Monthly Archives: February 2012

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Dear 7ee6anis

I will be on travel for the next two weeks. I will probably post one more post while on travel. Sorry for the lack of links. I am about to head to the Airport.

The farcical referendum on the constitution is finished. As of today, Syria is the same as it was before. Nothing has changed.

The regime continues its rampage, with Aelppo’s country’s side being the latest arena where Assad’s forces continue to demonstrate unparalleled brutality. FSA claimed that they have downed three planes. Lawlessness is increasing in the City of Aleppo with kidnapping for ransom increasing and becoming a profitable business. (more on this later).  SNC and/or any politicians are failing miserably in condemning this type of behavior, which is making it even harder to keep the silent people silent. They are becoming vocal in the interest of law and order. This must be addressed not only by the FSA but also by the politicians, SNC, and whatever groups. Right now, and as I write these, I am talking to a friend on the inside, who is extremely pro-revolution and who is berating the political leadership for their miserable press failure.

At the same time, yesterday’s discovery of a massacre of tens of men from Homs and the kidnapping of tens of women indicates that the regime is hell bent on a sinister plan. Qatar and KSA are upping the rhetoric regarding the  a head with arming the revolution, but it seems that what the mean is the militarization of the people not the FSA only, which is a terrible terrible idea.

Human right council, at request from Qatar, and in coordination with the EU will have an emergency meeting today. It may end with referral to the security council and then to the ICC.

Conversations

I have been having hard time writing. The scale of massacre, the increasingly accelerating brutality of the regime, and the confusion and missteps on the side of “organized” opposition has made it very hard to follow without being angry and confused, . 

The outpouring of sentiments after the tragic death of Anthony Shadid tells as much about our own need for balanced and intelligent reporting on Syria as it tells about the extraordinary character of the man whose loss we bemoan.  

In the meantime, many good articles have come out recently. Jadaliyya continues to emerge as a powerhouse of thoughtful in-depth commentaries and articles on Syria. The international community continues to work very hard into convincing itself that it should not interfere in Syria. And Syrians continue to be murdered by a brutal regime. Questions about the future of Syria and the region in case the brutal regime succeeded in silencing the revolution are starting to circulate, as the regime increasingly deploys its sectarian strategy in search for survival even if it has to rule over heaps of dead Syrian children, women, and men.   

The regime’s constitution “tailored” for Bashar al-Assad is another part of the play. The retention of articles pertinent to the religion of the state and president are not meant to assuage the protesters, who are hell-bent of removing the mafia gang and its boy-king don. However, one can hardly pas it without observing the short-lived righteous indignation among regime supporters as reflected in some of the emails received by Joshua Landis [here], especially those that went on incredible mental and moral acrobatic hoops in support of the “reform accomplishments” of Bashar Al-Assad

Another friends responds:[From Syria Comment]

I am surprised you are not acknowledging and celebrating these two accomplishments, and are instead nitpicking on the mechanism of how a president is nominated…. Every country has specific rules. Look at the electoral college in the US…..”

The constitution fiasco is both a distraction and a new link in the chain of cynical insults to Syrians the Assad mafia has been subjecting the country to over 40 years. I have said a while back that Bashar will be sure to empty any new constitution of real reform and to ensure that it is customized for him. For months, many regime friendly comentators went into discussing how “a strong” prime minister will emerge as a balance to the “presidency”. Even now, a cynical comment on SC boasts of the emergence of 6 political parties in Syria while ignoring that the fraud constitution makes these parties ineffective, useless, and mere dressing for continuing totalitarian state with unquestionable authority to the presidents, who presumably will be a long line of Assads.  On facebook, and in other platforms, the seculars in the opposition, with few exception, went busy, also for a short time, arguing the contentious point of selecting the president-nominee while ignoring the most important parts of any constitution, “separation of powers”, which is completely absent. The president is the source of all powers. He can not be held accountable in front of the Parliament. The executive branch is a single person, who at the same time is the highest judicial authority. The parliament is a mere figurehead albeit with little or no chance of any real challenge to the Baath/Assad domination (Note/Q: anyone knows if the Baath party or any of its dog-tails in the national progressive front have submitted applications for recognition yet?).  I am curious about some of those who preached Bashar Al-Assad the reformist and  promised a strong prime minister years ago, which, given their absent if not obfuscating position,   seems to indicate that their stance then, is as it is now aimed at the retention of the tyrant Assad at all costs. Their failure to voice any meaningful response to the regime’s middle finger strategy only shows them as nothing more than cult members in the Assad cult.

Then comes another odd question, summarized again on Syria Comment [here] about the leadership of next Syria and whether such will emerge from FSA or SNC.  The reason I find this question as being odd is that it came at the heels of the post by Idaf [here], who argued that the revolution is neither SNC nor FSA and that it is organic and growing. Idaf’s points make such question of leadership mute at best, and renders SNC and other visible group as mere transient external connections and not the real thing. Idaf’s post is receiving wide attention, especially among activists in exile but who are well connected to secular activists on the ground in the inside. It has been translated to Arabic, and made it through several FB pages. They found in it a validation of their role in the revolution and of their justifiable concerns about what seems to be a strong arm tactics by some battalions of the FSA and a justification of their earlier fears, abandoned only for a short time, of the militarization of the revolution.

