Monthly Archives: January 2012

From Syria, with…. (By True)

I. A trip of Fear

How it started! We’re all immersed in the Syrian revolution since March in one way or another. We’ve been hearing from here and there trying to sort the good from the bad and the good from the great where at this time good is not considered good. We debated different sorts of narrations and always relied on press reports, video clips and some leaked news from local residents. However, deep down inside us there was this thirst to seek our own version of truth to validate or refute a narration and that’s what I’ve decided to do.

At work, being a Syrian, I was always subject to all sorts of Syrian issues related questions, and in many cases there was this sense of high expectations of me knowing everything and answering any inquiry but in reality I was very far if not the furthest to answer their questions. On many different occasions I’ve been told oh “lucky you for being away from the hell”, I used to reciprocate with a big smile because I was like many of us (online bloggers) lucky enough to enjoy a coffee while commenting here and there with nil risk till one day I was cornered by non-Arab friend who was like “and what about the others” refereeing to all Syrians on ground who are facing death on daily basis.

For this and too many other reasons I decided quietly on my plan of going back home to be there trying to understand what’s actually happening aside from all sorts of manipulation or distortion, I wanted to see it (the truth) in my own naked eyes. So out of the blue I inform the family of my trip to spend the Xmas in Europe just like that “by the way I’m planning a trip to Europe and flying next week” there was a silence in the room and I could see it in their eyes something like “you’re a terrible liar” but nobody elaborated except the dad saying “say hi to “Europe” from me”.

My ticket on Syria Airways is booked and I’m waiting at the gate, I am a bit early as if arriving early at the gate will make it a faster trip or something. People started gathering and it does not take you long time at all to start recognizing the Syrian features on their faces, you could tell easily the Hourani, Alawi or Shami accent. for me they all looked somehow different today, as if they’re not all sharing the motherland while they all are sharing the anxiety and fear on their faces. Oh, there’s a stand with some newspapers on it, but no one is helping himself to grab a one or two (You know the Syrian mentality appreciates free stuff and surely they would not miss a chance of free papers) I take my way to grab the papers and just while I’m heading there I spot the headlines in French, English and even German all talking about deadly killing in Syria and suddenly I figured out why no one is reading and there I learnt that I’m already in the kingdom of fear while physically I’m still in Europe. It’s quite amazing, as if this feeling of fear is implanted in every Syrian, fear makes you scared to read a paper overseas while you keep looking at the ground trying to avoid any eye contact with anyone around especially the security steward (Modeef Amni) who’s assigned to this trip.

The ground stewardess starts calling on passengers, starting with first class and so on … but suddenly and out of the blue this ghost with this scary moustache pops out of the tunnel and calls for his friend in who was sitting next me, he was saying (Abu-Rmi yala yala) lets it move it Abu-Rami we need to put up the table. This Abu-Rami stands up and stares at every one, including myself, a stare of challenge to fulfill this sick desire of control and announces his upper hand and to add some icing he pulls this black plastic bag out of his pocket and covers the papers as simple as that. No need to mention the puzzled face of that local ground stewardess who was utterly shocked how Abu-Rami acts like. So we make our way to the plane to find a checkpoint set up by Abu-Rami and three others where they’re asking to search every bag and personal search for young men, including myself, one guy asked what’s all this about? We just passed airport security!! And the answer was “if they (westerns) were doing good job we would not have faced armed gangs” I think this line tells you a lot about their way of thinking, I stepped inside the plane looking around and could easily spot those 1980s security guys who’re still insisting to put on their sunglasses inside the plane as if no one could see them or actually it’s their way of saying yes we’re here and Welcome to kingdom of fear.

We arrived at Damascus airport and people stopped talking, everyone is making his way to passport control booths so do I. Marhaba I say, they guy looks up at me with no reply!! He takes my passport and starts pressing frantically on his keyboard and I start thinking all about SC and 7ee6an wondering if my real identity was leaked out somehow and I hope that my family specially my father does know about my definition of a trip to Europe. The guy does not talk to me (it’s been at least 8 minutes) finally he says you’re wanted for the main Mukhabarat directorate and I was like how come? are you sure? He goes like yes and you did obtain their approval to leave the country 6 months ago. Six months ago!!! Are you kidding? I was not home for the last ….. I’m sure there’s a mistake here check more please (yes I was using please but not sure if he could hear it) ok.. ok.. he replies, yes it’s you 100%. Honestly I had a glitch for few seconds then collected myself again to counter, did you check DOB and mother name? He insists yes I did. I say it does not make sense, there should be a mistake, I say. Suddenly, he reaches to his stamp and grants me an entry just like that. Till now I have no clue what happened, but my hunch that he was just messing up with me as a part of their procedures to see my reaction or for someone who’s watching in the camera to take a decision. People who I shared this story with told me that there was no way to let me go if there’s a dot of doubts against me, so now I believe it’s just a part of their psychological war against their own people.

Going through other parts of the airport was not a much different experience, I saw Bashar’s pictures everywhere from the door of the plane to the car park booth where you pay your tariff,   I saw guys getting dragged out of the line into rooms, I saw ladies pleading for their partners and kids. That mum was crying out talking to everyone trying to explain to them that her son is a Christian Syrian and he’s not eligible yet for military service while the guys were looking at her breast, playing with their moustaches and most importantly ignoring her. I understood that all these dolls on the front line are fully controlled by others who are hiding and watching everything behind the walls.

In my next update, I will tell you how people of Damascus are severely split between pro/against the regime and how friendships and relations were terminated as an extension of a related argument. I will tell you how young kids in schools are participating in the strike simply by not buying from the canteen during breaks. I will share with you more info after meeting with couple of guys from tansiqya of Hajr aswad. I’ll be heading to Midan in Damascus on Friday to participate in my first actual protest against the regime (I hope it won’t be the last one although I don’t mind taking the consequences) this protest take an extra importance especially after signing the protocol and observers arrivals.

Finally, Giath Matter’s wife (may God have mercy on his soul) have given a birth to a beautiful baby girl and I have visited them at home. Basically, I was dragged to Daria and been showed a little girl who they claimed being his daughter (may God bestow his mercy on him). Few days later i was informed the same of being a new boy not a girl. However, i checked again and people were split between a boy or a girl. It’s another example of the amount of bullshit and false information you could get from both sides in Syria even if you’re living in there.

