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August 27, 2012

Syrian ex-radio star Honey al Sayed struggles with exile, her country’s fate

Radio host flees Syrian uprisingHoney al Sayed, a radio star in Syria, fled the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad seven months ago and now lives in Washington, D.C., as a refugee. ( | MARY F. CALVERT/MCT

Radio host flees Syrian uprisingMary F. Calvert/MCTHoney al Sayed, a radio star in Syria, fled the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad seven months ago and now lives in Washington, D.C., as a refugee. | View larger image

By Hannah Allam | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Never, ever say the word “revolution.”

Protesters are to be called “terrorists” at all times. When a listener calls in to praise the president, you must agree in flowery terms. When suffering civilians beg you to describe their plight, you ignore them.

Those are just a few of the rules imposed on Honey al Sayed in the final weeks before she abandoned her nationally broadcast radio show, “Good Morning, Syria,” which drew millions of listeners each day.

Eight months ago, Sayed left Damascus under the pretense of pursuing her studies, though she knew she was fleeing both the regime of President Bashar Assad and a rebel movement that’s killed media personalities who are seen as pro-government. For months after Sayed left, the radio station continued to play promotional jingles for her show, to cover her departure and make her return seem imminent even when it became apparent that she was gone for good.

She’s used her blog and social media accounts to support the uprising but she’s kept silent about her own departure, mostly out of fear for her family still in Damascus, she said, but also because of lingering shame that she believed in Assad’s potential for reform long after the death toll was in the thousands.

Now she’s telling her story, offering a rare portal into the regime’s propaganda machine and an explanation for why Assad remained attractive to so many Syrians for so long.

“The reason I left was to keep what’s left of my personal and professional integrity,” Sayed, who’s 39, said in a three-hour interview in Washington, where she’s living as a refugee. “I compromised it. But I didn’t know what else to do. I had fear.”

Sayed got her break in 2005, when Assad ushered in some mainly cosmetic reforms, including the right to private media ownership. Some of her friends seized on the chance to open the country’s first independent radio station, Al Madina FM, and they hired Sayed for the coveted morning slot.

As Sayed sees it, she was a pressure valve that helped fed-up Syrians blow off steam without really threatening the regime. She embodied the Western-friendly Syria that Assad projected when he inherited power from his father in 2000: She challenged old taboos on women, embraced a secular lifestyle, spoke a cool patois of English and Arabic, and made bold on-air jokes about rampant government corruption. She prided herself on pushing against the regime’s red lines.

“That’s why people became loyal to him,” she said of Assad’s efforts to rebrand his family’s authoritarian dynasty. “When you don’t have anything, and suddenly you have something – even if it’s very little, even if it’s your right – it’s like candy.”

Her family comes from the well-heeled Sunni Muslim merchant class that, together with the minority Alawites, forms the backbone of Assad’s regime. Because Assad was the bookish, accidental ruler – assuming power only after a car wreck killed the heir apparent – he was seen as fairly benign, Sayed said.

Her father, a photographer, once did a photo shoot for the president. Her mother was proud to have him visit her art gallery in Damascus. Sayed’s sister did some advertising work for Assad. And Sayed recalled bumping into the president and his glamorous first lady at the opera.

“A bunch of us – the gray people – we believed that Bashar was supposedly the reformer. He was the apple who fell a bit farther from the tree than the rest of the family. He was just an eye doctor who loves photography and IT,” Sayed said.

When the uprising began in March 2011, in step with the Arab spring protests throughout the region, the people of Sayed’s milieu trusted in their leader to spare them the civil strife that Libya, Yemen or Bahrain endured.

“I thought, ‘He’s definitely either going to defect or call for presidential elections in six months,’ ” Sayed said. “That’s how hopeful we were. Everybody miscalculated.”

Before the crisis, Sayed’s show was an upbeat variety program with horoscopes, entertainment gossip, sports updates and interviews with stars from the Arab world, as well as visiting Western celebrities such as Bryan Adams and Enrique Iglesias. She once got into trouble for a segment that took a clinical look at masturbation, which backfired because it was “too Howard Stern” for local sensibilities, she explained, but generally she was free to complain about the bribes she had to pay public servants, or the neglected roads that damaged cars, or even corruption in schools and police stations

About two months into the uprising, however, what had been the occasional lecture or gentle warning about content became, Sayed said, a return “to the ‘80s,” when Assad’s notoriously iron-fisted father, Hafez, was ruler.

“My show turned political, and every show turned political because there was an elephant in the room you needed to talk about,” Sayed recalled. “But when you talk about it, you have to say, ‘It’s terrorists.’ All media became state media, whether you liked it or not.”