This is a critical issue. In the aftermath of the regime’s brutal massacres in Homs, Hama, Idlib and its apparent success in punishing hot-spots of civil protest, especially those where FSA had established presence, many now question whether FSA is really successful in protecting civilians. A legitimate question that is being amplified by the emergence of “power struggle” for claiming leadership of the military wing of the revolution, and by the publicity of the yet to be proven claims that “Al Qaida in Iraq” has already infiltrated some of the FSA battalions and initiated some actions on the ground in Syria. The increasingly sectarian face of the regime’s action in Homs is also a source of fear among activists. However,  an activist, with strong connections to the ground told me when we were discussing how the FSA has not been able to prevent the onslaught:

Everyday there are operations that are inflicting heavy losses on the regime’s paramilitary. These operations are not publicized by the regime for obvious reason and not publicized by the FSA so that people like you (he meant me OTW in real personality) don’t go shouting that FSA is conducting “offensive” operations, which has been declared a taboo by activists who want to guard the non-violent element of the revolution. 

The chains of bifurcations when discussing the Syrian revolution make focusing very hard, especially when with respect to sectarian incidents. An activist hailing from a minority sect sat me down for a long conversation about this issue. The activist told me

 “Look at all the video clips that supposedly are being sold by members of the Shabeeha and regime’s forces in which obvious severe abuses were committed by men with very clear coastal mountain accent. Only a naïve person would think that such tapes can be sold without the person being easily identified and punished as happened to the brave engineer who exposed the post-speech rally for what it was. It is a regime’s strategy to show and emphasize that the abusers are all from one sect.  And the regime is solely responsible for the initial leaking of these clips. It aims to accelerate and intensify instinctive sectarian responses from the widest possible segment of the opposition, preferably at the street level and on social media and in a response to the response, heighten the fear among the minorities and intensify their belief that, having seen the obscene sectarian hatred against them, they will be massacred en-mass upon the fall of the regime. The regime will argue that that the abuse intentionally publicized incidents are only isolated incidents and that there is a sectarian undertone to everything the revolution does. An added bonus is the manipulation of the “guilt-by association” fears that the regime wants to encourage among conscientious members of the  minorities relying on the fact that while they represent the wide majority of these groups, fear of mass retribution will trump disgust at these actions especially when some in the opposition start shouting “silence equals complicity” and call on various groups to declare their distance from the regime loudly even at risk of severe punishment from the regime .

The activist also told me of yet one more tactic used by the regime to increase sectarian tension and accelerate sectarian war. This tactic has been used on many activists, especially those with religious leaning, and it goes as follows. During interrogation, the worst torture, including verbal torture is intentionally applied by soldiers who belong to minorities. Local dialect is heavily overemphasized. But at some point through the detention, the activist is made to have a calm session with a “sunni” high ranking officer, who would then complain to the activists that “as sunni his own hands are tied” and that alawite are in full control of the situation and there is nothing that can be done now about them short of an all out sectarian civil war, which he (the officer) tries to prevent, but thinks is coming because of these “sect scums” who are even tying the hands of the “good” president, who is  more “sunni” than anything else.

I find it nearly impossible for an intelligence officer to say such things if not given a green light based on a planned manipulative strategy to do so. Another activist who has worked on the ground until a couple of months ago confirmed elements of both Idaf and hazrid posts and affirmed the role of women activists in the revolution, particularly in providing relief and support to the families of the victims of the regime be them martyrs or hostages-detainees. The activist, also hailing from a minority group, told me that in many a neighborhood, especially those with conservative leaning populations,  only women can provide effective support and comfort to widows and their families.  Grass-root support networks are flourishing in some areas, through which activists from all ideological shades work hand in hand to deliver relief and comfort. However, and as hazrid mentioned, the MBs, who have little or no real connection to these largely sufi areas, have been using these mostly secular networks  to gain entrance, then, and through manipulative language attempt to gain party loyalty to enhance their ground presence in anticipation of post-revolution politics. In other word, they are opportunistically gaining footing. This is also consistent with what I heard from members of the SNC who complained about the insistence of the MBs to maintain control of the SNC led relief operations and their tactics of distributing the relief in their own name whilst it should be distributed in the name of the diverse opposition.

On the Eve of the UN vote, I met an old friend of my parents who is visiting is son, now a dear friend of mine. He knew me when I was a child, but was later transferred with his family to another town before being forced into an early retirement after having been deemed not loyal enough to Hafez and his Brother.  I came in to greet him, he held my hand with a strong confident handshake and with his left, he patted the seat next to him signaling for me to sit down.  I did, and we started talking.

