardent supporters, to even those who acknowledge its oppressive nature - <a href="https://off-guardian.org/2016/12/16/eva-bartlett-on-syria-responding-to-buzzfeed/" target="_blank">asserting that </a>the Assad regime is fighting a war against vile, extremist, Al-Qaeda-like organisations. </p><p> The ignorant simplicity of this argument became clear after <a href="https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2017/1/5/aleppo-in-crisis" target="_blank">the fall </a>of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. <br /> <br /> The city was often <a href="http://www.activistpost.com/2016/12/journalist-eva-bartlett-destroys-mainstream-journalist-syria-aleppo.html" target="_blank">portrayed as</a> the epicentre of a jihadi insurgency liberated by the national army. Many ostensibly left-wing individuals worldwide even went so far as to celebrate this as "liberation".</p> <p>This narrative is especially frustrating as it completely ignores the history of revolutionary Aleppo. On most blogs and Twitter timelines, the revolutionary icons of government-held western Aleppo are never mentioned.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> There were many activists against the government, later detained and kidnapped by extremist groups, who are left out of the conversation.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When so-called experts write about eastern Aleppo, they may feel compelled to begin the conversation as though the war had started in 2016, when the supposedly "good", "secular" government liberated Aleppo from extremists. </p><p class="mag-quote-left">On most blogs and Twitter timelines, the revolutionary icons of government-held western Aleppo are never mentioned. </p><p>The story of east Aleppo and the revolutionary icons who struggled there between 2012 and 2014 is almost completely ignored.</p> <p>Indeed, there are countless icons of the Syrian revolution who have been ignored and erased from history in the western media.</p> <p>Unlike the acts of extremists Islamic State (IS), and Jabhat Nusra, the actual words and deeds of Syria's forgotten revolutionaries have rarely been translated and broadcast by the western media. <a href="http://www.creativememory.org/?p=54729" target="_blank">Abo Mariam </a>and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2VGhcOEuEo" target="_blank">Abdul Wahab Mulla </a>are two Syrians who even educated readers have probably never heard of. </p><p>Abo Mariam was the main voice of eastern Aleppo, alongside his little brother, Aboud. He was known for his critical slogans against both extremists and the Assad regime.&nbsp;Hundreds of people used to gather around him in demonstrations, echoing his chants against the government and extremism, and his calls for justice for all.</p> <p>Foreign journalists who visited Aleppo during the summer of 2012 will agree that these demonstrations were the soul of Bustan Al-Kasr and eastern Aleppo.</p> <p>Later in 2013, during one of the protests, Abo Mariam was filmed taking down a banner that read "The people want an Islamic state" amid chants of support from his fellow protestors. Abo Mariam disappeared shortly thereafter, prompting days of protests outside of Jabhat Al-Nusra headquarters, demanding his release. There has been no news of his whereabouts to this day.</p> <p>Secondly, <a href="https://globalvoices.org/2013/11/10/syrian-journalist-abdulwahab-mulla-kidnapped-in-liberated-aleppo/" target="_blank">Abdul Wahab Al Mulla </a>had a YouTube show, which fortunately is still accessible online. Abdul Wahab's <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2013/07/three-star-revolution-criticism-with-a-smile-from-within-the-uprising/" target="_blank">show </a>titled, "Three Stars Revolution," was a channel through which he would criticise the violations of various rebel groups and remind people of the original aims of the Syrian uprising.&nbsp;His show had thousands of viewers, and he was considered a true icon.</p><p class="mag-quote-right">It is also rather unjust to mention Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups without mentioning those who stood against them.</p> <p>In November 2013, armed masked men broke into Abdul Wahab Al Mulla's house and took him away.</p> <p>For Syrians, these are the revolutionary icons of eastern Aleppo. They will always be remembered as heroes who represented what the Syrian uprising ‫&nbsp;stood for.&nbsp;By contrast, they will be completely ignored by almost anyone watching Aleppo through the lens of mainstream coverage.</p> <p>It is true that JFS played vital role in breaking the last siege of eastern Aleppo, but can you really blame the civilians who celebrated the breaking of the siege? Can we blame the father who welcomes the devil just to not see his children starve to death, when it is the government that is imposing siege on its own people?&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also rather unjust to mention Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups without mentioning those who stood against them.</p> <p>Sadly the western press will ignore the sacrifice made by activists like Abdul Wahab and Abo Mariam, while continuing to give a voice to Jabhat Al Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fateh Al Sham (JFS), who not only harassed many secular activists and pushed them out, but hijacked the uprising by taking advantage of the starvation and suffering imposed by Assad government.</p> <p>What about the rebels?</p> <p>When referring to Aleppo, the Free Syrian Army is often put in the same category as that of Al Qaeda without mentioning that they were the first force that fought Al Qaeda and IS back in 2013 in eastern Aleppo. Most of today's so-called experts are blind to this fundamental historical point.&nbsp;</p> <p>In late 2013, over 30 activists and rebels <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-25652381" target="_blank">were killed </a>in IS jails in Aleppo. A whole group of medics, documented by name, were excuted by Islamic State fighters before Syrian rebels seized their military bases.&nbsp;Human rights organisations covered this, but only a fraction of mainstream media outlets paid any notice.</p> <p>The rebels later continued to Idlib, forcing IS to withdraw to Raqqa, Bab and Manbij. IS also lost their territory in Aleppo and the outskirts of Lattakia; causing Raqqa to become the 'capital' of their caliphate. It's very important to remember that the first battle against IS took place in eastern Aleppo, and that the first victory against IS by the rebels took place there.</p> <p>However, for some reason, the mainstream media gives a disproportionate amount of <a href="http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/kurds-now-our-best-ally-against-isis-in-syria" target="_blank">coverage </a>to the PKK-affiliated YPG and Kobane when describing early battles against IS.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-left">For us, freedom and dignity means opposing all tyrannies.</span> </p><p>The Free Syrian Army and the activists who were detained and killed are, once again, out of the equation.</p> <p>There is a great distance between those of us who witnessed the revolution, and those who refuse to acknowledge that our revolution was a true uprising, where many people sacrificed their lives fighting against extremists and the government.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> For us, freedom and dignity means opposing all tyrannies, opposing all the forces who threatened Abo Mariam and his peaceful chants. Once again, these voices are simply brushed aside, and our icons are not mentioned by any of the so-called experts who are preoccupied with telling their readers about an amorphous conspiracy against Assad.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>If only those who spend hours trolling <a href="https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/society/2016/12/27/aleppos-twitter-star-i-will-return-home-one-day" target="_blank">Bana Al-Abed </a>on Twitter would speak to activists and civilians from eastern Aleppo and give them a platform to speak about what went wrong, we would know that these people who lived in Aleppo's revolution truly are heroes&nbsp;- standing up against both extremists and the Assad government.&nbsp;</p> <p>These activists routinely condemned every rebel-attack on government-held areas resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians and demanded accountability for all war crimes. <br /> <br /> Not only do the Assad regime, JFS and their extremist allies censor these voices, but they are omitted by those who, to this day, still do not believe that Syria had a true, organic uprising. <br /> <br /> The narrative claiming that these icons are CIA agents, extremists or simply non-existent, is quite convenient for people who aren't interested in learning the history of our uprising or confronting the amount of innocent blood spilled in crushing it.</p> <p>And for foreign journalists who spent time with these activists, fixers, and citizen journalists: Writing about those people in western Aleppo is the least they can do.<br /> <br /><em><strong> This article was first published by <a href="https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/Comment/2017/1/12/Aleppos-forgotten-revolutionaries">The New Arab</a> on January 12, 2017. </strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/doha-hassan/our-testimony-to-death">Our testimony to death</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/regional-implications-of-fall-of-aleppo">The regional implications of the fall of Aleppo</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/murtaza-hussain-marwan-hisham/syria-s-voice-of-conscience-has-message-for-west">Syria’s “voice of conscience” has a message for the west</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria middle east Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Loubna Mrie Tue, 17 Jan 2017 12:57:25 +0000 Loubna Mrie 108154 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fighting on all fronts: women’s resistance in Syria https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/leila-al-shami/fighting-on-all-fronts-women-s-resistance-in-syria <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Women in Syria face numerous challenges yet continue to struggle against fascism, imperialism and patriarchy </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/123حرائر_سوريا.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/123حرائر_سوريا.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="232" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Picture courtesy of Al-Jumhuriyya </span></span></span>As eastern Aleppo falls, pounded by regime and Russian airstrikes, and stormed by Iranian sponsored militia on the ground, one young woman risks everything to communicate to the outside world the horror of the last days in the liberated part of the city. </p><p>Lina Shamy is in her twenties. She is one of many courageous activists using social media to describe the terror wrought on civilians trapped in the besieged, rebel held area with no safe place to flee. They are caught in the most tragic of circumstances, surrounded by death and destruction as barrel bombs, chlorine and phosphorous rain from the skies. As known activists, they cannot flee to regime held areas, where east Aleppo civilians have been shot, arrested or sent to the front lines to fight. Theirs is a waiting game.</p> <p>At the time of writing, as another ceasefire deal collapses, Lina has just posted a video on Twitter. Standing on a balcony, she steadies the camera in one hand, the sound of relentless shelling in the background. “The criminal Assad regime and the Iranians have broke the ceasefire and are back to attack civilians,” she tells us. In another video she slams the international community for failing to respond to the human suffering engulfing Syria. “Isn’t it our right … as revolutionaries who refused oppression and slavery, who called for freedom and dignity to face this unjust regime with our voices and peaceful demonstrations without being exposed to arresting or to the worst kinds of torturing or killing or displacement?” she asks. Yet, despite the horror and deafening international silence over the obliteration of Free Aleppo, she retains faith that people will rise up, show their solidarity and call their political leaders to action. On 12 December, as horrific atrocities were were being perpetrated across the city, she appealed to the Twittersphere: ‘Humans all over the world, don’t sleep! You can do something! Protest now!’</p> <p>Lina does not conform to lazy western (imperialist) stereotypes of Syrian/Muslim women as weak and submissive, as having no agency, oppressed above all by their own culture and religion. Nor does she conform to the orientalist portrayal of Assad’s opposition as all being crazed jihadi militants. She is a strong, revolutionary, Arab woman. She accepts neither Assad’s domestic tyranny nor invading foreign occupation forces. Through appearing on camera, she defiantly rejects traditional social mores, which often render women invisible or silent. Hers is a struggle against fascism, imperialism and patriarchy.</p> <p>Far from being pushed to the sidelines, women have been at the forefront of the civil resistance to the Assad regime. In the early days of the revolution, before the security situation deteriorated, they&nbsp; could be seen on the streets in large numbers, protesting against the state and its brutality. Women have played key roles in revolutionary organization. The two largest grassroots coalitions to emerge&nbsp; in 2011 were both established by women: the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs) by Razan Zeitouneh, and the Syrian Revolution General Commission by Suhair Attassi. The LCCs were a remarkable example of horizontal, youth-led organizing and represented the very best of the revolution’s ideals: they were inclusive, democratic and non-sectarian. Women were active in the committees which organized civil disobedience and later humanitarian assistance, and also participated in the media work the LCCs undertook to communicate the messages of the revolution to the outside world. In Aleppo, Radio Naseem was established as the first women-owned independent radio station. Journalist Zaina Erhaim from Idlib, meanwhile, trained numerous women in citizen journalism and helped establish a Women’s Blog with the Damascus Bureau. The blog features stories of remarkable women from all walks of life who have responded to the revolution and war in committed and creative ways.</p> <p>Women have also been at the forefront of resistance to some of the more extreme Islamist militias which grew in prominence as Syria burned. Some have implemented repressive measures against women, such as strict dress codes. Razan Zeitouneh, along with activists Samira Khalil, Wael Hamadeh, and Nazem Hammadi, was kidnapped in December 2013, most likely by the armed opposition group, Jaish Al Islam. Razan, an unveiled and fiercely independent human rights activist, was a strong critic not only of the regime, but of all authoritarian groups, including Jaish Al Islam. This was a likely reason for her abduction. In Raqqa, Jana, a woman’s organization founded for women to ‘assert their role in rebuilding their society and to take their rightful place next to men in the Syrian revolution’, carried out demonstrations against the hardline Islamist militia Ahrar Al Sham. They distributed bread when there were shortages and rehabilitated a high school. The women who founded Jana are all religious, yet they have struggled against political Islamism in the movement. Their struggle is against the authoritarian mentality. ‘Religion is a personal matter, and no one has the right to force it on other people,’ explained one of their members.[1]</p> <p>In Daesh-occupied areas, women have bravely resisted the organization’s brutality. In 2013 schoolteacher Souad Nofal from Raqqa carried out a one-woman demonstration against Daesh every day for two months. Alone, she stood outside their headquarters holding banners –&nbsp; one calling for the release of detainees, another showing solidarity with Christians whose churches had been destroyed. She became an icon of women’s resistance for Syrian revolutionaries. Eventually she fled to Europe. Others were not so lucky. Late last year 30-year-old Ruqia Hassan (known by her pseudonym ‘Nissan Ibrahim’) a Syrian Kurd living in Raqqa, was murdered by Daesh. A former philosophy student at Aleppo university, she joined the early protests against the Assad regime and when Daesh took over her city continued to speak out and document the horrific conditions of life under Daesh occupation. She provided regular updates on airstrikes by the international coalition and Russian forces. In one of her last Facebook posts she wrote “I’m in Raqqa and I receive death threats. When ISIL arrest me and kill me it’s ok, because while they will cut off my head, I will have dignity, which is better than living in humiliation.”</p> <p>As the state collapsed women have often taken a leading role in supporting their communities and building alternatives to the state’s totalitarianism. Today they work as doctors, nurses and teachers in underground clinics and schools. They volunteer for the White Helmets and sacrifice their lives to pull victims of airstrikes from the ruins. They provide logistical support for armed groups and in some instances have taken up arms themselves, establishing women-only battalions. In the case of the Alawite general Zubaida Al Meeki, they have even trained Free Army fighters. As men have been rounded up for detention, or are killed in battle, women (including in more conservative communities) have challenged traditional gender norms and worked to provide for their families. In Banias women successfully negotiated a prisoner release, and in Zabadani women negotiated a temporary cease-fire to allow aid into the besieged town. Many women are more independent than before and have greater freedom in their life-choices. Of course the situation of war and displacement has also worsened conditions for many, with a reported increase in polygamy, early marriage&nbsp; and sex work as women struggle for survival.</p> <p>Throughout the areas liberated from the regime and Daesh, women’s centres have been established to overcome obstacles to women’s participation in the political, social and economic spheres. One example is the Mazaya centre in Kafranbel, Idlib. Founded by Um Khaled in June 2013, it runs a library and provides skills and educational training to women so they can achieve financial independence. In Douma, Damascus suburbs, the local council has established an Office for Women’s Affairs headed by Rehan Bayan who tirelessly campaigns for greater women’s inclusion in the opposition’s political bodies and encourages women to take more active roles.</p> <p>The greatest threat to women’s political activism remains the regime. Even prior to the revolution, independent women’s organizations were prevented from operating. Those that were permitted were closely linked to the regime and dominated by socially privileged women from urban backgrounds who had little in common with the lived experiences of most ordinary women. Today female activists and humanitarian workers are targeted for arrest and detention where they face torture and sexual abuse. Mass rape campaigns have been conducted by pro-regime forces against dissenting communities. Rape and the threat of rape is a tool used by the regime not only to counter women’s political resistance through using their bodies as a site of oppression and humiliation, but also as a tool for controlling men and breaking community social bonds. Rape taboos, and traditional notions of honour and shame, mean that sometimes there is a social stigma around women who have spent time in detention, and rape can lead to divorce or rejection by the family. A tool of displacement, many have fled the country due to the threat of rape.</p> <p>The Syrian Network for Human Rights reports that 13,920 women have been arrested or forcibly disappeared in Syria between March 2011 and November 2016, mainly by the regime. Yet, even in the brutal conditions of detention, Syrian women have shown their courage and agency. In July 2013, a group of female detainees in the infamous Adra prison went on hunger strike. They were indefinitely detained by the terrorism court, and amongst them were elderly, pregnant and sick women. The hunger-strikers demanded their right to a fair trial, to receive family visits and to access medical care.</p> <p>Women in Syria face numerous challenges yet continue to struggle against fascism, imperialism and patriarchy. Yet with the partial exception of Syrian-Kurdish women in the north, they are absent from mainstream narratives on Syria, relegated invisible by the focus on military struggle, a male hegemonic domain. Syrian women play an essential role in the civil resistance and in community organizing. But they have received little support from western feminists or a left which prefers to see them as victims rather than the strong revolutionaries they are. The problem, of course, lies with western feminists and the left, not with Syrian women.</p> <p>[1] Syria Untold, ‘Jana: Women of Raqqa reclaim their place in society’, 30 November 2013.</p> <p>&nbsp;<em><strong>This article was first published by <a href="http://aljumhuriya.net/en/aleppo/fighting-on-numerous-fronts-womens-resistance-in-syria">Al-Jumhuriyya</a> on December 26, 2016. </strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/razan-zaitouneh-and-her-comrades-spirit-of-syrian-revolution-kidnapped">Razan Zaitouneh and her comrades: spirit of the Syrian revolution kidnapped</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/razan-ghazzawi/seeing-women-in-revolutionary-syria">Seeing the women in revolutionary Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/civilresistance/nada-alwadi/voices-of-syrian-women-in-civil-resistance">Voices of Syrian women in civil resistance </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Middle East gender Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Leila Al Shami Thu, 05 Jan 2017 10:35:21 +0000 Leila Al Shami 107932 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Syria’s “voice of conscience” has a message for the west https://www.opendemocracy.net/murtaza-hussain-marwan-hisham/syria-s-voice-of-conscience-has-message-for-west <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Syrian dissident Yassin Al-Haj Saleh talks about the left and the regime, revolution and hope, Islam and secularism. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/PA-26156927_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/PA-26156927_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hassan Ammar AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved</span></span></span>In this interview with <a href="https://theintercept.com/2016/10/26/syria-yassin-al-haj-saleh-interview/">The Intercept</a>, Yassin Al-Hajj Saleh re-opens the debate about the position of large sectors of the left towards the revolution in Syria, their tacit or outright support for the Assad regime and Russian intervention, and the reproduction of the 'war on terror' discourse. Arab Awakening is republishing this interview for the importance of Yassin Al-Hajj Saleh's voice in the ongoing debates about Syria, the left, and the Middle East in general. </em></p><p>Yassin al-Haj Saleh&nbsp;has lived a life of struggle for his country. Under the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Assad, he was a student activist&nbsp;organizing against the government. In&nbsp;1980, Saleh&nbsp;and hundreds of others were arrested and accused of membership of a left-wing political group. He was just nineteen years old when a closed court found him guilty of crimes against the state. Saleh spent the next sixteen years of his life behind bars. </p><p>“I have a degree in medicine, but I am a graduate of prison, and I am indebted to this experience,” Saleh said, sitting with us in a restaurant near Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Now in his 50s, with white hair and a dignified, somewhat world-weary demeanor, Saleh, called Syria’s&nbsp;“voice of conscience” by many, has the appearance&nbsp;and bearing of&nbsp;a university professor. But he speaks with passionate indignation about what he calls the Assad dynasty’s “enslavement” of the Syrian people.</p> <p>Saleh was living in Damascus in 2011 when Syrian civilians rose up to demand political reform. That protest movement soon turned into open revolution after government forces met protestors with gunfire, bombardment, mass arrests, and torture.</p> <p>From painful firsthand experience, Saleh knew the cost of challenging the Assad regime. But when the uprising started, he did not hesitate to join it. He left home and spent the next two years in hiding, helping Syrian activists organize their struggle.</p> <p>By late 2013, Syria had descended into anarchy. The conflict between the government and a range of opposition forces had become increasingly militarized. Like many other activists for the revolution, Saleh was forced to flee across the border to Turkey. That same year, armed groups in the Damascus suburbs kidnapped his wife, along with three other activists. ISIS kidnapped his brother in 2013. Neither has been heard from since.</p> <p>Saleh is now among the millions of Syrians living in Turkey as refugees. He travels the country helping to train Syrian writers and activists in exile, while writing and speaking about his country’s plight. As a leftist, he has also been a vociferous critic of a growing international consensus that has come to see the Syrian conflict in Bashar al-Assad’s terms — as a fight against terrorism.</p> <p>Our interview with Saleh is presented below, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.</p> <p><strong><em>Please tell us briefly about your own background in Syria.</em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>As a university student in the late 1970s, I was a member of one of two Communist party organizations actively opposing the regime. At that time, there was an uprising in Syria that involved students, trade unionists, lawyers, and members of other professions who were fighting against the Assad government, as well as a separate conflict between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood. There were regular worker strikes in Aleppo, where I was living, and I saw with my own eyes security forces breaking down the doors of homes and businesses.</p> <p>To be arrested in Assad’s Syria, you didn’t need reasons. But in 1980, hundreds of my comrades and I were detained as part of a campaign by the government to break Syrian society.</p> <p>I was young, and the early years in jail were very difficult. We suffered harsh treatment. In later years, our conditions were not so bad and we were allowed books and dictionaries. I learned English inside prison, and for thirteen years, I read maybe 100 books or more per year. In the last year of my imprisonment, I was transferred to Tadmor prison, which is one of the most vicious places on the planet — a concentration camp for torture, humiliation, hunger, and fear. I was then released in 1996.</p> <p>The experience of prison transformed me and my ideas about the world. In many ways, it was an emancipatory experience. I developed the belief that to protect our fundamental values of justice, freedom, human dignity, and equality, we had to change our concepts and theories. The Soviet Union had fallen and many changes were occurring in the world. </p><p>My comrades who refused to change, those who adhered to their old methods and tools, found themselves in a position of leaving their values behind. This is one reason why many leftists today are against the Syrian revolution — because they adhere to the dead letter of their beliefs, rather than the living struggle of the people for justice.</p> <p><strong><em>What did you expect from the left in its response to the Syrian revolution?