God bless you Syrian expats.

II.  In Damascus

First of all let me start with a statement I’ve heard here in Damascus from an old man “Damascenes and Aleppan ladies are useless to carry a president quality in their wombs. If he (Bashar) stays or leaves there will be no president from Damascus or Aleppo in the future” He further elaborates “People of Damascus do enjoy being bossed around by minorities, it’s in their blood”.

I was really getting annoyed with the car-rental service. Excuse me, I did pay in advance please check your records. Looking at me as if I’m speaking a language from the time of Jesus Christ then, she looks here and there then says, but no more cars at the airport so you need to go to the main office near Damascus tower. The main office! How will I reach the main office? Anyway they ask me to hop in with a driver who was leaving soon and he will drop me off just by the main office. I say marhaba (this word is more common to use to than salam) and he replies ahleen. I was relieved to hear his accent, surely he’s a Damascene (shami) not Alawi or from any other coastal city. Do you smoke? I reply no thankfully. Well done, he replies, but still he opens his glove box to take his packet of cigarette and all of the sudden I’m turned into this trapped passive smoker. So what do you think? I asked, it was a question on the spur of the moment, and I hoped not to regret it ever. He stares at me, sizes me up and down, inhales deeply and releases a bigger cloud of his killing smoke, (ta3bana) it’s not ok, he replies. Just looking ahead with no further talking till suddenly he snaps saying some bad language (ikhwat elsharmotta) (brothers of whore) I look ahead to find a flying checkpoint just before taking the exit off the airport highway.

Hi guys (marhaba ya shabab) he addresses the conscripts at the checkpoint, who reply back with a smile and ask for IDs. I look around to see a couple of motorcycles and a fancy car parked few meters away from the checkpoint, I look to other side to see a group of 5 men circulating around what looked like two containers of beans and hummus. We move on with no drama so I ask, how many of those (checkpoints) around here? You never know, he replies, it all depends on the situation but may God take them away to hell. It’s not an easy job to take them away, I replied, it will take longer time and more effort, I elaborated. He speeds up, as a sign of tension or something then counters back, not at all Inshallah soon we will crush all these troublemakers and our leader will take us to the shore of safety!!! I was utterly shocked as I thought we were on the same page, but it does not make sense, he’s a shami, why? It just does not make sense!! Pulling his leg, I said, just tell me how? After we clean Homs we will chase every one of this freedom (7eeryeh) group back to their leaders of Qatar and Saad Al-Hariri.

It’s quite notable for me to come across a shami man who’s completely opposing the opposition; he does not even acknowledge them as opposition. Take care my son and stay away from Reef-Dimashq, was his last sentence to me before hopping out the car. Day after day I kept meeting up with Damascenes from different backgrounds, social class and education level, it did not take me long to realize that non-sunni people are fully behind the regime and when I say fully I mean it just like that. On the other hand, a big portion and I might challenge the narration to say the majority of Sunnis in Damascus are in total support of the regime. Yes, I come across lots of people who were opposing in public, there were not afraid and their answer was like (they’re busy chasing up armed men so we’re the least the care about now). Yes, the tansiqiat (coordination groups) are doing an amazing job and I have to tip my hat for them but in reality the big picture says that people of Damascus are asleep and actually they have put on a sign “Please don’t disturb” we’re asleep and PREFER to stay asleep.

Amazingly enough, the young kids of Damascus are more active and I’m not exaggerating when I say maybe they are more developed politically then their parents. Heaps of Sunnis adults were bragging and saying we’re shabiha of the leader, many of them has no sense of sympathy with all killed martyrs throughout the country actually they are quite reluctant to call them martyrs. After long conversations with many of those Sunni-Menhebaks I could put my finger on one common thing which they all enjoy and share. They are all beneficiaries (mostafeeden) in a way or another and super lazy to take this leap of faith to freedom, they prefer their weekly picnic (seeran) over a bright future and a break in Bloudan over political pluralism.

In my next update I’ll try to cast some light on women’s point of view and participation in this revolution.

III. Myopia People

As I said in the last segment, Heaps of Sunni adults in Damascus are bragging and saying they’re the real shabiha of the “leader”, many of them have no sense of sympathy with all the killed martyrs throughout the country and actually they are quite hesitant to call them martyrs. I’m quite reluctant to refer to those as “fence sitters” because simply they are not; they are people with their own understanding and way of perceiving things. It’s true that there is a big segment of Damascenes who are in favor to hold arms, not to topple the regime but more to retrieve their “lost-lifestyle” which they have lost to “jama3et el-7eriya” the freedom group 10 months ago.

Many tried to understand and analyze the attitude of this segment of Damascenes and maybe Aleppans for that matter, many descriptions and fancy words have been used to diagnose their current mind state. Things like silent opposition, ash under the fire, concerned for their wealth …etc. However, after spending a decent period of time in Damascus I have my simple interpretation of their attitude and unexplainable behavior. Those “fence sitters” are not troubled or in struggle to examine and explore the obvious; not at all, actually those are in full satisfaction with their stand and enjoying bursting comprehension to the surrounding and consequences to their actions.

I call this cult the “myopia people” who can’t see further than their noses and sadly speaking it’s in their hands to end or maintain the lifespan of the current regime. This cult is consisted of different sects and backgrounds, and the Sunnis of Damascus are taking the lead of it. One might argue saying these are the Menhebaks or elmostifedeen (beneficiaries) which is not true at all. These people are smart enough to understand what’s going on, they’re not in favor for Bashar himself or for his incompetent government not at all, and if you observer their actions you would notice how they oppose Bashar and criticize him along with his cronies in public with no fear but surely their open mouths of criticism to the regime is incomparable to the hate and despise they have for “jama3et el-7eriya” protesters.

What’s more, I decided to run my own analysis trying to understand more about this segment of people. I was enthusiastic enough to go an fetch personal info (I know that’s not ethical) about many people who I chose to be a part of my case study and sometimes I took the risk not only to push it a notch but rather too much. I did have chat with more than 10 people from different sects (5 Sunnis,3 Alawis and 2 Christians) I tried my best to use only one set of questions such as what, who and why. Of course, one of the first questions was to ask whether he/she is a fan of Addonia TV. I’m still in process to concatenate my findings and conclude more but for the sake of this post I’ll address you with only three scenarios.