The UN vote had just been announced and like most of us in this “revolutionary hang out”, he was elated with the results.  But I sensed that his response was a bit more complex than the moral validation most of us felt then. And it was. His first assessment was that Russia and China have literally “screwed up” their prestige. “Two super powers, who usually enjoy the support of almost every single developing country in the UN could only muster the votes of only 12 countries, most of which are either satellite states, despotic regimes, or heading backward in that direction”. He reiterated: from day one of the Security  Council fiasco, it was known that the Chinese are taking a stand half principled and half motivated by their interest not in the Syrian regime, but mostly in Iran.  The Russians , on the other hand were dealing and wheeling. It was like they were in the bazaar, where Syria was only their “causes belli” for dumping off many other bargain items and extracting every single possible concession from many countries whose interest in the primary matter was not that high to bargain on such strategic issues only to get a decision that they themselves were not ready to take.  China would have abstained had it not been for Russia’s veto. But now, they UN GA vote has dealt their prestige a great blow, morally and politically.  We agreed that the veto was anything but a victory for Russian Diplomacy, to the contrary, it was an abysmal failure and a signal that the Soviet empire is finally over.

We then talked about middle class and about how both  Assads decimated the middle class and how Bashar’s economic reforms were designed only to enrich the Mafia gang leaving the middle class with no prospect for survival and the poor with no prospect for making it upward through education, which according to him, was what took him and his wife as well as my parents from being on the edge of rural poverty to the ranks of reasonably secure middle class” back in the fifties of the past century.  He pointed that even Lenin, cognizant of economic and intellectual weight of the middle class, had insisted before Russian revolution turned totalitarian on including the small bourgeois in the revolution’s ranks as opposed to his adversaries who wanted to cleanse the nascent state of what they thought as being a class with no loyalty.

He said, referring to the Assads: they were mafia, they are mafia, and they will remain so. They can not and will not reform themselves, let alone the layers of corruption through which they bought or forced loyalty. It has been 40 years since a real officer has made it above Brigadier General, or a single real thinker or leader made it into the upper echelon of the bureaucracy machine. Ignorance and mediocrity are their main friends, whether it is on their side or on the side of their opponents, and the knowledge and competence are their enemies.

His conclusion was interesting: all we need is to achieve a 51% ratio of enlightened citizenry. It doesn’t matter whether they are religious or not, it only matters that they are logical and secular. In Iran, we know that they are not there yet, as indicated by the inability to sustain the green revolution , In Syria, we have no real clue yet whether we have that since the regime has been successful first in forcing the armed option and seems to be heading towards success in forcing a sectarian civil war.  I don’t think we have 51% yet, but we’ll never know until the regime falls, which is only a matter of time and blood.

 A friend, who just arrived from Aleppo describes a ghost town. Business is almost non existent. Shabeeha have full control of fuel supplies once they arrive at the pump. While parked in the 2 hours long line, it is common for a shabbeeh to knock on the window asking if you want gasoline, which then is sold at incredibly high price. Price of food has more than doubled and even upper middle class families who now survive on their saving have to think whether to have fried eggs for lunch. The city, along with Damascus are increasingly restless, despite of the regime’s attempt to “reward” Aleppo for the apparent loyalty with the rewards ending squarely in the pockets of the greedy shabeeha.

ADDENDUM

After i finished the post, and went on to view twitter, i was in for a surprise, a blog called The Sweet Maker’s Wife, written by Evelyn Aissa a young Syrian Woman who holds a Masters in International Law. The current post on the blog is titled Deconstructing the Narrative on The Syrian Revolution (Jan 26, 2012). It is a more than worth reading for the excellent brief description of the various components of the opposition, if not for the plenty of other well presented information.

Topics from the Syrian Revolution. By hazrid

I’d like to start this 3178-word Mega-comment by refuting everything said by True about sentiments towards Palestinians in Damascus, with no offense to True intended; I’m not in the messenger-shooting business.

Jibril (Pro-Assad General Command) depicted in a wanted poster on Facebook

I have never, ever heard a single anti-Palestinian slogan at any of the protests I have attended, nor have I heard any anti-Palestinian slogans in any of the videos on the web,  and I extend this statement to  clearly sectarian slogans in the same vein. To some extent, relations with the Palestinian community have been affected by the revolution, with the pro-regime groups such as the General Command (القيادة العامة : أحمد جبريل) and Al-Sa’aeqa (الصاعقة) being pitted against everybody else. Yes, the regime finally succeeded in unifying the Palestinians. After the attacks on the Palestinian protest by GC in Yarmouk camp, which happened soon after the attempts to enter the Golan, I have heard Palestinians aligned with Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and various others swear up and down that they will do a multitude of unspeakable things to Ahmed Jibreel, none of which I will detail here. The Palestinians are generally with the revolution, and the revolution (at least that is the sentiment here, in the Damascus area) is with the Palestinians.