</em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>It came to me as a shock, actually, that most of them have sided with Bashar al-Assad. I don’t expect much out of the international left, but I thought they would understand our situation and see us as a people who were struggling against a very despotic, very corrupt, and very sectarian regime. I thought they would see us and side with us. What I found, unfortunately, is that most people on the left know absolutely nothing about Syria. They know nothing of its history, political economy, or contemporary circumstances, and they don’t see us.</p> <p>In America, the leftists are against the establishment in their own country. In a way, they thought that the US establishment was siding with the Syrian revolution — something that is completely false and an utter lie — and for this reason they have stood against us. And this applies to leftists almost everywhere in the world. They are obsessed with the White House and the establishment powers of their own countries. The majority are also still obsessed with the old Cold War-era struggles against imperialism and capitalism.</p> <p class="mag-quote-right">There is a growing convergence between the views of fascists and the far-left about Syria and other issues.</p><p>Recently, an event in Rome that displayed images of those tortured and killed by Assad was attacked by fascists. Just days before, it had also been attacked in a local communist newspaper for promoting “imperialism.” There is a growing convergence between the views of fascists and the far-left about Syria and other issues. The reason for this is that perspectives on the left are outdated. </p><p>They are interested in high-politics, not grassroots struggles. They are dealing with grand ideologies and historical narratives, but they don’t see people — the Syrian people aren’t represented. They are holding on to depopulated discourses that don’t represent human struggle, life, and death.</p> <p><strong><em>What should people on the left who have misconceptions know about Syria?</em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>The Assad regime, the junta that rules Syria today, has transformed the country from a republic into a monarchy. As you are aware, Bashar al-Assad inherited the post of president from his father in 2000. </p><p>I am not aware of a statement from one western leftist protesting against this transformation of a republic into a monarchy. The state has become the private property of the regime, while the economy has been restructured according to the neoliberal agenda.</p> <p>In the genes of this regime, it is inscribed that there must be no rights for the Syrian people. We are not citizens. We cannot say “no” to our rulers. We cannot organize, we cannot own the politics of our country, let alone organize in the public space or take part in it actively. They force us to suppress ourselves. We are, under their rule, politically speaking, enslaved.</p> <p>Many on the left look at Syria and know nothing about the relationship between the Assad regime and the western powers. The Assad regime was never a power against imperialism in the Middle East. In fact, it always sought a role for itself in the imperial game in the region. </p><p>But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Assad was against imperialism. Even if that were the case, the Syrian people would still be a part of the deal! We as a people are not merely a tool for the narratives of the western left. This is our country. We are not guests.</p> <p>Over the past several years, there has been, in effect, a “Palestinization” of the Syrian people. We are being dealt with by the regime, and the world, as a people who will be annihilated politically. Maybe they won’t kill all of us. Many of us are still living. After all, only around half a million or so have been killed so far. But politically, they are annihilating us the same way that the Palestinians are being annihilated.</p> <p>At the same time, there is a corresponding “Israelization” of the Syrian regime. The same way that Israel relies on the United States for United Nations Security Council vetoes to protect it internationally, the Syrian regime now relies on vetoes from Russia. In Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, only one side — Israel’s — has air power. The same is true in the conflict between Assad and the opposition.</p> <p>The Assad regime has become a representative of the internal First World in Syria, the Syrian whites. I think the elites in the west find Bashar al-Assad more palatable than other potential interlocutors. He wears expensive suits and has a necktie, and, ultimately, these elites prefer a fascist with a necktie to a fascist with a beard. Meanwhile, they don’t see us, the Syrian people. Those who are trying to own the politics of their own country have been rendered invisible.</p> <p><strong><em>What is your position on the Islamist parties?</em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>Under the umbrella of Islam we have many things. There is the religion of Muslims, which should be respected. Then there is political Islam, which includes parties and groups with which one should negotiate and find compromises — groups such as Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Then we have what I call nihilist groups like ISIS, which must be fought. But to be successful in fighting against these groups you must give a chance to politics. You cannot isolate nihilists like al Qaeda and ISIS without giving something to other parties with whom you can negotiate.</p> <p>I am a secularist and a nonbeliever, an atheist. But I don’t find it democratic to fight against ISIS while being Islamophobic, while hating Muslims and expressing suspicion toward them, and at the same time stating that you don’t want any political role at all for Islamists! This is extremism, it is an extremist position, and it is what reactionary Islamic extremism is built on. When you refuse to accept the moderate groups, practically speaking you are supporting the extremists.</p> <p><strong><em>How do you respond to the perception in the west that the Assad regime is a bulwark of secularism in Syria? </em></strong> </p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>I think there is something Islamophobic about this position. The Assad regime is not secular. It is a sectarian regime. You don’t need anything related to progress or the enlightenment to be loyal to one sect and fight against other sects. They employ sectarianism as a strategy of control, as a means to seize power forever. In their own slogans they openly say, “Assad or we burn the country,” and “forever, forever,” in reference to holding absolute power over the country.</p> <p>In secularism, there is inherently the idea of not discriminating between people on the basis of their religion or confessional community. Is this the case in Syria now? No, it is not. If you are an Alawite, your chances of getting a job or having real power in society are greater than if you are a Sunni or a member of another group.</p> <p>After the revolution began, I was in eastern Ghouta [near Damascus]. My travels also led me to the eastern parts of Homs and Raqqa. When the Salafists came, I never once saw people celebrating. I am not saying that people were angry, but these groups didn’t have real popularity. People are against the regime, and these groups are against the regime. Their presence filled a gap.</p> <p><strong><em>What was it that allowed the Salafists and other groups to gain prominence after the revolution?</em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>For 30&nbsp;years, the Baath Party has made a project of crushing all political life in Syria. So when the uprising came, we had no real political organizations, only individuals here and there. Islam, in our society, is the limit of political poverty. When you don’t have any political life, people will mobilize according to the lowest stratum of an imaginary community. </p><p class="mag-quote-left">when you crush politics, when there is no political life, religious identity will prosper</p><p>This deeper identity is religion. When you have political and cultural life, you can have trade unions, leftist groups, and people are able to organize along any number of identities. But when you crush politics, when there is no political life, religious identity will prosper.</p> <p>Let me give you as an example the Syrian Kurds. Over the years of Baath Party rule, they were manipulated, divided, and even denied their very existence as Kurdish people in what was called the “Syrian Arab Republic.” </p><p>Despite this, Kurds were still allowed to organize politically. Not one of their political parties was exterminated. When I was in prison, many of my friends were from Kurdish political organizations. They would only ever spend a year or two in prison at a time, never fifteen or twenty years.</p> <p>The Baath Party crushed all political life for Syrian Arabs, including the Muslim Brotherhood parties. When they were confronted by the Syrian revolution, they strove to crush that as well, and this has now resulted in ISIS. ISIS is not an expression of the Syrian revolution. It is an expression of the destruction of Syrian society, and of Iraqi society before it.</p> <p><strong><em>Bashar al-Assad has begun to portray himself as a partner to the west in fighting terrorism. What are the implications of accepting such a claim?</em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>The war on terror narrative that Assad has adopted is one that is based on empowering states and empowering the powerful against the weak. That narrative weakens those who are already weak, which is why he has used it to present himself to the world as a partner in the campaign against terrorism.</p> <p>I don’t think that there is anything democratic or progressive about this narrative, or about the practices and institutions related to this war on terror framing. The reason the world is now in a crisis is that the major global narrative now is not democracy, justice, socialism, or even liberalism — it is all about security and immigration. </p><p>This means that Trump is better than Clinton, Marine Le Pen is better than Hollande. It means that a fascist is always better than a democrat, which means that Bashar Assad is better than the opposition.</p> <p>Accepting this terrorism narrative makes people like us, those who were active in the revolution, in its peaceful stage, and then in the armed struggle, effectively invisible. All those opposing the regime are ISIS — as Bashar al-Assad is always saying — and the only other choice is him. Accepting this war on terror narrative weakens and disempowers people like us. It disempowers leftist, democratic, and feminist Syrian organizations and activists, while empowering the regime and the extremists.</p> <p><strong><em>Now that many people have become alienated from Islamists after witnessing their terrible practices in many areas, is there a chance for secular forces to win people back</em>?</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>Yes, we have a chance. But only provided that Bashar al-Assad is not there. For us to be a real alternative in the country, Bashar and this junta regime that has killed hundreds and thousands&nbsp;of our people cannot be there. I am a leftist and I am an atheist, but I will not fight against ISIS if, behind my back, you put your hand in the hand of Bashar al-Assad.</p> <p>If the proposal is, “Let’s focus on defeating ISIS and then afterward, maybe he will still be around,” I will not do it. The one who tortured, humiliated, killed, and despised my people — Bashar al-Assad — is a criminal who must be held accountable. </p><p>This accountability will furnish a basis for secularists, nationalists, and democrats to compete against mainstream Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood, and to fight against nihilist groups like ISIS. Both ISIS and Bashar al-Assad are the extremist powers that must be eradicated in order to build an inclusive Syria.</p> <p>I am not saying that things will be OK when these groups are gone. There will be huge problems to deal with in Syrian society. But right now, we don’t have problems in Syria. We have tragedies, we have massacres, we have a horrific human condition. We have a destroyed country and a destroyed society. </p><p>When Bashar is gone and ISIS is gone, we can hope for a dynamic of rebuilding and reconciliation, in which Syrians can start to put their country back together. But as long as he remains, this will never be possible.</p> <p><strong><em>What do you say to those who concede that Bashar al-Assad is a tyrant but argue that he is a lesser evil than&nbsp;ISIS and should be kept in power to preserve stability?</em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>For us, as Syrians, let me be frank: ISIS is the lesser evil. They have killed maybe 10,000 people, whereas Bashar al-Assad has killed hundreds of thousands. Ask yourself how anyone could tolerate such a situation. </p><p>Could you imagine that in ten or fifteen years, after crushing all opposition, perhaps the son of Bashar al-Assad will proceed to rule the country after him? How horrible. How criminal. If Bashar al-Assad survives, after killing hundreds of thousands of&nbsp;people, expatriating five million more, displacing six million within the country, inviting the Iranians and the Russians and Shia militias from around the world to invade Syria, if such an abhorrent criminal survives and maintains his political power, the world will be a much worse place for everyone.</p> <p><strong><em>What is your opinion on the possibility of western intervention in Syria?</em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>First, it is a fable that western countries did not intervene in Syria. The reality is that they intervened in a very specific way that prevented Assad from falling but guaranteed that the country would be destroyed. The United States pressured Turkey and other countries very early on to prevent them from providing decisive assistance to the Syrian opposition. </p><p class="mag-quote-right">The United States helped create a situation in which Syria would be plunged into chaos, but the regime would remain in power.</p><p>In doing so, these countries vetoed Assad’s being toppled by the Syrian people by force. Meanwhile, as we can see, they have no problem watching the Syrian revolution be crushed by force.</p> <p>The United States also negotiated the sordid chemical weapons deal with Russia in 2013 — a deal that solved a big problem for America, Russia, Israel, and for the Assad regime, but did nothing for the Syrian people. The United States also led the “Friends of the Syrian People” group, which it then sidelined and destroyed. </p><p>Leftists in the west should know this: in many important ways, the Americans have been supporting Bashar al-Assad. The United States helped create a situation in which Syria would be plunged into chaos, but the regime would remain in power.</p> <p><strong><em>So if there were a military intervention to depose Assad today, would you support that?</em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>I want Assad to be hanged now, not tomorrow. But there needs to be a vision, the cornerstone of which is to change the political environment of Syria substantially — to build a new Syria on an inclusive basis, with a new majority in the country. </p><p>For such a majority to be built, you must both overthrow Bashar al-Assad and fight ISIS. This will help Alawites to be independent from the Assad regime and will isolate the extremists among the Sunnis. It will be good for the Christians and Druze and other minorities and will help unite them around issues that transcend sectarian divisions. </p><p>We have people who are Sunnis who still refuse to be identified by their sect. There are many people like me and others who want real change and want to be part of this new Syrian majority. Only such a solution could be sustainable, and it will be the beginning of solving this crisis that is aggravating the entire world now.</p> <p>Ultimately, it is not a matter of intervention against Assad. It is a matter of helping Syrians to regain ownership of their country and to hold the criminals accountable. ISIS is not that big a monster. It can be easily defeated. Many of us are people from Raqqa [ISIS’s capital], scattered around the world, and we are all ready to go and fight them. But we are not ready to go back to slavery under Bashar al-Assad. </p><p>This is a clique and junta that killed and tortured on an industrial scale. Under international law, it is meant to be held accountable. This is not something that we are inventing. We don’t ask Obama or Hollande to come solve our problems. International law was breached several times, and those who did this should be held accountable. We have a special tribunal at The Hague and Bashar al-Assad should be referred there.</p> <p><strong><em>Do you have hope for the future of Syria?</em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>We are resilient people. We still believe in human dignity and in a better future for ourselves and others. We have a cause, and it is a just cause. I think that the Syrian revolution liberated us from an inferiority complex we had toward the other people of the world. </p><p>We don’t wait for others to solve our problems now, or to define for us what is just and what is fair. We are struggling for our emancipation, without illusions. We are hopeful that more people will join us in this struggle. It is not just about Syria any longer. It is about the world.</p><p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://theintercept.com/2016/10/26/syria-yassin-al-haj-saleh-interview/">The Intercept</a> on October 26, 2016.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/yassin-al-haj-saleh-nader-hashemi-danny-postel/conscience-of-syria-interview-with-act">The conscience of Syria: An interview with activist and intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/gilbert-achcar/syrian-army-and-its-power-pyramid">The Syrian army and its power pyramid</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/paul-rogers/russia-syria-and-danger-of-hype">Russia and the west: risks of hype</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria middle east Violent transitions Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Marwan Hisham Murtaza Hussain Wed, 02 Nov 2016 14:29:27 +0000 Murtaza Hussain and Marwan Hisham 106420 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The genealogy of the Effendy https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/genealogy-of-effendy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Undeterred by the regime's actions that have steadily pushed the Egyptian economy to the brink, the middle class seem intent on supporting the military.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/PA-18627418_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Nariman El-Mofty/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/PA-18627418_0.jpg" alt="Nariman El-Mofty/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved." title="Nariman El-Mofty/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved." width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A supporter of Sisi holds a poster bearing photo of him that reads, "continue your duties and choose your president, campaign," during a campaign to collect signatures and nominate him to run for Egypt's president.</span></span></span></div><div>When the Egyptian military removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power, it found a reliable ally among the ranks of the urban middle class. Four years into the coup and two years into Sisi’s presidency, the alliance still holds, acting as the backbone of the current military regime, even though large segments of the Mubarak era crony capitalist elites have been alienated. </div><p>Undeterred by the regime's actions that have steadily pushed the Egyptian economy to the brink – &nbsp;through massive spending on economically dubious infrastructure projects, which has contributed to a spiraling fiscal crisis, a devaluation of the pound, and soaring inflation, all of which has greatly eroded the living standard of the mass of Egyptians – the middle class still seem intent on supporting the military, even though this aggressive expansion has crowded out the private sector and reduced job prospects for their young.</p><p>Some might argue that this support stems from fear of Islamist rule and/or large-scale social upheaval. This is true to an extent, but there is an important explanatory dimension missing, namely the historical development of this class within a colonial context and the lingering effects of Nasserisim, which have laid down the foundations for their reactionary nature. All of these factors intermixed&nbsp; create the 'consciousness' of this class, which affects their behaviors as well as the position they hold within Egyptian polity. &nbsp;</p> <p>The genesis of the Egyptian intelligentsia dates back to the modernization project initiated by Mohamed Ali, the Ottoman ruler of Egypt, at the start of the nineteenth century. As an ambitious Ottoman reformer, he started to establish the foundations of the modern Egyptian state. A large number of clerks, bookkeepers, and public employees were needed to oversee the functions of the state and rapid growth of its military. This allowed for the growth of a number of educational institutions, including the first Egyptian modern medical school, El Qasr El Aini, promoting a new elite who would later form the basis of a new middle class - the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effendi">Effendi</a>. </p><p>Numerous scholarships to Europe were issued, sending the sons of middle ranking rural elites, namely the heads of villages, to be educated abroad only to return to Egypt bringing back “modernity”. This practice continued well into the twentieth century, with almost all notable Egyptian intellectuals following the same trajectory. Rifa'a al-Tahtawi was sent to Paris in 1826 by Mohamed Ali, leaders of the independent movement such as Mustafa Kamil and pioneers of Egypt’s liberal age, such as Taha Hussein, were also among them. This created a distinctly European imprint on the fledgling urban middle class. </p> <p>This European imprint was a cause for the strong disconnect between this class and the rest of the, mostly, peasant country at the time – a disconnect that only helped to ensure the conservative nature of this class in terms of issues of social change, as it held an orientalist view of the peasantry and, as such, feared the consequences of mass social upheaval. </p> <p>This was reflected in the nature of the struggle for independence led by the Wafd Party. Even though the party was led by large landowners, its backbone was the urban middle class. The party struggled for independence but it was socially conservative in its fear of popular mobilization. The Wafd Party offered little on social issues, such as labor or land reform. </p> <p>It is not surprising that a party led by large landowners would be conservative, however, it is the support it received from the urban middle class that is indicative of this class’ conservative position. This does not mean that there were no radical wings within the urban middle class. On the contrary, there was the Wafd vanguard, the left wing of the party, and a budding communist movement. But their role was relatively weak and shortlived within the context of national struggle.&nbsp; </p> <p>The second major phase of the development of the urban middle class was the coup of 1952 that brought Nasser to power, paving the way for the ideological hegemony of Nasserism, which still dominates many aspects of Egyptian political life today. </p> <p>The Nasser regime allied itself with the urban middle class through the provision of social as well as economic benefits, which were mainly centered on the expansion of the public sector; laying the foundations of the corporatist relationship between the state and the urban middle class. This was all in exchange for political obedience.</p> <p>This support, however, was not only based on the social contract of economic benefits. The military regime also followed a progressive policy closely rooted in European traditions of modernity, namely secularism and socialism. As such, there was an ideological affinity between the urban middle class and Nasserism.</p> <p>The other aspect of this affinity is the role the state played against radical social upheavals. Even though the Nasserist regime initiated a large number of reforms, which coopted the peasantry and working class, they were all top down initiatives. The regime was willing to use relentless force where any indications of radicalism became apparent. For example, it was not only the Muslim Brotherhood that was subjected to relentless repression, the communist movement shared the same fate, even though it was initially supportive of the reforms initiated by the regime. </p> <p>The regime acted as a bulwark against what the urban middle class feared the most: mass popular upheaval by a “backward” peasantry and the popular classes. Thus, during the Nasserist era, the military and by extension the state, were the only ones holding the enemy back at the gates.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>This helps to explain the enduring alliance between the military and the urban middle class today, even though the Nasserist social contract collapsed decades ago. Some might argue that the urban middle class played an integral part during the 2011 mass protest movement, and that the youth protest movement is rooted within this class. </p> <p>This, however, ignores three main issues. First, the demands raised in 2011 mainly revolved around moderate political reform rather than radical social transformation, which means that the demands of the popular classes were not adopted by the protest movement. This moderation helps to explain the inability of the urban middle class to build an alliance with the popular classes to overthrow the regime. </p> <p>Second, the Mubarak regime was not perceived as a military regime as such. On the contrary, the military was seen as “apolitical”. Thus the revolt was not against the military elites, but the crony capitalist civilian elites who were systematically eroding the privileges of the middle class. </p> <p>Finally, once a semblance of democracy was established and the Muslim Brotherhood, who have a significant rural base –&nbsp; especially in the south – &nbsp;won, the fear of the backward peasantry quickly returned. This prompted the reaffirmation of the alliance with the military as the bulwark against the popular classes. This despite the fact that the military are pursuing policies against the material interests of the middle class.. </p> <p>The “consciousness” of the middle class dictates its hostile view towards the popular classes and cements its alliance with the military. This alliance is deeply rooted, which means that it will very likely continue for a long period of time. It is based on fear of the common enemy, the masses of poverty-stricken, peasants, workers, and the urban poor. </p> <p>Any opposition emanating from this class will be limited to moderate political reform, which will ensure that the masses remain outside the realm of power. Fear is the foundation for the strongest of alliances. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/who-is-afraid-of-urban-poor">Who is afraid of the urban poor?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/liberalism-without-democracy-case-of-egypt">Liberalism without democracy: the case of Egypt</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/on-absence-of-arab-intellectuals-counter-revolution-and-state">On the absence of Arab intellectuals: counter-revolution and the state </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/on-absence-of-arab-intellectuals-colonial-connection">On the absence of Arab intellectuals: the colonial connection </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia Middle East Forum North-Africa West-Asia Egypt Culture Democracy and government Looking inside the uprising Chronicles of the Arab revolt Maged Mandour Sat, 27 Aug 2016 13:50:45 +0000 Maged Mandour 104945 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Infographic: understanding sectarianism https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/craig-browne/infographic-understanding-sectarianism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A very accessible introduction to how we should grasp and portray sect and sectarianism in Syria and the Middle East.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="piktowrapper-embed" pikto-uid="4241203-understanding-sectarianism" > <div class="pikto-canvas-wrap"> <div class="pikto-canvas"></div> </div> </div> <script> (function(d){ var js, id="pikto-embed-js", ref=d.getElementsByTagName("script")[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) { return;} js=d.createElement("script"); js.id=id; js.async=true; js.src="http://magic.piktochart.com/assets/embedding/embed.js"; ref.parentNode.insertBefore(js, ref); }(document)); </script> <fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/salameh-kaileh-victorios-shams/what-is-sectarianism-in-middle-east">What is sectarianism in the Middle East? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/assad%27s-secular-sectarianism">Assad&#039;s secular sectarianism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/tahir-zaman/right-to-neighbourhood-way-out-of-sectarian-quagmire">The right to neighbourhood: way out of a sectarian quagmire</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Syria and sectarianism sectarianism Violent transitions Looking inside the uprising Craig Browne Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:29:15 +0000 Craig Browne 90089 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The intimacy of tyranny: Syria's de facto state legitimacy https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/estella-carpi/intimacy-of-tyranny-syria%27s-de-facto-state-legitimacy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> The state has remained resilient in conflict-ridden Syria. A look into the intricacies of the abusive citizen-state relationship, and the state's Hobbesian passion for self-preservation.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="western" lang="en-US"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/Former_Syrian_President_Hafez_al_Assad.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/Former_Syrian_President_Hafez_al_Assad.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="368" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The legitimacy that the Syrian state can still boast has become a frequent discursive tool for Syrians and internationals that desire to confirm or discard other viewpoints or target political foes. To delve into the several layers constituting state legitimacy it is necessary to merge macro-politics with ordinary people’s perceptions,&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.5;">and look at the way it is intentionally pursued or unwillingly obtained</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/12/syria-president-bashar-assad-lost-legitimacy_n_895354.html">declared in December 2011</a></span><span style="line-height: 100%; font-size: 13px;">—</span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">as well as earlier in </span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5; text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/07/201171204030379613.html">July 2011</a></span><span style="line-height: 100%; font-size: 13px;">—</span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">that the Syrian government had lost legitimacy. Despite the official rhetoric of the “failed state”, which is often used by some western governments in regards to the Syrian crisis, the government, in practice, managed to uphold a </span><em>de facto</em><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;"> legitimacy.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> In a similar vein, the British Foreign Secretary <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="http://www.arabtimesonline.com/NewsDetails/tabid/96/smid/414/ArticleID/181017/reftab/73/Default.aspx">William Hague</a></span>, a year after the outbreak of the uprising in Syria, declared that Great Britain was working to negotiate a UN Security Council Resolution that would order the use of all economic and diplomatic means to end the Syrian regime’s crimes.
