Saturday, March 26, 2011


Maybe you knew, maybe you didn't, but there are protests going on in Syria these days.

Beyond that, I don't know much. Information is hard to come by and there is so much disinformation mixed in that it's hard to know what to think.

I know that when we were there last summer, things seemed better than they'd ever been.

I know that the exception to the above statement was that internet-based social media were being restricted more than they'd ever been.

I know that you could say a lot of things to characterize the late Hafez al-Assad as a wicked, evil, repressive dictator, and you'd be right.

I also know it's more complicated than that. For starters, you can't say the same about his son Bashar, no matter how badly certain elements of the press are itching to. His advisors, maybe, or the system he inherited, perhaps, but the London-educated opthamologist with a British wife and three kids? I can't believe it. I can't.

Maybe the cult of personality - all those Photoshopped, sparkly heart-encrusted images of Bashar and family riding bikes in the Alps - got to me after all.

In the meantime, it seems like everyone is keeping their fingers crossed and muttering not another Hama under their breath.

It's hard to know what else to do.


Liz Johnson said...

I had heard about this, but it definitely hadn't hit my radar like Egypt did. I'll try to keep tabs on this one. Prayers for Syria... and Libya... and Yemen... and Bahrain... and everywhere else.

Susanne said...

My Syrian friend *hates* the fact that the West has been enamored with the Assads particularly Asma. (Did you see the silly Rose in the Desert article Vogue had about her where she described the democracy IN HER HOUSEHOLD? Ok, fine, but what about in your country?) He said it's sickening to see how we fawn over her because she's pretty and modern. Superficial much?

The update I put on FB and Twitter yesterday was from someone at Al Refal mosque and he reported what happened. I hope the younger Assad isn't pure cruelty,but sadly his regime is. He may just be the puppet and cannot help what his evil brother and cousin and police-state thugs do,but as the leader, what do his people do? Yes, there are many who love him, but there are many who are replacing "Bashar" with "freedom" in their little chant: God, Syria, Freedom - that's enough!

Susanne said...

Here is the report from my friend in Syria. At least two of those I met in Damascus went to this mosque yesterday if not more. He wanted me to share this, but not use his name so I wrote this from what he told me by Facebook chat as soon as he got home yesterday.

Al Refai mosque in Damascus, Syria this afternoon: eyewitness report from confirmed source to me just a half hour ago: after the prayer,people started yelling to help their brothers in Daraa, they (about 500 of them) went out into the street where they heard gun shots and saw "hundreds" of civilian men with sticks hitting protesters and targeting anyone trying to record the events with mobile phones. "They were animals." "They brutalized us." Police arrested many of them, "pushed back" and the protesters dispersed. "A lot of blood" seen outside of the mosque. Source happy: "for the first time in my entire life i experienced freedom. i saw a lot of my people yelling for freedom."


so far this is one of the best stories I've seen on the situation. It has some of the video from yesterday as well as some commentary by Hala Gorani.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Saw a photo on Al Jazeera of a statue of Hafez al Assad that had been torn down and destroyed. That is a new step for Syria.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to tell you how we as Syrians feel about this. Even if Bashar is a good guy, we just cannot accept the fact that he has an exclusive right to rule us for the rest of his life (maybe for 50 years?) We are just like others who want full democracy and fair elections. Plus, why would this regime arrest and oppress all political opponents and human rights activists. Syria is by far the most repressive country in the Middle East concerning freedom of opinion.

We are tired of the situation and we feel now it is the time for us to get rid of tyranny and look forward to a hopefully brighter future.

Bridget said...

Susanne, the problem is that for every report like that, I read one about there being a pro-Assad demonstration somewhere else. Twitter especially is a big old mess of contradictory information. It's so confusing.

Anonymous, thank you for your words and very well put.

Bridget said...

(I don't mean that both pieces of news couldn't be true at the same time, just that it's hard to get a sense of the real picture on the whole.)

(And that there's all kinds of crazy stuff out there like THE VICE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN KILLED and then five minutes later, OH WAIT, NO.)

Susanne said...

Bridget, yeah, I understand what you mean about Twitter. I try to balance that by talking to my Syrian friends to see what the opposition websites are reporting and what their family and friends are seeing from home.

One of my Syrian friends was talking to me yesterday telling me of pro-gov't demonstrations he was seeing outside his window. He is the only Syrian friend I have who seems to be fine with the current leaders, but then he has personally worked with Asma Assad in a project. He also seems the most scared of big things happening there. At least now they have some peace as long as they keep their mouths shut about politics, right?