The Veto Power

I’m Going to do something controversial here and explain one view regarding  ‘veto’ concept within the UNSC. Please don’t be too harsh on me.

A long, long time ago, the world was a bloody place. Much more bloodier than it is today. We all recall tales of the great empires of old, and the greater empires of not-so-old. All these great empires had penchant for going at each other. The Persians and the Romans, the English and the French, the Ottomans and the Safavids, and countless others.

Often, we would see wars break out at the slightest provocation. Granted, killing a Serbian prince in itself isn’t going to cause a war to end all wars, but sometimes, many times, it can be a sufficient fuse. What is different in our modern world is the lack of great wars. We haven’t seen super-powers duke it out, not since the Second World War. This is, I think because of two reasons:

  1. We talk. Imagine the Cuban Missile Crisis without communications between the US and the USSR, or without a forum like the UN.
  2. Superpowers can bugger with each other without going to war

The second point is basically Veto rights. The legal structure of the UN, and the rules and restrictions placed on war-making within the structure mean that nation-states need to go through various acrobatic acts before they can proactively go to war.

Imagine if Syria was a major strategic asset for Russia, one that the Russians would be willing to go to war over. Imagine Russia not having veto power in such a situation.

To understand veto rights, one must think outside the ‘favoritism’ mentality. The nations that were given these rights at the formation of the UN have been the largest military powers since the late 1940s. A veto is a diplomatic tool that allows one of these nations to defend its interests, rightly or wrongly so, in a way that does not involve military action. This is one of the main reasons the world hasn’t seen two superpowers colliding in a military conflict. The (relatively) little things they used to go to war over are now vetoed into lower intensity.

With that said, Veto powers never were a good idea, and I disagree with the concept.

On the subject of the Russian, and to a lesser extent Chinese position… It is one that brings up many conspiracy theories. One thing that has been clear is that the Russians are intelligent about their foreign policy, and have a tendency to support their allies (even the wacky genocidal ones) to the hilt. Once things go past the hilt though, and all that support is gone. Two examples come to mind here: the aforementioned Cuban Missile Crisis, which ended with an under the table deal between the USSR and the USA that left Cuba out in the cold and Castro swearing with the ferocious rage of someone who just learnt about the realities of Superpower diplomacy, and the Serbian example everybody is talking about.

It isn’t clear though what the Russians see in Syria. True, there is a small naval base in Tartous, but it isn’t one that can be considered of any use in any conflicts it might be needed in other than as a weak retardant, at least for the next few years. Expanded, it might play a role in defending Russia’s assets and allies throughout the wider region, including The Mediterranean region, the Black Sea, the Gulf and the east coast of Africa, but that will take many years to happen.

There is also the Russian fear of similar ‘intervention’ happening on its grounds or much closer to home, but the Libya situation should show them that such action will happen regardless of what the Russians want when the Europeans and Americans put their minds to it, and the Russians do realize that the US is very hesitant in engaging directly in the Russian sphere of influence, as was clear in Georgia, when the Russians Decimated a relatively important NATO ally without any real western resistance.

What seems to me to be the dominant factor in Russian thinking now is the domino effect. The revolution is part of a long line of dominoes around the world, which include demonstrations in the west such as the Spain demonstrations last year, and the greater Occupy movement, as well as the other Arab revolutions. It is conceivable that these revolutions will spread to more regions considered pro-Russian. Prime locations, other than Iran would be the Caucus and Balkans regions, the Asian Soviet Republics such as Kazakhstan, and to Russia itself. It is also clear that once, and if Revolts spread to these regions, some if not most will be supported directly by a large body of Arab revolutionaries, and directly and indirectly by Powers That Care (PTCs). Historically, this has happened as is evident in the Arab Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, Arab support in the various Yugoslav conflicts, and the Arabs in Chechnya. Really, we’re more international than the Americans in our conflicts.

Defection and the FSA 

What we must understand is that the defectors are, at the same level, are reacting in a manner consistent with what we all saw in Egypt most recently, and in places such as Romania and to a lesser extent Tunisia previously. The only difference is that while the decision to defect was taken by the highest echelons of military command in the aforementioned cases, here in Syria we have a complacent and criminal high command that is in the end, part of the cult-leadership. This in turn caused people much lower in the chain of command to take personal initiatives based on their moral ideals. Initially, the FSA focused on defending protests. The reason that large-scale protests such as the ones we see in Homs before the invasion, and the Suburbs of Damascus is because off camera, there are FSA soldiers on the rooftops defending the protesters from any Assadist attack. Later on, the FSA grew in confidence, to a point where it started engaging the military in offensive action. Sometimes, these attacks have had an adverse effect on the FSA in the short-term or long-term, such as the recent offensive on the eastern Ghouta, which has unearthed a lot of inefficiencies in the FSA, and a lot of things that need sorting out.