The radio station quickly became a nest of informants, with co-workers monitoring one another for signs of disloyalty to the regime. Sayed said she got noticed for petty slights: not agreeing enough with pro-Assad callers, not reading every single pro-Assad text message that arrived, failing to attend pro-Assad rallies.

Sometimes Sayed and a co-worker would grab sandwiches near pro-government rallies in the capital, just to appear to the ever-watchful informers that they were part of the gatherings, which drew thousands upon thousands of Assad loyalists.

“He has support, and people need to know this,” Sayed said. “Yes, there were people who got paid and, yes, there were people who were forced, but not all of them. There’s still a lot of loyalists, and that’s a fact we have to deal with.”

State security pounced when she attended a U.S. Embassy function; she hadn’t thought twice about going because she was the secretary of the Syrian American Business Council. She got in even worse trouble when she disagreed with a caller who was lambasting a famous Syrian singer who’d disavowed the regime; Sayed was forced to make a humiliating on-air retraction the next day.

“All I really wanted to be was objective on air. I didn’t want to take sides, I just wanted to say, ‘We understand,’ and ‘Please, let’s not do it the hard way,’ ” Sayed recalled. “I still wanted to promote peace and love, but as one guy told me, ‘You must be lonely in that world.’ ”

Sayed said she grew more deeply depressed and physically ill with every passing day. She no longer rose early, worked out and greeted her fans with lighthearted jokes. She dreaded going to work each day, she said, and found herself frequently in tears.

To make matters worse, the station had begun receiving threats from the armed opposition, the then-nascent force that would turn into one side of a burgeoning civil war.

The rebels in recent weeks have shown themselves to be particularly merciless when it comes to pro-regime media figures, kidnapping and executing a TV anchorman, abducting a state TV cameraman, capturing a pro-regime TV crew and killing one of them, forcing on-camera “confessions” from state media workers, killing a journalist with the state news agency SANA and bombing several pro-Assad media outlets.

Sayed made her decision to leave long before those atrocities. At the time, in the last weeks of 2011, it was the regime’s pressure and paranoia that she couldn’t endure, she said, along with a realization that her faith in the president had been naive.

“I would clench my teeth when I got messages from Homs or Hama” – where fierce government shelling campaigns were under way – “and I couldn’t read them on the show. I know my fans dropped by half. I know it. And I hated myself,” Sayed said.

She became reckless on air, she said, almost inviting reprimands. If she heard of a pro-government rally, she’d go on the air to steer people away from the area on account of “heavy traffic.” The next time she got a text message from the flash-point city of Homs, she threw out management’s edict to ignore opposition sympathizers: “I feel you, I agree with you and I’m sorry I can’t read your message on air,” she recalled saying.

Then she exploded at a listener who called in to complain that the station still played Persian Gulf music when it was well known that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were arming and bankrolling the rebels.

“I told him, ‘How about we close the radio station for people like you? We won’t put Gulf songs, we won’t put American songs, we won’t put Turkish songs, and how about we live alone on this earth as Syrians? Would you like that?’ ” she said.

Her family and friends agreed it was time for her to leave, and she was lucky: She had a valid visa to the United States left over from an earlier trip. She quickly sold her car and made quiet arrangements to go.

There was no fanfare on Dec. 31, 2011, because her fans weren’t supposed to know that it was her last show in a seven-year run. They figured it out only later, she said, when they found her on Twitter and sent messages of thanks.

“I had to go on air and say, ‘See you in a few months. I’m going for a media training,’ ” she said of her last day. “I cried off the microphone. The producer would turn the music up for a minute, I’d wipe off the tears and go back on air.”

Sayed was also fortunate that she landed in the United States just in time to qualify for the Obama administration’s recent “temporary protected status” designation, which allows Syrian refugees to stay in the U.S. and apply for work permits because of the crisis in their homeland.

Now she’s struggling to land a job. Her days are consumed with meetings with potential employers, activism online and with Syrian nonprofits, phone calls to check on her parents and friends in Damascus, and long bouts of soul-searching at the Potomac waterfront or in her favorite cafes.

She won’t support the armed rebel forces, she’s decided, because there’s too little known about them and their ambitions, and she’s a pacifist at heart. She’s a bigger supporter of the nonviolent protest movement, even though she knows it’s been rendered irrelevant in the civil war.

The typically poised and eloquent Sayed broke down one recent afternoon when she contemplated the lack of options for ending the bloodshed.