Of the Syrian friends that I have - which, granted, are only 0.000000001% of the population (if that),they are overwhelmingly wanting freedom in their country. Maybe I've been brainwashed by them and YOU are right and things aren't so bad there.

You are the well-traveled American. You should know better than I.

I did talk about your post with my best Shami friend last night and we discussed the fact that maybe Bashar isn't so bad, but he is trapped by those who ARE bad. The thugs behind the scenes making Bashar their figurehead and maybe he is wanting them to do one thing (no shooting at protesters), yet they are doing other, more cruel things. My friend said he just doesn't think Bashar needs to rule forever. He's been there 11 years and now it's time for someone else to have a turn. So whether you are a pro-Bashar American surely you can see their point of view since we Americans get to elect our top leader every four years.

I had a great time in Syria two years ago, and I *hate* the thought of upheaval and murder and burning going on there. But I dont' have to live there and I understand many of them wanting opportunities and wanting their opinions to be heard. It's not my fight. They have to decide how far they want to take this. But I'm not fooled into thinking this regime is warm and fuzzy because Bashar and Asma take great vacations and look good in Vogue photo shoots.

Bridget said...

That's the thing, Susanne - I don't know enough to know if I AM pro-Assad. It's more that I want so dearly to give him the benefit of the doubt. He did bring change to the country - internet, and then high speed internet, for starters. Cell phones, too, I think. It was a big deal.

That said, I absolutely recognize the positive effect "regime change" (for lack of a better term) could have. I try to balance my love of Syria in situ with the understanding that change can be very good, even if it comes at the expense of stability.

In some ways I feel like I shouldn't even be allowed to talk about it. It's one thing to live in Syria in possession of a magical US passport and giggle about being spied on and followed by the mukhabarat (true story). It's quite another to have to worry about what political opinions you publicly espouse and know that the ramifications of slipping up can involve substantial prison time. I have no first-hand experience of the latter.

So when I say things aren't so bad there, or that they were better than ever when we last visited in May/June 2010, I am talking about everything but the expression of dissent, except where I touched on it re online social media.

Like you said, I almost feel as though I should recuse myself from having any opinion since I'm not Syrian, in Syria. I wrote this post to express my feelings of love and concern for a country that is dear to me.

Susanne said...

Bridget, you make a lot of sense. I also like to give people the benefit of the doubt so I want to say Bashar is good, but maybe others (the thugs) aren't.

And I told S nearly the same thing. I LOVED my visit to Syria and I thought things were good *for me.* But since I don't live there, I don't know what it's like to be unable to criticize political happenings. So I have greatly been influenced by the guys who've talked to me the last 3.5 years. Who knows? If S had been an Alawaite or Shi'a, I might be pro-Assad and thinking totally differently about things right now. I admit I have been influenced by the opposition side.

I'm glad you wrote about Syria. I love that you write about a variety of topics and I apologize if I came across too aggressively. Of course you are welcome to your opinion of the Assads and I honestly hope YOU are right about them. They seem to be nice people. I truly hope they are.

(Hillary Clinton said in an interview that some in both parties in Congress believe Assad is a reformer. Quite a change from Bush's "Axis of Evil" thoughts of Syria. -- )

BTW, good point about the internet and cell phones. I do think people were hopeful and that aspect was good. However, I hear talk of one of the President's cousins having a monopoly on the cell phone business and really I think people are just tired of the corruption and the fact that the Assads are rich while many Syrian young people have no prospects of jobs. They are educated, but unable to work. S's brother is a jaw surgeon even being certified by some UK program (??), but had to go to Kuwait to find a job. And he doesn't really care for those uppity Gulf countries, but if he stayed home, no work. Not that a regime change will suddenly bring in jobs, but I think people are hopeful for something better. Kind of like the American hope that Obama would bring something better than 8 years of Bush.

AlkhaniTribe said...