In short, these guys have acted as a military force with some sense of professionalism. They have acted as a sponge for any civilians who might feel the need to bear arms, which is an important function as it forces these civilians who will inevitably appear in any such situation to act within a framework that isn’t a local-militia framework. They have isolated themselves from political action on all levels, which is in all ways a good sign. They have refrained from engaging in fights over petty disputes, regardless of the tensions that do exist on the ground between commanders, and at the higher levels, especially with Colonel Riad Al-Ass’ad or however it must be spelt. They have not isolated themselves from the populace in most instances, which is also a good sign.

There have been difficulties. The inability to use heavy weapons, and lack of effective counters to these weapons (which for some reason, Khalid Tlass, in his third incarnation isn’t so vocally lobbying for). The near impossibility of getting weapons in from across the borders, especially with the Jordanian gov’t trying to put a stranglehold on all weapons going through its borders, Hezbullah’s effective cornering of the arms market in Lebanon early in the revolution, and the shoring up of the Iraqi border by the Malki Government. I’d also like to call out the Muslim Brotherhood, who have been going on a membership drive, forcing activists and FSA members to swear allegiance to the MB before receiving a penny of support from the Brotherhood. Yeah, this is gonna be interesting in the long-term.

My point is, and this is mainly addressed to Zenoubia, your plan won’t work, under current circumstances. The Regime hasn’t shied away from assassinating any leaders who might be a threat to it, in fact, they’ve been doing it from the start, starting with Alawite military leaders back when Hafez took over, up to people who look like they might be leading the chants on the ground, such as happened in Midan during Rammadan. This has been one of their cornerstone policies, to kill anybody who might have any semblance of leadership skills or charisma. Tell me, do you know any ‘leaders’ of the Alawite sect whose sur-name isn’t Assad? They existed before 1982. Do you know any labor or union leaders who are in any way prominent? Parliamentarians? Heck, even government officials who might be slightly non-Baathist. I could think of Dardari who was always critical of the government, at least economically. Look where he is now. In Syria, prominence is a death sentence. Become too prominent, and you have sentenced your whole family, nay, your whole community to disfavor, if not annihilation. But then, you are asking of Syrians something that has been refused by all other Peoples who have been put under similar situations. Look at Egypt, Hosni only wanted to stay until the September elections in the end, and the protesters refused. Give these people time to pack their bags, and they will use that time to rob the country of everything that isn’t nailed down, then go for the stuff with the weakest nails. Believe me when I say this, in Zabadani, the Assadist forces have looted villas even of their door frames. Yes, door frames. This is how kleptomaniacal the regime is. In Egypt, the situation was a lot easier and simple than it is here. It was clear that Hosni was not going to be allowed to stay by the military, and there wasn’t as much violence, nor as much blood. Please note, a lot of people have much at stake here. It is clear that if the regime is given any breathing space, in any form, it will go on a cleansing campaign against all FSA members, all the people in the LCCs, anybody who as much as raised a finger to help a wounded protester.

And then you have the whole post-election. What then? We went the whole nine yards, proven our pre-proven thesis true, and the regime has not handed over power because it is clear, that whatever happens, the name of the game is Don’t Hand Over Power To The Masses. Is the international community going to come and save our souls, like it didn’t in Iran, and like it resoundingly didn’t in Burma? Are we going to protest peacefully, maybe do a sit-in like the one that happened in Clock Tower Square, or Tiananmen? Or are we going to bear arms against a regime military that will be much, much more prepared? What comes after the elections?

Please note, that the FSA has the most legitimacy out of any opposition group in the eyes of the people on the ground. This is because they are the epitome of counter-Assadist-culture… Let me explain:

This will sound sexist, I apologize. I’ve previously mentioned that the regime isn’t the window dressing called the cabinet, headed by the prime-minister. It’s the extended family and cronies who control the Mukhabarat and to a lesser extent the army. To understand the administrative/bureaucratic environment this group has nurtured, grown, and grown from, one has to run the gauntlet only Syrian males with brothers, and a few unfortunate women do. It is called dealing with the army.

For most men, their first encounter with the army is when they go to create their army book. One does not truly know how debilitating, stupid, backwards, solidified, idiotic, neurotic, resentful, corrupt, nepotic, authoritarian, dictatorial, stupid, ignorant, stupid, bureaucratic, banal, inefficient, careless, dirty, uncreative, kleptomaniac, sectarian and stupid the regime can be until you have created your army book. If you’ve tried to pay the Badal, it is an even better learning experience.