</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Nevertheless, in <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/12/11/recognizing-the-syrian-opposition-what-does-it-really-mean/">late 2012</a></span>, the American presidency declared a political<span style="line-height: 100%; font-size: 13px;">—</span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">rather than a legal</span><span style="line-height: 100%; font-size: 13px;">—</span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">state failure, while others wondered whether the </span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5; text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/09/10/the_world_just_legitimized_the_assad_regime_its_spent_years_discrediting">international negotiations</a></span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;taking place regarding Syria’s chemical weapons, and promoted by the Obama administration, were somehow still conferring international legitimacy on Bashar al-Assad’s government.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> In a bid to demonstrate their international accountability, the global decision-makers have since the time of <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/04/assad-obama-resign-un-resolution">the Russian veto</a></span>,&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.5;">foregrounded International Law principles,</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">therefore deciding not to militarily intervene in conflict-ridden Syria to topple the regime and stop the escalating violence.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">It has been frequently&nbsp;<span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/09/13/assad_s_legitimacy_has_the_administration_flip_flopped_on_recognizing_assad.html">observed</a></span> that what this amounts to is a blurring of the line between such concepts as state recognition and legitimacy by an Obama administration that has pursued an ambiguous agenda. In this regard, it is important to note that the <em>de facto</em> legitimacy of the Syrian state has however not been accorded a deliberate act of recognition. As empirical evidence of this, the Syrian refugees I interviewed across Lebanon from 2011 to late 2013, predominantly coming from the areas of the political opposition, suggest that the Syrian government’s legitimacy has been maintained through the diplomatic moves of the foreign powers, as well as the need of Syrians themselves to preserve their own life chances, professional achievements, personal satisfactions - their desire to remain “legal citizens” despite their aversion to the government. Everyday life, sometimes sees no other alternative.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">R., a Syria international scholar, argued that in many instances&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.5;">the legitimacy of the Syrian state was still being nurtured by its own citizens</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">: “At the end of the day, if even some Syrian oppositin people that I know haven’t left their government positions, I can see why the revolution doesn’t exactly take off”. Meanwhile, some foreign supporters of revolutionaries in Syria reproach Syrians who have not broken off their relations with the state.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> As a matter of fact, state legitimacy has continued to survive thanks to a state power that creates meanings of its own, regardless of the fact that they do not reflect citizens’ interests. This solipsistic state legitimacy, although rarely expressed in public, lest it cause unpopularity, has its roots in the Baath Party’s past and in Hafez al-Assad’s well-known policy of demanding a symbolic simulationof loyalty&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 100%; font-size: 13px;">—</span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">rather than any actual feeling</span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">of love towards the state.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> This elusive and convoluted relationship between the state and the citizens in Syria is well explained by a Foucauldian politics of coercion: abuse of state authority is rejected, reproduced and amplified by people in the structures of their everyday life; a paradoxical phenomenon which Achille Mbembe named “the intimacy of tyranny”.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">A., from Daraya, recounts by contrast that she is unable to quit her job in the Syrian government once and for all, “since it’s the only source of income for raising my child, and, once I become jobless, I’d be hopeless and futureless. I wouldn’t have any longings to realize or objectives to achieve. If I ever decide to have no state at all, I’d cease to be a person”.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Likewise, Hozeifa, a Syrian political member of the opposition from Afamia, now resettled in Lebanon, argues: “Unlike my brother, I would still be allowed to enter Syria to see my family whenever I want”, clinging on to her ounce of pride for not being classified as an unwanted citizen, as opposed to his clear political stance against the state. This shows how both the stories people tell themselves about why they do what they do, and common feelings of passive reconciliation to one’s own state, end up giving rise to a <em>de facto</em> state legitimacy for even a dictatorial state, as long as the latter remains in power. The citizens’ desire to think of their life as institutionalized urges us to go beyond simplistic interpretations of domination by or disaffiliation from whatever remains attached to power. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> In a nutshell, the controversies entangled in people’s everyday lives are often simplistically labelled as treacherous - a betrayal of the revolutionary ideology that anyone in their right mind would try to conceal. In fact, these various types of relationship, which keep some Syrian opponents of the regime tethered to considerations of their basic needs rather than the state itself, are rarely discussed by the range of opposition commentators who are relied upon for regular briefings on events in Syrian. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> As for Assad’s loyalists, such still-existing connections between citizens in the opposition and the government<span style="line-height: 100%;">—</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">job positions, personal favours and the like</span><span style="line-height: 100%;">—are proof positive of a general</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;Syrian faithfulness to their state apparatus, and of a healthy desire to live within the current ruling system. In this view, state legitimacy is still seen as the product of a deliberate and straightforward act of identification.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> In practice, people’s perspectives, together with the abovementioned ambiguity of international diplomacy, have gone along with the Syrian state's passion for Hobbesian self-preservation. It has survived throughout the uprising, its subsequent repression, and the present western intervention against ISIS. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> In other words, the partial reluctance of people to reject state institutions does not equate with their voluntary acknowledgment of state sovereignty. By using the interpretative lens of those I interviewed, the only possible political life that either privileged or reluctant citizens could envisage was within the framework of a re-established&nbsp;<em>de facto</em> state legitimacy. This was not, therefore, necessarily something which amounted to a pro-active political will or emotional commitment.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">Syrian sovereign authority remains the one who makes or takes life, by using the rhetoric of protection of its citizens against the “enemy”<span style="line-height: 100%;">—</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">revolutionaries portrayed as terrorists</span><span style="line-height: 100%;">—</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">while keeping people in awe of themselves at the same time. In the light of this, the Assad sovereignty has survived through its </span><em>de facto</em><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> legitimacy, which has been cultivated over the years through the very solipsism of the Syrian regime as described above. This is a&nbsp;</span><em>de facto</em><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> state legitimacy that has doomed many Syrians to live with anguishing indecision. The ambivalent relationship that many members of the Syrian opposition hold with the state, such that they still work with the central state by diverse means, has too quickly become the object of praise or reproach from other Syrian citizens and the international community. This has prematurely aborted a deeper understanding.&nbsp;</span></p> <a name="logo"></a><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 25px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /><br /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/estella-carpi/syria-when-representational-violence-is-as-ruthless-as-political-violen">Syria: when representational violence is as ruthless as political violence </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/assad%27s-secular-sectarianism">Assad&#039;s secular sectarianism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/kafranbel-paradigm-of-creative-storytelling-part-12">Kafranbel: a paradigm of creative storytelling (Part 1/2)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/hamzeh-moustafa/social-networks-in-syria-between-mediation-and-mobilisation">Social networks in Syria: between mediation and mobilisation</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Democracy and government Foucault Assad Meteoric rise of the Islamic State Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Estella Carpi Mon, 26 Jan 2015 12:34:58 +0000 Estella Carpi 89833 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Assad's secular sectarianism https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/assad%27s-secular-sectarianism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A historic overview of the manipulation of sect and religion by a Syrian elite only concerned with survival.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/C4.gif" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/C4.gif" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>The manipulation of sectarianism was one of the methods used by the Syrian regime to preserve its control over the decades. The interdiction against sectarian discourses, under the guise of nationalism and secularism, was but a cover for the authoritarian and sectarian practices of its security establishment.</p> <p>The Syrian regime did not invent sectarianism in Syria. Sectarian discourses were always part of the national political climate in Syria’s modern history. This can be explained by the fact that since the early formation of the Syrian republic (1920-1946) the country never had a truly nationalist authority, nor did it have specific national policies that aimed to dilute sectarian, religious, ethnic and other sub-national rivalries in favour of an encompassing Syrian nationalism. This inevitably contributed to the creation of a state of latent, or hidden, sectarianism. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that the leftist and secular political elite (1950-70s) did not consider sectarianism a major issue worthy of public discussion. On the contrary, they actively ignored it in the false belief that it would dissipate on its own.</p><p><span>This state of 'hidden sectarianism' is terribly problematic. Firstly, it is not a clear phenomenon that can be studied and analysed, because everyone is simply loathe to discuss it, or even to acknowledge its existence, in public; nor is it a passing phase into a more advanced national state. This ambiguity was fertile ground for the Baathist regime to successfully use sectarianism, along with other methods, to reinforce its rule for many decades.</span></p><h2>The elephant in the room</h2> <p>Under Baath rule, discourses and discussions on sectarianism, regardless of their shape or content, were completely banned on national media and in the public sphere. Concurrently, however, positions within the ruling class and the armed forces were divided informally between different sects. For example, the prime minister was chosen, historically, from the Sunni elite, while Alawites enjoyed four different cabinet posts, most important of which is the ministry of information; other groups, like Christians and Druze, also had their assigned cabinets. Within the army, leading positions in brigades and divisions were assigned through an unwritten but well known formula—to Syrians at least: if the leader is Sunni, it means that the deputy must be Alawite, while a third leading position is reserved for other groups like Christians or Druze. The only exception to this formula was in the security forces, where Alawites always enjoyed a comfortable majority both in numbers and in leadership positions.</p> <p>This unspoken division of roles made sectarianism a presence that was constantly felt, while the prohibition of any discussion of sectarianism was absolute. The accusation of 'causing sectarian division' was laid down against all kinds of political opposition groups and was used in the prosecution and imprisonment of large numbers of individuals; thus facilitating the regime’s monopoly over the issue. People had to find different ways to navigate around this deadly elephant in the room.</p> <p>This control was punctuated further by the intentional policies implemented by the security establishment in Syria to separate people based on sect, religioun and ethnic criteria. This is illustrated by the encouragement given to segregated areas like the city of Baniyas, which is divided into an Alawite section and a Sunni one; or the town of Qutayfah, where the Army officers’ neighborhood (which is mostly Alawite) is separated by a fence from the majority-Sunni town. This geographical separation can be seen in many other areas in Damascus like Jaramana (Christian/Druze), Mazzeh 86 (Alawite), Harasta (Sunni). These areas were not completely homogeneous, but they were established in the Syrian consciousness as such, and thus was established a social state of “sectarian neighbourly” relations according to the thinker Yassin al-Hafez. This “sectarian formation of society” allowed the regime the “exclusive role of managing interactions between the groups and minimised all other independent interactions”, according to the writer, Yassin al-Haj Saleh. Even if, as some might argue, these social relations were already inherent in Syrian society, rather than actively promoted by the regime, the responsibility remains with the ruling class in not implementing any integration policies to counter this trend.</p><h2>The brotherhood boost</h2> <p>The political monopoly over sectarianism tightened &nbsp;after the Hama uprising against the regime in 1982. With the Muslim Brotherhood appointing themselves as representatives of Sunnis in Syria and throughout the region, while referring to the Assad regime as “the Alawite regime”, they provided the regime with the perfect alibi. From then on, the regime would crush any discussion on sectarianism with secular slogans, and would present itself as the only guarantor for the protection of minorities, especially Alawites. This phase is recounted in the book,&nbsp;<em>Politique et minorités au Proche-Orient: Les raisons d'une explosion</em>, by Annie and Laurent Chabry:</p> <blockquote><p>“In August 1980, Hafez al-Assad chose to celebrate Ramadan in Qardaha, instead of in the Damascus Umayyad mosque, which was what tradition demanded. He surrounded himself with the most prominent leaders from the Alawite community and requested their help in handling the crisis.”</p></blockquote> <p>This sectarian shift can be appreciated in the testimony of the Syrian poet Faraj Bayrakdar, at the time a central committee member of the underground Communist Action Party, who was imprisoned several times by the Assad regime:</p> <blockquote><p>“The first time I was imprisoned, in 1978, there were no sectarian insults. When I was arrested again, in 1987, sectarian insults against prisoners were the norm.”</p></blockquote> <p>The strategy of manipulating sectarianism can be seen in countless examples of Syria’s recent past. In 2006, writer Michel Kilo was imprisoned for an article entitled 'Syrian obituaries', where he wrote:</p> <blockquote><p>“Although sects underly Syrian society, no one dares talk about them. Not because they ignore their existence, but out of fear of the authorities, which claim to have neutralized all sectarian and ideological differences and treat any talk on these issues as treason.”</p></blockquote> <p>Similarly, political dissident Riad Seif was arrested during the period known as the Damascus Spring for stating that "the Syrian people are characterized by their diverse ethnic and religious universe. Syria is the cradle of monotheistic religions and ancient civilizations.”</p> <p>According to many witness testimonies, it became a common strategy from the 1980's onwards, for security forces to deck walls with sectarian slogans such as, “We want to overthrow the Alawite regime” a night before they stormed a neighbourhood to arrest members of the Communist Action Party or other political groups from their hometowns.</p> <p>This regime’s strategy pursued three goals:</p><ol><li><span>To present itself as the only guarantor against sectarianism</span></li><li><span>To strengthen its ties with the country’s minorities</span></li><li><span>To tarnish the reputation of dissidents and opposition groups</span></li></ol><p><span>The aforementioned examples give an overview of the instrumentalisation of sectarianism by the Syrian regime. The evidence suggests that the regime was never a sectarian authority, as that would entail focusing all efforts on elevating the conditions of a particular sect, as is the case in the Saudi and the Iranian regimes. In Syria’s case, sectarianism was but one card out of many used to perpetuate the ruling elite's dominant position.</span></p><p>The actions and policies of any state, however, will transform society politically, economically and socially. In Syria, it led to the birth of what I call “hidden sectarianism”, where sectarian identities are neither discarded for a higher national identity, nor are they allowed to present themselves and be discussed openly. This national identity crisis was made clear a few months after the uprising, partly because the regime decided to put its weight behind the sectarian narrative, and partly because the opposition, in an ultimately misguided move, attempted to play the sectarian card as a weapon against the regime.</p><p> <a name="logo"></a></p><p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/salameh-kaileh-victorios-shams/what-is-sectarianism-in-middle-east">What is sectarianism in the Middle East? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/salamah-kileh-victorios-shams/is-syrian-regime-sectarian">Is the Syrian regime sectarian? Sectarianism, part two</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/tahir-zaman/right-to-neighbourhood-way-out-of-sectarian-quagmire">The right to neighbourhood: way out of a sectarian quagmire</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/opening-debate-on-sectarianism-in-syria">Opening the debate on sectarianism in Syria</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Syria and sectarianism Identity repression Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Mohammad Dibo Thu, 27 Nov 2014 21:18:10 +0000 Mohammad Dibo 88258 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Social networks in Syria: between mediation and mobilisation https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/hamzeh-moustafa/social-networks-in-syria-between-mediation-and-mobilisation <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We still misunderstand<span style="font-size: 13.3333339691162px; line-height: 21.6666679382324px;">&nbsp;the roles</span><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;Facebook and Twitter play in how the uprisings across the Arab world began and continue to develop.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/6819650248_ecc142316f_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/6819650248_ecc142316f_o.jpg" alt="The graffiti reads "Syria is free" in Taghyeer (Change) Square, Sanaa." title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The graffiti reads "Syria is free" in Taghyeer (Change) Square, Sanaa.</span></span></span>There is no doubt that the Arab uprisings stand out, among other things, as media phenomena. This articulation is seen through two fundamental dimensions: coverage of the uprisings by regional and international media, and the successful utilisation of the information revolution in developing 'alternative' media projects in the region. The alternative media served, primarily, as an source of information: subverting authoritarian censorship regimes and delivering the news into the public sphere. However, it also served as an organiser and mobiliser in calling for protests and spreading propaganda messages against these totalitarian regimes.</p> <p>The role of these social networks as an incubator for activists, providing spaces beyond the control of the authorities, is a common feature both in the Syrian uprising and in others across the Arab world. However, the impact of these social networks in Syria was different to those of other uprisings in the region, and continued to take different forms as the Syrian movement developed. Let us now look more closely at the role played by social networks in the Arab uprisings in general, and in the Syrian one in particular.</p> <h2><strong>Virtual/real debate</strong></h2> <p>The tremendous technological development in the information technology sector and spread of new internet realities integrated people into a virtual 'society'. Perhaps the most obvious outcome of this are the “social networks” where millions of people participate according to their interests. Active participation in these networks has even pushed some sociologists to speak of them as a “world”, “public sphere” or “virtual reality”. Howard Rheingold, in his 1994 book, went so far as to describe these nascent entities as “virtual communities”.</p> <p>Building on these ideas, and the noticeable increase in the number of participants in Arab social networks, many Arab and western experts exaggerated the impact of these networks and their role in the Arab uprisings. The underlying reasons for the eruptions on the streets had little to do with the availability and development of information and communication technology, nor were later developments dependent on them.</p> <p>Arab societies during the uprisings concentrated their protest efforts in small representative communities in public spaces like Tahrir Square in Cairo, Sittin Square in Sanaa and Habib Bourguiba Street in Tunis. The role of social networks was to deliver news, call for protests, and to contribute in the diffusion of political symbols and values from these micro communities to the larger public sphere.</p> <p>Syria, however, was an exception to this process. The absence of large protest spaces--due to systematic repression by Syria's security and military apparatus--as well as the concentration of protests in the periphery and the relative lack of action from the large urban centers (Damascus and Aleppo) established social networks as the only space outside the control of the Syrian authorities, and thus the only space where Syrians could interact freely.