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March 2013

Reasons to remain optimistic about Syria

There are many reasons to be worried about Syria. The uprising that manifested itself through peaceful demonstrations in 2011 has escalated to a military conflict. While the regime continues to get its supply of weapons, the demands of the Syrian people have received no real international support.The attempts to push the country toward a self-fulfilled prophecy of sectarianism are extremely dangerous. The fact that the Assad administration has survived this long in its crusade against its own people, and continues to destroy every inch of life and ancient history, is excruciating. The daily loss is unbearable.

While all of this is true, there are many reasons to remain optimistic considering what Syrians have accomplished in two years under extreme pressure. The reasons are related to the internal dynamics of a people desperate for free expression, association and communication after decades of terror and isolation.

Two years have passed since the first demonstrations emerged in different parts of the country. During this time, the regime’s strategy involved arresting, killing and torturing demonstrators, with a special focus on those coordinating and communicating the protests.

Despite the fact that the regime has not been able to produce any non-violent response to citizen demands, non-violent protests continue to take place all over the country on a weekly basis.

Demonstrations are not the only manifestation of peaceful resistance and civil disobedience. From the strikes to the sit-ins, from the “peace brides” to the celebration of Women’s Day through countless citizen mobilisations, daily resistance against oppression has not stopped.

It is important to be aware of these initiatives, which co-exist with the militarisation on the ground and do not usually receive international attention.

The emergence of a new outspoken and creative Syria

For decades, Syria was an information black hole. Syrians were isolated from one another and from the rest of the world by a regime that controlled the telecommunications infrastructure.

Neighbours feared each other, parents feared their own children, and life went by under a constant state of terror that transcended the Syrian borders. Even citizens living abroad, like my own family, spoke about Syria in whispers.

Now, Syrians inside the country and abroad are having conversations about their ideology, their political views, their hopes and fears, in a way that was not possible before.

During this time, Syrians not only have faced up to their government, but their own psychological boundaries that had imposed a state of self-censorship in which certain thoughts or ideas were systematically repressed.

Everything is now out in the open, as proved by the endless conversations, articles and different forms of expression taking place through physical and online spaces around every aspect of the Syrian struggle.

Syrians are not only exchanging their views of their country with each other, but also documenting and sharing it with the rest of the world. Two years into the uprising, Syria is one of the world’s largest producers of YouTube videos.

Aware of their historical role in narrating the events that they are witnessing, citizens have been recording history, accumulating evidence that could serve an international tribunal willing to judge war crimes against the population.

The constant flow of information coming out of Syria, which stands in contrast with the lack of documentation of the Hama massacre in 1982, will be very necessary in the following stages, for accountability and reconciliation purposes.

In addition to producing a record of historical demonstrations, events and war crimes, Syrians are also engaging in a cultural renaissance that has recently emerged in the Middle East and North Africa.

Much like the emergence of theatre during the army coups of the 50s and 60s, new manifestations of creativity and artistic expression are flourishing in the region in this period of uprisings, regime change and transition.

There is a constant and increasing production of music, graffiti, independent films, poetry, cartoons, video-art, puppet shows and all forms of free expression after decades of art serving the power structures.

These independent, often collective productions are part of a new Syrian reality that has flowered without the regime’s consent, and it survives every attempt to silence its expression. Mostly uncovered by mainstream media, it constitutes in itself a ground for optimism.

Self-management emerging from the rubble

Achievements on the ground can be summarised in the name of a Syrian village that will remain a symbol of resistance against tyranny: Kafranbel. This northwestern town has become well-known for the powerful and edgy banners. They are being created since the beginning of the uprising and are instantly shared through social media.

Internet users from all over the world look forward to every new message and drawing, which summarise the meaning and the evolution of the Syrian struggle.

Although banners and drawings have captured international attention, Kafranbel is more than that. It is also a model for new forms of self-management emerging from the rubble. Its inhabitants not only have survived several regime bombings, but also have engaged in self-government while rebuilding their own town.

The teams that were organised to coordinate the demonstrations and prepare the banners have turned into committees working to ensure life continues in the village.