Scenario one: (Male, Sunni, 52 years old, middle-class close to poor, dairy business, married) This mark did not only defend the regime fiercely but he took the extra step to put up a sign in his shop which says (Ma 3ina 7eriya) Something like we don’t sell freedom.  I struggled to understand his behavior especially that he’s operating his little diary in Share3 Al-ameen next to Alshghour  (Sunni old Shami neighborhood). Right at the beginning and giving his background and the location of his shop, I could exclude the possibility of him being an ass kisser or (tamse7 jou’7) as we call it. Excluding the act of hypocrisy has lead me to my second naïve conclusion that he might be one of those” mostifedeen” (beneficiaries) so I did dig deep into his life to find out more.  However, the results were pretty disappointing for me as this fellow was with NO relation to the following (government employment, military service, big trade or business, Alawi relatives, paid trumpet (bouq) … etc)!!! He’s a clean dude similar to each of us who has no ties whatsoever with the regime. I did this exercise many times and kept collecting more and more info but always the puzzled face and astonished eyes was the answer.

Consequently, I decided to move to phase2 and have a direct talk with him. Hi uncle (marhaba3amo) “we say uncle out of respect to older people in Syria” can I grab this and that? The man looked and sounded as friendly and normal as he could get while he has Al-Arabiya TV channel on talking about the “staged” explosions in Damascus few days ago. I found it hard to open the “sensitive” topic butfinally with a big smile (trying to be funny) I asked him (can I have 2 kilos of freedom) he looked me in the eyes for few seconds and out of the blue he said you don’t look like Mukhbarat or Tansiqya and then he laughed out. I found it interesting how he shared publically these feelings of hatred to Mukhbarat, but what’s more interesting is that he’s equaling the bad image and impression of Mukhabart with Tansiqya. I asked for a can of coke and we started a chat, he started by addressing me with “we had the real freedom, we don’t need their freedom” another point got my eyes that he kept talking as (we) instead of (I) every time he talks politics. “We had the freedom of living our life the way we wanted, we ran our business hours the way we liked, we went for picnics and trips at any time we desired, our ladies were safely wondering around Damascus, and no one ever put a lock on my shop to prevent me from earning my sustenance”… (few minutes of ranting on the same line) … then after a long sigh he elaborated “look at us now! God damn them”. I went a bit blunter and asked again how come? “Before al2zmeh (crisis) Mukhbarat and their friends were living away in their cages of security branches, we did not talk politics and no one ever harmed us, this was the unspoken gentlemen agreement between the ruler and people. They (Mukhabarat) have never been in our neighborhoods or marched into our houses, but now they’re everywhere disturbing our ladies and stealing our money”. I asked but 3amo ya3ni freedom & dignity and he snapped back saying “and who told them we want freedom or dignity we by our actions define our dignity, the dignity we once had but now look at us no freedom and no dignity and no future”. I thanked him a lot and took my way out towards old Souq Medhet Pacha on feet trying to put myself in his shoes in order to digest his point of view and see where he and many others are coming from, it was a nice walk till I was intercepted by a van of Shabiha who were guarding the entrance towards Omayyad mosque, they fully pissed me off and destroyed my mood so I jumped into a taxi and went home.

Scenario two: (females, Sunni, 30s, @ Tofaha bakery next to town centre mall near Sahnaya). At the exact time when Mukhabart and Shabiha were bombarding Douma and Mouadamiya suburbs in Damascus, I decided to go to the mall to see whether the fact of killing people would prevent Damascenes from going out.  I was pretty disappointed to see the crowds enjoying their shopping time as if the killing is happening in Palestine (business as usual) not only 10km away. I was sitting at my table waiting for my order (manakeesh & muhammara) next to atable of five women all veiled with very conservative Sunni looking. Of course in Syria you can’t just go and talk to ladies so I could not help it but togive them my ears especially when I heard them saying “5arabo elbalad” they destroyed the country. I readjusted my seat and paid full attention to their “secure” conversation (except from a nosy pervert like myself). That statement was seconded by others with (y26a3 3omrhm) may God take their lives away. At that time I was fully confident that they were refereeing to either Shabiha and Mukhabart or simply the clan. However, the hammer on my head was arrived when the most senior lady amongst them who looked to be (7amayah) the mother in law issued her disastrous statement saying “one day here and one day there we had enough, Inshallah Mr. president will relief us from them very soon and forgood, we had enough really we had enough (el3ama yedreben) may God blind them” she elaborated “yesterday I could not find an original block of Fa soap in supermarkets!!!” I was utterly shocked and went speechless so I spitted out my food and walked away.

Scenario three: (Male, Christian, 28 years old, Jaraman). This guy was aware of my intentions and he asked me to deliver his voice out. He sees himself more inclined towards the revolution, “might be the age” he reckons. His family members are in total opposition to the revolution, I asked why? And was expecting the same old answer “it’s an existence question for Christians” but his reply was sweet and concise, he assures us that yes it’s true that there are these feelings of insecurity within the Christian community but nothing more than any other community within Damascus. He confirms that the opposition groups tried to reach out to them to validate their worries and guarantee some securities; even he goes an extra mile to confirm that Christians in Damascus are not afraid whatsoever of sectarian killing which might break out in the future. I asked the question then why do you folks oppose the revolution? He answers by quoting his mum “they are the reason for disturbing our life and unleashing these herds of shabiha into our life”.

The common pattern between these three examples is stark and obvious; those people are upset and angry about having their lifestyle disturbed. Furthermore, their life has been somehow dented in a way or another by the regime and its actions but unfairly decided to blame the revolution instead. Most horribly, they don’t acknowledge the demand of protesters and have ZERO sense of sympathy or even connection with them. Concepts such as freedom and dignity are irrelevant to them, while many prefer to live and pass away in peace living on the margin. This segment is not in support for Bashar as a person as they could not careless who rules and fools. However, they are quite nostalgic to the era of the last 10 years, an era in which Syrians (high consumption rate) defined and measured their prosperity by their access to products on supermarkets shelves and their frequent weekly picnics. The regime’s foundation of support is mainly comprised of this segment in addition to the classic Menhebaks, Mostifeedeen and minorities in Damascus. I have no idea how but the opposition groups need to break this foundation and find their methods to address this segment of people, although I, personally, find it impossible to reach people who trade their freedom and dignity for a block of Fa and Friday picnic.

