The tsunami of Tunisian revolution toppled Arab dictatorships. Although Husni Mubarak believed Egypt would be immune to the fate of Ben Ali’s Tunisia, he soon was overthrown. Gaddhafi, Africa’s self-proclaimed “King of Kings,” said Libya would be different, as well. There was no difference except that he became a war criminal, who didn’t hesitate to blindly bomb Libyan cities with Grad rockets. In the end, he was captured in a drain. So closed the history of the crazed despot.
The former Yemeni president was also mistaken. And now it’s the Syrian President’s turn. He is the reason Syria evolved from a republic, in name, to a de facto kingship. I wouldn’t have opposed him had his kingdom respected itself and its people.
Despite the similar circumstances between these Arab countries, each of their revolutions had its own spark.
The spark in Syria was a group of youth from Deraa, who ignited the Syrian revolution. They were undeterred by their families’ fear and by warnings of previous terrors like the 1982 destruction of Hama, where tanks and air artillery bombed the city. The Hama Massacre resulted in the death of over 20,000, in addition to tens of thousands who were arrested or went missing.
One night in mid March 2011, the Syrian authorities arrested several Deraa youth, ranging from ages 10 to 15. These youth had written written slogans on their city walls similar to those they heard and saw on satellite channels from the Tunisian and Egyptian protests: “The people want the overthrow of the regime.”
The families of those arrested tried to communicate with the security and political officials to release their children. Instead of simply refusing to answer these families, the authorities escalated the situation, insulting the families and cursing their honor.
When leaders of Deraa met with Atif Najib, the head of the local branch of government security and cousin to Bashar al-Assad, said to them, “Forget your children, who belong to me. Go to your wives to have other children. If you are not manly and unable to do so, then my men can take your place.” The town leaders, feeling insulted, carried out a symbolic act well known in Syrian culture: they removed their headbands from their heads and laid them on Najib’s table as a sign of their humiliation. This showed they would not forgive him unless he apologized for his insult. However, Najib refused to acknowledge or pay attention to this symbolic act. Instead, he continued to insult them by throwing the headbands gathered on his desk in the trash. As a result, the leaders left him with the determination to win back their honor.
After two weeks, the children were released, only for everyone to discover that they had been exposed to terrible torture. Some had broken teeth, while others had fingernails pulled off. After hearing their stories, an uprising erupted in the city. The youth took to the streets, followed by their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters.
The authorities responded with live gunfire, resulting in the death of hundreds of protestors. The gunfire soon spread to every corner of Syria.
For 48 consecutive years, Syria lived under state of emergency. This is the equivalent of three or four life sentences under the laws of some European countries. In my opinion, the new generations in Syria have decided that they won’t wait any longer. Unlike the massacre of Hama in 1982, which went unnoticed by the world, this massacre will not pass unheard. These new generations know how to defend their future through the internet, cell phones, and satellite channels.
In the beginning, the Syrian media claimed that there were external forces behind the demonstrations. To validate these accusations, the authorities arrested an Egyptian activist and forced him to confess on Syrian state television that he was a foreign agent.
The Syrian regime was forced to release him after a few days, as he possessed an American passport. When the man returned to Egypt, he said what had happened to him was a trick by the Syrian regime.
After that episode, the regime contrived yet another lie, saying Bandar Bin Sultan was behind the revolution. The trend continued. Next, they accused Hariri’s camp in Lebanon of smuggling funds and weapons to protestors in Syria. Then, when those lies gave way, the regime claimed armed Salafist Islamic groups were shooting at the protestors as well as at the army and security forces. But, as I’ve observed through footage, these armed groups were in fact security forces and Shabiha—Bashar’s thugs disguised in civilian clothing.
Do you see who the next culprit will be? Will it be America? Israel? An Al Qaeda operation? The “Allies,” whoever they are? Or the “enemies,” whoever they are?
Not even a bird can pass through Syria without being questioned or investigated or sometimes having his feathers plucked.
Today there are enough numbers, names, and videos in the global media to show that the Syrian regime and its news reports are and have been lying.
The regime has tightened its grip as the protests continue to spread steadily. Their initial decision to retaliate in Deraa, the mother of the revolution, set the precedent for a prolonged struggle. The regime first sent four military squads to lay siege to the city. Later, the government bombed several neighborhoods and cut off access to electricity, water, telephones, and medicine. Citizens were prohibited from removing corpses from the streets.
Perhaps the regime assumed it could suppress the uprising by force, but the result was the opposite of what they expected; most of the cities came to the aid of blockaded Deraa, whose protests were still growing despite the countless victims of live bullets.
Now after more than 15 months of protest, nearly 10,000 dead (today’s numbers exceed 25,000), 10,000 injured (today’s numbers are much higher), and hundreds of thousands of arrestees, missing, and refugees, it can be said that there is not a single city, or town or village, in Syria that has not paid its price for freedom. So does the regime want a higher price?
The heavy bloodshed I see in the pictures sent by camera, video, and mobile phones—the large number of children among them—are cases of repression by collective revenge. There is no longer room for justification, no longer room for denial, under the shelling of cities and ruthless gunfire.
These images I have witnessed are so nerve-wracking that I couldn’t bring myself to show my European friends.
I have videos that are enough to shake up the unconscionable minds. All the while, the official Syrian media continues its wretched attempts to cover up the sun, to cover up the truth. It spreads its poisons and lies in bullet ridden and tattered bottles.
The regime has lost its battle in media. This is a symbolic victory: for the first time social media has exposed and defeated Syria’s official mouthpiece.
Most of the world now knows the bloody and terrible truth of the Assad regime. They know the horrific acts of the security forces and Shabiha against the unified, defenseless, and peaceful Syrian people. Thus informed, the world powers can no longer ignore the reactions of their peoples to the atrocities in Syria.
Until then, the Syrian media will continue to fabricate a Syria that no longer exists.
This is an edited translation from the Arabic by Joseph Sills
This essay appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 17, no. 64
© Copyright 2012 AL JADID MAGAZINE
Featured image Coat of arms of Syria — the “Hawk of Qureish” with shield of vertical tricolor of the national flag, holding a scroll with the words الجمهورية العربية السورية (Al-Jumhuriyah al-`Arabiyah as-Suriyah “The Syrian Arab Republic”).