From organising the police to cleaning patrols, “Liberated Kafranbel” has become a proof that an alternative is already on the making. Kafranbel has shown that the central state – imposed on cities, villages and communities for decades – constituted a force of oppression.

However, Kafranbel is not the only one in this. Self-management is being experienced throughout the country, mainly in small towns while the regime is trying to maintain its control over big cities.

From the local and provincial councils of Aleppo to the organisation of independent activities like the Duma festival, citizens are experiencing true self-management and self-government after years of their country being ruled like private property.

There is an opposition

As a Syrian, I see the discussion on the political opposition as a big development in itself. The international community demands that Syrians have a unified opposition, and this is what Syrians on the ground and abroad hope for as well.

However, how realistic is it to expect an easy agreement given the current circumstances and the mounting pressure? The opposition is not quite unified in most democratic countries, and less so under repressive regimes.

But the possibility of holding an open dialogue on the future of the country is a progress, if only compared with the monopoly over political issues that the Assad administration maintained for 40 years.

The president of the Syrian National Coalition, Mouaz al-Khatib, announced his resignation on March 22 citing a lack of support from the international community, and growing disagreement with the election of Ghassan Hitto as prime minister of the interim government. Many others have expressed similar concerns.

On March 25, the Coalition occupied Syria’s seat at the Arab League, another clear evidence that Assad is no longer an interlocutor. The Muslim Brotherhood is facing increased rejection in some parts of the country, despite its attempt to gain ground at the expense of Assad’s loss of grip on the country.

These recent developments contrast with the silence and stagnation of the last 40 years.

A consensus over who will represent Syrians, with the approval of people on the ground, is necessary and urgent. But political discussion, disagreement, non-violent dissent and the process of building a legitimate opposition is in itself an important step, despite the obstacles and the frustration involved.

While international coverage of the situation inside the country is monopolised by its military aspects, life goes on in Syria. As the fighting continues, with the regime losing ground despite its military superiority, solidarity emerges on the ground.

Towns are re-born from under the rubble into new forms of self-management, discussions take place, lessons are learned and shared, and Syrians continue their struggle against tyranny. As long as they stand, there is ground for optimism.

Leila Nachawati Rego is a Spanish-Syrian free-speech activist based in Madrid. She is a professor of Communications at Carlos III University, where she is currently pursuing her PhD. She contributes to several online projects such as Global Voices Online and Global Voices Advocacy, where she is an advisory committee member.

Follow her on Twitter: @leila_na


Agony in Aleppo: a city abandoned by the world?


Translated speech of Shaikh Moaz Khatib

Greetings (al-salam alaikum) to you from a brave people, a quarter of whom have become homeless; and 200,000 of whose sons have been put in prisons; and who have paid a price for their freedom close to 100,000 martyrs; and whose country (infrastructure) has been destroyed at the hands of a mad, barbaric regime.

Greetings from a people that has been butchered in full sight of the world for two years and has been bombarded with all kinds of heavy weaponry and ballistic missiles while some governments still scratch their heads, wondering what to do.

Greetings from the only people in the world whom warplanes bomb in bakeries so that they might emerge drenched in the blood of women and children. Greetings from the widows and the orphans, from the tortured and the oppressed, from the injured and crippled, from the prisoners and detainees, from the emigrants and displaced, from the mujahideen and the troops, from the martyrs whose spirits have scattered throughout this misbegotten world.

Greetings from a people who will follow the path of their freedom and possesses enough will to demolish the world’s greatest idol and enough love to fill the world with tranquility, warmth, and compassion.

We hate war and fighting … and we began a peaceful revolution. The regime, with its recklessness and barbarity, pushed that revolution to arms, violence and destruction.

I will speak now about our wounded but resilient people with the following points.


First: Most Syrians have ceased to care about international conferences so long as they are unable to extend even the minimum support for Syrians’ freedom. Does the affirmation of the right of self-defense require years of the open and systematic murder of the Syrian people?

Second: With our sincere thanks to all the parties that try to help us, and they are many – we nonetheless repeat that our people has paid the price of its freedom with its blood, its decisions stem from its interests, and it rejects instruction by others in its decision-making. Regional and international differences of opinion have helped complicate the problem. Our interests may coincide with some parties, but our revolution is of our own making. The Syrian people alone ignited it and will decide its course.