IV. A quick note about Palestinians in Damascus

Palestinians (around 250 thousand) in Damascus are mainly gathered in Palestine & Yarmouk refugee camps next to Midan and Qadam. The regime and opposition did their best to lure them to their sides but they (Palestinians) decided to stay on the fence with the attitude of we’re just temporary visitors here in Syria so please keep us out of it till we go back home to our Palestine. Bouthaina Shaaban did try to frame the Palestinians in many incidents, consequently, Ahmed Jibril (PFLP-GC) met with Bashar and cleared the air. One security personal told me currently they are ordered to treat two types of IDs with respect at every checkpoint, that’s being either a security personal or a Palestinian.

 Many Palestinians have been killed during this revolution; recently three were killed in the last bomb in Damascus when a mini-bus operates on Mezha-Palestine rout was passing by the Carlton hotel. I did attend the funeral of one of them who was named (Khaled Abu-Madi) in Yarmouk camp. The alarming issue that the opposition is not doing any serious effort to gain the Palestinians, there are lots of rumors that people of Midan distributed flyers in the camp saying (we will take our houses back very soon after toppling the regime and send you back to where you come from) and even people of Hajr Aswad  were chanting (bedna ne7ki 3ala elmakshof falastini me bedna nshoof) which means frankly speaking we don’t want to see any Palestinian in Syria. To add misery to their concern, the regime is distributing pamphlets quoting one SNC member who’s saying (there are 40 thousand governmental jobs are stolen by the Palestinians in Syria while Syrians are unemployed) and Haytham Almaleh saying (Palestinians drink 17 thousand fresh water bottle everyday in Damascus while Syrian are thirsty somewhere else) I could not confirm if these statements were actually issued but surely they are leaving very negative impact and not helping the Palestinians to fully join the revolution.

The “Arabized” and the boy-king

As expected, the Syrian regime has rejected the new Arab League decision, which was announced in a press conference led by the foreign minister of Qatar and the Secretary General of the League of Arab States. The press conference followed a meeting of the Council of the AL, during which a decision was made, partially in response to the report of the controversial AL monitors mission to Syria but more so as a last ditch attempt to allow a face-saving and reasonably short time exit to the regime. The full text of the decision is available on several web-sites along with summaries in English and Arabic. I have taken the liberty of removing the introductory part of that decision, which generally contains the “legislative mandate” and a great deal of references to previous decisions and sequence of communications. In the end, the following items were agreed on, with Algeria expressing reservation regarding the security council issue, and Lebanon distancing itself from any decision that may “impact Syria” while Iraq abstaining with no comment.

Below is the decision component of the document, first in Arabic and then translated to English to reflect the spirit of the decision as it was transmitted (To the best of my abilities). I had it ready on the night of the decision but I was unable to post it for personal reasons that have distracted me from 7ee6an for nearly three days and will likely continue for a while. I urge everyone to read it carefully, because I expect it to be the underlining “solution map” to be adopted by the Security Council. Events are hearing in that direction and this decision is likely to be with us for a while.

1-ضرورة وقف كافة أعمال العنف والقتل من أي مصدر كان حماية للمواطنين السوريين.

مطالبة الحكومة السورية بما يلي:

2-الإفراج عن المعتقلين، وإخلاء المدن والأحياء السكنية من جميع المظاهر المسلحة، وفتح المجال أمام منظمات الجامعة المعنية ووسائل الإعلام العربية والدولية للتنقل بحرية في جميع أنحاء سورية للاطلاع على حقيقة الأوضاع ورصد ما يدور فيها من أحداث.

3-سحب الجيش السوري وأية قوات مسلحة من مختلف التشكيلات إلى ثكناتها ومواقعها الأصلية.

4-ضمان حرية التظاهر السلمي بمختلف أشكاله وعدم التعرض للمتظاهرين.

5-دعوة الحكومة السورية إلى تسهيل مهمة بعثة المراقبين والسماح بإدخال كافة المعدات خاصةً أجهزة الاتصالات.

6-الاستمرار في دعم وزيادة عدد بعثة مراقبي جامعة الدول العربية وتوفير ما يلزم لهم من الدعم الفني والمالي والإداري، والتعاون مع الأمين العام للأمم المتحدة لدعم البعثة.

7-دعوة الحكومة السورية وكافة أطياف المعارضة السورية إلى بدء حوار سياسي جاد تحت رعاية جامعة الدول العربية في أجلٍ لا يتجاوز أسبوعين من هذه الدعوة وذلك لتحقيق المبادرة التالية:

أ-تشكيل حكومة وحدة وطنية خلال شهرين من تاريخه تشارك فيها السلطة والمعارضة برئاسة شخصية متفق عليها تكون مهمتها تطبيق بنود خطة الجامعة العربية، والإعداد لانتخاباتٍ برلمانية ورئاسية تعددية حرة بموجب قانون ينص على إجراءاتها، بإشراف عربي ودولي.

ب-تفويض رئيس الجمهورية نائبه الأول بصلاحيات كاملة للقيام بالتعاون التام مع حكومة الوحدة الوطنية لتمكينها من أداء واجباتها في المرحلة الانتقالية.

ت-إعلان حكومة الوحدة الوطنية حال تشكيلها بأن هدفها هو إقامة نظام سياسي ديمقراطي تعددي يتساوى فيه المواطنون بغض النظر عن انتماءاتهم وطوائفهم ومذاهبهم ويتم تداول السلطة فيه بشكلٍ سلمى.

ث-قيام حكومة الوحدة الوطنية على إعادة الأمن والاستقرار في البلاد وإعادة تنظيم أجهزة الشرطة لحفظ النظام وتعزيزه من خلال تولي المهام الأمنية ذات الطابع المدني، وتتعهد الدول العربية بتمويل هذا الجهد بالتنسيق مع جامعة الدول العربية.