Imagine a system where each person you have to deal with declares their price before servicing you, or even has their price written down on a chart to simplify the process, and EVERYBODY has a price you must pay. Imagine a system where you can be trapped in a requirement-circle that has you going from desk, to desk, to desk with each person referring you to someone else for reasons you can’t ask, lest you know about the arcane secrets of the military’s conscription offices. Imagine mistakes made by office clerks that could ruin your life, put you in jail, or have you paying huge fines, and these mistakes happen all the time! Imagine going through a process with no known end. Imagine getting to that end, only to find out that there is some minor detail that is wrong, and you have to do everything all over again. Imagine trying to tell an officer with the brain of a goose, the skull of a moose and the psyche of a rat that he might have made a tiny mistake in processing your documents, only for him to slap you and tell you he’ll shoot you the next time he sees you in his office. Imagine being told you haven’t processed your documents, or that yes, they know they processed your documents and that everything is good in them, but they lost them because some rat of fate had to choose your file in the archives to make its nest, and thusly, the rat has pressed you into conscription even though you’ve done ta’ajeel dirasi. Yes this has happened.

Now imagine the people at the head of such an apparatus. Imagine how they think, how they managed to create such a monstrosity, how they may have fought to keep the cleansing acids of reforms away from their growing hell-beast, how they grew it and in turn grew from it. These are the people we are dealing with. And these are the people who the FSA have turned away from. They have taken everything these devils have built, and refused to indulge or be complicit in it. They are the embodiment of the opposite of dealing with the army. They are the only white knights most anti-regime young Syrian men see in a sea of uncertain and gloomy darkness, where the world stood silent with its trillions of dollars of arms, they came with their AKs and RPGs to defend them from the military behemoth of despair. I hope you now understand why people see the FSA as central to this revolution, regardless of its many flaws.

SWOT Analysis Proposal

It looks like everybody left the SWOT analysis post, so I’m going to post my two cents here: After some thinking, a crude suggestion has formulated itself. First of all, we might be better off doing multiple SWOTs, one for each player. Defining each player will be the difficult part, as in multiple cases it isn’t clear where lines should be drawn for each group, among other things. Each SWOT analysis should be curated by one person who is tasked with the management and verification of the information going into their SWOT, as well as understanding the actual process itself. The comment section of a blog post isn’t really the best place for such discussions, as it lacks many tools to make things easier. I would suggest something like Crabgrass (made by the Riseup collective) or Asana, as well as other software, maybe a CMS or a wiki? I’m sure that specialized software for this stuff exists.

Participation in most SWOTs should be open, and the main person responsible for managing  each one is the curator of that SWOT.

SNC site is up, and they seem to have a project in the works called ‘One Thousand Years for Syria’. The idea is for volunteers to sign up one year of work for Syria in their respective fields of expertise after the revolution is finished, and it is an applause-worthy program. This is the sort of stuff the SNC, in my opinion, should be focusing on. Not trying to cuddle up to the west, and isolate Iran, Russia, Hezbullah and Hamas. Optimally, the Swot analysis should be hosted by the SNC, and so far the only good thing I’ve seen coming out of its activities alone is a severe mistrust and dislike now ingrained into every Syrian’s mind towards all politicians, post revolution.

Since I’ve gone into SNC-Bashing mode again (It’s addictive), I’d like to point them towards the Libya Rebuilding Taskforce, which was a seventy strong team of Libyan experts in various fields based in Dubai that was tasked with formulating what the LTC should do after capturing all of Libya. Rebuilding, infrastructure, policing, electricity and water supplies, stuff like that. Mr. Bourhan: I know the deep deep corridors of politicking are a trap for any politician with good intentions, but you are not a politician, you are an opposition figurehead for all of Syria. More of this stuff will show us that the post-Bashar political scene will be less like Lebanon, which the SNC is emulating within itself right now and more like the UK, where politics is (mostly) about policy, nation development is debated by people who care and decisions (mostly) are made based on facts (mostly), studies, research, and inquiries not by bigoted politicians on testosterone fueled vendettas and criminal enterprises. And you know what, initiatives like that, if crowdsourced, can really make Syrians feel like tomorrow’s Syria will be a different place, as if their intellect, creativity, knowledge and patriotic feelings will be felt by those on top, having a positive effect on the decision-making process, and the country as a whole. Market that, not foreign intervention.

Note from OTW: This post first appeared as a comment from hazrid on 7ee6an (here). It elicited a response from  Zenobia (here) and further narrative elaboration on the corruption in the regime’s army from  Sheila (here)  as well as from Zenobia (here), and on the self imposed exile of MGB (here)

Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 2

Introduction to Part 2.

We continue with the memories of renowned Syrian painter from Hama, Khaled Al-Khani. In this segment, Khaled mixes his memories of events he witnessed, as a six-year-old child, with those he heard during the great escape from the massacre of 1982 and in subsequent years.

Khaled tells horrific tales of images, feelings, sounds, smells that have remained with him and with most survivors of the Hama massacre until today. But above all, these are also stories of both those who perished in the bombardments and mass executions as well of those who survived to share the pain and the long-lasting scars that can only be left by excessive brutality and deliberate savagery.  The material is not for the weak heart or sensitive reader.