</p> <p>Syrian president Bashar al-Assad described these protests in his 30 March 2011 speech to the parliament as a “virtual wave” or “fashion” that had broekn out in social networks, and at the service of foreign agendas aiming to undermine the political system. It was clear that Assad’s denial of the existence of the protests was compatible with the convenient assumption that the Arab uprisings were nothing more than the products of imagined virtual worlds. Thus, in the authoritarian understanding of the term “reality” becomes that which is clear in its manifestation and in the authority’s ability to control it. In contrast, the virtual is only an “illusion”, because it is outside the regime’s control. Consequently, any oppositional movement that is able to communicate freely, to question, problematize, and redefine the authority’s preferred reality is dismissed as “virtual”.</p> <h2><strong>Who wins?</strong></h2> <p>In the early days of the uprising (and to a lesser extent today) Facebook was the most popular site for Syrian interaction. Several online activists attempted to copy some of the strategies of the Egyptian revolution. Facebook pages like the Syrian Revolution, or Syrian Day of Rage, were established and called for mass protests on certain days, but these calls went largely unnoticed. It became obvious that the traditional avenues of mobilisation, like publicising videos of regime human rights violations, were not enough to evoke the latent public resentment and turn it towards protest. Yet, these efforts energised activists on the ground, and several graffiti campaigns were launched in Syrian cities. The tragedy of children of Daraa was a direct result of graffiti: finally, the security response that followed it became the 'catalyst' for the protest movement and its diffusion into other cities.</p> <p>It can be said that the virtual component of the uprising was limited in its impact, focusing on relaying the events and explaining them. The “Syrian Revolution Against Bashar al-Assad 2011” Facebook page, the largest such virtual aggregation of people opposing the regime, was not able to privilege its own political discourse in the early stages. “Downfall of the regime” as a political slogan, was only adopted publicly in May 2011 after the regime started using the military against the growing protests, despite the page tirelessly pushing for its adoption as early as mid January 2011.</p> <p>Thus, it was the military escalation by the regime that helped privilege the virtual channels in determining the shape and content of the uprising’s political discourse. Faced by the massive repressive force used by the regime, grassroots activists and the protest movement on the ground were unable to shape a coherent civil disobedience movement with specific demands and symbols. This task fell on the virtual congregations which took the lead in determining the collective political values and symbols for the disparate movement; contributing to the emergence of several new currents in public opinion that were not present in the early stages of the uprising.</p> <p>French psychologist, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Le_Bon">Gustave Le Bon</a>, used to speculate in his book on crowd psychology that “disparate individuals could attain the character of a psychological crowd at a certain moment under the influence of violent emotions or a great national event.” In Syria, we could posit that the virtual interactions between disparate individuals did indeed produce a psychological crowd under the influence of a great national event, i.e. the uprising. Since the “Syrian Revolution” Facebook page was the largest such virtual body, and with the absence of real public spaces for the uprising, it was the interactions within it that largely determined many of the directions and the symbols of the uprising.</p> <p>The names given to the Friday protests was a major channel for shaping public opinion in Syria, in which the social networks played a significant role. The “Syrian Revolution” page, by introducing weekly voting mechanisms became the de-facto leader of the Friday naming process. While the page was successful in privileging many of the names preferred by it, discussions on the issues significantly reflected large and even fundamental differences over the future of the country. The controversies about Friday names like “Friday of the Descendants of Khalid”, “Friday of International Protection”, or “Friday of the Syrian National Council” were representative of larger schisms and differences within the uprising. No example of this is more poignant than that of the debate on adopting a different flag to represent the uprising: Syria’s green independence flag, rather than the current red one. Such was the influence of the uprising’s virtual component in that period that a new national symbol was adopted as early as November 2011 as the de-facto flag of the revolution.</p> <p>The influence of virtual communities increased over the course of the early uprising. However, as the uprising’s militant side grew and gained support, the balance of power shifted again, to favour actors, of a rather different sort, on the ground.</p><p>Translated by: Yazan Badran</p><p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/enrico-de-angelis/rethinking-syrian-media">Rethinking Syrian media</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/ola-rifai/education-and-flags-seminal-for-winning-hearts-and-minds-of-syria%E2%80%99s-new-gen">Education and flags: seminal for winning the hearts and minds of Syria’s new generation?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/blog/od_today/syrian_internet_activists_jailed">Syrian internet activists jailed</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Civil society Internet Syrian media Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Hamzeh Moustafa Wed, 05 Nov 2014 08:48:42 +0000 Hamzeh Moustafa 87470 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A Syrian fearing exile and return https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/maha-assabalani/syrian-fearing-exile-and-return <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Many Syrian activists have left Syria voluntarily, either being refused permission to return or being threatened with imprisonment or death. They face an unknown destiny in exile.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>In exile, identity is all about moments in our memories and how some of these moments can change our lives, how some stories touch us, some events can shape our identities, and some choices stay with us forever.</p> <p>Since March 2011, many Syrian activists have been forced into exile out of fear, and thus fled from Syria to different countries all over the world. The majority of exiled Syrian activists cited fear of violence as their main reason for leaving; some fled after being attacked and others fled from threats of prison and judicial harassment. Many Syrian activists have left Syria voluntarily, either being refused permission to return or being threatened with imprisonment or death. They face an unknown destiny in exile.</p> <h2><strong>Questioning the self</strong></h2> <p>M.SH was born in 1986 in Syria, of Syrian parents. M.SH is a doctor, musician, and actor. He speaks three languages fluently, Arabic as his mother tongue, English and French. He is perhaps best known for his involvement with the Doctors Coordination of Damascus in Syria and later with the Doctors Without Borders Organization in France during the Syrian revolution - his journey of exile. He says, “<em>I was a doctor in one of those&nbsp; field hospitals in Qaboon in Syria and it was an extremely cruel and painful experience.”</em></p> <p>M.SH left Syria for France in January 2012 because of his involvement in Doctors Coordination of Damascus, where they were cooperating with Doctors Without Borders: </p> <blockquote><p>“ <em>I was working with doctors without borders (the famous worldwide NGO) and this put my life in danger, since most NGOs are banned in Syria, especially those who help in the humanitarian domain and show sympathy with the protestors.”</em> He continues, <em>“I still remember having to jump over dead bodies in order to reach the next wounded person coming around. I saw the exposed bone of a human being with skin sagging off his foot. But what felt really the worst was when I was trying to examine the injury of a young guy (hardly 20 years of age) and my index finger just slipped 2cm into his brain.”</em></p></blockquote> <p>M.SH continued his work, but he was arrested and tortured, as it turned out, by his cousin; he explains: </p><blockquote><p>“<em>We had to stand there with our hands handcuffed behind us, facing a wall while the officers started hitting us with cables. Recognizing my last name, an officer who had the same last name as mine, was called over by his colleagues. In fact, he was a relative unknown to me till that time. That was when the special treatment began. I had to kneel down with the officers hitting, punching, insulting and kicking me all over my body. One of them kicked me in the genitals so hard that I nearly fainted. I remember being unable to raise my back due to a kick in the lower part of it. I was literally swinging. My relative then took me to a room where he started hitting my back and left shoulder with an electrical cable. I was so hurt that the skin of some parts of my shoulder was taken off. Finally he released me, threatening me that if I so much as uttered any further protest, he was going to kill me. After this incident, I was known as the person who was tortured at the hands of his cousin</em>”.</p></blockquote> <p>M.SH lived in France for almost 6 months before he decided to leave for the United States on June 25, 2012. In retrospect he was sorry that he left France: </p> <blockquote><p>“<em>When I was there I really hated it but now I look back on this decision with regret, since it was fine compared to the rejection that I initially suffered in the US. At least I had some friends in France, while, in the US, everybody is first and foremost an alien, so to speak. In France, I did not feel much of an alien: the reason I believe is that European people are geographically and historically much closer to where I originally come from. They are more open to other cultures than Americans despite the US melting pot. I think French people knew more about my country and that is why they were more able to accept me, I guess.”</em></p></blockquote> <p>M.SH had his own fears that if he returned to Syria, he would be arrested, tortured and perhaps killed at the hands of the Syrian security and military forces. </p> <p>But he thought he would only be gone a short while, nevertheless: </p><blockquote><p>“<em>When I left Syria I never imagined that I would stay away for this long. My calculation was really that far out. Three months in France or four at the very worst, was what I expected and then I assumed that there would be a no-fly zone or buffer zones imposed by the international community. At that point I resolved that I would go to Turkey or Jordan to try to help the wounded”. But when the situation in Syria became really bad and dangerous with no prospect of a dramatic change on the horizon, I had no choice but to consider political asylum as an option, especially when it came to the point that my French visa was soon going to expire.</em>”</p></blockquote> <p>So another chapter of his journey started in the United States where he was arrested immediately on arrival at the airport for, as he describes it, just telling the truth: </p> <blockquote><p>“<em>In George Bush intercontinental airport in Houston on June 25, after an 11-hour flight and 12 more hours of interrogation, I made only one mistake. I told the truth!! I told the officers that I could go back neither to Syria nor to France. For them I was ineligible to step into the US territory and I had to ask for asylum in the airport. Cuffed as a Guantanamo prisoner, I was taken to the CCA detention center in Houston. I will never forget the humiliation I felt that day and thenceforth.”</em> </p></blockquote> <p>M.SH took a long pause as he relived those terrible moments spent in a US prison. As an alien in a strange land, he was deprived even of sleep, as the only thing that he had left were his memories of a past gone by, nightmares of a terrifying present, and fear of an uncertain future. He was in detention for 48 days, with questions spinning in his head every single hour: <em>“How is the situation back in Syria? How is my family doing? What crime have I committed to be put in this place?”</em></p> <p>On July 12, 2012, he decided to write to his deportation officer a letter asking him to accelerate procedures, because he was not able to stand it any more. Caught between two worlds, he could no longer survive in either.</p> <blockquote><p><em>“<strong>Dear officer,</strong></em><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong><br /></strong></p><p><em>I have already been arrested and also tortured back in Syria. Although it’s really different being here from being in any of the Syrian prisons, the feeling that is being deprived of one’s freedom is pretty much the same. I came to the US in order to alleviate my suffering, not to incur another punishment.</em></p><p><em>In the light of the aforementioned, I wish to ask you to arrange the ‘credible fear’ interview for me as soon as possible.</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p><strong><em>Many thanks officer.</em></strong><em>”</em></p></blockquote> <p>In reply, his case was referred to the Houston asylum office, and he was released after that in just a few days. He kept waiting for his two hearings; hoping that things would be OK after that. On the day of his first hearing, he was fully prepared. He had thought about every single word he would say, as well as how he should look. He thought about shaving and putting on some aftershave. Indeed, he was expecting anything to happen but not what did happen!!</p> <p>The minute he entered the courtroom the judge immediately decided to abandon the person who smelled of perfume because the judge was allergic to it. As a result, they postponed his hearing for another year!&nbsp; M.SH is still awaiting some decision on his destiny, remaining without a job, or legal status. He was eligible to receive a state ID and driver license, yet he still cannot apply to universities to continue his studies or find a job since his fingerprint records have him down as a criminal.</p> <p>Despite all these difficulties, M.SH managed off his own bat to pass six exams, five of them medical exams and one for a driving license in the space of one year and three months. M.SH has been physically released from Syrian and later American prisons, yet he is still trapped in this unfamiliar world without an identity, a home, a family and nobody to realize that all he wants is to return to the world that is familiar to him.</p> <p>His final statement concludes: </p> <blockquote><p>“<em>Just talking about this is extremely exhausting. I have had to relive cruel events and revive the same painful feelings I had during the past two years. I remember the many times I had to sleep with all my clothes on, anxious about how I might have to jump from the bedroom window of my family’s fifth floor apartment to the two-meter-high nearby building if the security forces gained entry. I remember the hopes I had in France that I would soon go back to Syria and then the fear when I realized the reality and that the destiny waiting for me was actually unknown. I remember the fear and the rejection I encountered in the US. I remember most of all my mother’s tears when she saw my back after the arrest. These memories are a part of my core being now, and they will never be forgotten.</em>”</p></blockquote><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 14px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /><br /></p><p></p><p></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mataz-suheil/clawing-at-sky-fighting-for-political-prisoners-in-syria">Clawing at the sky: fighting for political prisoners in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/yazan-alsaadi/syria-storytelling-and-all-things-between-metacommentary-on-%E2%80%98-prisoner-">Syria, storytelling, and all things between: a meta-commentary on ‘the Prisoner Series’</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> <div class="field-item even"> France </div> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia United States France Syria Conflict Culture International politics Syrian collective memory Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Maha Assabalani Sat, 01 Nov 2014 18:41:12 +0000 Maha Assabalani 87366 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Is the Syrian regime sectarian? Sectarianism, part two https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/salamah-kileh-victorios-shams/is-syrian-regime-sectarian <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the second part of our conversation&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.5;">on the state and sect in Syria</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;with prominent Marxist thinkers from the region, we explore how sectarianism and class intersect in the dark realms of the Syrian elite. See <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/salameh-kaileh-victorios-shams/what-is-sectarianism-in-middle-east">part one</a>.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>Mohammad Dibo: Salameh, should we consider Assad’s regime, or the Alawites as a group, sectarian?</strong></p> <p><strong>Salameh Kaileh:&nbsp;</strong><span>Any investigation into the reasons of how a dictatorship chooses the groups that support its hegemony must be approached through a sociological lens, rather than a sectarian one. The difference here is that a sectarian, or religious approach to the subject focuses on superficial markers in determining the nature of the regime; e.g. the sectarian background of the president and the surrounding ruling class. The real question should be what is the logic that lies behind the dictator’s choice of collaborators? Why might he surround himself with members of the same background?</span></p> <p>Let's be frank. Hafez al-Assad was part of a nationalist party, and that was the underlying consciousness that predated his ascendance to rule. In that sense, one cannot accuse him of being sectarian--unless one subscribes to Islamist notions of the esotericism of Alawites, which I believe is bigoted nonsense. The main struggle inside the Baath party was actually between two Alawites--Salah Jadid and Hafez al-Assad. Thirdly, this struggle completely divided the ruling class at the time between the two factions, including the Alawites, whereby many Alawite officers from Tartous supported Jadid, while the officers from Jableh supported Assad. Moreover, the power vested in [Sunni] figures like Mustafa Tlass, and Abdulhalim Khaddam, under Assad, was well on a par with that of Alawites like Ali Duba or Ali Haydar.</p> <p>Viewed from a sociological perspective, we notice that such dictators depend on individuals from the same environment they themselves grew up in. The rural environment they were brought up in first and foremost establishes linkages that are regionally-based. This is “rural consciousness”, it attaches confidence to regional linkage, which is natural at a time when the countryside is so isolated. As Engels remarked, a peasant believes that his village is the world, the whole world. This isolation breeds fear of the outside world and strengthens the importance of regional links. Wherever the peasant goes, it is only his neighbours, or those connected to his village that he considers trustworthy and dependable. That is, in a nutshell, why a dictator surrounds himself with those who share his own regional background.</p> <p>Most of the power struggles in the Syrian army before Assad’s ascent were based on such 'regional factions'. Many of the urban officers were purged after the March 8 coup d’etat in 1963 (that brought the Baath party to power); many other urban officers, as well as those from Rif Dimashq and Hama, were sidelined in the purge of Nasserist loyalists in June 1963; many Druze officers (from the south of Syria) were also removed following Salim Hatoum’s failed coup in 1967; Alawite officers were also divided, as previously mentioned, along regional lines (between Tartous and Jableh) during the power struggle between Assad and Jadid.</p> <p>In that light we can see that the regime’s dependence on a core of Alawi officers is based on regional linkages and confidence rather than on sect. The sectarian insurrection led by the Muslim Brotherhood and its military wing (the Vanguard Force) in the late 1970s and early 1980s did reinforce a sectarian tendency, crystallizing in Rifaat al-Assad’s Defense Companies. But even this tendency within the elite was suppressed following the power struggle between the two brothers in 1984. Another attempt at sectarianising community at the time, the al-Murtada association founded by Jamil al-Assad, was also shut down. There is no doubt that a certain sectarian feeling seeped into the structure of the ruling class, but it did not gain any overall hegemony. It was only later taken advantage of by that same ruling class.</p><p><span>As for ordinary citizens who are Alawites, considered as a group, I do not consider them sectarian despite their significant support for the current regime. This is mainly because there are few beliefs that unify them. Ordinary Alawites were not behind the regime before the revolution: on the contrary, they suffered a great deal at the hands of regime thugs, from poverty, marginalisation, land expropriation, and an overall lack of services in their areas. It is no secret that the Syrian coast was one of the most impoverished regions in the country. The brutality of the Hama massacre of 1982 was, nevertheless, attributed to them as a whole societal component, and the regime played its part in spreading the belief that 'the other' will always seek revenge on all Alawites for that.</span></p> <p>This has created a state of fear in the collective conciousness, that any political change will bring Islamists to power who will then proceed to take their revenge on Alawites. Generally speaking, most of the other religious and confessional minorities shared the fear that Islamists are the only alternative to Assad. This has led to many of them standing by the regime, including the majority of Christians. Without a doubt, this process was encouraged by the regime from the early days of the uprising, but it was also buttressed by some factions of the opposition, like the Muslim Brotherhood, and by some regional powers, like Saudi Arabia, as well as by the mainstream media.</p> <p>Most Alawites have very little knowledge of their own religious teachings. There is a hardly a specific 'religious doctrine' for Alawites to impose on society. It is their debilitating poverty that has led them to join the army in large numbers since the days of the French mandate. And the regime offered very little by way of enhancing their overall quality of life for them to try and hold on to it. However, a general consensus has developed in the country that has identified Alawites with the Assad regime, and with the Hama massacre, despite the fact that a large proportion of political prisoners in Syria were Alawites.</p> <p>That is the reason why Alawites ended up as staunch supporters of the regime, fear from their perceived connection in the mind of 'the other' between them as a community and the regime, and the fear of the consequences of any political change. Thus, their support is not sectarian in nature so much as simply born out of fear.</p> <p>The wave of Islamic fundamentalism, the assertion of the Islamists’ right to power and the sectarian war that wrecked Iraq, entrenched this aforementioned fear in large sectors of society, in both the minorities and parts of the 'majority' as well. This very effective fear is the main reason why the Syrian regime has focused all its energy on promoting and augmenting the Islamist “bogeyman” and presenting the revolution as a fundamentalist movement with the sole aim of usurping power and taking revenge on Alawites. That this has proved a successful strategy, is not due to sectarian feelings amongst Alawites, but rather thanks to the Salafist and fundamentalist sectors of the opposition who were promoted by the mainstream media in the Gulf and even in the west. These elements confounded Alawites from the beginning and made them hesitant in joining the revolution. Over time, as these elements gained more influence within the revolution, Alawites were pushed into blind support of the regime.</p> <p><strong><span>MD:&nbsp;</span><span>Victorios, you seem to have a quite different position on this. You consider the Syrian regime deeply sectarian. So, what is the distinction between a sectarian and an authoritarian regime?</span></strong></p> <p><strong>Victorious Shams:&nbsp;</strong><span>As a matter of principle, all regimes are authoritarian. The capitalist regime is one whereby the wealthy elite has power and subjugates lesser classes to its authority; and the opposite is true in socialist regimes. Authoritarianism is a prerequisite of authority. Theoretically, it is impossible to be a sectarian regime without being authoritarian as well, because sectarianism is the system through which the ruling classes guarantees its control within a colonial mode of production. To negate the sectarian label is to negate the control of the ruling class in colonial multi-confessional states. But it is impossible, within the colonial mode of production, to separate sectarianism and authoritarianism; the former is a prerequisite for the latter and vice versa.</span></p> <p>When it comes to the Syrian regime, it is important to differentiate between sectarian practices exercised by an authority that is controlled by a minority sect, as in the Syrian case, and an institutionally sectarian state, of the type that is Lebanon.</p> <p>In the Syrian case, sectarian practices form part of a long and complex process that will necessarily lead to the sectarianisation of society at large, which we can see clearly now in the current conflict. In the latter, however, no one sectarian group can monopolise authority completely as it is based on “partnerships” and institutionalised quotas.</p> <p>This is to say, sectarianism in Syria is not yet articulated in constitutional forms. The practices of the Syrian regime, including its monopolisation of authority as well as the financial and security apparatuses in the country, are driving that process very rapidly. It is worth here quoting Azmi Bishara, the Palestinian thinker, when he says: </p><blockquote><p>“ The phrase, ‘sectarian sedition’, while it has significant societal relevance, forms a part of a political discourse invoked by the regime when faced by crises. The Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, had no qualms, in his 30 March 2011 speech, about characterising the protest movement as a ‘sectarian sedition’ that aims to destroy stability and spread chaos. It was clear in his speech that the regime is very interested in spreading fear about sectarian strife, even to the point of provocation, as proof that the authoritarian state is the only form capable of preserving social and political unity in Syria, and that any concessions to democratic aspirations will lead to sedition and division. However, we cannot exclude the possibility that the regime, conscious of those of its policies that absorbed Alawites into its hard core, felt that the revolution is a reaction to the centralisation of power and wealth, and that it must be charged with sectarian feelings against him, and the Alawi sect."</p></blockquote> <p>If we look at the struggle from the point of view that the regime tries to consolidate, one shared between Sunnis and Alawites,&nbsp;<span>we must clarify an important issue. Even though there are Alawites who support the revolution, and there are Sunnis who stand by the regime, nevertheless, the percentage of each on their respective sides is minimal, and cannot be used to generalise about a community, nor as evidence that the regime is not sectarian.