Third: The Arab League, with [our] thanks, has put forward a bold initiative to give Syria’s seat to the Syrian people after [the people’s] voice [lit. decision] was expropriated for half a century. This seat is part of restoring the legitimacy of which the Syrian people was deprived for so long. This surmounting of international pressure is not just an accomplishment presented to the Syrian people, rather, it shows what can happen when there is solidarity. I say that the role of the Arab nations with their neighbors in terms of mutual understanding and cooperation is a civilized, leading role, and the Arab League must restore it. In the name of the Syrian people, I thank all of our brothers for this great accomplishment.

Fourth: There are constant attempts to misrepresent the Syrian revolution, along three lines:

First, minorities. And I always say, If you want to know how the regime treats minorities, then look to our beloved brothers in Lebanon. When the Syrian regime stormed them, what did it do to them? To all the sects! Look what it did to the Kurds, to the Palestinians, and the Christians, even our brothers the Alawites! Who killed General Ghazi Kan’an, and who arrested Dr. Abdul-Aziz al-Khair? Yesterday, our Alawite brothers tore from the regime its last figleaf by declaring it renegade and savage, saying that it flouts the will of the entire Syrian people. What is happening in Syria is a struggle between slavery and freedom, between justice and injustice. And I’ll tell you about something: in the beginning of the revolution, elements linked to the regime tried to light the fuse of civil war among our brothers in Banias, in which Sunnis mix with Alawites, all of whom know that they are one people with the same rights and responsibilities. A delegation came from each, from the elders (sheikhs) of both sides and made it past the crisis, proving that the Syrian people doesn’t need the Assad mafia, that it can live together and will go on living a life with dignity and justice.

Second [of the three lines], chemical weapons. Nobody has batted an eye at what has happened to the Syrian people. There are those who have passed along timid messages, and here I’m being frank with our people, and they ask: Is it possible to destroy these weapons? And I said that is something to be decided by a comprehensive national conference that can happen, in my opinion, as part of a deal for the entire region that does away with all types of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. Brothers here and governments of the world, the opposition will not sell their country.

The third of these lines is terrorism. Is terrorizing a country for two years acceptable? Can anyone seriously talk about terror when every day the Syrian people is butchered in full view of the world? They say, We aren’t against the Syrian people, only the foreign extremists. I’m not sure if it has to do with the fact that they’re foreign, or with their beards! What about the thousands of Russian and Iranian experts and Hizbullah fighters? Are they all Syrians? Let them all leave, and we’ll ask the forgiveness of our honored brothers and guests. There are many Syrian mothers – French mothers and Dutch mothers – who have sent me messages. She said, I beg you, my children left for the jihad in Syria. Do you agree with this? I said to her, Your children have a living conscience and can no longer stand the wholesale slaughter of a people! But I also say to all the young people: If your family needs you, then do not come. Serving your parents, even if they aren’t Muslim, is at the core of jihad on the path of God. They also ask who will rule Syria. Syria’s people are the ones who will decide. Not any other country – the Syrian people will decide who will govern them and how. Its sons will work out how to live together, brought together by God’s word: “There is no compulsion in religion.” As for extremist thought, it is the product of injustice and corruption. We need to treat what leads to it, and not just blame those whose conscience can no longer the daily massacres.

Fifth: The regime is the one who rejects any solution for the crisis. We welcome any political solution that spares more blood and avoids further destruction. We put forward to the regime a humanitarian initiative without a single political or military stipulation. Just release the innocent. Arrogantly, the regime said no.

Forgive if I mentioned this example, just so you know a piece of what happens in [Syria’s] prisons. There is a hotel called the Carlton. Opposite is a [security] branch, Branch 215.I ask of the officials of the Syrian regime, if they claim that they don’t know it, to go now and visit it, before the blood is washed from its floor. Some time ago, one of my students was arrested. They hung him by his hands for seven days, with intense torture. After that, he lost his mind. Because he was being tortured in a room whose floor was covered in blood and urine and that held a number of bloated corpses, and the stench was deadly. The worms boiled in those corpses, and they forced him to sleep on top of them. He went insane from the terror, but that wasn’t enough for them. They chopped him to pieces in front of the other prisoners! Is anyone in the world satisfied with that?