ج-إنشاء هيئة مستقلة مفوضة للتحقيق في الانتهاكات التي تعرض لها المواطنون والبت فيها وإنصاف الضحايا.

ح-قيام حكومة الوحدة الوطنية بالإعداد لإجراء انتخاباتٍ لجمعية تأسيسية على أن تكون شفافة ونزيهة برقابة عربية ودولية، وذلك خلال ثلاثة أشهر من قيام حكومة الوحدة الوطنية وتتولى هذه الجمعية إعداد مشروع دستور جديد للبلاد يتم إقراره عبر استفتاء شعبي، وكذلك إعداد قانون انتخابات على أساس هذا الدستور.

8-تكليف الأمين العام لجامعة الدول العربية بتعيين مبعوث خاص لمتابعة العملية السياسية.

9-دعوة المجتمع الدولي إلى تقديم الدعم لحكومة الوحدة الوطنية لتمكينها من تنفيذ مهامها.

10-الطلب من رئيس اللجنة والأمين العام إبلاغ مجلس الأمن لدعم هذه الخطة طبقاً لقرارات مجلس الجامعة.

The Ministerial council decides

1 – to recognize the need to halt all acts of violence and murder from any source in order to protect the Syrian citizens.

Demands the following from the Syrian Government:

2 – The release of detainees, and the removal of all forms of arms from the cities and residential districts, allowing the League’s relevant (concerned) organizations and the Arab and international media to move freely in all parts of Syria to assess the reality of the situation and to monitor the ongoing events.

3 – The withdrawal of the Syrian army and armed forces of any of the various divisions to their barracks and their original locations.

4 – To guarantee the freedom to demonstrate peacefully in all its forms and to not confront protesters.

5 – Call on the Syrian government to facilitate the mission of observers and to allow the introduction of all of their equipment, especially communications equipment.

6 – To continue to support and increase the number of Observer Mission of the Arab League and to provide them with technical, financial and administrative support, and to cooperate with the Secretary General of the United Nations to support the mission.

7 – Invite the Syrian government and all elements of the spectrum of the Syrian opposition to start a serious political dialogue under the auspices of the League of Arab States within a period not exceeding two weeks from this initiative, to achieve the following:

A – A national unity government within two months from this date with the participation of government and the opposition and that is led by an agreeable person the task of implementing the provisions of the Arab League plan, and preparing for pluralistic parliamentary and presidential elections under the in accordance with law specifying the electoral procedures and Arab and international supervision.

B – The delegation by the president of the republic to the first Vice-President of the full authority to carry out a full cooperation with the national unity government to enable them to perform their duties in the transitional period.

C – Declaration by the so formed national unity government that its goal is to establish a democratic, pluralistic political system in which all citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations and sects and denominations and whereby power is transferred peacefully.

D – The national unity government is to restore security and stability in the country and to reorganize (restructure) the police force to maintain order through taking over all civilian security matters. The Arab States undertake to fund this effort in coordination with the League of Arab States.

E – the establishment of an independent body mandated to investigate and decide on the abuses suffered by the citizens and to compensate the victims.

F – The national unity government is to prepare for Arab and internationally monitored transparent and fair elections of a constituent assembly within three months of the formation of the national unity government. The assembly is to prepare a draft new constitution to be adopted through a referendum, as well as to preparation of an election law on the basis of the Constitution.

8 – To request the Secretary General of the League of Arab States to appoint a special envoy to follow up the political process.

9 – to invite the international community to provide support to the national unity government and to enable it to carry out its functions.

10 – To request the Chairman of the Council and the Secretary-General to inform the Security Council in order to support this plan in accordance with the resolutions of the League’s Council.

I believe that the road map renders the monitors’ report to secondary importance. If summarized,  The decision calls for the withdrawal of all armed forces and their return to their barracks, for guaranteeing freedom of demonstration and facilitating and supporting the mission of the AL monitors and ensuring free and unhindered access to Arab and International press access to the country. However, article 7, with its six points makes a sharp turn against the Syrian regime. The six points do present a new AL plan (roadmap), that will take Syria into a pluralistic parliamentarian system within a timeframe far shorter than what the regime has in mind and some bloggers have called for (i.e., 2021, which is the end of Bashar Al-Assad’s third term). The AL new plan consists of starting a “serious” dialog between the regime and all factions of the opposition within two weeks, to be followed by the formation of a national unity government from both sides within two months that is headed by an agreeable personality. The national unity government will be responsible within a short period of time for calling an election of a constitutional assembly, drafting new constitution, establishing peace, guaranteeing, the rights of citizens to protest peacefully, and most importantly restructuring the “police” force to bear the sole responsibility for civil peace. The national unity government is to also form an independent committee to investigate complaints of abuse and to coordinate the compensation of victims albeit with no mention of punishing perpetrators, which indicates that the AL envisions a committee styled more as a national reconciliation committee than a criminal investigation panel or court.

Thanks to annie, we have a copy of what the steadfast, always polite Revlon wrote especially on some of the key aspects of the AL new roadmap, But in international crisis-resolution initiatives there is no substitute for the full text.  Sometimes ambiguities speak more than clear text and I think in this case, ambiguities were intended to allow both the regime and opposition margin of negotiation instead of outright rejection of the decision. The reactionary regime of course could not but reject the roadmap claiming that it first violates Syrian sovereignty and that it falls short of the “reforms” the great leader has already initiated where none of the decision’s signatories have undertaken similar initiatives. The opposition, especially the SNC remain cautious regarding rejection, and have considered the decision to be a recognition from the Arab states of the legitimacy of the revolution, and the first practical step towards internationalization of the issue through the security council.

A customized version of the GCC’s Yemen initiative, the AL decision could have been easily used by the regime to its advantage and to guarantee a semblance of acceptance to its intended joke of a national unity government albeit with a lot of negotiation towards the forming of this government. Several regime-made opposition personalities (no leaders) are already scrambling to position themselves to play leading role in that national unity government, some in hopes to influence what they believe is going to be the next stage of Syria’s evolution towards pluralistic politics under the leadership of the “great leader”. The regime could have also interpreted the text  in item 7-B calling for delegation of authority to state that only those authorities required to facilitate the national unity government need to be delegated and that does not mean departure of the despised “great leader”. There are several similar examples where the regime could have found ample margin for maneuver and I expect that it will at some point in time request that this decision be undusted and revived as it enters into some sort of negotiation only to find that like the protestors and having been rebuffed and lied to constantly, AL members would by then raise the ceiling of demands in response to the regime’s continuing brutality.