</span></p> <p>In short, the regime, during its time in power has differentiated between normal citizens and privileged ones from a specific sect, and this is one of the reasons for the popular frustration that brought the country to where it is today. Mreover, these events are still ongoing and escalating and have not taken their final shape.</p> <p><strong><strong>MD: Victorios, in previous writings you described forced demographic changes as proof of the sectarian nature of the regime. This is quite a strong claim, how do you defend it against the reality</strong><span>&nbsp;that a large number of refugees (more than 500,000) relocated to the coastal provinces? &nbsp;And&nbsp;</span><span>how would you explain the substantial Sunni communities that have stayed loyal to the regime?</span></strong></p> <p><strong>VS:&nbsp;</strong><span>The forced displacements happening in places like Homs and along the Lebanese borders, seem to be a precaution for a regional scenario where the state is partitioned along sectarian lines. Thus, the regime is working on changing the demographic distribution of some areas, and there are plenty of rumors about nationalisation and settling activity favouring certain sectarian groups migrating from outside Syria or from other areas from the country. This means that the regime is working towards political hegemony over these areas by establishing a sectarian majority in it. This hegemony is political at its base, thus there is no need for a 100% purified area, nor is this possible (Israel, despite its many wars against the Palestinians has been unable to completely unroot them from their land).</span></p> <p>We must differentiate clearly between the refugees who only seek to save their lives after their areas have been completely destroyed, and therefore do not aim for political control over the areas they are internally displaced to, and the areas occupied by the regime in the hope that it would become part of a future sectarian canton. Other than that, and as the regime is still responsible for the state, the question remains, what has the state offered to those who took refuge in the coastal areas [Alawite regions]?</p> <p>As for the second part of your question regarding Sunnis standing with the regime, I believe that is mainly due to class interests. Every strand of Islam is different, and thus the Islamic doctrines of the Muslim Brotherhood are completely different from those of the regime, and the doctrines of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or al-Nusra Front bear no similarity to those of Sufism. Hamas used to be very close to the Syrian regime, but it distanced itself after the revolution and after it was asked to help quell the protests. The Qubaisiyat movement has many schools and educational facilities that are supported and facilitated by the regime, and thus they have shared interests. The regime, despite its official line of secularism, is in need of multiple religious covers, as proof of its non-sectarianism, and the Qubaisiyat were ready to play that role along with other official religious institutions like the Mufti and the religious schools.</p> <p>The Damascene Sunni class is a predominantly bourgeois class that benefits greatly from the regime in an alliance of money and officers. It is still a minority, but a very wealthy one, and they are part of the process of siphoning the country’s wealth into private pockets. Nevertheless, we should note here that many have already moved their wealth from Damascus to other countries, even before the revolution, because of attempts to force them to share their business with the security establishment.</p> <p>The class interest of the beourgeouisie has no bearing on the sectarian nature of the regime. Sectarianism itself is another form of class authoritarianism, and the “Damascene and Aleppan bourgeoisie” are not too bothered about the form this authoritarianism takes, so long as their wealth increases.</p><p><span>Translated by: Yazan Badran</span></p><p><a name="logo"></a></p><p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/salameh-kaileh-victorios-shams/what-is-sectarianism-in-middle-east">What is sectarianism in the Middle East? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/opening-debate-on-sectarianism-in-syria">Opening the debate on sectarianism in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/salameh-kaileh-victorios-shams-mohammad-dibo/%D9%85%D8%A7-%D9%87%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%A9%D8%9F-%D8%AD%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B9-%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%A9-%D9%83%D9%8A%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%88-%D9%81%D9%83%D8%AA">ما هي الطائفية؟ حوار مع سلامة كيلة و فكتوريوس شمس</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/gilbert-achcar/syrian-army-and-its-power-pyramid">The Syrian army and its power pyramid</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/kamal-alam/pax-syriana-neither-vanquished-nor-allconquering">Pax Syriana: neither vanquished, nor all-conquering</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Syria and sectarianism Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Victorios Shams Salameh Kaileh Wed, 29 Oct 2014 11:00:09 +0000 Salameh Kaileh and Victorios Shams 87023 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Kafranbel: a paradigm of creative storytelling (Part 2/2) https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/kafranbel-paradigm-of-creative-storytelling-part-22 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The protesters of Kafranbel combine local struggles with global interests in their banners, they present the specificity of the Syrian context through the universality of the fight for freedom and dignity.</p> </div> </div> </div> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/syrien21.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/syrien21.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><p><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">As international attention focuses on military escalation, geopolitical factors and the spread of Daesh (also known as the Islamic State, or IS), Syrians are increasingly absent from the debates, with no way to frame the events in which they are the main protagonists. The cultural production of Kafranbel stands out for its effort to counter this trend, presenting powerful storytelling from a Syrian collective point of view, but stories framed as universal.</span></p><h2><strong>Global icons and references</strong></h2> <p>A distinctive feature of Kafranbel's storytelling is the reference to international current events. Far from isolating itself from the rest of the world, the town uses every international celebration, catastrophe or event to make a connection with the Syrian struggle. Examples of this technique range from the <a href="http://i100.independent.co.uk/image/27060-t92ibh.png"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Boston marathon bombings</span></a> and the <a href="http://i100.independent.co.uk/image/27060-18489g.png"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">shooting of African-American high-school student Trayvon Martin</span></a> to internationally recognized dates such as <a href="http://therevoltingsyrian.com/post/46076570101/happy-mothers-day-from-kafranbel-idleb"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Mother's Day</span></a> or Children's Day, which are used to address a global audience by framing Syrian suffering and struggles in identifiable and relatable terms. </p><p>One of the most powerful banners depicts the death of children in Syria with a message that reads "Only in Syria children are killed during International Children's Day" &nbsp;- &nbsp;a stark enough contrast between the international community's declaration of support for children's rights and the constant violation of these rights in Syria.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/27060-18489g.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/27060-18489g.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="302" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p>Kafranbel uses the global visibility of internationally-recognized events to increase its outreach and expose the 'international community's' double standards. By echoing worldwide celebrations, events and symbols, it highlights the contradiction between international discourse and the reality of Syrian suffering. One of the most effective depictions of this contradiction is a banner representing Russian president Vladimir Putin holding Bashar Al Assad on his lap, crowned with the symbol of chemical weapons, as he receives the Nobel Peace Prize. The town dedicated several of its banners to <a href="https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BWStd3fCUAAxf31.jpg"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">criticizing the Nobel Peace Prize nominations</span></a>, in powerful images that combine symbolism and criticism in a graphic, accessible manner.</p><p>The universal factor is also developed through global icons and references, with an emphasis on pop culture icons, including Hollywood ones. Banners include references to <em>Titanic, </em><a href="http://imgs.knight47.com/users/public/w28305homeg120.png"><em><span style="text-decoration: underline;">The Godfather</span></em></a><em>, Gone with the Wind, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings</em> and the actors who play them. Among the most touching -- and viral -- &nbsp;was the one the town dedicated to the late actor Robin Williams, dubbed by <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/this-could-be-the-most-poignant-tribute-to-robin-williams-yet--e1fgqVj-7g">The Independent</a>,</span>&nbsp;“the most poignant tribute to Robin William yet.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/27060-1i8t53v.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/27060-1i8t53v.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p>In banners soaked in dark humor, which has become a trademark of Syrian narrative and storytelling, the Syrian president takes the shape of iconic villains that range from <em>Child's Play</em> Chucky, or The Smurfs' Gargamel. Other characters are Popeye, Tom and Jerry, the Roadrunner and SpongeBob, well-known characters effectively used to reach all audiences.</p> <h2><strong>A universal struggle</strong></h2> <p>In addition to current events and international references, connections are established between Syria's legitimate resistance against tyranny and other universally-recognized struggles. Kafranbel's banners mention uprisings, revolts and demands by other peoples, such as the Egyptian, Burmese or Ukranian people, to whom the town offers its solidarity.</p> <p>There are also reflections on past struggles. When the world was commemorating the figure of Nelson Mandela, Kafranbel joined in the celebrations, thanking the South African leader's legacy and connecting it to the Syrian nonviolent movement, forsaken by the international community. Mandela's figure is revered, while democracy is characterized as a terminally-ill patient, connected to a blood transfusion device.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/Syria-ukraine-Kafranbel.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/Syria-ukraine-Kafranbel.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="323" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;">Through these references, the Syrian tragedy transcends the local factor and becomes a global loss, a retreat from universal rights and freedoms that not only affects Syrians but threatens citizens all over the world. What is at stake, Kafranbel's banners tell us, is the threshold of impunity and the lack of accountability, as Syria has proven there are no mechanisms, will or ability to protect civilians from the ruthlessness of rulers. It is to this global awareness that Kafranbel appeals.</span></p> <p>In an interview with EA Worldview, <a href="http://eaworldview.com/2014/01/syria-kafranbel-media-activist-raed-fares-shot-wounded/"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Kafranbel’s Raed Fares himself highlighted</span></a> how crucial it is for the town, and for Syrians, to connect their struggle with the rest of the world:</p> <p>“We keep track of everything happening in the news, all over the world, and if we find something that can help our cause, then we will use it. Appealing to a global audience is very important to us. Our revolution is a people’s revolution, so it is only natural that we seek out the support of people around the world.”</p> <p>In the face of geopolitical discourses that focus on proxy wars and military aspects, Kafranbel combines the reflection on geopolitics with the narration of internal dynamics and demands. These demands, although local, transcend the town of Kafranbel, the country and the region, to appeal to any citizen anywhere, through shared references and values.&nbsp;</p><p><a name="logo"></a></p><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 14px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/kafranbel-paradigm-of-creative-storytelling-part-12">Kafranbel: a paradigm of creative storytelling (Part 1/2)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/syria-and-emergence-of-grassroots-artistic-production">Syria and the emergence of grassroots artistic production</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/yazan-badran/uprising-and-syria%E2%80%99s-reconstituted-collective-memory">The uprising and Syria’s reconstituted collective memory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/razan-ghazzawi/razan-and-i">Razan and I</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/salameh-kaileh-victorios-shams/what-is-sectarianism-in-middle-east">What is sectarianism in the Middle East? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/enrico-de-angelis/rethinking-syrian-media">Rethinking Syrian media</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Kafranbel </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Kafranbel Syria Syrian creative resistance artistic activism Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Leila Nachawati Tue, 14 Oct 2014 08:56:58 +0000 Leila Nachawati 86775 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What is sectarianism in the Middle East? https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/salameh-kaileh-victorios-shams/what-is-sectarianism-in-middle-east <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The term is heard whenever the Middle East or Syria are discussed, yet a talking head would be pressed to define what they mean by sectarianism. Mohammad Dibo speaks to two prominent Arab thinkers willing to assist our understanding by going back to the basics.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a name="logo"></a></p><p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /></p><p><strong>Mohammad Dibo: Can we have an opening definition?</strong></p><p><strong>Salameh Kaileh:</strong>&nbsp;The sect is a community that subscribes to certain religious beliefs from the past. These beliefs, at the time of their formation, were the expression of the ideological and class conceptualisation of a certain social group. This conceptualisation is transformed into a religious belief when there is a societal collapse and social groups become closed, whereupon these conceptualisations are reformulated as “mythological” beliefs. The sect is a group of people who were born to certain beliefs. Their beliefs often survive only cosmetically: people practice some celebratory or funerary rituals, or marry into the same sect for reasons of continuity. But these inherited beliefs do not serve as a basis for relations with the larger society where more common traditions and customs, both in urban and rural societies, are more prevalent. These beliefs generally recede against modernist ideas allowing for more societal integration.&nbsp;</p><p>Sectarianism is any religious or sectarian barrier that is based on inherited beliefs against the ‘other’. That is to say: sectarianism is turning diversity to conflict. Without doubt this diversity is a result of an ancient conflict, however, the conflict at that time had economic and ideological bases for a political and ideological class conflict. Whereas before they represented intellectual currents rooted in material social classes and conditions, this language of an old struggle is used today in an essentialist way that has no relation to ideologies or classes. &nbsp;</p><p>There is a subheading which we could call, sectarian instrumentalisation. A certain class could utilise these inherited beliefs to advance its own interests, without necessarily believing in them. This can be seen in the context of a class’s defence of its own privileges and existence against other classes, or against other sectors from the same class.</p><p>Sectarianism is the tendency to undermine social cohesion by pushing for the reproduction of ancient beliefs and separations. This process is not exclusive to religious minorities, but can also be observed in the majority as well.</p><p><strong>Victorious Shams: </strong>The sectarian question emerged in Lebanon initially. Its main theorist was Michel Chiha (1891-1954) who is considered one of the fathers of the Lebanese constitution (1926). Chiha viewed Lebanon as a unique country that is “only similar to itself” because of its confessional diversity. Lebanon, according to Chiha, was a country of “partnership between sectarian minorities.” The sect was considered a “stand-alone social entity, held together by its internal cohesion, and with deep historical roots.” Thus, the sect becomes the main, and elementary, social unit, rather than the individual. Indeed, it becomes the necessary gateway between the individual and the state--i.e. the individual’s relationship with the state rests upon his sectarian affiliation, rather than his claim to citizenship.</p> <p>Citizenship is replaced by a sectarian understanding of sectarian authority, as in a “partnership between sectarian minorities.” Mahdi Amel formulated a scientific rebuttal of this understanding. He defined the sect as a “specific political relationship that is defined by the history of class struggle”; that is to say, a sect only achieves presence and political cohesion through its relationship with other sects, its position within the state, and its proximity to authority in the network of interests that covers all the other sectarian components in the political system.</p> <p>Sectarianism, according to this definition, is the system that best preserves the classist hierarchy and the dominance of the colonial bourgeois class (this is in communities with diverse confessional backgrounds, where tribalism might prevail in other types of community).</p><p><strong>MD: When is a regime “sectarian” and when can we say that it is “instrumentalising sectarianism”? Is there a difference ?</strong></p> <p><strong>Salameh Kaileh: </strong>Most of our sects are the product of the Middle Ages after the collapse of the Arab Islamic empire. This is the era that witnessed the formation of the majority—Sunnis--and religious minorities. Prior to that, Islam was the religion of the authorities, and thus class opposition would usually take a religious shape, but as a politicised class opposition.</p> <p>There are four types of state sectarianism<strong>. </strong><strong>W</strong>hen a sectarian power obtains authority over a state--i.e. it transforms these inherited beliefs into an ideological and political project--this becomes a sectarian state, with the power to enforce its beliefs upon the entire community. This is an extreme example that rarely materialises, because the kind of sectarian fervor needed for its success is usually only felt by small parts of the imagined community, who rarely have the necessary force to control a state. More often than not, this scenario ends with the disintegration and collapse of the sectarian state.&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, take the examples of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the <em>Velayat-e Faqih</em> (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists) in Iran. Here we find that the ruling power is another type of sectarian power--i.e. it believes that it represents the majority, but it enforces the views of a minority. Here we can indeed say that the state is governed by a sectarian power. To ensure its control, these powers implement different control mechanisms, replacing the class hitherto dominant in the control of the state, while at the same time representing their interests.</p> <p>When the Muslim Brotherhood won power in Egypt, as before that in Sudan and Tunisia, they represented what remained of a traditional capitalist sub-class (city merchants), a group who could only ascend to power by dint of their adherence to a fundamentalist ideology. The ruling class in Iran is the capitalist class linked to a denomination of Shia who believe in <em>Velayat-e Faqih</em> (a relatively weak current in the Shia spectrum).</p> <p>A third form of sectarianism is the institutionally sectarian. This brand is mostly created by colonial forces. The institutions of the state are filled on the basis of power-sharing between different sects. The obvious example, of course, is Lebanon (which was replicated in Iraq by the US occupation): the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of the parliament a Shia (in Iraq: the president is Kurdish, prime minister Shia, while the speaker of the parliament is Sunni).&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a system that reproduces societal groupings and identities on the basis of sect, regardless of whether the ruler is sectarian or not. It is a superficial sectioning that keeps society divided, and contributes to sectarian intolerance, and eventually sectarian upheaval. In this case, we can label the political structure sectarian. And even if the ruler is not sectarian, his position is inevitably determined by his sect.</p> <p>In the institutional sectarian cases, we find that even potentially non-sectarian bourgeois political parties tend to flatter sects and use sectarian discourses (for example, Michel Aoun, a prominent Lebanese politician, who, despite his nominally secular ideology, often uses sectarian discourse in the service of his bid for presidency). This privileges sectarian identities in the struggle of conflicting groups within the same class for ultimate control. In the example of the Lebanese civil war, we find that most of the struggles were aimed at revising the balance of power vis-a-vis the sects and their relationship with the state, as well as their relationships within the capitalist class.</p> <p>A regime that is not essentially sectarian but in fact represents a different class (usually the dominant capitalist class) can still instrumentalise sectarianism in its quest to remain in power. This is a very common tactic for colonial regimes, but it is also used by capitalist nations and regimes run by organised crime. In the Lebanese example we can see that the Christian capitalist class utilises the confessional structure to protect its control of the state as well as other parts of the capitalist class. In short, most ruling classes are not sectarian, nor even religious in any sense, but use these antiquated beliefs to assert control over the state. These beliefs are mined for their religious, sectarian, tribal or even regional prejudices.</p> <p><strong>Victorious Shams: </strong>Your question needs some revision. The phrasing objectifies sectarianism, as if it were a choice. Like a cloak that can be worn or discarded at will. This is a simplification of the issue that might suggest that the regime under discussion, the one that “instrumentalised” sectarianism, could arguably equally formulate itself in many other ways, if it so wishes. This is not the case. The nature of any political regime (be it democratic, dictatorial, tribal, etc.) is not born out of choice, but rather governed by the complex interests of the ruling class and by whichever part of the system is best suited to preserving its hegemony in a specific social setting, regardless of the personal convictions or wishes of individuals within that class.</p> <p>In retort to that question, we might pose another one: could the Libyan regime, at the height of its crisis, resort to sectarianism to preserve its authority? I think the answer is that this was glaringly impossible, for Libyan society is homogeneous from a sectarian point of view. That means, the regime would have had to resort to another type of <em>Asabiyyah</em> (as elaborated by Ibn Khaldun) such as tribalism.</p> <p>The Syrian regime has long rested its control upon a blend of nationalist and socialist maxims that have preserved its hegemony and allowed it to survive. The revolution however marked the collapse of these maxims, which have long been drained of any substance. They were replaced, under pressure of the fight for survival, with different ones that ushered the conflict in a different direction: sectarian mobilisation and escalation. This was not a matter of choice, but rather a necessity in the context in which the regime found itself. This begs another question: regardless of the current framing of the conflict, could the Syrian regime return to its nationalist and socialist maxims with any credibility? The answer again is a glaring no.</p> <p>To my mind, instrumentalising sectarianism is simply sectarianism: there is no difference between the two concepts. One cannot analyse the matter on the basis of the wishes and intentions of those in the driving seat of the conflicting camps (the regime, and its opposition). Indeed, one must proceed in one's analysis from the effects of the conflict on the ground, and the ability of each party to preserve its control. This is especially true in the absence of alternative ideologies, like Arab nationalism or Marxism.</p> <p>The difference between sectarian and religious regimes is that in the case of a religious regime, one is subjected to an absolutist religious hegemony that allows no sharing of power with any other religious groups, as is the case in Iran and Saudi Arabia. A sectarian regime, on the other hand, presupposes power-sharing between different religious minorities on the basis of quota, even if the system is overwhelmingly dominated by one of them.</p> <p><strong>MD. (to Salameh Kaileh):&nbsp;You have said that, “when we want to characterise a political system, it is necessary to proceed from a materialist analysis to understand its structure and the interests it represents. Only then can we study the ideological form it uses to impose its hegemony over society."</strong><strong><strong> Can we consider the Abbasid Caliphate or the Iranian state&nbsp;</strong><span>under the jurisdiction of Velayat-e Faqih&nbsp;</span><span>as a sectarian regime using this definition?&nbsp;</span></strong></p> <p><strong>Salameh Kaileh:</strong><em>&nbsp;</em>We cannot make a valid comparison between the Abbasid Caliphate and the modern regimes of the Muslim Brotherhood or Iran. At the time of the Abbasids, religion was the ideology of the state that was used to coerce society, and class and political struggles took place through religious forms. Religious majorities and minorities took their shape as sects only after the collapse of the Abbasid Caliphate (especially in the 12th and 13th centuries). Before that they represented intellectual currents rooted in material social classes and conditions.</p> <p>This transformation happened outside the state; that is, these sects were stateless and in conflict. When the Sunni ideology rose to take control it considered other sects to be of a lower level, and in some cases actively worked to enslave or eradicate them (as has happened in the Seljuk and Mamluk empires, and even more so in some periods of Ottoman rule).</p> <p>Today in Iran, the state is ruled by a Twelver Shia denomination that ascribes to the concept of Velayat-e Faqih, but it also co-exists with other sects (Iran is home to a significant Sunni minority). The Iranian state considers itself a representative of the majority Shia population, despite the fact that it does not represent all Shias (neither all denominations, nor all the people). Thus, while it rules in the name of Shia, it actually serves the interests of a specific capitalist class. Sectarianism in this context is discrimination between people in their access to power. This is based on an inherited model that conceptualizes the citizenry, not as citizens, but as delineated sects. This is indeed a sectarian perspective. A parallel example can be seen in the Wahhabist ideology of the Saudi regime.