I have to leave my two cents here! I am American, just returning from Syria, I lived there nearly 5 years, the past three of those continuously. Most of which were spent in Hama. Anyhow, as I sit in shock and disbelief that this could all be happening, I too am trying to sort all the garbage. I do beleive Bashar and his wife are not bad people. I have seen what Asma has done for the women of Syria, for the children as well. And Bashar has done whatever he can to make things better for the people. But there is one big problem: Bashars fathers party is still in power. And Bashar seems now days more than ever just a puppet in teh wind with no power to begin with. I have witnessed first hand the backwardness of the laws there, the corruption, the beuracracy and right now, whatever is the truth all I can hope for is that Syrians as a whole are given thier dignity back, a right to live and prosper freely. My husbands own family suffered greatly during the 1982 massacres and we are just holding our breath now hoping that this doesnt become the next Hama, in that the good news is that media is getting out, and hopefully the Syrian regime has some fear of the outside world, which frankly they never have had. For now, we will wait and see....and wait for more numbers to hit the streets and pray there are few casualities and that the Syrian citizens are victorious.

AlkhaniTribe said...

Bridget: Just one more thing on the supposed pro-demonstrations. I saw a few one in particular in Hama, and they make me laugh, really laugh. There werent more than 50 people involved and in particular in Hama you will not find a single pro Assad person especially with every family still having someone missing or dead or in jail post the 1982 massacre. A lot of the supposed pro demonstrations are staged, and money talks to really poor people....enough said!

AlkhaniTribe said...

Bridget: Just one more thing on the supposed pro-demonstrations. I saw a few one in particular in Hama, and they make me laugh, really laugh. There werent more than 50 people involved and in particular in Hama you will not find a single pro Assad person especially with every family still having someone missing or dead or in jail post the 1982 massacre. A lot of the supposed pro demonstrations are staged, and money talks to really poor people....enough said!

AlkhaniTribe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yep Bashar may have better understood how to win the hearts of the west, but in Syria, the number of political prisoners increased, the killing of opponents doubled, the alliance with the Iranian regime against the Arabs can't be justified,... the wealth of the Assad almost tripled and his uncles Al-Malouf family are running all businesses (with a share to the president) in Syria, corruption is open and you have to pay US$50 on top of the government fees to get a passport, assassination in Lebanon of the Bashar opponents is many times more than that took place during his father era. Most important, his succession of his father in a republic is against the principle of republic itself. and on and on and on and on..........Recently Bashar regime imprisoned 15 high school students and an 83 years old man for expressing their opinions and on and on and on

AlkhaniTribe said...

Anonymous: yes you are 100% right...and I loved your earlier comments....are you in my beloved sham now? I wish I was there....I have been away 6 months....seems like an eternity....take care...May God grant us victory...

Suzanne Bubnash said...

In 2007 I sat in a Syrian cafe w/ 2 young Syrians who openly expressed their frustrations about the Syrian government and way of life. I kept looking around to make sure no one else was listening. I seemed more concerned about them being overheard than they themselves were.

I went away thinking there must be a new openness in Syria, because they were speaking so freely. But now I can that is not true and I hope those 2 have been more cautious since then.

AlkhaniTribe said...

I don't remember the year but in the last 3 years, I had an American Tourist visit my home, and promptly the next day the secret police came knocking. They wanted to know everyone I knew, why I was in Syria, how I knew that person, everything under the sun. I don't know what triggered it, but many neighbors told me that the shop in front of my home had a spy working there. And those bloody spies are all over the place, that is what is so scary! My teacher in Hama, just had her license revoked from teaching because supposedly she hosted foreigners without permission, when in fact she follows the law to the last letter! And now thanks to that I have to tiptoe around to see her or my other teacher who is closely tied to her teachings. It inst open at all, in no ways, and you can see it now, like anonymous here, who wants his voice heard, but is scared to say in his name. Even as I type and post and do I know I am at risk if I go back to the country right now. But I don't care anymore honestly. I just want things to change, I want people to know whats happening. What has happened, and what will happen if something doesn't change soon. My own husband sitting here with me in America, tells me to stay out of it, be quiet, not yet, just be patient. He to is still scared, after all our family is still there, our friends as well, and I feel like talking to them about whats happening directly but we cant, we just cant, not without risking their lives, and freedom. I lived there as an outsider on the inside, I speak fluently the Syrian dialect, I have witnessed first hand what goes on there that tourists don't see when they are there for just a short period. I'm still not ready to say what I saw in the days leading up to my departure. And I still sit here broken hearted, and my dreams shattered. For me Damascus is holy, it is pure, and it is being run down through the toilet by bastards who think its funny to starve, torture, and leave its people ignorant. To make them live as less than a man. It has to end. It just has to. My own 11 year old son said to me "Mom can I go, can I go and fight when i'm old enough? I want to free my people" And I would send him with pride....May God grant Syria its dignity and its freedom!


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