Alas, the reactionary regime has decided on continuation of the brute force option. News of tightening the siege on Hama and increasing fortification of the regime’s positions inside the city along with complete communication black-outs are ominous signs of the brutality of the next phase of the Assad mafia clan plan to finish off this revolution in the midst of total melt down of the state authority and of the regime’s hold on many parts of Syria. With the exception of Aleppo, and the central core of Damascus, the presence of regime forces and thugs in any locality can no longer be equated with control of such locality notwithstanding the successful ejection of the regimes goons in few localities. There are signs of possible change in the Russian position, but I would not count much on that in the sense that any Russian plan would aim first to protect the structure of the regime apparatus even if it involves the departure of the Bashar Al-Assad.

As I wrote earlier, article 7 of the decision represents a road map. The opposition can also rely on it to shape the next step and in fact some of the elements listed in article 7 represent the minimum level of the demands from the opposition. The AL even addresses, rather diplomatically and again with a degree of ambiguity, the issue of restructuring civil security forces (Article 7-D) as well as the issue of forming an investigation panel (7-E). Overall, the plan could have formed a good start but the reactionary regime, thinking that it will be able to suppress history, thought otherwise.

Muallem’s Press Conference

As I write these words, Muallem is now giving a press conference berating Arab states for their “conspiracy” against Syria, It seems that he is trying to turn on the table to refocus attention on the “regime-friendly” monitors report, which now seems to have been written by the Syrian regime. He is claiming that the report validated the Syrian regime’s adherence to the AL earlier initiative. Muallem is still selling the “reform” package. He is now asking others to “learn from Syria” with extracurricular classes. It is telling that Muallem (the foreign minister) is saying that the request to extend the mission is being studied, and the moment they (him and his team) receive directives, they will go ahead with the necessary steps. My question is who is going to send the directive, and who is in the circle that “instructs” him as he seems to declare himself as a non entity with respect to policy, something every Syrian knew for long time. He is very persistent in talking about “armed groups”. Al-Alam TV is asked Muallem to take a decisive action against “armed groups” and to close the “Qatari” embassy. So now a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime is instructing the Syrian regime in what to do. Had any other foreign press representative asked questions with that tone, he would have been accused of violating the sovereignty of Syria. Muallem showered praise on the head of the observer mission General Al-Dabi. Al-Jadid TV  also tried to advocate a “speedy” resolution of the “armed groups” issue to an enthusiastic Muallem. In response to the Chinese TV question about sanction, Muallem admitted that half of the current economic difficulties in Syria are due to the sanctions. In response to “Lebanese” NBN, Muallem declared the Arabs’ role dead, but at the same time seem to insist on the extension of the observers’ mission!. He threatened now to break the glass houses left by the colonialists in all Arab countries (naturally with the exception of Syria!)

Muallem’s use of the report to the advantage of the Syrian regime will be a death sentence of the observers’ mission and will discredit the mission and its leadership more than they are already discredited. A good step from the AL now would be to dismiss the head of the mission and re-constitute the mission with far more neutral leader. Al-Dabi has by all means removed himself from being a suitable head of the mission after recent declarations. It is also noteworthy that the SNC has asked the LCCs to stop cooperating with the extended observers’ mission.

The Secretary General of the League of Arab States met today with the Ambassadors of the five permanent members of the Security Council. At the same time, the Chair of the AL council and the Secretary General made a formal request for a meeting with the Secretary General of the UN regarding the crisis in Syria. The internationalization machine has started, and I hope that the SNC will be careful, dynamic, and smart in the coming phase.

To say that the AL plan intended on helping Assad is a mistake, I think the Arabs have finally figured out how dumb and suicidal the Syrian regime is, every time a survival rope is extended, these bozos turn it into another knot in the noose. Figuring this out, Arab League will hopefully continue to extend them helping ropes and to make these ropes thicker and thicker in cynical hope that the regime will use these ropes in the same manner it used every single help.   Aleppo has a little vulgar proverb that says “يللي بيجاكر طيزو بيعملها بلبيسو  ” which translates into, “to spite his asshole he defecates in his underwear”, with the closest English proverb would be “cutting of the nose to spite the face”. The regime has always been a contemptuous gang. Expect it to continue to smell as stinky as it has made itself. Those carrying water for this regime, should look in their containers and probably smell their content before it is too late.

Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 1

Introduction by Off the Wall

A painting by Syrian painter Khaled Al-Khani

A painting by Syrian painter Khaled Al-Khani

In few more days, the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre of Hama (February, 1982) will befall us. This time, the anniversary has a special meaning as Syrians, who have broken the fear barrier, are now openly talking about the events that transpired thirty years ago in their homeland. We are helped nowadays in that even the dumbest observer can recognize the lies of the Assad regime, and that has made many of us search for the real narrative of Hama, a narrative that the regime has for decades tried to suppress through its demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to hide, by extension, the stories of the innocent victims of Hafez Assad and his henchmen which according to people from Hama, may have reached 40,000 murdered souls, not to mention the rapes, the pillaging and hateful acts of barbarism the aging thugs are now trying to blame each others for.

As the sons of the perpetrators of the Hama Massacre,  helped undoubtedly by some of those who participated in it, now attempt to suppress the current Syrian uprising through similar machination of brutality, lies, and deceptions, it becomes more necessary than ever for us to recover the real narrative of Hama. It is the narrative of the children who witnessed their fathers and older brothers being murdered, of women who were raped and killed in cold blood, and of entire city districts raised to ground out of vengeful hate that shames us all for its existence among our sentient specie.

My friend Khaled Al-Khani, then a seven years old child, is now a renowned Syrian painter. He tells the story of the massacre as he witnessed it and lived it through the murder of his father, his own epic journey with the few women and children who survived Assad’s murderous machine. In this and the next two posts, I will attempt to bring Khaled’s memories to English readers. It is only my way of telling the Assad gang, we will hold those who did it accountable, and we will not allow you to do the same, Never again.