Today, Thursday, 2 February, 2012, and at 9:00 PM Damascus time, Orient TV is airing a 30 minute film by Journalist Emma Sulieman “Why do I paint Um-Ibrahim” “لماذا ارسم أم ابراهيم”. The promo for the film can be viewed here. Orient TV has a direct online broadcast as well.(http://orient-tv.net/orient_live.php)

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

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

Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 2.

After our great escape from the massacre of Hama; a human history event resembling no other massacre but itself, and after fleeing from the images, the sounds, the smell of blood, the taste of stale bread, and the voices of women being raped and men and children grappling with death having been shot, and  after the destruction of our city as if an earthquake had befallen it, we reached the point of no return, and we headed to the countryside,  barefoot and half naked. They displaced us from our homes, killed whomever they wanted killed, and launched us on a journey even more painful than what has preceded it.

In the village, we were received with the utmost hospitality and  honor, which goes to show the fact that all of the Syrian people knew of the corrupt regime’s lies. We remained as refugees in that village, where we finished the second school semester.  My father was martyred. His properties were either stolen or destroyed. We stayed there until the start of the following school year when we returned to Hama and lived with one of my maternal aunts through an act of nurturing and pain sharing. Later, one of our relatives managed to find my lost paternal aunt, about whom we had no information whatsoever, in the countryside. I remember that I did not expect to ever see her like that. She was a queen, but all had changed. I hugged her for hours, while my siblings and our mother (all of us) sobbed hysterically. My aunt later told of the arrest of my father in the shelter we passed by and that she never saw him alive after that but had learned of his death from some people. We sobbed and sobbed. Sobbing first, before even greeting each others, became the norm in Hama when people met face to face as they exchanged visits. For years, the house we stayed at was a home for many displaced because of the complete destruction of several neighborhoods such as Al-Baroudyyeh, Al-Kilanyyia, Al-Zanbaqa and Shimali, (الباروديه، الكيلانية، الزنبقة، شمالي ) and many more. There was barely a house in Hama which did not have martyrs and detainees, and this at the least.

We went back to our schools after tremendous suffering, humiliation, oppression, and hunger. I swear to you that in my grade (second grade), there were only two kids who were not orphaned. So, just imagine how much we suffered in order to overcome our internal crisis, and we still have not done that to date.

Then the regime (and it does not even deserve being called a regime), inflicted new torments. It never stopped arresting people. Many of the generation slightly older than mine were arrested and many remain disappeared until now. Their names are well-known to the people of Hama.  To further torment the people of Hama, and to prove that we were humiliated, broken, and stepped all over, the ruling gang started releasing some of the prisoners who were not liquidated in Tadmor only on their self-proclaimed national holidays that had no connection whatsoever to their actual deeds; days like the “corrective movement” and the “birth of the party” and so on.

Over the years, the people of Hama became used to that. On each of these occasions, they flocked to the southern entrance of the city (i.e., Homs highway، طريق حمص) and the scene would go as follows:

Women, children and men, or for that matter, all of the people of the city , stop buses and cars coming from Homs’s direction  and search  while shouting, each, the name of their own disappeared with nonstop crying. The scene lasts throughout the day in a chaotic and crushed state with the search for the disappeared continuing in mind-boggling and logic defying ways. Sometimes the people may find their disappeared; may be three or four only, and the entire city would return demoralized with their voices too subdued to even express their inner pain. Those who find their prisoners are not more fortunate than those who do not, for most of the surviving prisoners are very weak and powerless, and I swear that they brake the heart more than those who perished.

We know a man who was released from prison and we went to greet him. Praise to God, he was in a good mental state because they had taken him out of Tadmor prison into Sydnaya prison for recuperation six months before his release. I swear that his skeleton was clearly visible and his color was inhumanly white because he had not seen the sun for years. He told me everything about their imprisonment in Tadmor, and one of strangest stories was about a prisoner in his cell who started displaying symptoms of ruptured appendix and suffered great pain for days. They knew that  they could not ask for help from the warden who used to monitor them from a hole in the ceiling because if they asked for help and informed the warden of their friend’s pain, the jailers’ solution would have been to liquidate him with the utmost expediency. The prisoners therefore decided to operate on their friend in the dormitory in complete silence. Imagine that! the prisoner’s abdomen was cut open using a piece of tin while some prisoners held him to prevent him from moving and others closed his mouth with a piece of cloth. The surgery was carried out by a doctor who made the surgical needle from the same tin, and I am not sure what kind of threads he used to sew the wound. The operation was performed without making a single sound. This was a reality of fear and repression and a clarity of  fate inside the prisons of the corrupt regime.

*****

I will tell some harrowing images that can only reflect the logic of the barbarians who violated my city in 1982.

While inside the washing room in Omar Ibn-Alkhattab mosque, the door opened and five adolescent girls were let in, and what a scene….. The lower halves of their clothes were full of blood, and while we the children did not pay attention to this sign, which was beyond our comprehension, some of the women, seeing this, fell down in seizures. We did not understand the rising crescendo of Surat-Yassin (سورة يسين), the Takbeer (تكبير), and the increasingly louder crying, but we joined everyone crying in a way I have never encountered again in my life because nothing like this could have happened any where else, and god willing, never will such happen anywhere else again.