</p> <p>Having said that, the concept of sectarianism, as I have tried to explain goes deeper. It stokes conflict with the ‘other’ on the basis of antiquated conflicts and inherited beliefs. That is, it is an infra-political struggle.</p> <p>There is no doubt that the Iranian regime aspires to enforce its hegemony over the region in the context of international struggles and its own aspirations to become a major power. This is why it has supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, strengthened its relationship with the Syrian regime, coordinated its strategy with the US in Iraq, and supported the Palestinians. To this end, the Iranian regime will use any tool at its disposal, including sect. By positing itself as the representative of Shias, it attempts to mobilize them in areas where it needs to create pressure, and supports Shia groups for political gain, like in Bahrain and Yemen.&nbsp;</p> <p>But it has also nurtured very close relationships with groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt and the Erdogan government in Turkey (all Sunni forces). That is to say that the Iranian regime operates pragmatically with concern to its regional interests, despite its Shia character and its commitment to the ideology of Velayat-e Faqih. It is a very intelligent strategy, whereby Shia ideology is only a cover, and does not represent a serious obstacle when more pragmatic alliances are needed.&nbsp;</p> <p>As for its "policy of Shiaization”, I believe this is exaggerated, and mostly perpetuated in the discourse that considers the region through a 'Sunni-Shia struggle' framework.</p><p><span>Translated by: Yazan Badran</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/opening-debate-on-sectarianism-in-syria">Opening the debate on sectarianism in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/kafranbel-paradigm-of-creative-storytelling-part-12">Kafranbel: a paradigm of creative storytelling (Part 1/2)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/gilbert-achcar/syrian-army-and-its-power-pyramid">The Syrian army and its power pyramid</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/kamal-alam/pax-syriana-neither-vanquished-nor-allconquering">Pax Syriana: neither vanquished, nor all-conquering</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> <div class="field-item even"> Iran </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> <div class="field-item even"> Saudi Arabia </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Saudi Arabia Egypt Iran Syria Hezbollah Hamas Syria and sectarianism Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Victorios Shams Salameh Kaileh Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:42:36 +0000 Salameh Kaileh and Victorios Shams 86636 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Kafranbel: a paradigm of creative storytelling (Part 1/2) https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/kafranbel-paradigm-of-creative-storytelling-part-12 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As media coverage of Syria is increasingly monopolized by geopolitical and military approaches, a small town in northwestern Syria continues to provide a collective account of the country that is both accessible and nuanced.</p> </div> </div> </div> <a name="logo"></a><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 14px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /><br /></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/syria-poster.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/syria-poster.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Kafranbel, also known as <a href="http://www.occupiedkafranbel.com/"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">“the little Syrian town that could”</span></a>, is a powerful symbol that <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2013/12/21/7511"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">SyriaUntold considers crucial</span></a> for a better understanding of the Syrian reality. In a series of two articles we will explore the key themes and characteristics of Kafranbel’s production, which provides an insight into the Syrian scenario through powerful and creative storytelling. <sup><a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote1sym">1</a></sup></p> <h2><strong>'</strong><strong>Art out of the salons'</strong></h2> <p>After decades of state-controlled cultural and artistic production, the outbreak of the Syrian uprising triggered a need for self-expression that had been severely repressed. This translated not only into powerful canvases and other formal artistic works but also into less formal and traditional artistic expressions, or as the<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Syrian.Intifada"> </a>'<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Syrian.Intifada">The Syrian People Know their Way</a>' group calls it, “art out of the salons”. Works of graffiti, combative hip-hop and heavy metal beats, creative banners raised in demonstrations and countless other grassroots manifestations permeated the popular uprising. </p><p>Here lies the main difference with the artistic renaissance that accompanied the Arab uprisings of the 50s and 60s. While those are referred to as the “revolutions from above”, deeply connected to the idea of pan-Arabism implemented by ruling elites, we are now witnessing a spontaneous and decentralized wave of cultural and artistic manifestations that do not respond to hierarchical organization, with youth playing a crucial role.[2]&nbsp;Within this context, Kafranbel stands out as a paradigm of grassroots creative storytelling, offering a nuanced account of the past three years in Syria.</p> <p>The banners created by Kafranbel -- also spelt Kafr Nabl, and Kafr Nubl -- and widely shared through online social networks, can be read as episodes of a graphic novel, organized in sections that correspond to the different threats faced by the town, and the country as a whole: <a href="http://totallycoolpix.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/14022012_syria_uprising/syria_015.jpg"><em>Occupied Kafranbel</em> </a>&nbsp;marks the siege of the town by the Syrian army:<a href="http://cwgusa.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/kafranbel-banner-november-2_12.jpeg">&nbsp;</a><em><a href="http://cwgusa.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/kafranbel-banner-november-2_12.jpeg">Liberated Kafranbel</a></em>&nbsp;celebrates the army's withdrawal, <em>Violated Kafranbel</em> reflects on the threats posed by extremist groups such as Daesh (ISIS), before the town is once again <em>Liberated</em> as it manages to expel Daesh. </p><p>Within this structure, shaped by events on the ground, each banner becomes a fragment in the mosaic composed, week by week, through powerful messages and cartoons. By following it, an interested onlooker can acquire a comprehensive picture that helps clarify the complex Syrian scenario, through a Syrian-made narrative.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/Lede_Kafranbel_Alien-blog480.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/Lede_Kafranbel_Alien-blog480.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p>When the state-controlled narrative refers to demonstrators as “terrorists”, Kafranbel develops a storytelling that revolves around “revolutionaries” and “martyrs”. If official channels focus on the “international conspiracy against the country”, Kafranbel stresses the importance of the “uprising”, the “revolution”, and its popular demands. As the regime projects itself as the only guarantee against extremist groups, Kafranbel presents the Assad family and Daesh as two sides of the same coin.</p> <p>Official narrative becomes, for the first time in decades, contested by a grassroots, citizen-made, Syrian narrative that cannot be silenced, and so does mainstream international coverage of the country. Kafranbel not only challenges state-controlled propaganda, but reductionism associated with a western view of the 'other', through banners reflecting on the role of the “international community” in disregarding popular demands and promoting impunity.</p> <h2><strong>Innovation and tradition</strong></h2> <p>Kafranbel is not only an example of Syrian resilience and the hunger for self-expression, but it also exemplifies the evolution of citizen storytelling within a changing and uncertain scenario. While the town has remained true to its essence, it has continued to experiment with different genres and formats, in order to increase and diversify its outreach. Video and theatre are but two examples. In a video entitled<a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2013/09/18/5159"> </a><a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2013/09/18/5159"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">“The Syrian revolution in three minutes”</span></a>, reactions of the international community to massacres perpetrated by the Syrian regime are parodied and ridiculed through a performance inspired by cavemen. In a world that tends to ignore grassroots projects and initiatives, Kafranbel shows awareness not only of Syria´s recent history, but of how the rest of the world views them, as stone age barbarians whose voice has become a nuisance. </p><p>The video, which quickly became viral, ends with the following message: “Death is death, regardless of how it is done. Assad has killed more than 150,000. Stop him.”</p> <p>Kafranbel has also <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2014/03/25/8716"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">experimented with graffiti</span></a>, a lesser known treasure of its artistic production. Activist group<span style="text-decoration: underline;"> <a href="https://www.facebook.com/fadfedgayeena">Live</a></span> managed to cover half of the walls of the town as a testimony of resistance in the face of “bombardement and war that pollutes walls and ideas, and to maintain Kafranbel as a place for life, rather than death.”</p> <p>Others in the town also explore the combination of traditional and modern Syrian art, through projects such as<a href="https://www.facebook.com/PanoramaKafranbel/info"> </a><a href="https://www.facebook.com/PanoramaKafranbel/info"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">“Panorama Kafranbel”</span></a>, based on the antique art of mosaic, present in the Levant region for centuries. This craft, associated with aesthetic scenes of nature, animals and banquets, now serves a revolutionary message that challenges decades of censorship. A torn Syrian map that two hands are trying to sew, a child drawing a graffiti, four figures representing the embrace of four different religions, are some of the themes of these pieces in which Syrian artistic tradition is recovered and adapted to present needs and challenges.</p> <p>Today, tradition and innovation are powerfully exploited in Kafranbel’s storytelling. So is the combination of local and global, as the town’s banners present the specificity of the Syrian context through the universality of its struggle. In our next article for<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"> 'Looking inside the uprising'</a>, we will look into how the story told by this little Syrian town is a universal one, through the cultural icons and references used to tell Kafranbel’s stories.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <p> <a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote1anc">1</a><sup></sup> The articles are part of the author’s research on Kafranbel as a paradigmatic case of creative citizen-made storytelling, <em>Syria: from black hole to the most mediated conflict in history. The case of Kafranbel</em>. Carlos III University, Madrid, 2014</p> <p> <a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote2anc">2</a><sup></sup> See Leila Nachawati, “<a href=" http://www.gmfus.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files_mf/1375107790ColomboEtAl_RegionalDynamics_Jul13.pdf">New Regional Dynamics and Means of Communication in the Mediterranean Region</a>”. <em>GMF and IAI Mediterranean Paper Series 2013</em>)</p><p> </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/syria-and-emergence-of-grassroots-artistic-production">Syria and the emergence of grassroots artistic production</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/enrico-de-angelis/rethinking-syrian-media">Rethinking Syrian media</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/razan-ghazzawi/razan-and-i">Razan and I</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/yazan-badran/uprising-and-syria%E2%80%99s-reconstituted-collective-memory">The uprising and Syria’s reconstituted collective memory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-1-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 1 of 4)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Kafranbel </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Kafranbel Syria Syrian creative resistance artistic activism Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Leila Nachawati Tue, 30 Sep 2014 09:02:55 +0000 Leila Nachawati 86324 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Razan and I https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/razan-ghazzawi/razan-and-i <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="western" lang="en-US">Razan Ghazzawi delves into her relationship with her mentor, namesake, and towering figure within the Syrian uprising: Razan Zaitounah. An insight into the complicated and deeply personal relationship with a cause.</p> </div> </div> </div> <a name="logo"></a><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 14px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /><br /></p><p></p><p class="western" lang="en-US"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/10172824_691852620878867_7378733230773807252_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/10172824_691852620878867_7378733230773807252_n.jpg" alt="Poster courtesy of The Syrian People Know Their Way collective." title="" width="417" height="589" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Poster courtesy of The Syrian People Know Their Way collective.</span></span></span></p><blockquote><p class="western" lang="en-US">Razan Ghazzawi is a blogger from Syria who started blogging using an alias, Golaniya, when Israel launched a war against Lebanon in 2006. She blogged against racism towards Syrian workers in Lebanon, where she completed her master’s degree. Ghazzawi started blogging under her real name two years later advocating along many Syrian bloggers for freedom of speech in her country. When the Syrian revolution broke out in March 2011,Ghazzawi was among those who disseminated updates on demonstrations taking place across Syria using her real name. She was detained twice during the revolution due to her work with the Syrian Center for Media Freedom. Her colleagues, bloggers Hussein Ghrer and Hani Zetani and her boss Mazen Darwich, are still in prison ever since regime security forces raided SCM office in Damascus 16th February 2012. Ghazzawi lived in Kafranbel for almost a year in 2013 where she founded Karama Bus for psychosocial support that targets internally displaced children in Idleb suburbs. She received a Front Line Defenders' award in 2012.</p></blockquote><p class="western" lang="en-US">It started some time ago, round about 2008, when you're being trained by some hot-shot lawyer through emails and small chit-chats online, on how to write a statement calling for the release of a detained blogger. A few years later, there is an uprising in your country and you find yourself collaborating closely with the same lawyer whose contribution to the uprising is, like many others who remain unknown, heroic.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Uprisings go through ups and downs – and now you find yourself campaigning for her own release; reading drafts of statements with her name on, writing articles about her - like this one – in which you attempt to ‘humanise’ this hot-shot lawyer on the world stage, where she has now mostly become a 'cause' to advocate for. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> I have written so many times before, Razan is my role model and my mentor. But that's not the whole story. Of course, campaigning for Razan is showing solidarity. But mostly, it's a defence mechanism. When you are caged and scared of what the next minutes, hours, and weeks might bring, you would want someone to make this kind of noise and effort for you.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> I am not sure if I’m right, but I have noticed over the past three years that people who are still living inside Syria seem keener to “do something” than those who “left” Syria recently. Inside Syria, campaigning and calling for or against any thing is no longer solidarity, it’s a way of staying alive.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> I was in Syria when I heard news of Razan's kidnapping. I remember I was standing, having just entered the room, and Raed who was seated on the ground looked up and said, “They kidnapped Razan.” I sat down, checked my Facebook page and I remember not being able to read. I went to the other room and cried. Razan had asked me to leave the North if ISIS was approaching Kafranbel. She urged me not to take ISIS lightly. Then she got abducted. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> I was working non-stop on a project at the time, and could not find time for friends, family or any other potential collaboration. I was working flat out, and without electricity most of the time too. Those who are outside will advocate for Razan, I said to myself. I can't. A few months later I left the North and Syria. I went to Lebanon for my “recovery phase,” and there I was became a hermit. I went nowhere - not even to a pro-revolution meeting. Nor did I take part in anything except taking care of myself. I was my only priority. Nevertheless, I couldn't keep myself away from one thing in these five months; Razan. We, my friends and family members, started organizing a campaign for the<a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2014/05/27/9592"> #Douma4</a>. We worked hard, and the outcomes, I think, were fair. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Why did I get involved in the campaign? Because my recovery from war would be permanently on pause, certainly delayed, if I didn't do something for Razan. There were times, of course, when I thought, I can’t do this any more. I am psychologically and physically tired and my love life is in decline. I thought about quitting the campaign. But only two minutes later I am sending follow-up emails. It's personal, what I feel about Razan. She is not a 'public figure' for me, nor even the 'human rights advocate.' She is my personal mentor. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Actually, the story of me and Razan has several phases. And this text is one that must be read as a sort of bearing witness on the part of one revolutionary woman on behalf of another.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Very early in the revolution, when I started tweeting on the ground in Syria, on February 16, 2011, at the Families of the Detainees sit-in, the security forces and Shabiha had launched a fierce attack, hitting out at families, activists and human rights lawyers. I arrived after the three-minute sit-in had finished under attack. Razan had managed to escape. Then she stood up in court to defend all of those who were detained on that day. She even published some of the quotes she had recorded from her defendants. I remember Maimouna Ammar at the time was pregnant and Razan published her comment in court. Never take forgranted the lawyer who chooses to defend political defendants in days like these. At the time, the regime and its Shabiha were wondering: is revolution in the air? If it is, it must not happen.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> During these days, I was tweeting in English under <a href="https://twitter.com/RedRazan">@Razaniyyat</a>.&nbsp;Several journalists and followers started mixing me up with Zeitounah. Razan is a common name in Syria. They thought, she's the one tweeting under @Razaniyyat. She would forward all these emails to me. One Dutch magazine introduced me by mistake as her. In my first detention by the security forces, the investigator asked me: are you related to Razan Zeitounah? Ever since, I have asked myself the question: Was he stupid, or am I really missing something here? How could Ghazzawi and Zeitounah ever be related? I wonder. I actually had to answer for this “crime": no, my name is Razan Ghazzawi, not Zeitounah. I had to spell out the words for him to get the logic, I guess.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> In my second period of detention, ironically enough, the investigator did not ask me one thing about the<a href="http://scm.bz/?lang=en"> Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression</a>. In fact he was not asking me anything. Instead he was talking - talking about Razan, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghiath_Matar">Ghiath Matar</a> and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahya_Shurbaji">Yahia Shurbaji</a>. Only one conversation ever took place between me and Yahia, only one. He thought I was involved in Razan's circle, and I was not. I just happened to carry the same name, “Razan.”</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">It was only upon my release from my second imprisonment that I started working for her. It only lasted a short while because I wanted to be active on the ground. I don't want online work – regardless of how important it might be. On a side note, Razan thought my <a href="http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/">documentation</a> was good and she was all for training me to be better at it. But I wanted to work in the grassroots, and I picked other responsibilities in the same revolution. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">Between me and Razan there are those tiny stories that do not belong to and cannot be classified as one of those typical close relationships between friends. We weren't friends. To me, she was the woman whose path is always crossing mine, a hard working woman who values human life more than any other values favored by other humans. She believes everyone is equal and everyone deserves the same treatment from law. Razan is a true human rights activist who doesn’t just write statements, but actually commits to advocating human rights and equality in her daily life.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">Razan cannot be racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic or carry a prejudice, she only targets abusers. An abuser is he who commits a form of injustice against another. Period. Razan's idea of human life is this simple, and it's quite admirable to see it remain the same during the world's most recent crisis. That's Razan, that's my mentor; despite knowing her name neither the world, nor many Syrians, even know her.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">US, Qatar, Iran and Russia can bring her back. Those states can bring our people in detention, or kidnapped by armed groups, back if they want to.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">They just don't.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">Razan's family, and the families of all detainees and captives, are the ones who will carry this fight. There is no "end" to this fight.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">And we, people in solidarity, will stand behind them.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/razan-zaitouneh-and-her-comrades-spirit-of-syrian-revolution-kidnapped">Razan Zaitouneh and her comrades: spirit of the Syrian revolution kidnapped</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mataz-suheil/clawing-at-sky-fighting-for-political-prisoners-in-syria">Clawing at the sky: fighting for political prisoners in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/kafranbel-paradigm-of-creative-storytelling-part-12">Kafranbel: a paradigm of creative storytelling (Part 1/2)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/yazan-badran/uprising-and-syria%E2%80%99s-reconstituted-collective-memory">The uprising and Syria’s reconstituted collective memory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/syria-and-emergence-of-grassroots-artistic-production">Syria and the emergence of grassroots artistic production</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria kidnapping prisoner advocacy Syrian collective memory Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Razan Ghazzawi Mon, 29 Sep 2014 13:33:18 +0000 Razan Ghazzawi 86309 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Clawing at the sky: fighting for political prisoners in Syria https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/mataz-suheil/clawing-at-sky-fighting-for-political-prisoners-in-syria <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>"It is the most monstrous thing they can do to the Syrian people”. Fadwa Mahmoud, mother, wife and comrade to forcibly disappeared leftist activists, tells us her story of pain and perseverance on the second anniversary of her family's abduction by the Syrian security forces.</p> </div> </div> </div> <a name="logo"></a><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 14px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /><br /></p><p></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/524821_404521736321545_1369008946_n (1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/524821_404521736321545_1369008946_n (1).jpg" alt="Fadwa Mahmoud and Abdulaziz Al Khayer looking over Damascus. Photo courtesy of Fadwa Mahmoud. All rights reserved." title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fadwa Mahmoud and Abdulaziz Al Khayer looking over Damascus. Photo courtesy of Fadwa Mahmoud. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Her name is Fadwa Mahmoud. She is a lifelong Syrian political dissident, born in 1945 and a veteran member of the banned <a href="http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=48362">Communist Action Party</a> (CAP). In the past year and a half as an exile she has become a mother figure to fellow political dissidents who, like her, have sought refuge in Beirut (Lebanon) from Bashar Al Assad’s security forces. </p><p>But above all, Fadwa wishes to be known as the wife and the mother of two leftist opposition activists who were forcibly disappeared two years ago near Damascus: <a href="http://free-syrian-voices.org/abd-al-aziz-al-khayyir/">Abdulaziz Al Khay</a><a href="http://free-syrian-voices.org/abd-al-aziz-al-khayyir/">er</a> (63), head of the CAP and a leading figure in the opposition group '<a href="http://carnegie-mec.org/publications/?fa=48369">National Coordination Body for Democratic Change</a>', and her son <a href="http://free-syrian-voices.org/maher-tahan/">Maher </a><a href="http://free-syrian-voices.org/maher-tahan/">Tahan</a> (31), a young civil activist who followed in the footsteps of his mother to fight for a democratic Syria. Along with them disappeared <a href="http://free-syrian-voices.org/iyas-ayash/">Iyas Ayash</a>. The three are part of the same political coalition.</p> <p>They were <a href="http://www.amnesty.org/fr/library/asset/MDE24/010/2013/fr/2555f1c6-5935-498d-8c80-d4be024f994e/mde240102013en.html">abducted </a>by the Air Force Intelligence&nbsp;on their way from the airport into the city, on September 20, 2012. They were on their way back from a diplomatic visit to China, returning to participate in an opposition conference (<a href="http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=50209&amp;lang=en">Syria salvation conference</a>) at the heart of Damascus. The participants were given guarantees of safety by Russian, Chinese and Iranian foreign ministries - the powers with influence over the regime. Assad himself denied on an interview in 2013 that his secret police had taken them, but Fadwa insists it is the dictator’s forces who have them. She does not need my questions to begin talking: it is clear she has to tell their story.