“I hate them. I don’t care about my show, I just hate what they did to the country,” she said of the Assad regime. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed, shoulders heaving.

“We cannot allow anyone to divide us, inside or outside Syria. I just hate that I can’t be there. I hate that I have to be scared for my family. I hate that I can’t have a voice to tell them what I used to tell them: ‘It’s OK, let’s stick together, let’s love each other.’ ”

Email:; Twitter: @hannahallam

“I saw the whole beating, it’s a good thing that they beat the Arabs…”


          Publiée le 27 août 2012 par

Just days after a mob of Jewish Israelis beat and injured three Palestinian youth, one nearly to death, Israel’s Ynet news website conducted interviews in Central Jerusalem’s Kikar Hahatulot [Cat Square], just a few hundred feet from the site of what was dubbed by Israeli police a “lynching.” The video is reminiscent of a controversial 2009 video made by Jewish-American journalist/author Max Blumenthal and American-Israeli journalist Joseph Dana titled “Feeling the hate in Jerusalem.”

This is a roughly translated English-captioned version of the original video report courtesy of Shunra Media and the IMEU.

The original report is available in Hebrew at Ynet’s website:,7340,L-4272467,00.html

This video and the English language transcript are also posted at

In Aleppo


In Aleppo, I saw carnage left by war
and the shepherds who fled
like others down winding dusty roads
carved from centuries of wind and stone.
Here, among the freezes of the Hittites
where myrtle mingles with the dead,
an ancient Syria rises up from its Citadel,
drenched in spume and blood.
Today, the newspapers and television
tell of thousands slaughtered.
Night has spilled its black ink over Syria
but the sun will burn again.
The rug vendors, coffee drinkers, and chess players
will come out into the streets of Damascus,
with their fists raised.
The dry air will celebrate its bleached bones.

Luis Lázaro Tijerina, Burlington, Vermont

Syria: Neither Riyadh nor Tehran but Popular Revolution

by Jamie Allinson

 Just as the Assad regime in Syria approaches what appears to be its terminal decomposition, prominent figures on the Anglophone left are hurrying to defend it—or at least to oppose its opponents. The anti-anti-dictatorship crowd includes not only sub-Ickean conspiracists such as Michael Chossudovsky but also people one would have expected to know better, such as  Tariq AliGeorge Galloway  and John Rees. Some of the arguments are expressed in more inflammatory style than others—such as Galloway’s claim that the Syrian uprising is a ‘massive international conspiracy’—but they follow a similar line. This is that: the Syrian revolution, whether it has popular roots or not, has now become a purely military endeavour of Sunni supremacists acting as the catspaws of a Saudi-Qatari-U.S. (perhaps also Franco-Zionist) effort to topple Assad, the last redoubt of the anti-imperialist forces in the region. This externally funded rebellion represents an extension of the U.S. imperial project launched after the 9/11 attacks, embracing the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Stories of Syrian government atrocities in the Western media are the counterparts of the lies circulated in 2002-3 about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and therefore must be discredited. The only solution to be hoped for is a negotiated peace (a prospect also raised by parts of the Syrian opposition) leaving some remnant of the Ba’ath regime in place, thereby denying the U.S. and its co-conspirators the prize of a pliant regime on Israel’s front-line and a significant weakening of the Iranian position. These arguments are not made solely by Anglophone commentators: outside of Egypt’s revolutionary currents , they are extremely common on the Arab left. One need only glance at the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar to find the Arab revolutions damned tout court as examples of “Political Sunnism”.

“The Suffering Grasses” Trailer

THE SUFFERING GRASSES directed by iara lee
Over a year later, with thousands dead and counting, the ongoing conflict in Syria has become a microcosm for the complicated politics of the region, and an unsavory reflection of the world at large. Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and the complicated politics of the region, this film seeks to explore the Syrian conflict through the humanity of the civilians who have been killed, abused, and displaced to the squalor of refugee camps. In all such conflicts, large and small, it is civilians—women and children, families and whole communities—who suffer at the leisure of those in power. When elephants go to war, it is the grass that suffers.

‘Hands Off Syria’ and Other Slogans of Assad’s Fans

On August 6, Australian supporters of Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime rallied and marched under the slogan “hands off Syria!

That the Syrian regime’s sycophants should demand a “hands off” policy from Washington, London, and Melbourne is logical. They do not want any outside force to interfere with the regime’s all-out war on its own people. They do not want Western arms for the Free Syrian Army, U.S. or British efforts to block Russian warships from bringing guns, bombs, bullets, helicopter parts, and gasoline to Assad, or Western airstrikes against the regime’s tanks, aircraft, and helicopters.