This story can also be read in French, thanks to my friend annie

Part 1 (French) Histoire de Hama : souvenirs du peintre Khaled Al-Khani

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Stories from Hama (Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani) Part I

I do not know what happened to me today…? I don’t want to remain in hiding and I will go to my workshop and to every demonstration. I can no longer hide my real identity. I, the artist, have turned into a rebel ever since the Libyan embassy incident. My transformation has nothing to do with my distant memories, in Hama, of my father’s murder and the death of the city of my childhood, the rape our women, our imprisonment, our bombardment, and the subsequent conquering and forcible displacement of those who were left alive among us to the countryside as means to cover the crimes.

I swear to God I’m not hateful and I am not seeking revenge, but just retribution. My current sorrow is related to what I witness transpiring around me daily. We demonstrate, they shoot us with bullets, we then join funeral processions, and they rain a hail of lead on us. And as we walk once more in the next funeral procession, they reply with the same, and so on. We stay in our homes, they break our doors arresting us and intimidating our mothers, if I am not killed, someone else will be.

I swear to God I love life, but I love justice more. Please, tell me what to do. I do not know what befell me today? Today I remembered, more than any other day, I remembered my father. My father was an ophthalmologist in Hama. He was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he sided with the people of his ravished city. Believe me, and half the people of Hama testify to that. They gouged one of his eyes while he was a live, then they killed him and horribly mutilated his body. I was little when we buried him and I remember that he had no eyes.

In February 1982, I was a 6 year old first grader. We had just finished the first school semester and had gone on spring break, and what a holiday..  At night, and as we slept, we could hear loud sounds breaking the place’s silence and turning its serenity into a murderous horror.  Obvious was the panic on my aunt who raised me and next to whom I would sleep to compensate her unfulfilled motherhood because she never married, and thus lived with us in our beautiful two-story traditional Arabic home. The rest of my family and my father and my mother slept on the second floor.  Soon, I would hear the voices of my siblings and my father and mother becoming louder coming down the stairs and entering my aunt’s room as the shooting increased. My mother said to my father “Didn’t I tell you to stay on the farm?” For many year, this sentence did not go away from my memories, and the idea that my father left the farm hurt me a great deal and remained with me until I had grown up, forgiven him and  reckoned, It was destiny.

******

The sound of firing fills life. It was the first time I heard its wheeze. It rose further and then began the thunder of explosions. As the hours passed, we got used to these sounds. Time passed and some of the neighbors started flocking to our home. Chaos is everywhere, children crying, women reading the Qur’an, and great concern. This continued for three days, and then we heard a big explosion. Father said that a shell hit the top floor. The house shook as dust filled my lungs like it filled the place and women recited Surat Yassin (the verse of Yassin). Meanwhile, a wave of sharp cries rose and father said we must leave the house as fast as possible, so we went out and people started to gather while shouting. Panic dominated everything, and we went to the house of a neighbor, then to a dark cellar thought by the men a more secure place. There were more of us than the place could accommodate. We stayed there for three days while the firing continued with no stopping. Then an artillery shell, Surat Yassin kept rising all the way to the sky, a second shell and a third, causing the cellar to vibrate madly. While no one of those who took refuge in the basement was hurt, many residents of our neighborhood perished and many were wounded. The doctor who lived in the neighborhood was able to save some. We stayed in the basement until the bombardment and firing calmed down and they got us out saying that we must leave towards safer neighborhoods. Little they knew, for they were wrong as it did not occur to them that a campaign of genocide was taking place. We went out hurriedly through the Hadher market to reach the Ameeriyyah district. We encountered streets through which we had to crawl because snipers were everywhere.

After incredible difficulties, we reached the Ameeriyyah neighborhood having just crawled the last street with my father helping my aging aunt to whose side I was totally stuck. My mother and sisters crossed with the rest of the people, and the three of us stayed. But then my father asked me to leave with everyone and I refused because I wanted to stay with my aunt who raised me. He forced me to catch up with my mother and the others and he stayed with my aunt, and this was the last time I saw my father alive.

In the Ameeriyyah district, we continued to search for a shelter and we found a cellar packed with people, but they could not let us in because our numbers were very large (most of the population of Baroudeye neighborhood). Later, they let my father and my aunt in because they were only two. The refuge in the Ameeriyyah is where my father was arrested and  where my aunt survived to witness and tell of what happened.

****

Our group followed the road towards Northern Ameeriyyah where we found a shelter large enough for all of us. We stayed in that shelter until the arrival of the “Syrian Arab Army” whence the shelter was turned into a prison. They took all the men including young men out of the shelter and promptly executed some of them right at the door and arrested the elderly men. Only women and children remained in the place. Some were crying, while the majority were forced to shout, at gun threat (“with our blood we sacrifice ourselves for you Hafez“, بالروح بالدم نفديك يا حافظ  and  “O God, it is high time for  Hafez to take your place” يا الله حلك حلك يقعد حافظ محلك) in order to worsen our humiliation. Our imprisonment lasted three days while they murdered whomever they wanted. I swear to God we stayed without food, and I still remember the smell of the place. It was unbearable. We constantly heard screaming voices outside the basement, voices of women being raped, and of and torture that would still visibly affect me whenever I recall or try to describe. Some women had few candies ad Chocolate with them, and before they took the men, one of them brought a few loaves of bread and olives that we shared, and which was barely enough for one man.  Women kept reading Qur’an continuously, albeit in hushed voice.  Then the door opened and they ordered us to get out because they said they will now execute us. We got out as we were shouting “we sacrifice our blood for you …..”, but then they told us that we must head in the direction of the Aleppo Road outside the city.

We walked, raising our arms and repeating what we were told to repeat. The landscape was surreal, the place was full of corpses, swollen, of black blood, and as we moved from one street to another, bodies and destruction were everywhere. We proceeded until we reached the Omar Ibn Khattab Mosque (of which you have been hearing lately as the place where demonstrations to demand freedom started). The Mosque was  destroyed completely, with the washing room being the only section left.  In there, there were some army soldiers who terrified us by pointing their rifles and machine guns at us forcing us to lie face down on the ground. Then they  brought us into the washing room and shut the door tightly. Some women begged the army men to kill us and let everyone else out of the city, but they refused. When we entered the washing room we found fungus covered stale bread that we ate. There were also two ornamental statues of white doves. I do not know why they were there, but to me they signaled the beginning of salvation from the bloodbath. The door remained locked for a day and a half, after which one of officers shouted a speech at us in which he said:

“she who awaits her husband or brother or son or father, don’t be waiting for him because he will not come out alive and will never return.”