We asked only for the release of the detainees, and especially the women and children. Are there children? Yes, my brothers, and I can give you names. There was a child at the Ya’four checkpoint, one year old, who went for two weeks without any food or help!

We prefer a political solution in order to save more blood and destruction. The Syrian revolution has no warplanes or Scud missiles, and the regime alone is the first and last one responsible. We want freedom, not for the country to go on to more destruction. We want to proceed according to transitional justice and a national understanding and a clear political solution that prevents this regime from inflicting more savagery and devastation.

Sixth: Syrian society is a civilized one. But its sons suffer from something: that they had never before sat with each other. They discovered themselves with the revolution. They established civil administrations, police forces, courts, a judiciary, underground hospitals, schools amid the bombing!

There are many obstacles, but there is a determination to succeed. Among the accomplishments so far is the establishment of a temporary government whose president, Ghassan Hitto, was chosen and in whom we all have confidence. We in the National Coalition’s council wait for Mr. Hitto to submit a platform for debate. Just as we are now considering turning the Coalition into a comprehensive national conference.

Seventh: We ask, in the name of our oppressed people, for support in all its forms from all our brothers and friends. That includes the full right to self-defense, Syria’s seat in the United Nations and other international organizations, and the freezing of the money that the regime stole from our people, to be set aside for reconstruction.

Seventh: I thank all the governments of the world that support the Syrian people in winning its freedom, and we ask them all to meet the commitments to which they promised.

There are tens of countries that have offered assistance. An American official said to me: Are you embarrassed to say that the United States has helped you with $365 million for humanitarian aid? I said, We’re not embarrassed. And we thank all the world’s governments, but I say: The role of the United States is bigger than this! And I requested in a meeting with Mr. Kerry that a Patriot missile umbrella be extended over Syria’s North. He promised to study the issue, and we still wait for a decision from NATO to save the lives of innocents and return those displaced to their countries. Not to fight, but rather to protect people and allow them to return to their normal lives.

Tens of countries provided assistance, and I thank in particular the state of Qatar that hosted the conference, and our dear brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and our brothers in Jordan and Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan, all of whom shoulder a great burden. I offer special thanks to our brothers in Turkey and Libya, and to the unknown soldier who opened his arms unconditionally to Syrians, our brothers in Egypt. I thank our honored brothers in the Emirates, Tunisia and Morocco, and all the countries that joined us in this meeting. I thank our brothers in the Emirates, I thank our brothers in Tunisia and Morocco, and all those who supported the right of the Syrian people to their freedom. I ask all of them to ease the processing of Syrians and their residency, and to support them to the extent possible.

Eighth: Our dear brothers, forgive me if I’ve gone a little beyond the bounds of diplomatic custom. There’s something I’d like to say to you in front of all of our peoples: Omar bin Khattab was stopped by a woman in the road who said to him, Fear God, Omar. So [his companions] said to her, You say this to the Commander of the Faithful?! [Omar] said to them, Leave her. There is no good in her if she does not speak up, and no good in us if we do not listen.

I say this to you as the youngest of your brothers: Deal mercifully with your people for fear of God, and shield your countries with justice and fairness, and sow love everywhere. Our peoples long for more dignity, justice and equality, and I’m sure that if we walked among them, they would embrace us and lay their heads on our shoulders and cry for the weight of pain and trouble they bear. Our peoples are a heavy responsibility. We ask God to help you support them in your goodness.

And there is a request that reached me in hundreds of messages, even if it is outside the normal bounds of diplomacy. I ask you, if you think it appropriate, to pass a resolution in this conference – including whatever necessary to accommodate the conditions in each country, and in response to the calls of many – to release all the detainees in the Arab world, so that the Syrian revolution’s day of victory in breaking the cycle of injustice might be a day of joy for all our peoples.