What is bizarre and disturbing is that Western progressives who are fighting for the very same freedoms and rights revolutionary Syrians are being killed for wanting are adopting the same slogans and policy preferences as Assad’s defenders, namely: “hands off Syria” and “no to Western intervention in Syria.”

I am talking about people like lifelong revolutionary socialists Tariq Ali and John Rees.

The Western left has by and large adopted the Assad counter-revolution’s preferred slogans and policies as their own because they have not asked themselves (as Lenin did) who stands to gain from them? Who stands to gain from British and American imperialisms standing idly by while an unholy alliance of Russian and Iranian imperialisms,Hezbollah, and the Assad regime tries to bury the Syrian revolution? Who stands to gain from unimpeded Russian arms shipments, unimpeded Syrian tank movements, and under-armed Free Syrian Army fighters?

The answer is blindingly obvious: the Assad regime.

When our opposition to U.S., British, or other imperialisms leads us to unwittingly assist counter-revolutions in Libya, Syria, or any where else, then it is time to rethink our anti-imperialism, or rather, how we apply anti-imperialist principles to a multi-polar world crawling with imperialists of all different shapes, sizes, strengths, and orientations, a world whereevery government and 1% has its own version of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its own edition of Fox News to advance its predatory interests in every situation, at every turn.

The Russian edition of Fox News is Russia Today, the Syrian edition is SANA, and the Iranian edition is Press TV(Voltairenet, on the other hand, is the French equivalent of Glenn Beck even though it is financed by the Assad regime). All three of these outlets are favorites among Western anti-imperialists even though they provide misinformation about Syria. The reality is that all three of these outlets are just as “fair and balanced” as Fox News is, meaning they all have hidden, unstated 1% agendas. This is why Occupy-style peaceful protests in Russia, Syria, and Iran get the same treatment in their media that Occupy gets in the American media.

Protesting too long, too effectively, or too loudly in any of these countries can get you killed, as the list of Russian journalists murdered proves, but it can get you killed here too.

Think I am exaggerating? Just ask a Black Panther.

We have been spared the fate of our Syrian, Libyan, Iranian, and Russian counterparts as of late only because our organizing has been mostly ineffective and not a threat to 1% power and profits. Right now, we are more likely to be killed by rampaging psycho-cops than we are by America’s secret police or other “law enforcement” agencies.

That will change if and when we become as massive, militant, and successful as the Arab Spring.

If you think Assad and Ghadafi are bad, just imagine the Assads and Ghadafis in Washington that sit at the top of the world’s food chain of repression, armed with nuclear and other nefarious weapons, who have perfected the art of divide and rule not only at home but on a truly global scale. They have armies of advisers, armies of intellectuals, armies of lawyers, armies of spies, armies of collaborators, armies of turncoats and traitors-to-be, armies of managers, armies of bureaucrats, armies of fund-raisers, armies of spokesmen and women, armies of court scribes, armies of hackers, armies of cops, and armies of armies to do their bidding against us.

On the up side, as in Syria and Libya, the American armed forces have not been called on to use lethal force on a mass scale against our 99% for decades. There is no doubt in my mind that military personnel who are barely above the poverty line (and in some cases on food stamps) are not going to be gung-ho about shooting their own flesh and blood if, or rather when, that comes to pass. Most of them take the oath they swore to defend the Constitution with their lives very seriously, and orders from the Mitt Romneys and Barack Obamas of the future to dispense the rabble exercising their constitutional rights are not going to go over well.

Thinking about revolution and civil war here at home in this way ought to give us a bit of insight into what is really going on in far away lands like Syria and clue us in to what we should and should not do about it.

Peaceful protests in Syria broke out in spring of 2011 just as they did in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and everywhere else in the Middle East and North Africa where hungry people were tired of being beaten by cops, cajoled for bribes by government officials, and forced to silently endure every indignity imaginable out of fear, sheer terror, that you or your loved ones could disappear without a trace and end up in a ditch or a river somewhere without a face, I.D. card, or teeth for identification purposes.

The millions of grievances silently accumulated by millions of people over decades under the watchful eyes of murderous police states exploded in 2011 in an outpouring of festivity, celebration, and unrelenting bravery that did not line up nicely and neatly with the pro/anti-U.S. dichotomy that divides Middle Eastern and North African governments from one another. The Arab Spring’s failure to conform to this divide divided the international left into three camps: those who supportsmashing revolutions against “anti-imperialist” regimes, those who support revolutions smashing all the regimes pro and “anti-imperialist” alike by any means necessary, and those who seek a “middle ground” between these two camps and attach terms, conditions, fine print, asterisks, and caveats to their support for the Arab Spring’s revolutionaries over issues like non-violenceWestern intervention, and sectarianism.