The adolescent girls were taken to a small back part of the washing room after the scene of their blood filled our hearts. The older women tried to help the bleeding that was staining the place (how indecent are you as you demonstrated and confirmed your savagery, O’ barbarians). Then, and in a scene that causes the soul a great disturbance and horribly breaches serenity with  pain shared until today, some women began to take off their underwear and hand them to the girls. Us children were shell-shocked, as we could not understand what was happening in front of our eyes, why were women taking off their underwear to cover our violated virtues? The women, who joined forces even managed to stop the horrible bleeding. At first, some women asked for assistance from the soldiers, but the soldiers refused, laughed, and mocked us with excessive vulgarity as if they were not born to mothers but sprang out of cold stones and as if they have never known God, but only bullying coercion. The women tried to embrace the wounded girls to ease their panic, and only after long hours, our minds achieved the contentment of the restless and tired soul, mainly as one form of survival instinct. We, the children, began to playfully approach the wounded girls to alleviate their pain. I  still remember their faces, they looked horrified as if they came out of a barn full of rabid wolves

The girls told the women what happened to them. They refused to respond to the wolves’ demand, and the wolves hit them with brutality far beneath human imagination. Beating them, verbally assaulting and stripping them by tearing their clothes, they violated the young girls’ hymens with most inhuman barbaric means.  Sex was not their only motive, they were sick with infinite sadism that violated the girls’ souls before their bodies, these were the monstrous beasts who yoked our necks.

****

In the same place, one woman told about her elderly handicapped grandmother, who had sent them off in hope that they will survive this dark blood bath and stayed behind with her wheel-less walker.

They were in the Al’aseeda (العصيدة) neighborhood right after the army had bombed it with artillery and had entered it as killers immediately executing many men and horribly mutilating their bodies in the worst possible means. Never hesitant to murder even children, the soldiers arrested those left alive. I swear, I know a man who was a child then, and I saw and spoke with him s few weeks ago, and he told me of the state of the bodies of his maternal uncles, and that when they fled, they had to step over the bodies of their loved ones to get out. What a way to say good-by, and what a horrible death. He has been carrying his pain with him to the day, and he told me “I’m afraid of their might, and I can’t resist my fear. Forever they raped my peace of mind”. He naively asked me, “we will be victorious over them, won’t we?” I laughed, me who hasn’t laughed in months and confirmed our victory while hesitantly smiling. But I know that we will be celebrating our victory.

Grandmother (um Ibrahim) decided to get everyone from the neighborhood out, and herein, everyone means only children and women. She walked with them supported by her walker under snipers’ bullets and artillery shells, climbing uphill until they reached the beginning of the “Hadher, حاضر” neighborhood.  Um Ibrahim became tired and she could not walk anymore so she stayed in the house of one of my paternal aunts and her husband after she sent them to their unknown destiny like a flock of swallows among beasts. Grandmother Um Ibrahim had no other choice, and she was well aware that these killers are not human and that everyone must escape the blood bath that threatened them every moment. In the wash room,  when the women talked about Um Ibrahim and how she shouted at them sending them off to their escape, every one read Al-Fatiha, “الفاتحة” for her soul thinking that she was wiped by the barbarism she decided to confront.  But Um Ibrahim was stronger than the canon, and as my aunt and her husband decided to escape from the ever rising death, she released them and stayed in their home decidedly defiant.

For a week, Um-Ibrahim remained in my aunt’s house with all doors wide open. The soldiers entered the house, went out, stole and demolished its contents, all the while Um-Ibrahim screamed in their faces scaring them and shaking their fake sense of bravery.  She did not bow to the killers. Instead, she defended the house with her courage as a symbol of righteous defense of the entire violated city. Her steadfastness humiliated them and their leaders, and they started obeying her dictates and discovered that she was the victor with her walker. They decided to blow up the houses of the entire neighborhood intending for her to witness the level of their inhumanity. So they took her out of the house to the middle of the street, and she sat on a chair in the middle of the bloodied street for three days throughout which, Um Ibrahim, in this wilderness, never negotiated or even maneuvered. She announced her presence like a palm tree, a flagpole and a flag, never asking for help from anyone. Some soldiers, taken by her glory, started to help her in her physical needs. Um Ibrahim swore that she never feared them because they were too small for her vision to a point where they became invisible to her. She insisted that God sent her all what she needed while she stayed to tell the killers that we will return, exact justice, honor our martyrs with individual headstones refusing to leave them to a mass grave, and that “contrary to your belief, you will never be victorious”. In the end, it was by God’s mercy that some people, also on their own escape journey, found her and carried her; she who refused to be carried, to the villages with the other dispossessed.

…. to be continued 

Online gallery of Khaled Al-Khani where the echos of  Hama  resonate in his creative work.

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