They released us in the direction of Aleppo, we walked more than ten kilometers racing against time as we cried and barefoot women kept reading the Qur’an, and whenever we heard the shooting, we instantly lied down, until we reached the point where they had allowed the villagers access to help the survivors. What can I say … I swear by God, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

……….. To be continued

I encourage you to visit the online gallery of Khaled Al-Khani and see how Hama echos resonate in  his work 

Note from OTW: I have opted not to use images of the Massacre and instead to use painting from Khaled Al-Khani’s great work to highlight the tenacity of life despite of the tyrants. Life is what we seek, and the memories of death and destruction brought on Syria by the Assad family will be with us for long time, but hopefully only in the sense that will motivate us to prevent such atrocities from hapening again, not only in Syria, but everywhere.

Olives, Ironies, and civil war

On Jan, 5, 2011, Subhi Hadidi, a journalist termed by many in the opposition, including myself, as a moral compass for being fiercely independent in his criticism of the Syrian regime, published an article in the London based Pan Arab newspaper Alquds Alarabi about the cornerstone of the Syrian regime and its evolution during the past 10 month. The article’s introduction describes the intent of Adanan Alsukhbi, the regime’s governor of the Raqqa governorate of Syria to uproot the 15 years old olive trees planted on the private farm of activist lawyer Abduallah Al-Khalil after Assad’s militias destruction of the the lawyer’s house.  One of two trees mentioned in the Quran (fig and olive), and a universal symbol of peace, olive trees are both mystical and semi-sacred.  And uprooting olive trees, next to home demolition, has been a constant presence in Arab memory ever since it has been practiced by Israeli settlers and IDF soldiers be it as collective and individual punishment of Palestinians, pre-confiscation action, or part of the controversial and illegal price-tag policy exacted by extremist settlers against both the Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

It was an epic irony that, in his forth speech since the uprising started, and while the issue of uprooting olive trees in Raqqa, being fresh, and with Bashar Al-Assad being dubbed by many Syrians as having presided over the killing of more Syrians than double the number of Lebanese and Palestinians killed through the two most recent actions of Israel’s forces, and right after berating “certain” Arab countries and the Arab League as betrayers of Arabism (Urooba), chose, with pride, Syria’s rank as the fifth country in producing olives and olive-oil as one of the fundamental strengths of Syria that he hoped will get Syria through the isolation his regime has put the country through. It goes without saying that farmers and refugees from Jabal Alzzaweyah and Idlib region, have also described Assad’s forces scorched earth policy of uprooting and burning ancient olive trees in this region, which is responsible for a majority of Syria’s high quality olives and olive oil. Needless to say, Syrians have been talking loudly about the fact that the number of victims of the Assads’ forty one year reign of terror already exceeds the numbers of Syrians who lost their lives in the multiple wars with the enemy the regime is supposed to protect Syria from. Read the rest of this entry

Narratives, Arguments, and Counter-Arguments (By Zenobia)

Introduction by Off the Wall:

On 7ee6an, we have started an informal project aiming to identify ways to address the “fence sitters” on the Syrian Revolution. Many of us have encountered friends and family members, with whom we have identified in the past and in whose judgement we trusted for years. The split of opinion has been dramatic to some of us. We were raised the same, have always thought the same way (inasmuch as possible), and have always held the regime and its behavior, at least on domestic issues low regards. All of the sudden we see such people willing to take, full doze or in parts, the regime’s propaganda,  about a cosmic conspiracy,  and accepting a narrative of the events unfolding around them that is both detached from reality, and demeaning to their brothers and sisters who are being slaughtered by the regime. What makes it more dramatic to some of us is the fact that many of those friends and relatives are well educated, exposed to rational thinking, and capable of making rightful ethical choices in their daily lives. In the following, ZENOBIA attempts to provide some answers and to shed some light on possible means of addressing this crucial issue, which has threatened friendships and even familial relationships.

Try logic.... No Thanks

Cartoon by Ali Ferzat. Looks very appropriate for our discussion

Narratives, Arguments, and Counter-Arguments

By Zenobia

I KNOW what the argument is. I have heard the argument 10 zillion times now, here, and all over Facebook – on the lips of everybody’s fence sitting relative and half of the Syrian population! The reason that American leftist outlets like Counterpunch are publishing this as well – is because THEY TOO are predisposed to frame things through a suspicious anti-imperialist anti-”american hegemony” narrative and premise, so naturally they are going to be open to presenting the conspiracy argument or some more rational version of it that is not all hogwash certainly, but neglects the contradicting factors.

So, we have a problem. The problem is what is the counter argument!!!!!! Read the rest of this entry

Aboud on AL Observers

Ever since the observers arrived, defections have been increasing a great deal. Soldiers are more willing to defect when they know that the army can’t chase them into Baba Amr and other areas.

For that reason alone, I say let’s keep the observer team in Syria for as long as possible. If I may make a bold prediction, but it looks like the regime fell into a trap, and it’s been outflanked. Baba Amr has never been quieter. To someone in Homs, it makes a big difference if a tank has been moved a kilometer away, even though in strict military terms it might appear insignificant.

As long as the observers are in Syria, the regime has no hope whatsoever of subduing the main hotspots. A de facto safe haven is therefore in the making, where defectors can seek shelter, safe from the regime’s retribution. Apparently, someone at the AL has thought things through more thoroughly than junior’s conspiracy obsessed advisors have.

Al Arabi wants desperately to show that the observer team is producing results. On the surface, his talk of the army completely withdrawing from cities might have seemed strange. But when you think about it, that’s all the encouragement a defector-to-be-needs; when he knows that there are areas where his pursuers cannot go to chase him.

Now all they need to do is be able to make their way to those areas.

And once the regime is forced to allow independent media into the country, they can do a far better job than thousands of observers can. To the menhebaks, the presence of an independent media is worse than a full NATO division on the border.

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