From Surat al-’Asr: ‘Indeed, mankind is in loss, except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.’

May God’s peace and mercy be upon you.

Translation Notes

Please forgive any typos in either the video or the written translation. Been racing to get this out in time to be useful.

The original video is here. I also relied on the text of the speech, posted on al-Khatib’s Facebook page here. The translation of Surat al-’Asr has been taken from here.


Speech of Moaz al-Khateeb at the Arab League summit in Doha (Eng sub)


Inspiring, courageous, straightforward, love him. Please stay on board ya Oustad !

Democracy Now, a very interesting show with Richard Wolff



Among other topics :
Capitalism in Crisis: Richard Wolff Urges End to Austerity, New Jobs Program, Democratizing Work

As Washington lawmakers pushes new austerity measures, economist Richard Wolff calls for a radical restructuring of the U.S. economic and financial systems. We talk about the $85 billion budget cuts as part of the sequester, banks too big to fail, Congress’ failure to learn the lessons of the 2008 economic collapse, and his new book, “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.” Wolff also gives Fox News host Bill O’Reilly a lesson in economics 101. [includes rush transcript]



US-trained death squads in Iraq are our legacy

A re­mark­able doc­u­men­tary, by the Guardian and BBC Ara­bic, on the role of US-funded death squads in Iraq via tor­ture skills honed in Latin Amer­ica dur­ing the “dirty wars“. Pow­er­ful, ex­plicit and bru­tal (though there are crit­ics), such films are es­sen­tial to chal­lenge the spu­ri­ous ar­gu­ment that the war was any­thing to do with free­dom (as Aus­tralia’s for­mer For­eign Min­is­ter Alexan­der Downer shame­fully claims today) and all about in­stalling a US-friendly pup­pet in Bagh­dad, what­ever the cost. One of the key jour­nal­ists on the story, the Guardian’s Mag­gie O’Kane, talks to Democ­racy Now! about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the com­plete lack of ac­count­abil­ity by the US gov­ern­ment.

Wik­ileaks doc­u­ments were vital in lead­ing this story:



The Hostage

It’s every war correspondent’s nightmare: dragged from the car by men with AK-47s; bound, gagged, and blindfolded; fearing torture or execution at any moment. Last December, a quick trip into Syria turned deadly, NBC News’s Richard Engel recalls, when his team of six was kidnapped by the vicious, pro-government shabiha militia and toyed with by a sadistic captor as they fought against their panic—and for their lives.

FREEDOM Richard Engel, right, and his Turkish colleague Aziz Akyavas crossing the Golden Horn, in Istanbul, a month after they were taken hostage by a pro-Assad Syrian militia.

I. In and Out
December 13, 2012

The commander was waiting for us by the side of the road, just as he had promised. His name was Abdelrazaq, and he was clean-shaven and had bright eyes that made him look intelligent. He smoked a cigarette and didn’t let on if he was annoyed that we were an hour late. We’d gotten lost on the way, but didn’t tell him that.

I was on assignment for NBC News, and my team and I were on the Syrian side of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, one of the main access points between Syria and Turkey.

Abdelrazaq lifted our bags into his car. Boys scurried about, looking to carry luggage for tips. Men shouldered 50-pound sacks of fertilizer. The rebels mix fertilizer with sugar and pack it into propane tanks to make bombs that can knock the tracks off a Syrian tank or tear up government patrols. The rebels have used so much fertilizer that it is hard to find in Syria. It has to be carried in from Turkey, along with just about everything else. Guns and money and walkie-talkies and spies go one way across the two miles of no-man’s-land separating Syria from Turkey; the wounded and refugees go the other. The border crossing at Bab al-Hawa is the umbilical cord to the revolution.

Abdelrazaq told us there wasn’t enough room in his car for all our bags and all of us. We were traveling light for television reporters, but we still had computers and batteries and cameras and tapes and flak jackets and medical kits. There were six of us, a pretty big team. I have never liked big teams, but this was going to be an easy trip. We’d be back in Turkey in a few hours.

read full article here

فنّ البقاء – Art of Surviving فقط في سوريا

Out for lunch

until Monday 25 March unless Bashar is gone

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