It is the comrades in the middle like Tariq Ali, John Reeds, and Phyllis Bennis who are doing themselves and the Syrian revolution a tremendous disservice by lining up politically with the Assad regime’s supporters by demanding “hands off Syria!” and “no to Western intervention!”

We in the West should not unite for any reason with any force that supports the murderous counter-revolution in Syria that is the literally killing the country’s best shot at political freedom, democracy, progress, and a future free of bloody, debilitating sectarianism.

To those firmly in the camp of Assad’s counter-revolution: if you can watch these videos of children in Aleppo orteenagers in Damascus without feeling like running out into those streets to join their clapping, dancing, chanting, and singing, I have to question whether you are a human being with feelings and emotions much less a so-calledrevolutionary.

If you think the CIA or the Israeli Mossad trained these kids and teenagers in the fine art of revolution, if you think they can conjure that defiant, rebellious, uncompromising spirit out of thin air, at will, you are either a damn fool or on some serious drugs. Cocaine is a helluva drug but it is nothing compared to whatever you are on if you think intelligence agencies staffed by professional killers, liars, and con men can engineer popular, broad-based revolutions almost overnight that are strong enough to withstand not just getting kicked out of a park but widespread torture and wave after wave of executions.

If you think the Syrian revolution was made in or is controlled by Washington then you should nod your head in agreement the next time Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Governor Scott Walker claims “outside agitators” are responsible for our street scuffles and protests because it is the same pack of lies the 1% use no matter where they rule, what language they speak, or how they measure up on the scale of “anti-imperialism.”

Whenever the 99% begin to move and make noise, the 1% try to convince us that it is outsiders and not we ourselveswho are disturbing the thrones that rest on our backs.

The sad part is that these lies are largely recycled, reused throughout history, copy and pasted from one era to the next. The master classes have never been masters of invention or originality; they can buy both on the open market with their blood-stained dollars, euros, pesos, yuan, silver, or gold.

The Viet Nam generation heard this same song and dance from the likes of Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and John F. Kennedy: nefarious outside agitators, trained in Moscow, financed by China, backed by the full weight of world communism were infiltrating poor defenseless little South Viet Nam’s fledgling democracy, stirring up trouble, wreaking havoc, and attempting to pull the country behind the Iron Curtain. Change a few words around and you have the so-called anti-imperialist view of the Syrian revolution today: nefarious outside agitators, trained in Turkey, financed by the Saudis, backed by the full weight of U.S.-Israeli imperialism are infiltrating poor defenseless little Syria’s fledgling self-reformingmonarchy, stirring up trouble, wreaking havoc, and attempting to pull the country behind the curtain of American capitalism.

And what is even sadder is that men like Rees and Ali who lived through those days seemed to have forgotten the sound and rhythm of this all-too-familiar tune.

So what is the point of this lengthy diatribe?

The first point: disowning people in Libya or Syria because they got so desperate they begged a far away band of murderous thieves to help them get rid of the murderous thieves that were cutting their throats, torturing their kids, and doing God knows what else to them because we, as a matter of principle, are opposed to murderers and thieves is almost as criminal as it is stupid.

The second point: agitating and organizing to stop the U.S. or British governments from arming Syrian revolutionaries, blocking Russian ships filled with Assad’s weapons, or blowing his helicopters out of the sky is the single best way tostab the Syrian revolution in the back, and by stabbing them in the back, we stab ourselves in the heart because the impetus for Occupy came from the Arab Spring and not the other way around.

Occupy and the Arab Spring are one hand, and so we have a duty and an obligation to support, fight for, and aid the victory of the Syrian and all other revolutionary movements no matter how many spies the CIA sends, no matter how much Saudi money flows into the coffers of the Free Syrian Army (if they cannot afford weapons to take out Assad’s tanks and helicopters or nightvision goggles that could help them protect Syria’s nightly peaceful protests the amounts are underwhelming), no matter what political or sectarian mistakes they make, and no matter what side the U.S. decides to back in which country for whatever reason. All of that is secondary to our primary task: helping them win.

If the only thing you can focus on or see is one bunch of murderous thieves in Tel Aviv and Washington and their weaker rivals in Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing edging each other out of influence in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Jordan you are missing the most important thing: the 99% are waking up, rising, moving, organizing, and where they have to, arming, fighting, and bombing their oppressors into the dustbin of history.

Either lead, follow, or get out of their way.


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