</p><h2>The abduction</h2> <p>“We know everything that happened because there were five people in the delegation that came back from China. They were driving two separate cars back from the airport. Abdulaziz and Iyas were in one car, driven by Maher, who had gone to pick them up. The rest were in the other car. The three of them disappeared, the activists in the other car were able to pass the checkpoint and gave us information”.</p><p><span style="font-weight: normal;">Mahmoud is soft-spoken and at times her emotions surface, but her voice doesn’t break. She explains that, when the delegation landed on the day of their disappearance, Abdulaziz Al Khayer was interrogated on his own for about half an hour, inside the airport. The officer that interrogated him (she calls him “captain”) let him go with the pretext that they were looking for someone of the same name. Mahmoud lets out a small smile: the explanation to her seems absurd, because Al Khayer is very well-known in Syria.</span></p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">“While he was being delayed inside, I called Maher, who was waiting in the car. That’s when he told me: ‘Abdulaziz just came out’. Ten minutes later, Iyas’s mother also called Maher, on their ride back to the city, but the phone was by then out of service”. Fadwa believes the abduction happened in this small window of time, immediately after they left the airport.</span></p> <p>“In 2012, the highway from the airport to Damascus was totally under the control of the regime. There were no ‘armed gangs’, as the Government says”, assures Mahmoud. Everyone waited for Abdulaziz to come out when he was initially delayed. The first car to leave was carrying the rest of the delegation. Iyas, her son and her husband were driving behind. “The fact that the first car was at the front and didn’t encounter any problems shows that the road was safe”. They passed a checkpoint on the road, near the airport. The party members who were in the first car told her the officer they saw at the checkpoint was the same that had interrogated Abdulaziz half an hour prior.</p> <p>The car her son was driving was forcibly stopped. And they were never seen again. The conference they intended to attend, however, carried on, and Mahmoud went there and spoke to the Russian ambassador. “I told him: ‘You are responsible, he came here under your protection”. He promised to work on it, but after two months without any new information, Mahmoud went to talk to him again, this time taking Iyas Ayash’s mother with her. “I told him I was very worried about their safety, and he answered ‘We are worried as well’. This made me panic; I asked him whether they had been killed. He answered they were alive, but the circumstances were very difficult”.</p> <h2>Enforced disappearance - why?</h2> <p>She thinks the regime didn’t detain them publicly in order to avoid a diplomatic clash with its allies. “The pressure of these countries was the only reason why the meeting was happening”. Mahmoud hasn’t talked to the Russians since. “Their attitude was disgusting. They did nothing to guarantee their safety”. She spoke at the European Parliament last year, and she says an MP took an interest in her story and spoke to the Syrian government. To no avail: the regime has always denied the presence of the three comrades in their prisons, <a href="http://syrianobserver.com/Features/Features/Weekend+Assad+Why+Would+I+Arrest+Abdulaziz+alKhayer">Assad himself denied Abdulaziz's abduction in an interview</a>. They claim the rebels have them. “The state media said armed gangs kidnapped them so many times that the rebel battalion controlling the Damascus countryside felt the need to release a statement saying they would never detain someone like Abdulaziz, because their causes are not opposed. I have some inside sources who have told me they are okay, I’ve had information this year that they are in the hands of the regime”, she explains.</p> <p>“I want to send an international plea of solidarity, to put pressure on the regime so that they admit they have them”. She lives in perpetual fear for their safety, “never knowing what will happen to them tomorrow. Some days I find it difficult to stay emotionally stable”. Fadwa's dreams are now very humble, she wants to have the 'privileges' of the loved ones of political prisoners: “At least they know for certain the fate of their loved ones. They know where they are kept, and sometimes they can visit them”.</p> <p>Fadwa Mahmod, or <em>Khalto </em>[aunti]<em> </em>as she is lovingly known by the Syrian exiles in Beirut, is no stranger to the horrors and torture under regime detention. She was imprisoned herself<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">from 1992 to 1994</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">, for being a member of the <a href="http://angryarab.blogspot.com/2011/04/communist-action-party-in-syria.html">Communist Action Party</a>. Her two sons were 9 and 6 at the time. “My brother was at the time head of the prison I was kept in”: he headed the Investigation Branch in Political Intelligence. She lived “in the worst humanitarian conditions possible”. This made matters worse for her. Her brother fely obliged to prove his loyalty by treating her particularly badly: “I was detained in my pyjamas and I lived in them for a year and two months, the time I spent in the basements of the branch before I was transferred to a prison”. Other detainees were allowed clothes, and the activists who were arrested with her only spent 4 months in security before a transfer to prison, in which conditions are relatively better.</span></p> <p>When she came out, her priority was the children. But, “People were saying I was a bad mother for getting into politics, leaving them alone”. Abdulaziz Al Khayer, who had spent 10 years living underground and had been arrested the same year as her (1992), was sentenced to 22 years in prison and would only be released in 2005. Mahmoud never stopped her political activity after prison, despite many of her comrades giving up on the cause. “You can see that with my son Maher. I never pushed him, but he took my example”. </p> <h2><strong>Why pick on Abdulaziz Al Khayer?</strong></h2> <p>Why did the regime make them disappear? Fadwa believes Al Khayer was a potentially unifying political figure in Syria, and thus a genuine threat to Bashar Al Assad. “The regime was terrified of Abdulaziz. The Russians were saying he could become a reconciliatory head of state.<a href="http://syrianncb.org/2012/05/17/syria-in-travail-interview-with-abdulaziz-al-khair/"> He opposed the call to arms and constructed a civil, democratic argument</a> that agreed with both protestors and those silently fed up with the regime yet fearful”.&nbsp;</p> <p>As a prominent figure of the opposition, he is well-known, and has always maintained a non-sectarian discourse which got him popular support across social fault lines. “He influenced the generation of the uprising”, she explains. “He used to be able to sit with them, as if he was their age”. Now she’s had to leave the country, as well as her other son. “The house is now being auctioned. Abdulaziz doesn’t even have a home to come back to”. </p> <p lang="en-GB"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/photo.PNG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/photo.PNG" alt="Fadwa at protest for the freedom of detainees(20/9/14) 2nd anniversary of comrades' enforced disappearance. All rights reserved." title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fadwa at protest for the freedom of detainees(20/9/14) 2nd anniversary of comrades' enforced disappearance. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <p>The worst part for those who remain outside is never knowing what can happen to the detainees. Since there is no possibility to negotiate with the regime, it is hard not to succomb to a general sense of despair. “This is one of the most monstrous things that they can do to the Syrian people”. There is very little organised support for the families of the detainees and the forcibly disappeared: “We are all scattered and suppressed since the war started”, explains Mahmoud.</p><h2><strong>The struggle</strong></h2> <p>“The wife of Iyas calls me all the time. She is psychologically very low”. The regime punishes family members. <a href="http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE24/016/2014/en/c9c8fab6-7f99-4ed1-be80-d30ea1124a94/mde240162014en.pdf">Yara Faris</a> was detained for several months after her husband, Maher, disappeared. “Six months ago I was able to visit Yara, my daughter-in-law. Her conditions were the height of dehumanisation and humiliation”. She arrived at 9.30 in the morning and was made to wait until 13.15, for a 10-minute visit. “She was strong, but her situation was bad. They kept her in a cell with prostitutes, to humiliate her”. In the meantime, the guard never stopped harassing Fadwa while she waited. “He kept asking who I was, despite the fact that he knew. I only answered ‘I am a Syrian citizen’. He then asked me why I insisted on making trouble. I told him, ‘No, you are the ones making trouble’”.</p> <p>Fadwa hasn’t given up in getting Iyas, her son and her husband out. Despite her tired eyes, her pride shines through when she speaks. Last Saturday, on the second anniversary of their detention, Fadwa&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApJBR1lzIIE&amp;feature=youtu.be">organised a demonstration </a>calling for their release in Beirut, along with other political activists. “I’m not going to waste any of my time. I will use all my energy to get them to safety. I am clawing at the sky, and I will keep clawing for as long as I live”.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/razan-ghazzawi/seeing-women-in-revolutionary-syria">Seeing the women in revolutionary Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/razan-zaitouneh-and-her-comrades-spirit-of-syrian-revolution-kidnapped">Razan Zaitouneh and her comrades: spirit of the Syrian revolution kidnapped</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia openSecurity Syria Through the bars Pretrial Detention torture prisoner advocacy Syrian collective memory Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Mataz Suheil Wed, 24 Sep 2014 16:21:21 +0000 Mataz Suheil 86233 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Rethinking Syrian media https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/enrico-de-angelis/rethinking-syrian-media <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Citizen journalism rocked the foundations of the Syrian mediascape. Activist videos were on every news channel, yet ordinary Syrians were still unable to tell their stories as they saw it. An introduction to '<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0">Looking inside the uprising</a>' and its feature on the use, impact and effect of new media on the Syrian uprising.<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/enrico-de-angelis/rethinking-syrian-media-arabic">&nbsp;بالعربي</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <a name="logo"></a><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 14px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /><br /></p><p></p><p class="western" lang="en-US"><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/souriatna3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="souriatna"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/souriatna3.jpg" alt="Issues of independent media Souriatna [our Syria] and Enab Baladi, amid the rubble in Idlib. From Souriatna's facebook page." title="souriatna" width="460" height="248" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Issues of independent media Souriatna [our Syria] and Enab Baladi, amid the rubble in Idlib. From Souriatna's facebook page.</span></span></span>The last few years in the Syrian media landscape have constituted a strong rupture with the past. While in other Arab countries such changes happened more gradually, and well before the 2011 uprisings, in Syria the transformation has been both more sudden and rapid.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The abrupt explosion of circulating content, produced and exchanged by Syrians from 2011 onwards, is certainly one of the most remarkable phenomena of the uprising.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> In fact, it is hard to deny that the opening up of public spaces to discussion as well as the sheer spread and diversified production of content has changed the life and the perceptions of a great number of Syrians both inside and outside the country.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> For more than forty years before the uprising, the monopoly on information imposed by the regime was almost absolute. Compared with neighbouring countries such as Egypt, the media landscape in Syria underwent only small, cosmetic changes during the 2000s.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> The emergence of some private media, made possible in 2001 by <a class="western" href="http://www.arabmediasociety.com/?article=762">Decree 50</a>, did not widen the margins of public debate and media freedom. Private media, owned by businessmen chained to the regime, often had fewer margins of freedom than governmental media.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Only during the <a class="western" href="http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=48516">Damascus Spring</a> did some media outlets, mostly governmental, dare to challenge the regime. This experience was short lived; open criticism in journalism was quickly banned, particularly in private media. Trying to negotiate new spaces for self expression in private media meant forced closure, as was the case of Orient TV in 2010. What the government permitted to flourish, instead, was edgy criticism hosted in the television series '<span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em><a class="western" href="http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/15948/the-whisper-strategy-(drama-and-power-relations-in">musalsalaat</a>' </em></span>and satirical magazines such as <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/syrian-creative/1877">al-Domari</a>.</span></p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> The introduction of the internet to Syria, which arrived late even by Arab standards, did not follow the same path as in other Arab countries. The regime persecuted net-activists with extreme violence, always preventing the formation of blogger communities. Facebook and youtube were banned after 2007, and even if Syrians were using them through proxy programs, they were never used as political tools before 2011.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> In Syria, the internet sphere was dominated by news websites like <em>SyriaNews</em>, <em>ChamPress</em>, <em>DPress, </em>and many others. It was mainly through these platforms that Syrians had the chance to begin to experiment with the interactive nature of the web. In this period, while Egyptians were opening blogs and facebook groups, young Syrians were opening news websites trying to negotiate new spaces of communication.[1]&nbsp;On the internet the margins of freedom were slightly larger than in traditional media, but nevertheless the regime could easily control local news websites by exerting some pressure on their managers and investors.</p> <h2> <strong>2011: the media earthquake</strong></h2> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Everything changed in the first months of 2011. On 7 February the Syrian regime unblocked facebook and youtube. Pushed by the example of Egyptian and Tunisian activists, Syrians invaded social media in their thousands, creating secret and open groups to connect with each other and plan political initiatives.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> The ban of foreign journalists by the regime and <a class="western" href="#.VAg_ICjEh5U">the lack of coverage</a> of the demonstrations further increased the dependence of Syrians on new technologies.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> A new generation of improvised citizen journalists emerged, covering the events on the ground through digital cameras and smartphones, and using the web as the main platform to distribute content.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> However, relying on new media without proper training and without enough coordination with traditional media institutions had its defects. The content produced by citizen journalists on the ground <a class="western" href="http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/patrick-cockburn-whose-hands-are-behind-those-dramatic-youtube-pictures-6289808.html"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">was often</span><span style="text-decoration: underline;"> accused</span></a> of lack of credibility and exaggeration. Moreover, the content circulating on the web could be deployed by other media to serve their own agendas. Global media tended to focus exclusively on the violence,&nbsp;<span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/estella-carpi/syria-when-representational-violence-is-as-ruthless-as-political-violen">framing the conflict</a></span> as one between the Syrian army and armed Islamist groups and overlooking all other aspects. Syrians discovered, to their cost, that the content produced by individuals through new technologies was not enough to convey their own true narratives for the world to see. The lack of contextualisation, as well as the fragmentation of Syrian activists in a myriad of groups, pages, and profiles, often made it very difficult for external observers (and sometimes even for Syrians) to make sense of what was going on.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> To overcome these obstacles, Syrians gradually started to organise in a more systematic fashion. Since mid 2012, dozens of <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="http://alhayat.com/Details/582061">radios</a></span>, <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a class="western" href="http://www.aljazeera.net/news/reportsandinterviews/2014/5/1/الصحف-السورية-الثورية-بين-المهنية-الإعلامية-والتمويل">newspapers</a></span>, and magazines <a class="western" href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/against-odds-syria-flourishing--201483094530782525.html"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">began</span><span style="text-decoration: underline;"> to flourish</span></a>. Syrians discovered the necessity of having organised institutions instead of networks of citizen journalists. The web with its alleged horizontalism had already shown its limitations and many felt the need to return to more traditional forms of news production. Those working for the emerging media consider themselves journalists, rather than activists. They are often critical of the activist model of content production, which is accused of lacking professionalism. After years of a war disrupting the social tissue, the new wave of Syrian journalists thought that this was the moment to focus on the future and to start rebuilding their society. Radios and newspapers tend today to produce a sort of 'social journalism'[2]&nbsp;aimed at reminding Syrians of what unifies them, rather than what divides them. They broadcast music and entertainment programmes, not only news. They focus on local communities, tell stories of common people, and offer advice on how to deal with the problems caused by the war.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Never in Syrian history has the media landscape been so rich and diversified: citizen journalist networks, online and printed newspapers, news websites, magazines, facebook groups, radios, individual bloggers and net-activists, televisions, web aggregators: they all contribute to shaping an incredibly vital and pluralist space for the exchange of facts and opinions. Despite the fragility and the difficult conditions that characterise this cultural environment, it is here also that the idea of a future Syria is framed and negotiated.</p> <h2> <strong>What role for Syrian media in the future?</strong></h2> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Mass media are not just tools for mobilisation, they are one of the main arenas of discussion used by Syrians to shape the narratives on what is going on and, especially, on what should become of Syria in the future.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> For this reason, the initiative '<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0">Looking inside the uprising</a>', promoted conjointly by openDemocracy and <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en">SyriaUntold</a>, has devoted space to analyse the Syrian media landscape in all its changing aspects since 2011.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> One crucial point concerns the political economy behind the new emerging media. Today, these are mainly financed by foreign NGOs and governments, on whom they are reliant for their economic sustainability in the long term.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> The role of digital activism, the impact of social web architecture, and the changing dynamics of the Syrian virtual sphere - these are topics that require in-depth investigation for a full picture.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Syrian journalism is going through massive changes in terms of work organization, professional culture, and content production. As elements of a possible future media system, these changes not only need to be studied by academics, but also debated by Syrians. In this sense, '<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0">Looking inside the uprising</a>' can serve as an important catalyst for future developments.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">Media can be crucial tools for conflict resolution. What is more important, in a conflict that has become a global one, and where Syrians seem to have lost all say, the emerging media sphere is the only space where they can express their views and frame events from their own perspective.</p><p class="western" lang="en-US">&nbsp;</p><p class="western" lang="en-US">---</p> <p lang="en-US"><a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote1anc">1</a> Enrico De Angelis, “Syrian News Websites: a Negotiated Identity”, <em>Oriente Moderno</em>, 1, 2011. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"><a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote2anc">2</a><sup></sup> Enrico De Angelis, “L’évolution du journalisme citoyen en Syrie : le cas des web-radios”, <em>Moyen Orient</em>, January 2014. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/syria-and-emergence-of-grassroots-artistic-production">Syria and the emergence of grassroots artistic production</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/yazan-badran/uprising-and-syria%E2%80%99s-reconstituted-collective-memory">The uprising and Syria’s reconstituted collective memory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/opening-debate-on-sectarianism-in-syria">Opening the debate on sectarianism in Syria</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Syrian media social media Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Enrico De Angelis Mon, 22 Sep 2014 06:03:22 +0000 Enrico De Angelis 85916 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Syria and the emergence of grassroots artistic production https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/syria-and-emergence-of-grassroots-artistic-production <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An introduction to the colourful depth and diversity of the uprising's cultural production; a confirmation of multiple and overlapping local narratives that defy geopolitical interest and progaganda. Giving expression to such creativity is one of our motives for,&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.5;">'<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0">Looking inside the uprising</a>'.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <a name="logo"></a><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 14px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /><br /></p><p></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/1384092_567247953324772_2106967445_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="wissam"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/1384092_567247953324772_2106967445_n.jpg" alt="Courtesy of Syrian artist Wissam Al Jazairy. All rights reserved." title="wissam" width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Courtesy of Syrian artist Wissam Al Jazairy. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Of all the changes crystallizing around the ideals of the Arab uprisings, the ones that are unquestionably positive are those in the creative and expressive arenas. While the entire region is witnessing an artistic renaissance that can be linked to the emergence of Arab theatre during the uprisings of the 50s, the Syrian case is particularly extreme and prolific. To understand the complexity of the Syrian scenario, it is more important than ever today to follow the stories told by local citizen-made cultural and artistic production, which differs from the international geopolitically-dominated accounts of the country.</p> <p>For decades, artistic and cultural production was deeply connected to the Assad regime. From the art exhibitions in public spaces such as the Arab Cultural Center and the Assad National Library to the soap operas that gained national and regional recognition, replacing Egypt as the number one exporter of televised drama, official production was supervised by the regime, if not directly managed by it. Although we should not overlook the value of a generation of artists and intellectuals such as playwright Saadallah Wannous, film director Omar Amiralay or artist Monif Ajaj, who pushed the limits of censorship long before the advent of the Arab Spring, the Syrian uprising gave birth to grassroots artistic and creative manifestations that transcend the scope of traditional art and culture.</p> <p>Over the past years, Syrian need for self-expression, repressed for decades, has not only translated into powerful canvases and designs by artists such as <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2013/12/11/7318"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Monif Ajaj</span></a>'s, <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/syrian-creative/9715"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Yara al-Najm</span></a>, <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/syrian-creative/9474"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Yasser Abu Hamed</span></a>, and innumerable others, but also into less formal and traditional forms of artistic expression, or, as <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Syrian.Intifada"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">The Syrian People Know their Way</span></a> group calls it, “art out of the salons”. This is reflected in the countless works of<a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/content/freedom-graffiti-campaign"><span style="text-decoration: underline;"> graffiti </span></a>covering the half-demolished walls throughout the country, in songs of resistance that range from the classical notes of <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2013/08/04/4694"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Malek Jandaly</span></a> to the combative hip-hop of the Syrian-Palestinian <a href="http://syriauntold.com/en/story/2013/09/30/5387"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Refugees of Rap</span></a> and the heavy metal beats of <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/syrian-creative/6569"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Anarchadia</span></a>. It can be seen through documentaries such as those by the latest <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2014/07/05/9903"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Bassel Shahade</span></a> and in the new <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2014/08/08/10174"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">soap-operas made for Youtube</span></a> that aim to replace the official state-controlled production. </p><p>Creativity also permeates the demonstrations that continue to take Syrians to the streets, and the banners of Kafranbel, a town that has became famous for its sharp reflections on the country through its witty cartoons. It can be seen in the work of traditional artists such as<a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2013/06/12/3485"> </a><a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2013/06/12/3485"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Abu Ali al-Bitar</span></a> and <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/syrian-creative/9801"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Akram Abu al-Fawz</span></a>, who transform rockets and mortar shells into domestic objects and beautiful ornaments.</p> <p>Such production, often soaked in dark humor, provides a storytelling for the country that defies mainstream media's geopolitical and military-dominated approaches. While the latter highlighted the announcement of possible US intervention in the summer of 2013, the attacks with chemical weapons on the suburb of Ghouta, and the spread of ISIS as the conflict's milestones, local artistic production has focused on aspects such as the drama of the detainees and the legitimacy of the struggle of a population fighting on multiple fronts.</p> <p>Within these narratives, citizen responses to the mounting challenges – whether the Assad regime, al-Qaeda or its splinter group ISIS – are deemed as relevant as the challenges themselves. It is as important to recount the suffering of women at the hands of extremists groups as it is to highlight voices such as <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2013/10/17/5811"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Souad Nofal</span></a>'s, a teacher from Raqqa who faced both the regime and ISIS with her hand-made banners. It is as necessary to be aware of the threats against ethnic and religious diversity as it is to highlight<a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2014/08/15/10219"><span style="text-decoration: underline;"> citizen campaigns embracing the diversity</span></a> of Syria, and reconstruction efforts by groups such as Kesh Malek, which recently launched an <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2014/08/21/10263"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">initiative to fund fifteen schools</span></a> in areas of Aleppo free of regime control.</p> <p>All these voices, campaigns and civil society-building initiatives, soaked in art and creativity, reveal the extent of Syrian resilience in the face of repression and destruction. Together these multiple local narratives -- sometimes competing, and even contradictory -- go beyond geopolitical interests and propaganda. To collect these diverse forms of expression and put them in context is one of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0">SyriaUntold</a>’s goals, and reflecting on them will be one of the high points of our collaboration with openDemocracy in '<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0">Looking inside the uprising</a>'.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/yazan-badran/uprising-and-syria%E2%80%99s-reconstituted-collective-memory">The uprising and Syria’s reconstituted collective memory</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/enrico-de-angelis/rethinking-syrian-media">Rethinking Syrian media</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/opening-debate-on-sectarianism-in-syria">Opening the debate on sectarianism in Syria</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria artistic activism Strategic Nonviolence Syrian creative resistance Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Leila Nachawati Mon, 22 Sep 2014 06:02:40 +0000 Leila Nachawati 85876 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Opening the debate on sectarianism in Syria https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/opening-debate-on-sectarianism-in-syria <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In a country where sectarian issues were ruthlessly suppressed for many decades, and where “instigating sectarian tensions” was a blanket accusation against all political dissidents, every intellectual suddenly has an opinion.&nbsp;The growing corpus of analysis and debate over the issue is startling.&nbsp;But is it going anywhere?</p> </div> </div> </div> <a name="logo"></a><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 14px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /><br /></p><p></p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/Syria_Ethno-religious_composition..jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/Syria_Ethno-religious_composition..jpg" alt="Sectarian map of Syria, typically found next to articles by Middle East experts. Wikimedia commons. " title="" width="400" height="342" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sectarian map of Syria, typically found next to articles by Middle East experts. Wikimedia commons. </span></span></span>Since the early days of Syria’s uprising in March 2011, sectarianism has become the subject of heated debate. The uprising’s early instigators, non-violent young activists, attempted to respond to the sectarian slogans attributed to it by regime propaganda (most famously, 'Alawites to the coffin, Christians to Beirut', with unifying cries of 'One, one, one, the Syrian people are one,' and 'Not Salafist, nor Ikhwani, the revolution is that of youth.' But as the regime’s brutality intensified, primarily targetting leading non-violent activists, “the movement was left in the hands of less experienced youth who could not counter the sectarian discourse, but rather indulged in increasing Islamisation in reaction to it,” according to Syrian-Palestinian thinker, Salama Kileh. This set the pace for the sectarian narrative to dominate debates, particularly as the uprising mutated into a civil war and the Syrian question took a backseat to geopolitical considerations and the growing threat of extremist groups.</span></p> <p>In a country where sectarian issues were ruthlessly suppressed for many decades, and where “instigating sectarian tensions” was a blanket accusation against all political dissidents, the explosive growth in sectarian discourses caught the intellectual elite completely off guard, eliciting a multitude of reactions.&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.5;">The growing corpus of analysis and debate over the issue in the past three years contrasts greatly with the forced silence of the last half century. This is a two edged sword in that it finally allows the issue to be discussed freely and analysed critically; but it also propels it to the forefront of the Syrian conflict and thus relegates equally pertinent issues, such as class and urban/rural antagonisms. More ominously however, the dominance of the sectarian narrative contributed to the disintegration of the early ideals of 'dignity and equal citizenship', which were replaced with 'sectarian rights, and the protection of minorities' - an instrument of manipulation, in other words, in the hands of both the regime and its detractors.</span></p> <p>This course of events has perpetuated many debates among Syrians, both collectively and individually. The discussions barged through the taboo on many topics including the relationship between the regime, the state, and sectarianism; relations between the sects themselves, as well the creation of a new concept - 'political Alawism'.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/tareq.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/tareq.jpg" alt="Non-sectarian map of Syria. Courtesy of Syrian artist Tareq Samman" title="" width="400" height="400" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Non-sectarian map of Syria. Courtesy of Syrian artist Tareq Samman</span></span></span></p> <p>One of these debates was a prominent altercation between Syrian-Palestinian thinker Salama Kileh, and Syrian writer Victorious Shams. The genesis for that particular discussion came in Kileh’s <a href="http://www.alaraby.co.uk/opinion/19b0e7d7-3ab8-4912-8fc4-f4b80d100ab9 ">article</a>, in <em>al-Araby al-Jadeed,</em> where he critiqued and rejected the sectarian label of the Syrian regime and stated that, “the conflict in Syria is not between a majority (classed as Sunni) and a minority (classed as Alawi) but rather a conflict between a population (in its many identities) against a tyrannical and corrupt authority.” This prompted a <a href="http://janoubia.com/183697">response</a> from Shams arguing that the “Syrian regime is the godfather of sectarianism and its main perpetrator”.</p> <p>In <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en">SyriaUntold</a>'s collaboration with openDemocracy, '<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0">Looking inside t</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0">he uprising</a>',</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;one of our aims is to widen the scope of the discussion on sectarianism and open it up to new thoughtful intersectional horizons. We plan to move beyond the simplistic question of whether the Syrian regime is indeed sectarian or not, but rather to investigate and to critically frame the underlying concepts - particularly, sectarianism and its relation to authority. We will build on the dialectical conversation between these two authors, to methodically dissect and deconstruct the complex issues at hand in order to bring a more holistic approach to the subject.</span></p> <p>This discussion begins with a set of questions we addressed to both Salameh Kileh and Victorious Shams. The resulting conversation and commentaries will hopefully offer the reader angles and layers of comprehension that take the sectarian issue beyond its instrumentalization by the Syrian regime and other geopolitical forces.</p><p><em>Translation by: Yazan Badran</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/syria-and-emergence-of-grassroots-artistic-production">Syria and the emergence of grassroots artistic production</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/enrico-de-angelis/rethinking-syrian-media">Rethinking Syrian media</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/yazan-badran/uprising-and-syria%E2%80%99s-reconstituted-collective-memory">The uprising and Syria’s reconstituted collective memory</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/gilbert-achcar/syrian-army-and-its-power-pyramid">The Syrian army and its power pyramid</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/marwa-daoudy/sectarianism-in-syria-myth-and-reality">Sectarianism in Syria: myth and reality</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Class Identity Syria and sectarianism Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Mohammad Dibo Mon, 22 Sep 2014 06:01:45 +0000 Mohammad Dibo 85870 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The uprising and Syria’s reconstituted collective memory https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/yazan-badran/uprising-and-syria%E2%80%99s-reconstituted-collective-memory <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="western" lang="en-US">After many decades of strict control over historical narratives&nbsp;under the Baathist regime, the uprising broke this hegemony allowing Syrians to reexamine their inherited history.</p> </div> </div> </div> <a name="logo"></a><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 14px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /><br /></p><p></p><p class="western" lang="en-US"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/420901_10151251614795287_1600080262_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="hama"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/420901_10151251614795287_1600080262_n.jpg" alt="Example of reclaiming collective memory by Syrian activists. Online campaign to publicly remember the Hama massacre." title="hama" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Example of reclaiming collective memory by Syrian activists. Online campaign to publicly remember the Hama massacre.</span></span></span>The last half-century before the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in March 2011 can be accurately described as a memory black hole. The Baathist regime’s stranglehold on public space was absolute and, for the most part, went unchallenged.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">This monopoly of the public sphere articulated itself with an enforced, monotone and simplified narrative that was more concerned with creating and sustaining the illusion of a homogenised populace and controlling it than it was about actively creating such homogeneity. The enforced participation of state employees and students in ritualistic proclamations of loyalty to the regime, for example, produced a monolithic display for the benefit of the spectacle in and of itself. Thus, true conviction was not required from the masses, so long as they were willing to display such conformity in public when called upon.[1] While this approach was not completely successful in curtailing counter-hegemonic narratives in the limited private spheres (nor was it especially concerned with it), it was extremely efficient in dumbing down the public stage and occupying it fully so that no other discourses could aspire to compete.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">This process was instrumental in erecting walls between Syrians as individuals as well as groups, whereby issues become extremely local, debates fragmented and the “public”, was increasingly diluted. The formation of a collective memory of the country became a static function of the state rather than an organic process by the citizenry. Hence, the “memory black hole” moniker.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">During these years, Syrian society went through many upheavals that changed it fundamentally (politically, economically and socially). Yet, looking back at some of these important points--increasing militarism in society since the early 1970s, involvement in the Lebanese war, <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamist_uprising_in_Syria">the struggles with the Muslim Brotherhood</a></span> in the early 1980s and the <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1982_Hama_Massacre">Hama massacre</a></span>, intra-fighting between Hafez and Rifat al-Assad in 1984, the economic hardships of the 1980s, liberalisation in the 1990s, the death of Hafez al-Assad and transition to Bashar al-Assad, <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="http://sanhati.com/excerpted/4249/">neoliberal policies since 2005</a></span>, etc.-- we find the public record overwhelmingly skewed to the state’s official narration (or lack thereof) of the issues, with little room for nuance. Individual efforts to counter this hegemony found themselves restricted to the small spheres of high culture with very little impact.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">These conflagrations were certainly experienced by individuals and were interpreted and debated in the protection of their private homes and within small groups. These were comparatively safer spaces, but, as evidenced by the telling and common warning, “walls have ears”, even debates in the private sphere felt the chilling effects of the security state. The lack of access to the public sphere, and to effective communication tools, however, rendered these experiences truncated, biased and lacking in nuance as well. For example, a man’s experience and reading of Assad’s struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s would’ve been fundamentally different depending on his place of residence (Aleppo, Hama or Latakia).</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">When the Syrian uprising exploded across the country in March 2011, the walls of silence in society suddenly broke down all at once. The surge in the use of new technology afforded many individuals a platform to share their experiences and learn of those of others for the first time. Despite their shortcomings, these tools allowed larger publics, than at any time under the Assad regime, to form organically and to challenge the regime’s attempts to reassert control.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">The dominant narrative, already far removed from reality, collapsed in on itself in spectacular fashion, and Syrians were left with a half-century’s worth of memory void to fill. A growing corpus of literature began to focus on <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="http://syrianmemorycollective.net/">seeking</a></span>, <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2014/08/02/10168">sharing</a></span> and <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2014/08/13/10197">curating</a></span> these, once truncated and personal, experiences, into a more coherent and nuanced picture. In its attempt to assert a narrative of its own, the uprising gave Syrians the chance to reexamine their official history, and in a sense to rewrite it.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">A topical treatment of this growing “genre” shows that a great deal of effort is dedicated to investigating Syria’s most traumatic episodes more deeply and from different perspectives. Through anecdotes, recollections, articles and books, a clearer and more wholesome picture emerges of the <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/9744">mass political imprisonments</a></span> under Hafez al-Assad, for example. The complexities, and <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="http://7ee6an.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/stories-from-hama-memories-of-painter-khaled-al-khani-part-1/">gruesome details</a></span> of the Baathists-Islamists struggles in the early 1980s: the Hama massacre, the sectarian attacks and reprisals, and the daily terror it unleashed on urban populations in major cities, are also frequently dealt with.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">This is by no means a cooperative process; indeed, more often than not it takes form in the shape of violently competing histories and experiences, which are often used as a political instrument in the current struggle. Nevertheless, in the long term, it allows for the emergence of far richer narratives.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">Political humour is an exceptional topic in this context in that it was one of the few counter-hegemonic devices that were able to survive under the security state. This was due to its intimate nature in the safer private space, a feature that lends itself very well to elementary communications mediums. Nevertheless, political humour also saw an explosive growth in interest after the revolution and in curation efforts devoted to it.[2]</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">In this collaboration between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy, '<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0">Looking inside the uprising</a>', we will attempt to examine this process that was launched by the uprising. This will be done through both through more personal accounts and reflections as well as analytical pieces that show how the protest movement is attempting to document itself. It began through organic means, but will soon expand to rewrite and reexamine the inherited truths of the last half-century.</p><p class="western" lang="en-US">&nbsp;</p><p class="western" lang="en-US">---</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"><a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote1anc">1</a> Wedeen, L. (1999). <em>Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria</em>. University of Chicago Press.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"><a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote2anc">2</a> Camps-Febrer, Blanca, <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2205200">Political Humor as a Confrontational Tool against the Syrian Regime; A Study Case: Syria</a></span>, 15th March 2011 – 15th May 2012 (12, 2012). International Catalan Institute for Peace, Working Paper No. 2012/8.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told">The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/syria-and-emergence-of-grassroots-artistic-production">Syria and the emergence of grassroots artistic production</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/enrico-de-angelis/rethinking-syrian-media">Rethinking Syrian media</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/opening-debate-on-sectarianism-in-syria">Opening the debate on sectarianism in Syria</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria activism revolution Syrian collective memory Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Yazan Badran Mon, 22 Sep 2014 06:00:57 +0000 Yazan Badran 85874 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The importance of telling Syrian stories as they should be told https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/donatella-della-ratta/importance-of-telling-syrian-stories-as-they-should-be-told <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Why does the media, despite the incredible amount of mediated content created by Syrians since the uprising, increasingly fail to&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">give a voice to Syrian civil society? Meet our new partners&nbsp;</span><a style="line-height: 1.5;" href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en">'SyriaUntold'</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;-&nbsp;the group that brings the light back onto&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Syrian stories, and puts them in their natural context.&nbsp;</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <a name="logo"></a><p style="background-color: #ededed; padding: 14px; border: 1px dotted #003399;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><img style="float: right; border: 3px solid #fff; margin: 0px 10px 10px 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/UprisingLooinkIn-small-b%20%281%29.png" alt="Looking inside the uprising" width="120" /></a> This article is part of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0"><em>Looking inside the uprising</em></a>; a joint project between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/">SyriaUntold</a> and openDemocracy.<br /><br /></p><p></p><p>In the wake of the Syrian uprising, in March 2011, we found ourselves overwhelmed with a treasure trove of user-generated content produced by Syrian citizens trying to give their account of what was happening in Syria. All of a sudden, a massive amount of information, data, videos, stories and pictures, were being shared on the internet mostly by anonymous users; a truly unprecedented phenomenon for a country where independent news reporting had always been a critical issue.</p> <p>However, this content was, for the most part, out of context. Two factors created this lack of context of post-uprising content.</p> <p>Firstly, the nature of the platform where the majority of this material was produced and shared, i.e. Facebook. As a closed environment, Facebook allowed only those who were already networked with or somehow related to the content producer to access that same content. Besides this, the Facebook interface did not allow a proper process of curating the content, which would imply translating, tagging and archiving in order to afford easier access.</p> <p>Secondly, the subjects who had suddenly found themselves capable of producing and sharing content were not professional media makers. They were citizens who exchanged information and status updates while not being fully aware of a news reporting process in the making; which would have then required them to frame this content within a proper historical, geographical, and geopolitical setting in order to make sense of it.</p> <p>As a group of activists, academics, and journalists working from Syria, on Syria, our primary concern when we launched SyriaUntold in 2012 was to give a context to this ever-circulating user-generated content being produced by Syrians. SyriaUntold would have&nbsp;selected, translated, tagged, archived, and edited&nbsp;grassroots generated media before delivering it to a wider public, both in Arabic and English. Instead of being consumed as isolated, loosely connected pieces of information, these media would have found a proper framework that puts them in their historical, cultural, and geopolitical context. SyriaUntold would also focus on setting up a proper archiving system for this material. The never-ending circulation of content over social networking sites results in the fragmentation and dispersal of this valuable material. A proper archiving system, together with robust context building, can be used to overcome the problems that arise within a web 2.0 environment.</p> <p>Therefore, after several months of animated discussions held both on Skype and through face-to-face meetings, we decided that we would focus our work on curating a specific part of this user-generated content, the part that goes largely “untold”. We had already reached the stage where the Syrian uprising was narrated in military-terms only, whether focusing on the regime's side, or on the armed opposition. The world, and the media, both in Arabic and in English, quickly forgot the “civil” nature of the uprising. Whether individuals or loose groups of activists, the role of those who had started the protest movement in March 2011 by demanding civil rights and calling for the rule of law instead of the absolute power of Syria's regime and its security services, was being dismissed or marginalised, while the narration of the crisis became both militarized and internationalised, escalating both processes.</p> <p>Accordingly, SyriaUntold deliberately decided to focus precisely on the marginalised stories generated by these people and movements who are engaged in civil disobedience, non-violent resistance, and who stay committed to civil activism against all the odds. We aim at shedding light on a third subject which is neither the regime nor the armed groups of rebels. We focus on Syrian civil society, key, we believe, to determining Syria's future. Understanding this category, what it does, what it thinks, how it acts, what it produces and dreams of, cannot be dismissed. SyriaUntold hopes to make an important contribution in releasing sn &nbsp;interpretation of the unfolding events in Syria that is more nuanced and balanced towards civil society, which still constitutes the majority of the population in the country.</p> <p>In our unique upcoming cooperative project with openDemocracy, entitled '<span style="line-height: 1.5;"><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening-tags/looking-inside-uprising#0">Looking inside the uprising</a>',</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;we hope to add a further step in this process of recognizing the importance of Syrian civil society and its ongoing struggle; and to reach out to a wider audience with original stories from Syria that have so far remained untold.&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/yazan-badran/uprising-and-syria%E2%80%99s-reconstituted-collective-memory">The uprising and Syria’s reconstituted collective memory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/opening-debate-on-sectarianism-in-syria">Opening the debate on sectarianism in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/enrico-de-angelis/rethinking-syrian-media">Rethinking Syrian media</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-nachawati/syria-and-emergence-of-grassroots-artistic-production">Syria and the emergence of grassroots artistic production</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Through Syrian eyes Looking inside the uprising Donatella Della Ratta Mon, 22 Sep 2014 06:00:35 +0000 Donatella Della Ratta 85859 at https://www.opendemocracy.net